Sometimes the outdoors is as much about people as it is wild things and places.
In 2016 we met several local people who made some pretty impressive accomplishments in the outdoor world. The list includes Stanley Cooper Jr., of Wilkes-Barre, Tony Hudak, of Noxen, Jackson Township resident Albert Ashton and young bass anglers Tyler Gavlick, Shaun Kucharski and Cody Cutter.
Speaking of people, Donald Trump Jr., the son of the president-elect, also visited the Outdoors page last year.
But the outdoors in 2016 wasn’t all about people. There was otter trapping and habitat work in the winter, trout fishing and turkey hunting in the spring, bass tournaments in the summer and the fall brought us to Frances Slocum, Moon Lake and the Pinchot State Forest to learn more about improvements and wildlife surveys in those areas.
As is the case every year, we spent plenty of time in the region’s outdoors last year getting a firsthand look at wildlife in the area. We ventured up to Sullivan County to cover the release of an endangered bird back into the wild, went to Mountain Top as the Pennsylvania Game Commission did the same thing with a bald eagle, trapped bears on State Game Lands 13, banded ducks in Dorrance Township and learned just how well the muskie population is doing in the Susquehanna River.
And while 2017 is just getting started, we already have several stories planned that will again take us back into the outdoors to learn new things, visit new places and meet more of the wild creatures that can be found in the woods and water.
What better way to begin the year than by recognizing one of the true legends of the area? In early January we learned that Hanover Township resident Stanley Cooper Jr. was set to be named as a Catskill Legend by the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in New York. The prestigious honor is bestowed upon four individuals each year in recognition of their connection to the birthplace of American fly fishing - the Catskills. Cooper, 92, has tied flies for a living for more than 70 years and at one time worked with legendary fly tyer Rube Cross, who is connected to the father of American fly tying, Theodore Gordon.
We began the month by joining members of Whitetails Unlimited and several other local conservation groups as they cut winter browse for deer on SGL 57 in Forkston Township.
The month marked the opening of the state’s first otter trapping season — held only in Wildlife Management Units 3C and 3D. The season was a result of an increasing otter population and trappers managed to harvest 30 of the furbearers in the week-long season.
Always a welcome sign of spring, we joined the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as they stocked trout on area lakes and streams in preparation for opening day. Unlike past years when snow and ice made the task difficult, mild temperatures and open water offered a welcome respite for PFBC staff and volunteers.
Later in the month, Donald Trump Jr. took a break from campaigning for his father to talk about his love of hunting and fishing. The son of the president-elect, Trump Jr. has a deep connection to the outdoors in Pennsylvania and still returns to the state to hunt and fish. Trump Jr. said while he lives and works in New York City, his family spends every weekend in the woods enjoying the outdoors.
Tony Hudak, of Noxen, became just the fifth person recognized for the Super Slam when he shot a gobbler in all 49 states where turkeys exist (Alaska is the only state without wild turkeys). Hudak began the quest in 1999 and finished the amazing feat last March when he bagged a gobbler in Hawaii.
We also enjoyed the first day of trout season when anglers were greeted with warm temperatures and sunny skies, making for a perfect day even if the bite was a little slow.
The month kicked off with a success story when the Pennsylvania Game Commission released an American bittern on Splash Dam Pond in SGL 13. The endangered bird was found earlier in the year with a broken wing and was successfully rehabilitated at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center.
Staying on the water, we joined the PFBC for a fisheries inventory at Moon Lake, looking for bass and chain pickerel. The work turned up plenty of bass, including a monster fish that weighed five pounds and measure 20 inches.
The Carbon County Environmental Education Center and PGC teamed up again to successfully rehabilitate an injured bald eagle, which was released at Blytheburn Lake in Rice Township. The bird was previously discovered nearby on Church Road and couldn’t fly.
The Nanticoke Conservation Club and PFBC renewed their annual tradition at Frances Slocum Lake when they built 20 fish habitat structures and deposited them in the lake. Since 1999, the club and PFBC has built more than 200 structures to provide habitat for fish and amphibians at the lake.
Hanover Area senior Tyler Gavlick earned an invite to fish in the B.A.S.S. High School National Championship in Tennessee, competing against 400 other student anglers from around the country. Gavlick placed high enough in the state championship to advance to nationals, and even though he didn’t win he will be back this year.
Moving away from the water and back into the woods, we joined PGC biologist Kevin Wenner as he trapped bears for research purposes on SGL 13. Wenner trapped and released 19 bears in six days — the highest total since 2007.
Back to the birds, we joined PGC biologist Mollie Giles at a pond in Dorrance Township to trap ducks. The work is part of a yearly project that aids in monitoring waterfowl populations and setting hunting season dates and bag limits for next year. On this day Giles caught, banded and released seven wood ducks.
We also visited with Larksville resident Bernie Okuniewski to learn about his hickory syrup business. Okuniewski uses the bark from hickory trees to make the syrup, which has a sweet and smoky taste.
Another business month at two local parks, beginning with Frances Slocum where the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources partnered with the Luzerne Conservation District and Nanticoke Conservation Club to install two floating islands on the lake. The islands, which are a woven mat of recycled plastic planted with a variety of native plants, absorb nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen from the water.
Later, we joined Nick Lylo, service forester with the Bureau of Forestry, to explore Moon Lake Park and talk about plans to remove the infrastructure and let nature manage the park.
Another trip with Lylo to learn more about the Pinchot State Forest, which has grown from 8,100 acres in 2002 to more than 46,500 today. Formerly called the Lackawanna Forest District, Pinchot State Forest encompasses tracts in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wayne, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.
We also caught up with Shaun Kucharski and Cody Cutter, two local bass anglers who have done well in area tournaments and are now making their mark in regional events in other states.
November signifies the start of many hunting seasons, including small game, turkey, bear and deer. The bear season was a bit warmer than normal and the harvest was down in 2016. In the northeast region 440 bears were brought to the check stations, down from 543 in 2015.
Another local outdoorsman made the news when 85-year-old Albert Ashton of Jackson Township harvested the 50th buck of his hunting career on the last day of the season. Ashton’s 50th buck was also his biggest — an 8-point with a 17-inch spread.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TLTomVenesky