Sunday, May 4, 2014

River Walleyes Fare Differently

By Bob Frye

One of the rivers once so polluted that almost nothing could live in it is doing pretty well these days.

The Allegheny, upstream of Pittsburgh, is healthy enough that it's sustaining a walleye fishery without the need for supplemental stocking, according to survey work done by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Not every similar waterway statewide can say that.

“It is encouraging,” said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the commission. “As one who grew up in that area, to see the improvements and the fisheries coming back, it's great. Mother Nature has come back to at least equal what we were accomplishing with our own walleye stockings.”

That's noteworthy because the commission is deciding which rivers it will stock with walleye fry and fingerlings and which it will not.

There was a time when it stocked them all. That changed in 2008.

That year, the commission put an end to river system stockings to see if the waterways could support walleyes in great enough numbers to satisfy anglers on their own.

“If we can identify self-sustaining walleye populations, we can remove those waters from the stocking program and distribute fry and fingerlings where they are needed in order to meet angler demand,” said Dave Miko, chief of the commission's division of fisheries.

Surveys done between 2008 and 2013 showed that some waters — like the Allegheny between Ford City and Oil City — could sustain themselves walleye-wise. But others, including the upper Allegheny, could not.
“It is recommended that walleye fry stocking be resumed in a portion of the Allegheny River from the Kinzua Dam to Tionesta,” said Tim Wilson, a fisheries biologist in the commission's area 1 office in Linesville.

Other major river sections that will be managed for self-sustaining walleye populations — meaning no stocking — include the Monongahela River; North Branch Susquehanna River; Youghiogheny River from the Connellsville Dam downstream to the mouth; Ohio River; and West Branch Susquehanna River, from Moose Creek downstream to Bald Eagle Creek.

Stocking will not resume in the Delaware or Lehigh rivers, either.

Waters that again will be stocked with walleyes are Crawford County's French Creek; the Juniata River from the confluence of the Raystown Branch downstream to the confluence of the Kishacoquillas Creek; and the Susquehanna River from the confluence of the Juniata River downstream to the York Haven Dam.

That's subject to change, long-term. Miko said the commission will continue to monitor all the rivers to see how walleye populations do. He said it wants to make sure spending the money to stock fish provides better fishing.

Open season for walleye started Saturday, with a daily limit of six fish (which must be at least 15 inches), and walleye anglers are undoubtedly hoping for the best. So is the commission, Lorantas said.

“Returning fish to the creel, that's what we're about in all of our programs,” he said.

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