Penns Creek Stocked
The famous and very popular Catch-and-Release section of Penns Creek was stocked with 17,000 three-inch brown trout fingerlings on May 30. Depending upon whom you talk with, this could be considered either a bold new step by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or a fisheries management folly.
The result could be negative, with hatchery genes mixing into the specifically adapted wild trout gene pool and hurting the wild population. It could be positive, with a higher density trout population to fish over, such as in the Little Juniata River.
Penns Creek flows through the extreme eastern point of Centre County, through Spring Mills, Coburn and Ingleby. It is considered by most anglers to be one of the top five trout streams in Pennsylvania because of its pristine setting and colorful naturally-reproduced brown trout population. It has a well-known green drake hatch and is a top year-round destination for many Blair and Centre County fly anglers.
The Catch-and-Release area lies downstream from the Poe Paddy Camping Area and is located as the stream flows eastward out of Centre County into Mifflin and Union counties. This remote 3.9-mile section of stream has been under artificial lures and flies, catch-and-release-only-regulations. For more than 20 years it has been managed as a wild trout water and not stocked, that is up until late last month. This switch from purely wild trout (all natural reproduction) to stocked trout fingerlings is what has many anglers upset.
Dwight Landis, who authored “Trout Streams of Pennsylvania – An Angler’s Guide,” is one of those upset anglers. “I’m against it,” he said. “One of the things that makes Penns Creek a special fishery is that the trout are wild.”
Ever since late April, popular fly fishing message boards such as www.paflyfish.com and www.flyfishersparadise.com have included a good bit of discussion about the fingerling stocking proposal. Anglers have weighed in both for and against the stocking. Opinions have reflected angler perception of how good — or bad — the fishing has been and the poster’s preference for wild trout. A sampling of the comments on the board managed by Flyfishers Paradise included these four:
“Considering how low the trout population is on Penns Creek right now, fingerling stocking would be a HUGE benefit.”
“Who says the population needs jumpstarted? As far as I know the PFBC is basing its proposal on one set of stream surveys.”
“If the fingerling program on Penns is half as effective as on the Little J, it would be a great boost to the trout population.”
“It would make more sense to me to take steps to rejuvenate the wild population … simply throwing more fish in the water doesn’t constitute a viable solution.”
The Trout Population
Just how is the wild trout population in the C&R section of Penns Creek? According to PFBC Chief of Fisheries Management Richard Snyder, during four of the past seven surveys that have occurred since 1989, the fish population was below what is necessary to be considered a Class A Wild Trout Water. Snyder pointed out that, overall, the average trout biomass during that period has been just under 39 pounds per acre – slightly over the minimum for Class A consideration.
Penns Creek was surveyed again on June 17 by Northcentral Area Fisheries Manager Bruce Hollender and his crew. This year’s biennial electro-fishing survey was done from a small boat because of the stream level. Although high water hindered collection, hundreds of trout were captured, including several large browns. Snyder said that the double-pass survey method factors in the mathematics of the lower catch rate resulting from the higher water. It will be some time before the population estimates are finished.
According to Snyder, the number of young-of-the-year trout has been low in the Catch-and-Release section of Penns Creek. “Fingerlings are stocked to supplement the limited amount of natural reproduction and recruitment that is already occurring,” he explained.
Rainbow trout fingerlings were originally to have been stocked in Penns Creek, as stated in the April PFBC announcement, but Snyder clarified that the species was changed to brown trout based on angler comments.
“It is staff’s intent to use fingerling trout to increase the number of trout there and to have a more consistent density – especially during years without adequate recruitment from tributaries,” Snyder added. He believes that this section of stream has enough fertility and suitable habitat to support more adult trout than it currently does.
According to Snyder, fingerlings were stocked at five or six sites in the section. All 17,000 were fin-clipped so that they can be identified by fisheries biologists during future surveys. Similar stockings are planned for the next two years.
Measure of Success
Some Penns Creek regulars think that it is high water temperatures, such as those seen during the past several drought summers, rather than poor recruitment of younger trout that limits the number of trout in Penns Creek. Snyder agreed that thermal stress might just be a “population bottleneck” that fingerling stocking won’t solve. Only research can verify that.
“Fisheries management is a dynamic process, where numbers may bounce around,” Snyder said. “More fingerling stocking, but not specifically in Penns Creek, was a recommendation to come out of Trout Summit 2002. Staff decided that Penns Creek would be a good place for fingerlings to work.”
Fin clipping will allow for the success of this trial to be evaluated. The next survey is planned for June, 2005,” according to Snyder.
Whether you were for or against this “experiment,” it’s too late to call back the hatchery fingerlings. I only hope that this stocking venture proves to be successful. To wild trout enthusiasts like Landis, however, even a successful experiment will detract from the wild trout fishing experience.
Mark can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com
Penns Creek Stocked