Saturday, May 31, 2014

Springtime Alert – Do Not Disturb Young Wildlife

Mothers of encountered young animals typical found nearby.

The leaves are green, the flowers are in bloom and, once again, it’s that time of year when a new generation of wildlife is making its arrival.

And it’s almost a certainty that Pennsylvanians will encounter young wildlife, whether it be in their backyards or high on a mountain.

 “Being outdoors in the spring is an enjoyable way to spend time and learn more about nature,” said Calvin W. DuBrock, who directs the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management. “Whether enjoying your backyard or hiking in the woods, it is time for our annual message for Pennsylvanians to leave wildlife alone and in the wild, especially young of the year.”

DuBrock said that in the coming days and weeks, Pennsylvanians could find young deer, rabbits, birds, raccoons or other wildlife, some of which might appear to be abandoned.
“Rest assured that in most cases, the young animal is not an orphan or abandoned and the best thing you can do is to leave it alone,” DuBrock advised.

            DuBrock noted adult animals often leave their young while the adults forage for food.  Also, wildlife often relies on a natural defensive tactic called the “hider strategy,” where young animals will remain motionless and “hide” in surrounding cover while adults draw the attention of potential predators or other intruders away from their young.

“While it may appear as if the adults are abandoning their young, in reality, this is just the animal using its natural instincts to protect its young,” DuBrock said.  “Also, young animals often have camouflaging color patterns to avoid being detected by predators. 

“Wild animals are not meant to be pets, and we must all resist our well-meaning and well-intentioned urge to want to care for wildlife. Taking wildlife from its natural settings and into your home may expose or transmit wildlife diseases to people or domestic animals. Wildlife also may carry parasites – such as fleas, ticks or lice – that you wouldn’t want infesting you, your family, your home or your pets.”

DuBrock noted that, each year, people ignore this advice by taking wildlife into their homes and then are urged to undergo treatment for possible exposure to various wildlife-borne diseases, such as rabies.

In addition to protecting public health, Game Commission Bureau of Wildlife Protection Director Rich Palmer said that the agency also is concerned with wildlife implications from humans handling wildlife. 

“Habituating wildlife to humans is a serious concern, because if wildlife loses its natural fear of humans it can pose a public safety risk,” Palmer said. “For example, a few years ago, a yearling, six-point buck attacked and severely injured two people. Our investigation revealed that a neighboring family had illegally taken the deer into their home and fed it as a fawn. This family continued to feed the deer right up until the time of the attack. 

“This particular incident was the subject of numerous news stories around the state, and serves as a fitting example of the possible consequences that can stem from feeding or simply getting too close to wildlife.” 

In addition, Palmer noted that it is illegal to take or possess wildlife from the wild.  Under state law, the penalty for such a violation is a fine of up to $1,500 per animal. 

“Under no circumstances will anyone who illegally takes wildlife into captivity be allowed to keep that animal,” Palmer said.  “While residents love to view wildlife and are very compassionate, they must enjoy wildlife from a distance and allow nature to run its course.”

Palmer also pointed out that, under a working agreement with state health officials, any “high risk” rabies vector species confiscated after human contact must be euthanized and tested; it cannot be returned to the wild.  Though any mammal may carry rabies, species identified in the agreement are: skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs.

“Except for some species of bats, populations of all other rabies vector species are thriving,” Palmer said.  “Therefore, to protect public health and safety, it only makes sense to put down an animal for testing, rather than risk relocating a potentially rabid animal, and to answer the question of whether any people were exposed to the rabies virus.”

DuBrock said it is always wise to avoid wild animals and even unfamiliar domestic pets because of the potential rabies risk. 

“Animals infected with rabies may not show obvious symptoms, but still may be able to transmit the disease,” DuBrock said. 

People can get rabies from the saliva of a rabid animal if they are bitten or scratched, or if the saliva gets into the person’s eyes, mouth or a fresh wound. The last human rabies fatality in Pennsylvania was a 12‑year‑old Lycoming County boy who died in 1984.

