(This is the second part of a series examining an effort by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to assess all of the state’s waters for populations of wild trout. Last Sunday we joined members of the Western Pocono Chapter of Trout Unlimited as they assessed tributaries to Nescopeck Creek. This week we’ll find out what the PFBC does with the information and how far the program has come.)
It’s a task that Robert Weber doesn’t believe will be completed during his career. With more than 58,300 streams across the state yet to do, it’s understandable why Weber, who is a fisheries biologist and the unassessed waters coordinator with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, doesn’t feel the initiative will be finished before he retires.
But that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t being made.
The program seeks to examine every stream - named and unnamed, in the state for populations of wild trout. The PFBC is spearheading the work, which has received a boost from colleges, Trout Unlimited chapters and anglers via the public participation portion of the program. The public groups sample unassessed streams by either visually locating wild trout or fishing the waterways and catching them. That data is given to the PFBC who will sample the stream themselves or have a survey partner conduct the work, which usually involves electroshocking the stream.
Weber said the additional sampling is done on any stream where trout have been seen, no matter how many.
“We follow it up if they report back that they saw wild trout,” Weber said. “The public part of this is working well because there’s so many unassessed waters and the anglers were clamoring to get involved in the process. They have local knowledge of these streams and that can really help us identify these trout streams.”
Since the Unassessed Waters Program launched in 2010, more than 3,000 waterways have been sampled. Some waterways in the state were surveyed before the program, and so far the PFBC and its partners have sampled 5,240 named and unnamed streams - totalling 25,431 miles, across the state. Of those, 3,727 were designated as wild trout water for a total of 12,695 miles.
“We’re making a little dent,” Weber said. “The program has become very popular.”
Over the last four years, at least half of the streams surveyed annually held wild trout. The majority of wild trout - namely brook trout, aren’t monstrous in size, but the survey work has turned up some sizable finds.
Weber said the largest wild brook trout that he knows of in the survey was 11 inches. There have been plenty of wild brown trout in the 20-inch range, he said, but there is one fish that tops them all.
Three years ago, while sampling Letort Spring Run Cumberland County crews found a 26-inch wild brown trout. They captured the trout again the following year and it measured 28 inches. The third year the stream was surveyed, the same wild brown trout was caught again and this time it was 32 inches in length.
With so many miles of streams yet to be assessed, Weber said it’s anybody’s guess how many more enormous wild trout will turn up.
Regardless, Weber’s top goal is to continue making a dent in the task at hand and designate the state’s wild trout waters so they can be protected.
“Last year we sampled 1,100 streams in the state and I expect to do 1,000 each year,” Weber said. “It all depends on the help we have form the outside and the other priorities we have in the agency.”