Several Waterways Conservation Officers in the northeast are all seeing the same thing inside the buckets of trout that were stocked into area streams and lakes for the April 12 opener.
Last year saw more trout on the smaller side in areas as manpower and feed issues at some Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries presented a challenge. But those issues have been ironed out, and this year the fish are looking good.
“The trout are really nice this year, and not only the regular fish,” said WCO John Cummings, whose district includes 16 waterways in northern Luzerne and northern Columbia counties. “I’m seeing a lot more big brood fish going in at all my waterways. I’m very happy with the fish that they’re putting out from the Benner Spring hatchery.”
In Wyoming County, WCO Kadin Thompson wrapped up last week stocking Bowman’s Creek and, like Cummings, he said there were plenty of nice trout.
“Especially the browns,” Thompson said. “There’s been some nice ones.”
While the trout look good, so does the water that they’re going into. The heavy snowfall over the winter coupled with recent rainy weather has kept streams flowing full, and they should continue to do so through April 12 — and perhaps beyond.
“I’ve had years when the streams are so low it’s like stocking a puddle,” Cummings said. “But this year, they should be good through May. Maybe a little cold, but I don’t think cold enough to prohibit a good bite.”
Thompson said Bowman’s Creek looks good, but he did have an issue with the North Branch of Mehoopany Creek. The flooding of 2011 eroded many of the stream banks, he said, and the water in Mehoopany Creek still gets muddy as a result.
“There’s still time for it to clear up for opening day, so it’s not a major issue yet,” Thompson said.
With the preseason stockings wrapping up, WCOs are able to spend more time patrolling stocked waterways to make sure no one tries to get a head start on the season. There’s been relatively few problems so far in the area, but WCOs are on the lookout virtually around the clock.
“Poaching hasn’t been as bad as in the past and I think it’s because of the bad weather,” said WCO Aaron Lupacchini, who covers southern Luzerne County. “But you always have people who can’t wait, and that’s why if I’m not stocking, I’m patrolling.”
Such work requires WCOs to keep odd hours, often staying out late at night or in the early morning. It’s a schedule that they’ll keep for opening day, when they head out well before first light and won’t call it a day until after dark.
Lupachinni said that, despite the long hours, he looks forward to the opening day of trout season because it’s a chance to see some familiar faces and gain some interaction with anglers.
“It’s tradition for us, as it is for anglers,” he said. “It’s just good to get out on the water and talk to people after we’ve all been waiting for this all winter.”
The social aspect of the first day is just as big as the opportunity to catch trout, in some areas. Thompson said a local Trout Unlimited Chapter sets up a concession stand for anglers along Bowman’s Creek, as does the Mehoopany Creek Watershed Association, which sells food from a stand along the creek in Forkston.
“There are some pretty big gatherings on opening day and it’s truly a big event,” Thompson said.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the job is simply not being able to fish with everyone else on the first day. For Cummings, that was a hard adjustment at first.
For years, Cummings spent the first day fishing with his father, but that ended when he became a WCO.
“It bothered me not to have that, but it waned over time,” Cummings said. “Now that I have two young children, it’s tough, but we will have plenty of opportunities to fish during the season.”
That’s because the PFBC will remain busy stocking lakes and streams throughout the first two months of the season. While many waterways are crowded on the first day, the in-season stockings offer anglers a chance at just as many trout without the throngs of anglers.
In fact, Cummings is surprised more anglers don’t take advantage of the in-season stockings.
“Some of them are under-utilized,” he said. “I strongly encourage people to come out to an in-season stocking. If you’re looking for places that don’t get a lot of pressure, consider Little Fishing Creek and Huntington Creek in northern Columbia County.”