Wildlife rehabilitators, who are licensed by the Game Commission, are the only ones who are permitted to care for injured or orphaned wildlife for the purposes of eventual release back into the wild.  For those who find wildlife that truly is in need of assistance, a listing of licensed wildlife rehabilitators can be found on the Pennsylvania Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators website (

If you are unable to identify a wildlife rehabilitator in your area, contact the Game Commission region office that serves the county in which the animal is found so that you can be referred to the appropriate licensed wildlife rehabilitator.  Region office contact information can be found on the agency’s website ( by putting your cursor over “ABOUT US” in the menu bar in the banner at the top of the homepage, and then clicking on “Region Information” in the drop-down menu listing.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Study on table to examine predators' impact on deer in Pennsylvania

By Bob Frye

What's the value of a white-tailed deer compared to that of a black bear? A bobcat? A coyote? And how far are people willing to go to protect deer at the expense of those other species?
We may find out.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is considering doing a study aimed at determining what impact predators are having on deer populations and what, if anything, can or should be done to minimize it.

That long has been a hot-button topic in Pennsylvania, one frequently debated by biologists, board members, sportsmen and lawmakers.

“This has been, at least as far as I'm concerned, a subject we've had to take a look at for a couple of years now,” said commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County. “It's something our customers have been asking for.”

To satisfy that, commissioners in April asked agency staff to come up with a possible predation study. The proposal unveiled by biologists this past week — which still is preliminary and not yet approved — would run from April 2015 to April 2020 and cost $3.9 million. That would make it the largest, most expensive deer study in agency history.

Specifically, it would seek to answer three questions:
• Is predation on fawns by black bears and coyotes compensatory, meaning that if you lowered the population of one predator, would populations of the other increase and result in as many dead fawns as ever?

•Does eliminating predators lead to more deer still alive when the fall hunting seasons arrive?
•And is there a way to control predators efficiently enough to increase deer populations on a scale hunters could notice?

The study would be carried out in three 150-square-mile blocks in wildlife management unit 2G in north-central Pennsylvania. One would be a control area, where no predator controls would be enacted. Biologists would spend two years reducing black bear populations — by as much as 50 percent — in one of the other areas while trying to do the same with coyotes in the other, said Matt Lovallo, supervisor of the commission's game mammals section. They'd go after both predators in each area in the next two years.

Hunters, courtesy of longer seasons, would be the tool for reducing bear numbers, he added. To deal with coyotes, which already can be hunted 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the commission would employ professionals.

“They would be paid, full-time trappers working year-round using a variety of devices, including everything from leg-hold traps to cable restraints, pretty much everything that's legal,” Lovallo said.

Some board members blanched at the study's proposed cost.

“I want to see the answers, but it does seem like an incredible amount of money,” said commissioner Ron Weaner of Adams County.

Chris Rosenberry, head of the commission's deer management section, said the commission's fawn mortality study of 2001-02 revealed that black bears and coyotes, with about equal frequency, eat fawns in their first few weeks of life. Neither that work nor ongoing monitoring of the ratio of fawns to adult does in the annual hunter harvest suggests predators are affecting deer on a population scale, though, he added.

If commissioners want to learn something new, they need to fund a study that determines “can we even do anything with predators?” Rosenberry said.

“That's what this boils down to,” he said.

Hunters likely will have to learn to live with coyotes, commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County said. The commission has, with extended seasons, shown an ability to lower black bear populations. But whether hunters would be willing to knock them back and keep them there long-term might be something else, he said.

“That will be the interesting part. We have to talk to hunters and ask them, ‘How far are we willing to go?' ” Putnam said.

“You're going to have some guys who say they just want more deer, so go kill bears. Other guys are going to say their camp only hunts bears, so they want more around. Keep your deer, they'll say.”

It's possible the nonhunting public might get involved, too, Lovallo added.

A fawn survival study in Michigan was similarly initially to involve large-scale predator reduction, he said, but negative public reaction scuttled that.

