Afield: New crappie regulations possible for Sayers Lake

Crappies are measured during a 2013 Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission trap-net survey on Sayers Lake.
Crappies are measured during a 2013 Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission trap-net survey on Sayers Lake. Photo provided

New fishing regulations that will affect thousands of anglers are in store for Foster Joseph Sayers Lake in Bald Eagle State Park. The new rules, if given final approval in July, will change the size and number of black and white crappies that can be harvested at this popular Centre County lake.

Regulations proposed and given tentative approval by the commissioners at their March 31 meeting would limit the creeling of crappies to 10 per angler, per day — with no more than five of them measuring nine inches or more. Current regulations permit the creeling of up to 20 crappies, each measuring 9 inches or more.

Sayers Lake is a 1,730-acre impoundment operated by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the state park is operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the fishing regulations are controlled by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

According to Jason Detar, chief of fisheries management for the PFBC, Sayers is a productive and very popular fishery with high angler use. Since 1999, fishing for crappies and yellow perch on Sayers Lake has been governed by the commission’s Panfish Enhancement Special Regulations.

Normal statewide regulations for panfish permit each angler to harvest up to 50 panfish per day, with no minimum length limit. Panfish Enhancement regulations limit the number of crappies creeled to 20 per day and places a 9-inch minimum size on crappies, a very popular fish at Sayers Lake.

“The purpose of Panfish Enhancement regulations was to increase the number and size of crappies in the lake,” Detar commented. Agency surveys on the lake revealed that the regulations have been working, but only nominally, according to Detar. “Legal-sized crappies still made up only about 8 percent of the catch — 12 percent during the best year.”

The agency and many anglers thought that it was time to try something new.

Commission staff conducted data reviews and modeled various possible regulation options. They believe that their current proposal offers the best shot at improving the age structure of the crappie population, while still allowing harvest.

“We think that, by allowing the harvest of fish under 9 inches, we will increase the opportunity for harvest, while providing increased protection for a greater number of crappies to reach a quality size of over 9 inches,” Detar said.

Angler support

On Jan. 30, PFBC staff interviewed 111 out of an estimated 400 ice anglers on the frozen lake that day. Those anglers caught 6,378 crappies, with only 1,356 measuring 9 inches or more. Of the 1,356 legal-sized crappies, anglers took home 1,142 or 85 percent of the legal-sized fish. That is a large one-day harvest.

“A significant majority, about 74 percent of those surveyed, indicated that they were in favor of a regulation change on the lake,” Detar said.

A public meeting was also held at Bald Eagle State Park on Feb. 23, to gain additional angler input. According to Detar and agency biologist Dave Kristine, the majority of the 55 anglers at the meeting supported a regulations change. However, they were split between regulation options and preferred rules that allowed more crappies to be harvested.

Tim Bittner, of Beech Creek, was one of the anglers who attended the February meeting. Bittner is not happy with the current “panfish enhancement” regulations and he is not totally pleased with the new proposal, either.

“I don’t know what they need to do to fix it, but I do know that the current regulations are not working,” Bittner said. “I have to catch 50 to 60 crappies just to get one or two legal-sized ones for the table.”

As for the proposed regulations, Bittner likes some parts, but he thinks that the allowable harvest should be higher. He thinks that harvesting more of the smaller crappies would give the remaining fish more to eat and they would grow faster.

“Local people like me enjoy sharing the entire outdoor experience with our families. That includes fishing, filleting and eating your catch,” Bittner shared. “I like that they will be encouraging people to keep some smaller crappies, but allowing the harvest of only 10 fish doesn’t give us much to eat. I’d like to see a higher number.”

Public comment

The new special crappie regulations for Sayers Lake will be up for final approval at the commission’s July meeting. The public comment period is not yet open, but it will occur between now and the summer commission meeting. If given final approval, the new rules will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017.

Sayers Lake level

If you are one of the many people who thought that the water level in Sayers Lake is low for this time of year, your observation is correct. This is not by design. The problem has been caused by the lack of snow melt and little precipitation.

Sayers is a flood control dam, and each winter, the lake is drawn down 20 feet below its normal summer pool. According to park staff, the Army Corps started to refill the dam at the usual time, but refill rates have been below normal because of the low flows in Bald Eagle Creek. The refill rate has been about one foot per week, and the lake is still about six feet below its normal summer level. With only two weeks to go until the normal May 14 opening of the boat rental, marina and summer launches, it is unlikely that the lake will be full at that time. Of course, a major rain could change all of that in a single day.

Colyer Lake open

Anglers should note that nearby Colyer Lake is open for angling, but under Catch and Release regulations for all fish species.

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