There is a solution to having more pheasants to hunt and more trout to catch.
It doesn’t involve having the Pennsylvania Game Commission or state Fish and Boat Commission raise more, however.
Let us do it.
The PFBC is desperately trying to cling to its annual trout allotment of nearly four million, but it’s a tough goal to meet thanks to increasing expenses and hatcheries that are nearly maxed out.
That’s one reason why the agency is looking for more cooperative nurseries - those run by sportsmen’s clubs, for example, to pitch in and raise more trout.
Currently, there are approximately 160 cooperative nurseries across the state and they raise nearly 25 percent of the trout released each year. This year of the 3.9 million trout that are stocked, more than 700,000 were raised by cooperative nurseries.
It’s a good program.
Participating clubs receive fingerling trout from the agency in late summer. Over the next several months, they raise the fish - feed them and maintain the nursery, before they stock them the following year in waters open to public fishing.
And they do it all at their own expense.
That saves the PFBC money, time and space.
Why do they do it?
My guess is for the simple enjoyment of raising trout. There’s a certain satisfaction derived from taking fingerling trout, raising them to adulthood and then releasing them into a stream where, perhaps, a child may catch his or her first fish.
The agency wants to increase the number of cooperative nurseries by six percent each year, and they are discussing ways to achieve the goal, such as education programs for nurseries, recruitment programs, revitalize dormant facilities and improve the grant program to help out with infrastructure improvements and construction, among other things.
Not only is the agency looking to expand the number of cooperative nurseries, they’d like to add more in areas of the state that are lacking such facilities.
The Game Commission has taken a similar, and equally successful approach with pheasants. The agency has a program where it provides clubs with day-old pheasant chicks, along with plans for a brooder building, covered pen and tips on how to raise the birds.
Game Commission staff also offer technical assistance and training sessions at their game farms.
All the club has to do is build a covered pen and feed the birds. Like the trout in the cooperative nursery program, the pheasants must be released on land open to public hunting.
The program is being exercised locally at Francis Walter Dam where Ross Piazza of Pheasants Afield and several employees at the dam raise 250 birds in a covered pen. The setup requires minimal effort - a few minutes each day to fill feeders and waterers, and that’s about it.
Best of all, the birds are released in conjunction with a youth pheasant hunt that takes place nearby on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property, which is also open to public hunting.
Both programs — trout and pheasants — go a long way toward augmenting the work of the PGC and PFBC.
Both agencies spend a lot of money and time to raise trout in hatcheries and pheasants on game farms. Some may argue that both efforts result in put-and-take hunting and fishing, and neither agency denies it.
After all, when it comes to stocked trout and pheasants, the main goal is opportunity.
Motivation, if you will, to cast a line into a stream or work a bird dog in a field of tall grass.
And as money gets tighter and budgets are trimmed, a little cooperative help may be just the thing that saves trout fishing and pheasant hunting in the state.