Volunteers throughout the commonwealth carried buckets of them to streamside. Sportsmen with floating boxes dispersed them while wading downstream. They flowed through wide pipes from tanker trucks into lakes in sprays of fins and gills.
By Saturday, more than 2.5 million trout will have been released into Pennsylvania waterways for the regional opening day of trout season.
On March 30 at 8 a.m., waterways in Cumberland and 18 other counties get a two-week headstart on the statewide opening day of April 13. About 850,000 anglers buy a fishing license each year.
Each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks 3.2 million adult trout into 735 streams and 123 lakes; more than half of which are added before the season starts. They also put in larger, breeder trout sure to bend any fishing rod.
“The stocked fish look good,” said Dave Hurst, waterways conservation officer for Cumberland, Franklin and northern York counties. He estimated that Cumberland County would receive 60,000 preseason trout. “Pretty much all the fish come from Huntsdale (fish hatchery) and are averaging about 11 inches a fish,” Hurst said. “They have a lot of good color and are fat.”
“The fish are the best that I’ve seen in years out of the Huntsdale hatchery, and I’ve been doing this 30 years,” said Chris Kuba, stocking coordinator for the south-central Region and president of the Yellow Breeches Anglers Conservation Association.
Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway agreed. “Since we’ve gone from fewer smaller fish to more bigger fish, our biomass has stayed the same,” Arway said. “The quality of the fish has gotten better.”
Before opening day in Cumberland County, the commission will have stocked brook trout into Big Spring Creek and Doubling Gap Lake; brook and brown trout into Laurel Lake; brown and rainbow trout into Green Spring, Middle Spring and Yellow Breeches creeks; rainbow trout into Children’s, Fuller and Opossum lakes; and brown, brook and rainbow trout into Mountain Creek. All but Green Spring Creek will be stocked again after April 1.
Preseason stocking reports for all counties can be found on the commission website at www.fishandboat.com.
Across the commonwealth, cooperative nurseries run by sportsmen’s clubs, such as the Yellow Breeches Anglers, add another one million fish to the supply. Yellow Breeches Anglers provide 50,000 trout annually to Children’s Lake, the children’s section of Latimore Creek in northern Adams County and 27 miles of Yellow Breeches Creek.
Area trout fishing opportunities expand this season with the return of the popular, 59-acre Opossum Lake, with its rebuilt spillway. The Cumberland County lake near Carlisle was drained in 2008 by the fish and boat commission after routine inspections found the dam’s spillway was cracked and leaking. Total project cost was approximately $3.38 million.
Opossum Lake was stocked with rainbow trout on Friday and Arway and other dignitaries will be on hand March 30 for a ribbon-cutting and then ceremonial first-cast at 8 a.m.
“People who live nearby and fish them, regard them as their lakes and they have a lot at stake in getting their lakes back,” Arway said. “It takes a lot of time, money and cooperation to rebuild a dam. We couldn’t have done this without the help of Sen. Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), the Friends of Opossum Lake Conservancy, local and county officials and DEP.”
Legal trout must be at least seven inches long and the daily creel limit is five fish. In addition to a fishing license, anglers 16 and older must have a trout/salmon stamp when fishing trout waters. This is the first year the commission is offering three-year and five-year licenses.
Arway said anglers and boaters spend $3.2 billion each year in Pennsylvania. “Anglers come and go,” he said. “Only 10 percent buy a license five years in a row.” In the few months since they were authorized, the commission has sold 10,000-12,000 multi-year licenses and it hasn’t yet reached the period of peak sales.
As part of its mission to keep young anglers and their families fishing, the commission’s pilot Mentored Youth Trout Day gave youngsters and their mentors an early taste of success on Saturday on 12 select waters. In this area it was Children’s Lake and Doubling Gap Lake. Equipment and bait were provided at the sites. At last count, 1,500 mentors and 2,000 children had registered.
Quality waters account for quality fish and Cumberland County appears to have both. Three area fisheries are on the commission’s list of “Pennsylvania’s Best Fishing Waters” — Yellow Breeches Creek for stocked trout, Big Spring and Letort Spring creeks for wild trout.
“We have terrific water quality,” Hurst said. “We have some great limestone streams and some great freestone streams.”
“It’s all a reflection of the geology,” Arway said. “The geology provides the fertility to the streams to be able to grow fish. Much like if you have limestone geology you have the soils where you can grow land crops very well. The same holds true for fish. All our wild trout streams kind of take care of themselves. Unless we see they get over-exploited where we’ve had anglers keeping too many fish and having impact of population levels, all we have to do is watch nature provide that kind of fishing.”
“Also it’s the public access to all these streams,” WCO Hurst said. “The Yellow Breeches Creek is over 30 miles long and it’s practically all open to fishing. You can almost drive along the shore the entire way.”
“We contact landowners to make sure it’s OK to stock and we start in January,” Kuba said of the Yellow Breeches Angler’s effort on those waters. “If there’s a problem, we meet with the landowners immediately. Dave (Hurtz) works well with us on that.”
Sportsmen’s groups are eager to put muscle and money where it counts in order to keep their fisheries safe and productive. “Even though the fishery is good, (groups) make it better and make sure what they have is protected,” Arway said. “They do habitat projects and invest time, energy and money into those watersheds to make sure the fishery is sustainable. That there are enough trout to maintain the level of fishing we expect a stream can produce.”
Cumberland Valley Chapter Trout Unlimited has more than 500 volunteer members. “We fish 365 days a year, so we’re not hyped about opening day,” said Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited vice president John Leonard. Its stated mission is to, “protect and restore the legendary limestone streams of the Cumberland Valley and to educate the next generation of conservationists and anglers.”
“We have a big project — a half-mile restoration project in Big Spring in mid-June to mid-July,” Leonard said. The group completed a major dam removal on Yellow Breeches Creek in 2010. It was among the efforts that earned the chapter the national Trout Unlimited’s Gold Trout Award in 2011.
The Yellow Breeches group has its own stream improvements and litter pickups. With its connection to Carlisle Barracks, the group has about 2,000 members in 37 states, some serving in the Middle East with the National Guard.
As for opening day, waterways conservation officer Hurst has a few suggestions. “Make sure you have a trout stamp and be mindful of other people’s property,” the lawman said. “The quickest way to get a stream closed is to disrespect the owner or to litter.”
The man who raises them, said trout will go for “Powerbait and natural baits,” Kuba suggested. “As cold as it is this time of year, you have a better chance of catching fish than if you were using flies.”
“Live bait outperforms artificial lures 10 to 1,” WCO Hurst agreed. “Fishing is 50 percent luck. They’re either biting or not.”
The 17 other counties getting a two-week headstart on the statewide opening day of April 13 are Adams, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill and York.