Delaney and Putnam agreed a predator study of some sort will get done here.
Whether it will be the one proposed by staff or a smaller, less-expensive version will be determined this summer.

“I'm just looking for better information to make management decisions,” Delaney said.
Even if a study provides that, it probably will do little to blunt criticism of the agency's deer management program from some quarters, said Cal DuBrock, director of its bureau of wildlife management.

“What I'm hearing from some of our customers is, ‘Look, commissioners, you can do whatever you want, just give us more deer.' That's what they want,” DuBrock said. “This study doesn't get you there.”

Turmoil and tension in study of predators
There's long been a difference of opinion among Pennsylvania Game Commission board members and staff about the need for a predator study.
At last week's meeting, commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County wondered if biologists had purposely designed a study costing nearly $4 million “just so that we'd say no” to doing it.
Chris Rosenberry, head of the agency's deer team, denied that. He said commissioners asked for a larger study.
Simply repeating the smaller fawn survival study of a decade ago would be a waste of money, he added.
“I can't sit here and tell you that there's a problem that needs to be addressed. If I did, I would be lying,” Rosenberry said.
Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County said he didn't think agency staff was trying to price a study out of the agency's reach. Commissioner Jay Delaney declined to comment on the idea, though he said he's heard the same thing suggested by people inside and outside the agency

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Third Chronic Wasting Disease (Cwd) Management Area Established in Pennsylvania

Disease was detected at a captive deer facility in Jefferson County.

          The Pennsylvania Game Commission has established a third Disease Management Area in response to chronic wasting disease being detected recently in Jefferson County.

          Disease Management Area 3 (DMA 3) encompasses about 350 square miles in Jefferson and Clearfield counties, and also includes a small sliver of Indiana County.

          The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture announced early in April that chronic wasting disease (CWD) was detected at a domestic deer facility in Jefferson County, and both that facility and another associated with the same CWD-positive deer were placed under quarantine.

          The state Department of Agriculture oversees all domestic deer operations in Pennsylvania, while the Game Commission is responsible for managing and protecting free-ranging wildlife and their habitats.

          Pennsylvania’s CWD response plan calls for the Game Commission to monitor the prevalence of CWD where it has been detected, and slow the spread of the disease where it exists in the wild. At this time, CWD has not been detected in any free-ranging deer within or near DMA 3.

          DMA 3 forms its northern border along Interstate 80. The western and southern boundaries follow state Route 36. And U.S. Routes 219 and 322 form the eastern border.

          A map depicting DMA 3 is available on the CWD page of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s website, .

          Special rules regarding the hunting and feeding of deer and other cervids, as well as the possession, transport and importation of cervid parts apply within all DMAs.

          Hunters within the DMA cannot remove from the DMA any cervid parts with a high risk of transmitting CWD. The head (including the brain, tonsils, eyes and lymph nodes) and the spinal cord/backbone are among the list of high-risk parts that cannot be removed from the DMA.

          The possession and removal of vehicular-killed cervids, or parts there from, is prohibited from areas within the DMA to locations outside the DMA.

          The Game Commission may designate approved locations outside DMAs for the receipt of high-risk parts.

          Processed meat can be removed from the DMA, as long as the backbone is not present. Finished taxidermy mounts also can be removed from the DMA, as can antlers attached to a skull plate, as long as no visible brain matter or spinal cord material is present.

          A complete list of high-risk and non-high-risk cervid parts is provided later in this news release, and appears also on the CWD page of the Game Commission’s website.

          Hunters also should know that the use or field possession of any urine-based cervid attractant is prohibited within any DMA.

          The direct or indirect feeding of any free-ranging wild cervids also is prohibited within the DMA, as is the rehabilitation and movement of live cervids.

Pennsylvania’s Disease Management Areas

          As its name indicates, DMA 3 is Pennsylvania’s third Disease Management Area.

          DMA 1 encompasses about 600 square miles in York and Adams counties. It was established in 2012 after CWD was detected at a domestic deer facility, and in two years of testing, no positive CWD cases have been confirmed among free-ranging deer within DMA 1.

