Catching trout in a few heavily fished area streams might become more difficult toward the middle and end of the season under a Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission proposal to reclassify them as Class A waters.
Normally, the reclassification would be an honor and a good thing, but the new designation would mean they would no longer be stocked after the fishing season opens.
"Class A waters are the best of our wild trout waters in Pennsylvania," said Dave Miko, the chief of the Division of Fisheries Management for the PFBC. "There are certain criteria that have to be met that entitle those high-quality waters the protection to preserve them."
During its October meetings, PFBC identified 10 stream sections statewide — five in Lehigh and Northampton counties plus one more in Carbon County — as ready to receive the Class A designation.
Locally, those stream sections include the Little Lehigh upstream of the trout nursery to Keck's Bridge, and then again from Route 100 to Sauerkraut Lane; the Monocacy Creek's two segments from Illicks Mill all the way to its confluence with the Lehigh River; Martins Creek in the Bangor segment; and part of the Pohopoco Creek in Carbon County.
All sections have been designated as "high biomass" with wild trout populations under Issue 2 of the PFBC's Strategic Plan for Management of Trout Fisheries in Pennsylvania 2010-2014.
All 10 of the stream sections proposed for the designation are currently stocked before and during the trout fishing season. Because these stream sections also receive heavy angler activity, the PFBC has proposed to do pre-season stockings of these waters with no in-season stockings. No other organization or club would be allowed to stock these waters in-season as a result of them being designated as Class A.
Both sections of the Little Lehigh and both sections of the Monocacy designated for Class A distinction are in Class 1, or highest angler density. The section of the Martins Creek scheduled for Class A has medium, or Class 2 angler traffic, while the section of the Pohopoco in Carbon County has Class 3 Other, or the lowest angler density. Plus, all four of the sections in the Little Lehigh and Monocacy are considered "Metro" areas, making them highly accessible to anglers of all ages.
"By policy, we currently are not allowed to stock Class A waters," Miko said. "On these specific waters, we are trying to make an adjustment that allows us to stock them pre-season only, which means they would get the normal pre-season stocking and folks could fish over these stocked fish when we have the heaviest angler pressure on opening day, and then not stock in-season and allow the wild trout population to provide the fishing."
The change in stocking procedures, though, means that it will be harder to catch trout. Wild trout are far more cagey and difficult to catch than hatchery-raised trout. Many anglers will most likely relocate to more normally stocked areas to reach their previous success rate.
But the Class A designation stocking program proposals aren't a done deal yet. The clock is ticking on the 90-day period that is open to public comment.
"Just because it's currently written and proposed does not mean it will end up that way," Miko said.
Anglers and other concerned outdoors folks can take part in the public comment about both the designation as Class A waters and the pre-season only stocking program by going online to the agency's web site at http://www.fishandboat.com and clicking on "The Fishing Hole" icon on the lower left side of the page. The bottom of that page contains a comment template.
Copies of the agenda detailing the proposal are located at http://fishandboat.com/minutes.htm.
Most wildlife agencies will not stock fish on top of a naturally reproducing fish population. The Delaware River Shad Fishermen's Association has been lobbying the PFBC for years to stock adult American shad in the Delaware River, but has been rebuffed time and again.
The trout issue is much different, according to Miko.
"In this case, we've been stocking on top of the wild trout population for years and it does not appear to have harmed the wild trout population," he said. "In this case, we're saying it has proven not to be dangerous to the trout or to the water."
Miko said the PFBC collects a variety of data, detailing 180 anglers counted on opening day in 2011 on a mile-long stretch of the affected sections of the Little Lehigh. He said that the agency has actually looked at similar situations with stocking over wild brown trout populations.
In half those situations, he said, curtailing the stocking helped the wild population. In the other half, the population either stayed the same or decreased, leading biologists to conclude that environmental issues and water flow had more impact than stocking on top of the wild reproducing population.
The area creeks affected by the new Class A status are limestone base and spring-fed, making the water cold and ideal for wild trout. The sections of the Little Lehigh affected are undergoing dam removal, which should make the water even colder and cleaner.
The area creeks are also destination spots for anglers, who ritually return to the same spots year after year.