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Sports

Naturally Speaking

Merge The Game and Fish Commissions?
Representative Bruce Smith (R), Chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, recently introduced a resolution to investigate combining our independent Pennsylvania Game Commission with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
House Resolution 15, which was amended and passed by the House on February 11, authorizes the committee to “examine the financial feasibility, impact, costs and savings, by eliminating duplications of personnel and services.” It also gives the committee “the power to hold public hearings as it deems necessary,” and to report on its findings no later than November 30, 2003.
Don’t get excited, this is nothing new. During the past 50 years this idea has been investigated five times and five times it was deemed to be a bad idea. Sportsmen and women will get excited, however — that’s what happened in 1989 when this was last investigated.
Is this idea good or bad? I guess that depends on who you talk to, the motives of the “combiners” and exactly how a combination of the agencies would be accomplished.
Here are a few facts and things to ponder.
Pennsylvania currently has four agencies that regulate most of the things important to those of us who love the outdoors. In a nutshell: The Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) regulates fishing, boating, amphibians and reptiles. The Game Commission (PGC) regulates hunting, trapping and non-game birds and mammals. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforces environmental laws, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) manages the state parks and state forests. Many states, such as Delaware, do all of this with one agency.
All other states except Pennsylvania have combined their agencies that regulate hunting and fishing into one. Why not Pennsylvania?
It wasn’t too long ago that one large state agency, the Department of Environmental Protection (DER), was split into two smaller agencies – DEP and DCNR – to better manage their own areas. These two smaller agencies seem to be working well, so why combine the Game and Fish commissions?
Many of the other states’ game and fish agencies are supported with tax money and are directly controlled by their state governments. At their worst, several levels of wildlife managers lose their jobs with each change of governor. In some cases, the new people’s best qualifications for their positions is whose campaign they contributed to. Wildlife management policies are controlled by the legislature or the governor rather than wildlife managers.
Missouri, for example, partially funds fish and game management with 1/8 of one percent of their sales tax. This system, by the way, was overwhelmingly approved by the state’s voters.
Back to HR 15, some suspect that Smith’s motives in the end are to allow the state to gain control of the now independent commissions. Smith denies that contention. He said, “If legislation is written to merge the commissions, I will strongly suggest that the new agency be independent and not made part of another state department.”
Others know of Smith’s and other legislators’ disagreements with PFBC Executive Director Peter Colangelo and his Deputy Director Dennis Guise. Could Smith’s resolution just be another way to put pressure on Colangelo and Guise? It was rumored before that Tom Ridge, when governor, wanted to combine the agencies and make current PGC executive director Vern Ross the head of both.
There are those who look at a combination as a cost savings measure. They say management and employees could be cut and duplicated services eliminated. Smith even went as far as to suggest that a merger could mean lower license fees.
During the next few months, I would expect to see both agencies circling the wagons to protect their own turf. The labor union representing agency workers will also get into the act. All of these strategies will make learning the facts more difficult.
What Would I Favor?
I’d like what is best for our wildlife populations, the habitat, and the continuation of our treasured outdoor sports. The wildlife commissions should not be political footballs.
Hunting, fishing, boating and trapping generate millions of dollars each year through state sales tax, income tax and gasoline tax. It only seems fair to me that some percentage, even a relatively small slice, of that tax pie comes back to our wildlife agencies. Maybe this would be a new tax, such as the trash truck tipping fee that was proposed last year or a tax on birdseed, binoculars, tents, hiking boots, etc. I would, however, hope that the agencies, or combined agency remain independent.
Apart from the top management levels, I see little in the way of duplicated services. I also fear that a combined agency would attempt to save money exactly where it shouldn’t — by cutting the very people who protect our wildlife — the conservation officers. Smith has already hinted at cutting the field force of WCOs. I, for one, would rather see a doubling of the field force, with more protection for wildlife rather than less protection. The WCOs of both agencies don’t duplicate services. As for Smith’s mention of decreased license fees – don’t bet on it.
One last thought – consider if it applies to you. Most sportsmen who favor combining the current sister agencies are usually unhappy with one or both of them. They imagine the combined agency being run like the “sister” that they favor or somehow the creation of a single agency instantly correcting all wrongs.
I see two different agencies with two different focuses and management styles. What would it be like if the Fish and Boat Commission took over the Game Commission? Or, how would the PGC run the Fish Commission? Interesting thoughts to ponder and I’ll discuss them in a future column.