          DMA 2 was expanded in recent weeks following the detection of CWD in two additional free-ranging deer killed in Bedford County in late 2013. A CWD-positive deer killed in Maryland, just south of this DMA, also influenced the expansion of DMA 2.

          The expansion of DMA 2 also follows procedures set forth in Pennsylvania’s CWD response plan.

          DMA 2 now includes parts of Bedford, Blair, Huntingdon, Cambria and Fulton counties. It encompasses more than 1,600 square miles and stretches south to the Maryland line.
The new DMA 2 boundary extends east to state routes 829 and 915, and Interstate 70.

          The boundaries north of the Pennsylvania Turnpike haven’t changed. South of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the western boundary of DMA 2 is state Route 96.

          A map of the expanded DMA 2 is available on the CWD page of the Game Commission’s website. A map of the expanded DMA 2 also will be included in the 2014-15 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest issued to hunters at the time they buy their licenses. The digest, however, will not include a DMA 3 map because the DMA was established after the print deadline for the digest.

          Hunters and Pennsylvania residents who want to make sure they’re getting the most up-to-date information about CWD in Pennsylvania, existing DMAs and other rules can check the CWD page at the Game Commission’s website.

CWD Information

          While chronic wasting disease is relatively new to Pennsylvania, it is not a new disease. CWD was discovered in 1967, and it has spread to 22 states and two Canadian provinces. Scientists believe CWD is caused by an agent capable of transforming normal brain proteins into an abnormal form.

          CWD affects members of the cervid, or deer family. It is spread from animal to animal by direct and indirect contact.

          There currently is no practical way to test live animals for CWD, nor is there an approved vaccine to prevent infection. CWD is a slow-progressing disease and clinical signs do not develop until later stages of disease, often two years or more after infection. Clinical signs include poor posture, lowered head and ears, uncoordinated movement, rough-hair coat, weight loss, increased thirst, excessive drooling, and, ultimately death. Any animals suspected of having CWD should be reported to the Game Commission.

          There currently is no scientific evidence that CWD has or can spread to humans, either through contact with infected animals or by eating the meat of infected animals. As a precaution, however, people are advised not to consume meat from animals that test positive for CWD.

          During 2013, the Game Commission collected and tested samples from 5,120 deer statewide. Only the two from Bedford County tested positive for CWD.  Since 1998, the Game Commission has gathered and submitted more than 48,000 samples from wild deer and elk for CWD testing. A total of five free-ranging deer have tested positive – all of them within DMA 2.

High-risk parts
          Cervid parts with a high risk of transmitting chronic wasting disease (CWD) cannot be removed from any disease management area.
Those parts include:

·         Head (including brain, tonsils, eyes and lymph nodes);
·         Spinal Cord/Backbone (vertebra);
·         Spleen;
·         Skull plate with attached antlers, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present;
·         Cape, if visible brain or spinal cord material is present;
·         Upper canine teeth, if root structure or other soft material is present;
·         Any object or article containing visible brain or spinal cord material;
·         Brain-tanned hide.

Non-high-risk parts

          The following parts are not considered to have a high risk of transmitting CWD, and can be removed from a DMA:

·         Meat, without the backbone
·         Skull plate with attached antlers, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present;
·         Tanned hide or rawhide with no visible brain or spinal cored material present;
·         Cape, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present;
·         Upper canine teeth, if no root structure or other soft material is present; and
·         Taxidermy mounts, if no visible brain or spinal cord material is present.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Attention Camp Cooks: Game Recipes Wanted

A new edition of the Pennsylvania Game Cookbook is in the making.

          What’s cookin’ in your camp?

          Are your sherried doves to die for? Does your venison pot roast define “good eating?” Do others always rave about your sweet-and-sour pheasant? 

          The Pennsylvania Game Commission wants to know.

          Wild-game recipes are being collected and considered for inclusion in a new edition of the Pennsylvania Game Cookbook.

