Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Native Brook Trout to Receive Protection
Two Opening Days Nixed
Two important votes were cast by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat board of commissioners at their summer meeting. One vote nixed the idea of holding two regional opening days for trout season, a plan that was first officially proposed at their spring meeting. The second vote gave approval for one of two proposed regulations that should protect native brook trout.
These plans were briefly outlined in a July column on this page. I’m quite happy with both commission votes, for in that Herald column I had voiced concern over the idea of regional opening days and favored the second of two new wild brook trout regulations – the one that they adopted.
Even if I disagree, I applaud the commission for bringing forward for discussion the idea of holding two opening days for trout season. It is only through exploration and investigation that positive change occurs. According to the PFBC, angler response to the idea was mixed, therefore the commissioners decided to go with tradition and continue with one state-wide opening day, which will be held as usual in mid-April.
More Protection for Native Brook Trout
The vote that establishes a new special regulations category aimed at enhancing wild brook trout populations was by far the more important of the commission’s two decisions. Under the new program, selected brook trout waters will be managed for catch-and-release fishing with no tackle restrictions. These streams will be open to year-round fishing as they were in the past, but on a no-kill basis.
Wild trout advocates have been suggesting better protection for naturally reproducing trout populations for many years. Wild trout streams can handle a lot of fishing pressure, but many can’t continue to provide good angling if liberal harvest is allowed. They are special resources that deserve special protection.
Participants in the commission’s Trout Summit 2002, held last September, also voiced the need for better protection for wild trout and native brook trout in particular.
A few of the better wild trout streams or stream sections have been protected by Heritage, Trophy Trout or Selective Harvest regulations, but no regulations specifically favored native brook trout and none considered brook trout migration. Most wild trout streams remain on normal state-wide regulations for size and harvest.
According to PFBC Coldwater Unit Leader Tom Greene, the first area to be put under the new brook trout enhancement regulations will be the upper end of the Kettle Creek watershed in Potter and Tioga counties. This 50 or so square-mile chunk of real estate includes upper Kettle Creek, Long Run, Indian Run, the Germania Branch, Straight Run, Billings Branch and all other Kettle Creek tributaries above Long Run.
Additional areas being considered for brook trout enhancement include the Minister Creek watershed in Forest County, the upper Lyman Run watershed (currently partially protected with Selective Harvest), the North Branch of Buffalo Creek above the Mifflinburg Reservoir, the entire Cooks Run watershed in Cameron County, and the Birch Run watershed in Potter County. Although none have yet to be identified, there might be some local brook trout waters suitable for management under these regulations.
Brook trout, actually a char, are the only native stream salmonid in Pennsylvania. Many trout anglers think of native brookies as colorful but tiny trout that inhabit the smaller headwater reaches of forested coldwater streams. If you know where to look and how to catch them, wild brook trout can and do grow to over a foot long, with many measuring nine or more inches.
Ken Undercoffer, native brook trout advocate and past president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, has long pushed for better management of our state fish. Undercoffer’s research has shown that Pennsylvania’s native brook trout have the potential to reach sizes much larger than what most anglers are used to. All they need is better protection.
According to Undercoffer, this management must include entire watersheds rather than small sections of stream. Watershed regulation would allow for the seasonal movement of trout, which Undercoffer believes occurs each year. To my knowledge, the PFBC’s new regulations will be their first attempt to manage by watershed — a giant step in the right direction.
It is rather sad from my perspective, but this good fisheries news received all of one paragraph’s mention in a PFBC news release. While the commissioners made a good resource-oriented decision, some of the powers-that-be within the commission don’t seem to recognize the significance of this move. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that better days are ahead for Pennsylvania’s native brook trout.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

By Rick