Two Centre County anglers traveled north to attend a special meeting Nov. 18 at Sinnemahoning State Park. They voiced approval for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plan to make the upper Kettle Creek watershed catch and release. This water had previously been in the now defunct Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program.
The Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program was developed in 2004, with the program’s intent to improve the size and abundance of larger native brook trout in streams through the implementation of special regulations. The regulation totally protected brook trout, while allowing for the harvest of other fish species.
Under these regulations, angling was permitted on a year-round basis with no tackle restrictions, and no brook trout could be harvested at any time. Commonwealth Inland Waters regulations applied to other trout species, requiring a seven-inch-minimum harvest length and five-trout-per-day creel limit from the opening day of trout season through Labor Day, with no harvest from Labor Day until the following opening day of trout season.
The very first water to be entered into the program in 2004 was the upper Kettle Creek watershed. This included Long Run and all of Kettle Creek above Long Run, as well as all of the upper tributaries — a total of 28.3 miles of naturally-reproducing trout streams. These streams flow through southern Potter and southwestern Tioga counties. Kettle Creek is a stocked trout stream below the mouth of Long Run — just upstream from the bridge on Route 44.
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On July 14, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commissioners voted to end the Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program — with the pledge that the eight so-designated waters would be moved into other existing programs. The Commission’s staff had informed the commissioners that the program had been ineffective, based on electro-shocking surveys, and should be eliminated.
Chief of Fisheries Leroy Young also noted, “Eliminating the Wild Brook Trout Enhancement program simplifies our trout regulations, which is an agency goal.”
According to Jason Detar, chief of the Division of Fisheries Management, seven of the eight streams had not shown a positive response to the regulations.
“We regularly monitored all of these streams, as well as several control streams, from 2005 through 2014,” Detar said. “Specifically, we were looking for an increase in the number of native brook trout over 7 inches long. Unfortunately, no increase was observed, except in Kettle Creek.”
All of the waters immediately reverted to the statewide regulations following the vote at the July 2015 commission meeting. However, Commission biologists have proposed moving the upper Kettle Creek watershed out of normal statewide regulations and designating it as a Catch and Release All Tackle stream.
“As far as the brook trout are concerned, it is basically the same regulation as under Brook Trout Enhancement, but now naturally reproduced brown trout are protected, too,” Detar added.
Detar made a presentation to the anglers at the meeting — the same slide show that he had given the commissioners in September. Detar shared data and outlined the case for changing upper Kettle Creek to Catch and Release All Tackle.
Scott Brumbaugh, of Bellefonte, was one of about a dozen anglers who attended the meeting.
“Catch and Release All Tackle is a good fit for upper Kettle Creek, but I preferred the Wild Brook Trout Enhancement regulations,” Brumbaugh shared. “Brook Trout Enhancement regulations emphasized the importance of our native brook trout and provided them extra protection.”
State College angler Dave Dudukovich also made the trip north to Sinnemahoning State Park for the meeting.
“I have no problem with the catch and release regulations for upper Kettle,” Dudukovich said. “But what about the other seven streams that were in the Wild Brook Trout Enhancement program? I love fishing for wild trout, and I just would like to see all Class A Wild Trout streams managed as Catch and Release All Tackle.
“People within the Fish and Boat Commission keep telling me that the protection isn’t necessary because most fishermen throw them back, anyway. However, I know that it only takes one or two anglers keeping wild trout to really make a dent in the population of a specific stream.”
Brumbaugh felt somewhat misled — not by the recent meeting, but when the Wild Brook Trout Enhancement program was eliminated in July.
“I felt that the Commission misled the public in two ways. First, that the Brook Trout regulations were not successful anywhere, and second, that these streams would be given other special protection, instead of just the standard statewide regulations.”
Young noted that this was never the commission’s intent to place them all in some type of special regulations.
“All seven of the other waters have been placed under standard Commonwealth Inland Regulations,” Young stated in an email.
The possible change in upper Kettle Creek watershed’s regulations is now open for public comment through the agency’s website. The comment period ends Jan. 11, 2016.
According to Detar, based on the results of the meeting and the public comment, staff will likely recommend designating the upper Kettle Creek basin under Catch and Release All Tackle Regulations at the Commission meeting in January. If approved, regulations will be in effect for the 2016 fishing season.
The 2016 regulation booklet has already been published. If the commissioners pass this change for Kettle Creek in January, Detar said that signs would be placed in the watershed, declaring the new designation.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is chairman of the board for the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com