          The cookbook, which was last printed in 1979, is being brought back by popular demand, said Lori Mitchell, who heads up the Game Commission’s Public Information & Media Services Division.

          “Quite often we get phone calls and letters from people asking if we still sell our cookbook,” Mitchell said. “Some of them are looking to replace a well-worn copy, others might be looking to pick one up for a gift. 

          “As more years pass there seems to be more and more interest, too, so we decided to bring back the cookbook, and make it better than ever,” she said.

          To that end, the Game Commission is looking for a heaping of help from all the camp cooks out there.

          Whether fired on a spit, browned in a pan or charred on the grill, the Game Commission is interested in any big-game, small-game and migratory-bird recipes you’d like to share as your favorites. 

          The deadline for submissions is June 30.

          All submissions should include the recipe title, the ingredients and measurements, preparation instructions, the number of servings, and the name or initials of the person submitting the recipe, as well as his or her hometown. A photo of the finished meal also may be submitted.

          Recipes can be sent by email to, or mailed to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.

          Cooks also are welcome to submit their favorite recipes from the previous edition of the “Pennsylvania Game Cookbook.” Those recipes might be included in a “Tried, True and Tasty” section.

          Those submitting recipes should note that not all submissions will be included in the book, and recipes will not be returned and might be edited.

          The cookbook is planned for publication later this year.

          All submissions are welcome, said Game Commission communications specialist Brittany Howell, who is compiling recipes for the book.  The aim, she said, is to include a variety of game recipes sure to please any palette. 

          “In many ways, this cookbook is a celebration of Pennsylvania’s rich hunting and trapping heritage, and every additional recipe we get only will make it better and better.” Howell said. “You might say that, in this case, there’s no such thing as ‘too many cooks.’ So please send in those recipes.”

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Despite Challenges, Lake Trout Are Holding On In Lake Erie

Lake trout are big, powerful and native to Lake Erie.
A restocking program is underway, but mature lake trout
fall prey to invasive sea lampreys. On May 11, Justin Paolino
of Kittanning released this 12-pound, 10-ounce 30-incher.
ERIE — With every pump of the casting rod, the big fish pulled down, down, down toward the southern slope of The Mountain, a giant submerged hump spared by the last glacier some 14,000 years ago. Each spring in most of that time, and maybe longer, lake trout in eastern Lake Erie have staged in those 45- to 65-foot waters prior to attempts at spawning in shallower depths off what is now North East.

Pollution-related habitat changes and the invasion of exotic species such as the sea lamprey resulted in the loss of all native Lake Erie lake trout by about 1965. An initial Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocking program morphed into a multi-state, provincial and federal effort that has slowly taken root. The big fish are holding on in the face of challenges, and anglers are noticing. In 2012 a new state record was set at 29 pounds, 4 ounces.

While their char-family cousins the steelhead often taunt anglers with tail-walking surface acrobatics, lake trout respond differently to the hook, digging deep and daring anglers to haul them up -- one pump of the rod at a time -- all the way to the surface. The 91/2-pound 28-incher on my line was one of 15 lake trout released by our party of four on a successful half day of fishing with Reel Obsession charters out of Presque Isle Bay.

"They're always here this time of year. They're here for the water temperature," said captain Burt Campbell of Penn Hills.

Every spring, during five years as a mate and six years as owner and captain, he has run the 12 miles east of the peninsula to find the big lakers on The Mountain.

"We're at 45 feet on top of the hump, dropping off into 55 to 60 feet. It's 41 degrees at the surface and at 40 feet," he said, pointing to the electronics in the cabin. "Once the water starts warming up they'll drop off into the deeper part of the lake into 100, 130 feet of water. This time of year it's all spoons, trolling with downriggers or Dipsy Divers."

The strategy is simple, said mate Ryan Johnston of Erie.

"You don't need to know a whole lot to come here and catch a couple of these," he said. "In the spring, you know where they are and about how deep. Just get some green spoons, some oranges -- bright colored stuff works best -- sometimes you get them on purples."