Hunters and anglers, do become informed. Read the reports and testify at a hearing. Contact your legislator. Let’s all promote what is best for wildlife.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

It’s Time for Ice Fishing
Who would want to sit for hours out on a frigid lake staring at a small hole in the ice? Judging from the crowds on area lakes, the answer must be lots of people, and they seem to be having a ball.
Ole’ Man Winter is giving area ice anglers the best ice that they have had in many winters. The water froze early and, with little snow cover, the ice just kept getting thicker. All area lakes are supporting ice fishing. The hardiest souls are out on even the coldest days, but the more pleasant weather attracts the most anglers.
Black Moshannon was the first area lake to freeze in December, followed by Colyer Lake and then the larger waters, such as Canoe Lake, Sayers Dam and Glendale Lake. The thick ice and recent milder weather has been attracting more and more anglers.
Ice fishing attracts young and old, seasoned veterans, and those totally new to the sport. Three weekends ago I visited with four ice fishermen who were strung out in a line near the entrance to Hunters Cove on Sayers Dam in Bald Eagle State Park. One of them landed a fish as I approached, and I feared that I had just missed a photo opportunity, but that fear couldn’t have been further from the truth.
As I looked on, Al Wilkinson, Pat Caldwell, Dave Donahue and his brother Pat, all from Curwensville, caught perch after perch from the ice-covered 15-foot-deep water. The smaller ones were released, but each fisherman’s pile of “keepers” grew and grew as I watched.
A little while later, ice fishing regular Phil Baldi led Ed DuMond and his son Joe out for their first ice fishing experience. The trio drilled holes through four-and-a-half inches of clear ice with an auger, set up several tip-ups baited with flathead minnows, and were soon into the fishing.
Even though the weather was quite frigid, everyone seemed to be having a great time. Baldi helped the DuMonds catch their first through-the-ice yellow perch, but the nearby Curwensville quartet really produced the fish. The four ended the day with well over 150 perch and lots of good eating.
Dave Donahue and friends were back on the ice again on Martin Luther King Day and caught fewer, but bigger perch. According to Donahue, several were nearly a foot long. The day was cold and windy. Donahue said, “We just about got blown off of the ice that day.” He added, “We did well, but left at 1:30 because we just couldn’t stand it any more.”
On January 26, I met Spring Mills resident Brock Sanner and Mitch Stoner of Woodward enjoying a snowy day of ice fishing on Colyer Lake. Sanner had tried several spots during the day, but settled on an area with 12 inches of ice and about eight feet of water, while Stoner found similar conditions a little farther out in the lake.
Stoner had used an assortment of baits, including nightcrawlers, mealworms and waxworms, to catch several perch and two larger bluegills. Sanner released about a dozen smaller fish, but kept one yellow perch that measured 13 inches.
While some like the solitude, others like Stoner use the radio to keep them company. Both Stoner and Sanner suggested bringing plenty of food and a thermos full of hot drinks.
Blair Stanley, of Tyrone, is a regular visitor to the Black Moshannon ice. He has made five trips so far this winter and reports that this fishing is a little slow compared to last winter. One trip was a total blank, several others netted a few pickerel and, on his best day, he landed three bass and six pickerel.
Stanley recently turned his attention to Lake Glendale and he and his partner landed seven northern pike, all measuring between 20 and 24 inches. His partner caught the biggest pike, a 26-incher. They also caught a few bass and a bowfin – all while using large minnows for bait.
Ice Fishing Advice
Both Stoner and Sanner are willing to move to new locations if the action is slow. When asked for advice, Stoner said that was simple: “If they don’t bite, move.”
Donahue willingly shared the successful fishing method that he and his partners all use. They fish with one short jigging rod per person. At the end of his line, he ties a spoon-like lure called a Swedish Pimple. Donahue favors a model that is chrome and green with a tiny red blade. About a foot above the spoon he adds a pink jig. All hooks are baited with maggots.
He lowers the spoon until it rests on the bottom, with the jig above. Every 10 to 20 seconds he twitches his rod tip slightly in an attempt to attract a fish. If he is unsuccessful at that depth, he cranks in a little line and goes through the same methods, repeating the process until he or his partners find the fish.
One never knows what this jigging method will produce. On January 25, again on Sayers Dam, Caldwell caught an 181/2-inch largemouth on the Swedish Pimple. Donahue had two doubles – catching two fish at once and in his words, “Boy I caught some real dandies!” Five of the 30 perch that he took home were 14 to 15 inches long: “Probably the biggest perch of my life,” he said. They also landed several crappies of over 11 inches.
