Naturally Speaking

Proposed Trout Regulations
At their spring meeting, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission voted to seek public comment regarding three regulation changes that would affect both wild and stocked trout fishing. The first would change the traditional opening day of trout season and the other two proposals could improve native brook trout populations.
The public comment period is about to expire. A meeting was held in Harrisburg on July 9 to discuss these proposals and receive angler input. Written comments must be received by July 14. Here is a summary of both regulation changes along with a few comments.
Regional Opening Days
The opening day of trout season has been held on the first Saturday following April 11 since before I was born. Many anglers refer to it as April 15, but in truth they know that the trout opener bounces around between April 12- 18, depending on the calendar for that particular year.
Considering differences in climate across the state, some within the Commission think that holding an earlier opening day in the southeast would take advantage of better water temperatures and stream flows. It would also provide more trout angling opportunities and possibly attract potential license buyers before they turn to golf and/or other non-fishing activities.
As proposed, this earlier opener would include an 18-county area in the southeast and southcentral parts of the state. This area would radiate out from Philadelphia to include Franklin, Juniata (the closest counties to us), Dauphin, Lebanon counties, and northward to Schuylkill, Lehigh and Northampton counties.
On the opposite side of the coin, conditions in other parts of the state, particularly in the northcentral counties, can be downright frigid for the traditional opener. Why not delay the season until the third Saturday in April?
Let’s cut to the chase, here — Even though you can fish for trout 12 months a year, most anglers seem to want a traditional opening day. It builds excitement, and the PFBC thinks that it helps to sell fishing licenses and trout stamps. The biggest time for sales is just prior to the opening day. Although I personally avoid the circus atmosphere, I can’t argue with their logic.
This proposal would provide more angling opportunities in the 18-county area, which is a good thing and would make better use of stocked trout. The PFBC should be providing more fishing opportunities that won’t harm the resource.
The only problem that I see with the proposal is the possibility of a large number of anglers from other regions flocking to the southeast and over-crowding their streams on opening day number one. Two weeks later, many southeastern anglers might drive into the other counties to take in their second opening day and further crowd Blair and other county streams.
My thinking might seem selfish or parochial, but staggering the opening days and the resulting crowding could actually subtract from angling opportunities. In my eyes, it could lower the quality of angling and might result in angler–landowner conflicts and stream posting. Please notice my use of the words “possibility,” “might” and “could.” I don’t have a crystal ball, but neither does anyone else.
Protecting Native Brook Trout
The Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited has been suggesting, urging and pleading with the PFBC to enact new regulations to better protect wild trout. This was also a loud voice emanating from last fall’s Trout Summit. The Commission is currently (finally) collecting public comment about two different proposals that could enhance native brook trout populations and improve fishing.
The first proposal would enact a 7-inch MAXIMUM size limit on all native brook trout. Under this option, fishing would be permitted year-round, with artificial lures and flies (or with no tackle restrictions). As many as five wild brook trout could be creeled per day from opening day through Labor Day, with no harvest allowed during the remainder of the year.
According to the PFBC, this state-wide regulation would protect larger and older brook trout – allowing them to breed – while still permitting some harvest.
There might be a few streams that would benefit from this regulation, but on the better streams the fastest growing brook trout reach six inches during the spring of their second year. These fast-growing 6 to 6.9-inchers (the better trout) could all be harvested at a rate of five per day during April and May when fishing pressure is highest. On heavily-fished streams, few trout might ever live to see seven inches! I vote “thumbs down” on this idea.
The second approach would protect certain select streams and their tributaries with complete no-kill regulations. The upper Kettle Creek watershed, for example, has been suggested. All fishing for wild brook trout on these selected waters would be on a strict catch-and-release basis. Brown and rainbow trout could still be harvested from these streams, thus favoring native brook trout – our state fish and our only native salmonid.
The PFBC is asking for angler input as to whether these no-kill regulations should be with artificial lure and fly restrictions or all-tackle. According to Pennsylvania Council of TU president George Mellinger, PATU favors the no-kill option over the maximum size limit and they want the regulations to include lure-and-fly-only restrictions.
In the summer issue of “Pennsylvania Trout,” Mellinger wrote, “While we are pleased that there is recognition of the need for some protection of wild trout in Pennsylvania, we are concerned that the hooking mortality of bait fishing would defeat any gains made by the other regulations.”
Mellinger and TU are still campaigning for better protection for all wild trout, not just brook trout. He wrote, “The five-trout-per-day limit is unreasonable if you expect a wild population to reach its full potential.” In a phone interview, Mellinger added that the PA Council has no opinion about the regional opening day proposal.
I agree with Mellinger about more protection being needed for wild trout. I also support the selected catch-and-release regulations for certain streams as a better idea than the proposed 7-inch maximum size limit.
I hope that the catch-and-release regulations are instituted for selected brook trout waters and that the list of such streams quickly grows. It would be better for the resource if they limited anglers to artificial lures. However, considering political realities, I would even support the change with bait fishing permitted. We need to start somewhere.
If the commissioners vote to approve the regional opening day proposal, I hope they consider attempting it on a trial basis rather than making a complete and absolute change. It would provide more angling opportunities for stocked trout.
Comments will be accepted electronically at or by mail by writing to the PFBC, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. All comments will be shared with the commissioners at their July 18-19 meeting and must be received by July 14.
Mark Nale can be reached at