Johnston set the Dipsys at the 31/2 setting for 110 feet on the outside with a planer board, and at the 11/2 setting for 70 to 90 feet on the inside. He ran the downriggers so close to the bottom they sometimes bumped, with the lures 2 to 30 feet off the ball.

"There was still ice on the lake in late April. I think they were probably staged here three weeks ago, but no one could get out to them," said Johnston. "They get finicky at times. Speed is important."

Campbell kept the boat moving "a hair slower than we would for walleye," he said, from about 1.7 mph to about 2.4. When a fish hit, he set a GPS marker and continued circling over that spot, searching for a pattern.

"You're looking for what works best. Every day's different," he said. "Speed, depth, color, direction -- sometimes they won't take it if you're going the wrong way. Today [the surface] is pretty flat, but it's usually better when there's a little chop. Generally when you find a couple, if you work that spot you'll get more, and whatever's working will work for the rest of the day."

Over the past five years, lake trout fishing has gotten better, said Campbell, a trend he attributes to a stocking program now coordinated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the catch-and-release preference of most anglers.

Lake trout and brook trout are the only trout native to Pennsylvania waters. Lake trout exist naturally in Lake Erie and Susquehanna County's Silver Lake. They have been planted in Harvey's Lake (Luzerne County), Raystown Lake (Huntingdon) and Allegheny Reservoir (Warren).

In Lake Erie, more than 200,000 yearlings of several strains were stocked annually in the 1990s, but the number was cut to 120,000 due to concerns about a shortage of forage fishes and relaxed sea lamprey controls. Lamprey controls have been tightened but their population continues to spike. Tell-tale sea lamprey suction marks are common on lake trout.

A March 2014 report by the interstate and provincial Lake Erie Coldwater Task Group found lake trout struggling to survive the virtually unchecked expansion of the invasive sea lamprey. In 2012, 260,040 yearling lake trout were stocked in Lake Erie. Young fish age 1 to 5 years dominate typical angler catches while big bruisers of 10 years and older are caught sporadically. The number of adults age 5 and older increased in 2013 to an all-time high that nevertheless remains below the project's goals.

"Recent estimates indicate very low rates of adult survival," said the report. "Natural reproduction has not been documented in Lake Erie despite more than 30 years of restoration efforts."

The problem is sea lampreys, which prefer to target large adult lake trout and steelhead. According to the report, the lamprey wounding rate on lake trout was 14.3 wounds per 100 fish in 2013, a 42 percent increase from the 2012 wounding rate and a 73 percent increase over the previous two years.

Recreational fishing impact is virtually nonexistent. Despite a Pennsylvania harvest limit of two per day, very few lake trout are intentionally killed.

"Angler harvest of lake trout in Lake Erie remains very low," said the Coldwater Task Group report. "Approximately 824 were harvested in New York waters out of an estimated catch of 1,805 in 2013. An estimated harvest of 176 lake trout occurred in Pennsylvania water in 2013."

Campbell said most of his clients are happy to throw them back.

"I've been pushing the lake trout charters at the outdoors shows, and more people are showing an interest," he said. "It's something different. I believe the more interest, the more attention will be given to these fish."

Reel Obsession can be reached at, 412-612-7506.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Internet Is Big Enough For The Both Of Them

As online viewers watch Pittsburgh eagles grow, separate live stream could soon show hatching ospreys.

They grow up so quickly. 

            It’s been about six weeks since the first of three bald-eagle chicks hatched in Pittsburgh in front of a live audience viewing online. And anyone who more recently has logged onto the Game Commission’s website to access the 24-hour live stream will tell you those three little birds aren’t so little anymore.  

Internet celebrities that have accounted for  nearly 1.2 million views online, the eaglets still are weeks away from fledging the nest. And until that time, thousands undoubtedly will continue to watch each day. 

But online nest-watchers also might be interested to know another opportunity awaits them. 

Real-time video from a Northampton County osprey nest is being streamed live on the Game Commission’s website, and the first of three eggs being incubated could hatch any day now. 