Both Stoner and Sanner use tip-ups with a good amount of success, and so did Carl Stolz of Bradford. Just this week, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced that Stolz caught a new state record northern pike while ice fishing. Stolz landed the 35-pound monster while fishing a shiner from a tip-up on the Allegheny Reservoir on January 1.
Safety Tips
Remember these safety tips if you decide to give ice fishing a try. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission suggests that you never fish alone and to be extra cautious with small children. They recommend that the ice be a minimum thickness of four inches for safe ice fishing. Also remember that persons 16 and older need a new 2003 fishing license before hitting the ice. Study the Summary of Fishing Regulations to learn minimum sizes and creel limits before you decide to keep any fish.
State park offices reported the following conditions:
Bald Eagle State Park
Great ice conditions and nice catches of crappies and yellow perch have continued to attract anglers to Sayers Dam, reports Park Ranger Bill Everett. There are 14-15 inches of ice at the popular Hunters Cove area and about 10 inches of ice on the remainder of the lake. Everett cautions anglers entering the ice at the Hunters Cove inlet to avoid the thin ice in the area where the old roadway enters the lake. This is difficult to see with the ice covered with 2 inches of snow.
Several bald eagles have recently been spotted in the park and Everett would like anyone seeing our national symbol to report the time and location of the sighting to the park office by calling (814) 625-2775.
Black Moshannon State Park
Park intern Ryan Orendorff reports the ice on the lake is now 12 inches thick and covered with 4-5 inches of snow. There have been people on the ice every day this week and many are doing great. Nice catches including pike, perch, largemouth bass, pickerel and crappie have been reported.
Prince Gallitzin State Park
Ice anglers were really out in force last weekend according to Park Ranger Bill Zollum. Zollum counted 170 anglers last Saturday and nearly as many on Sunday. The ice, as measured at mid lake is approximately 12 inches thick and covered with 2 inches of snow. A 37-inch muskie was caught on the Wyerough Branch of the lake this week. The lucky angler was using a shiner. Another ice fisherman had a 19-inch bass that was caught on the main body of the lake.
Zollum reported nice catches of crappies and perch near the breast of the dam. The crappies ranged from 7 -15 inches in length. Two large northern pike were also caught near the breastAccording to Park Manager Terry Wentz, lake ice is about 10 and a half inches thick with a coating of snow. Thirty-two people were counted fishing last Saturday and Wentz noted that the ice anglers always seem to do better when there is some snow on the ice.
The level of Canoe Lake had been drawn down 10 feet earlier in the winter and is now slowly refilling at about 3 – 4 inches per day. Wentz cautions anglers to be careful when entering the ice because the rising levels mean that the ice is often thinner at the very edge.
Nice catches of bass and pickerel have been reported. Canoe Lake is under the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Big Bass program. Please check regulations before keeping any bass. Adult anglers on the lake also need a trout stamp because Canoe Lake is stocked trout lake. According to Wentz, it is scheduled to be stocked later this month.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Let’s Delay Trout Season
Last winter I outlined the PA Fish and Boat Commission’s serious problems. Declining license sales, no recent fishing license or trout stamp increases, and inflation had them in a budget crunch. On top of that, effluent problems and drought-caused low-water problems at their trout hatcheries (coupled with their budgetary problems) led to a 28 percent cut in the number of trout stocked last spring.
The trout stocking cuts, which appeared to be done in a manner that would irritate the maximum number of anglers, did their job. License sales dropped in 2002. The state legislature wouldn’t even consider a license/trout stamp increase, and the capitol budget included the offer of a loan to the commission, but not the capital improvements grant that they had hoped for.
Eleven months ago the Fish Commission found itself between a rock and a hard place. Guess what? As the calendar is turned to another year, the PFBC’s space between the rock and the hard place has gotten even smaller. And they are on a collision course to spend more money to again raise more trout.
I’m not going to rehash the old issues again (they haven’t changed), but instead offer something positive. I know a way that the Commission can greatly, and I mean greatly, increase stocked trout fishing opportunities and increase angler catch rates and satisfaction, while saving money by stocking the same number or fewer trout.