            While the bald-eagle nest live stream can be found on the home page of Game Commission’s website, accessing the osprey-nest live stream requires an additional click or two. Still, it’s easy to find. Just click on the icon labeled “Live Streaming Wildlife Cameras,” near the top of the home page. When the next page opens, scroll down and click the “play” icon on the viewing window for the Northampton County osprey nest. 

            In fact, from this page, live streams of the osprey and bald-eagle nests can be viewed simultaneously. 
  Ospreys typically migrate south in winter and return to Pennsylvania in late March and early April to nest. Typically, ospreys will incubate eggs for about 40 days before the eggs hatch. The first of the eggs in the nest being live streamed was laid March 28, while the third was laid April 2. 

            Ospreys often nest beside bodies of water. They feed primarily on fish and need an abundant supply of it near nest sites. 

            Pennsylvania’s nesting osprey population has been on the rise in recent years. Still, ospreys remain on Pennsylvania’s list of threatened species, and are protected by both state and federal law. 

            As recently as 1986, Pennsylvania was home to only one nesting pair of ospreys. Today, there are more than 100. 

            Meanwhile, the bald eagle was removed earlier this year from Pennsylvania’s threatened species list. While the bald eagle no longer is listed as an endangered or threatened species in Pennsylvania, it continues to be protected by federal law, which among other things establishes a buffer to ensure people stay at least 660 feet from a nest. 

            Some nesting birds are more tolerant than others when it comes to human activity. But any action that could flush birds from nests is a threat to successful hatching of eggs and fledging of young. Keeping your distance is one way to increase the chances of nest success. 

            Guidelines on how to more safely view bald eagle nests are available on the “Bald Eagle Watching in Pennsylvania” page under the “Wildlife” and “Watchable Wildlife” tabs at the Game Commission’s home page. 

            Media inquiries regarding the Pittsburgh bald eagles or the live stream of their nesting attempt can be directed to the Game Commission’s Southwest Region Office in Bolivar at 724-238-9523, or to the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters at 717-705-6541.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Lures With A Long History Still Catch Fish

By Bob Frye

John Cleveland of Eppinger Manufacturing holds a
23-pound northern pike caught on a weedless
Spin’N Rex spoon. It, like the Johnson Silver Minnow,
Northland Live Forage, Mepps Timberdoodle and
spoons made by companies like Cabela’s, has been
catching fish for more than a century.
There it was inside the tackle box: hard, metal and shiny. World War II surplus, or what could pass for it.

Hooking the metal spoon to a wire leader, then casting it into the just-emerging weeds, sparked no action on the first few casts. It wasn't long, though, before a toothy northern pike hit. A couple more followed.

It was an exercise your grandfather might have experienced. Spoons — those designed to be weedless and otherwise — have been catching fish for more than a century, since before the days when they reportedly were packed into the survival kits of 1940s-era paratroopers.

They still work today, even if relatively few people know it.

“A lot of younger guys, say under 40, don't know what spoons are about,” said John Cleveland, marketing director for Eppinger Manufacturing, maker of all kinds of spoons, including the weedless Spin'N Rex. “But spoons were the No. 1 lure for decades because they worked. And they still work great.”

They can be at their most effective right now, when northern pike still are in the shallows and looking to consume lots of calories after weeks of active spawning.

Spoons are a long-standing top pike bait, and catch rates on northerns in lakes statewide peak this month.

“Once the wear and tear of spawning subsides, they're pretty voracious predators,” said Bob Lorantas, warmwater unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “That's when pike action will be at a zenith.”

Casting a spoon, rigged with a pork rind or soft plastic trailer, is a technique that's hard to beat, said Chris Pitsilos, a Pennsylvania native working as brand manager for Johnson, maker of the silver minnow spoon.

“Definitely, at this time of year, they make a lot of sense,” he said.

Spoons, especially those of the weedless variety, can be fished in a variety of ways.
They're a great search bait not only for northern pike but also for bass, said Chip Lear, a former fishing guide, member of the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame and pro staffer for Northland Fishing Tackle.