Delayed Harvest
One of the PFBC’s most popular programs, if not the most popular, is their Delayed Harvest Program. Nearly 80 stream sections are managed under Artificial Lures Only or Fly Fishing Only Delayed Harvest. For those of you unfamiliar with this program, DH waters are open to angling year-round, including March and early April when most stocked streams are closed and everyone is getting the fishing “bug.” Fishing is permitted from Labor Day until the middle of June in DH waters, but only on a catch-and-release basis. On June 15, the catching season begins with a three-trout-per-day creel limit.
At last fall’s Trout Summit, the PFBC showed us their evaluation of differing types of trout waters by applying three “performance measures.” These measures were rankings based on (1) angler trips per acre, (2) angler catch per hour, and (3) angler trips per trout. Outdistancing all others, and ranking number one, was the Delayed Harvest category.
Pennsylvania has been expanding and adding stream sections to their popular Delayed Harvest program each year since its inception. At least two more streams have been added for 2003. However, adding streams under the current process is difficult, slow, and time consuming for commission employees.
How about shaking the apple cart. What if, by vote of the appointed board of fish and boat commissioners, all stocked and wild trout waters currently under “normal” statewide regulations (five trout creel limit) became modified delayed harvest waters?
New for 2004
Imagine how the 2004 season might progress: All stocking remains the same in numbers stocked and time stocked as in 2003. (This could be tweaked later as needed.) The extended trout season closes on “Approved Trout Waters” on midnight February 29. Stocking begins as scheduled on March 1, with no fishing allowed except on the current (2003) list of DH streams.
On Saturday, March 20, all streams reopen under catch-and-release regulations – giving anglers an additional month to fish on streams that would normally be closed at this time of the year.
People continue to fish during those extra four weeks and stocking proceeds as scheduled. Each new stocking, including those by Cooperative Trout Nurseries, would expand stocked trout fishing opportunities and excite early season trout anglers. Catch rates would be high on days with good weather and conducive stream levels. All trout would be recycled, most living to tempt anglers again on following days. Bad weather on a Saturday? No problem – the trout will still be there on Sunday.
The “big day” would normally arrive on Saturday April 17, but why ruin a good thing – catch-and-release regulations continue for another two weeks as many streams receive their second and sometimes third stockings. Anticipation builds, harvest is delayed, and anglers get to fish over those “dense populations of stocked trout” that the PFBC thinks are necessary to sell fishing licenses and trout stamps.
To prevent the shifting of harvest to wild trout streams, those special non-stocked streams would also need to remain no-kill for another two weeks. This step, by the way, would please almost every wild trout angler that I know.
On Saturday, May 1, with some streams carrying more stocked trout than ever, the opening day would be held for the harvest of trout. On the average, stream levels are better on May 1 than in mid-April, and the temperatures are more pleasant for fishing — particularly in the northern mountains. It should certainly be a better day for a family outing and better than having separate southern and northern county opening days – an idea being floated by some PFBC employees.
During these tight budget times, the Commission should also consider lowering the creel limit to two trout per day until June 15. This, another way to delay harvest, will increase angler catch, recycle an expensive and non-renewable resource, and promote recreation rather than harvest.
Plusses and Minuses
On the positive side, I see many things. For starters, over 4000 miles of trout streams and many small lakes would be opened for an extra 28 days of trout fishing. Catch-and-release anglers would be in “trout fishing heaven” and a new population of anglers would be exposed to non-consumptive (less expensive) fishing. There would be an extended period of angling excitement. And all of this could happen with no additional cost or changes to the stocking program.
Potential license/trout stamp buyers would feel that they are getting more for their money, and sales would increase. Happy anglers might translate to a better atmosphere for the PFBC to get their wishes from the state legislature.
I might have my writer’s blinders on, but I see very little on the negative side of the ledger. A debate will surely follow as to whether the new Delayed Harvest season should require flies, flies and lures, or not restrict terminal tackle. Even though I know that artificial lures cause lower mortality, considering young children (future license buyers and environmentalists), I suggest the least restrictive regulations possible. We have All-Tackle Trophy Trout, why not All-Tackle Delayed Harvest? I also see an increased law enforcement responsibility, but that can be handled, too.
What Do You Think?
The Game Commission has taken positive new steps for deer and deer hunters, the Fish and Boat Commission could do the same. After reading this, hopefully you’re contemplating a bold new future for Pennsylvania trout anglers, but just maybe you are wondering about my sanity. I’d like to know either way and I’d be hºappy to publish your comments in a future column.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com