He likes to cast them into thick weeds, where their weed guard excels at keeping vegetation at bay.

“It's kind of like fishing a heavy weighted frog. The difference is that weight allows it to do a better job of breaking the surface, even if it's only a half-inch. It goes slightly subsurface,” he said.

He pulls spoons across the top of weeds, then, when it comes to an opening or hole, lets the lure “flutter” down. That's often when fish hit, he said.

The effect is all the more pronounced if the spoon has a trailer, Lear said.

“I like something with a couple of paddles on the back. I don't know if they see it as legs or what, but it creates more disturbance,” he said.

Cleveland, who likes to fish smaller spoons early in the year when pike are “waking up,” uses a similar flutter technique. Concentrating on areas with lots of weeds, rocks, timber and other cover, he'll cast a spoon and let it flutter to the bottom. He'll let it sit three to five seconds then pop it up a bit before letting it drift back down.

Repeating that often proves too tempting for fish, especially pike, he said.

“You're trying to reach that primordial trigger in a predator's head that identifies something as vulnerable, easy prey,” Cleveland said. “That usually means erratic action.”

Spoons create that at all levels of the water column, he said.

Fishing a spoon also can be as simple as casting it and bringing it back in through the thickest of the weeds, Pitsilos said.

“It's a good casting lure. It's got some weight to it, so you can cast it far,” he said. “It has a lot of shine, a lot of action. And the whole point of a weedless spoon is that, as summer warms up and the weeds get thick, you can run it where you couldn't some other baits.”

All agree pike fishermen would be wise to use a wire leader when fishing weedless spoons.
Cleveland likes them 12 to 14 inches long and in the 20-pound strength class. He prefers black ones.

He likes spoons that mimic natural forage, when possible.

Lear likes using a 7- to 8-foot rod so he can cast long distances. Bass and pike that hit spoons often are in shallow water. Casting to them from a distance helps avoid spooking fish, he said.
More fishermen would be wise to learn to fish spoons, Lear said.

“It's definitely an overlooked technique,” he said.

Northern pike waters abound

Northwestern Pennsylvania is perhaps the state's northern pike hot spot. Presque Isle Bay, in particular, is home to a lot of big fish, said Bob Lorantas of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Conneaut, Pymatuning, Canadohta and Sugar lakes, all in Crawford County, hold lots of pike, too.

But there are other options. In Southwestern Pennsylvania, High Point Lake in Somerset County holds plenty of northerns, according to previous Fish and Boat Commission surveys. Cranberry Glade Lake, Yough Dam and Quemahoning Reservoir, all also in Somerset, hold pike to varying degrees as well.

Other possibilities worth exploring are Yellow Creek Lake in Indiana County, Glendale Lake in Cambria, Mahoning Creek Lake in Armstrong, Lake Arthur in Butler and Shawnee Lake in Bedford.

The Allegheny River in Armstrong, Clarion, Venango and Warren counties also gives up its share of large pike

Thursday, May 8, 2014

PA Fish and Boat Commission Recruits New Class of Waterways Conservation Officers

HARRISBURG, Pa. (May 8 – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) announced today that it is recruiting a new class of Waterways Conservation Officers (WCO).
“Waterways Conservation Officers make up the law enforcement arm of the Commission, although the duties of a WCO go beyond police work,” said PFBC Executive Director John Arway. “WCOs perform specialized work in fisheries conservation and watercraft safety, education and public relations – responsibilities that are emphasized through specialized training.”

The state Civil Service Commission announced that applications for WCO trainee positions will be accepted between May 14 and June 28. All written testing must be completed with the Civil Service Commission by July 26.

The PFBC currently has 62 full-time WCOs and 15 vacancies in various districts across the state.

Typical duties include patrolling by foot, car and boat to detect violations of fishing and boating laws; apprehending violators; issuing warnings and citations; serving warrants; presenting evidence at hearings and court proceedings; investigating water pollution incidents; investigating boating accidents; and stocking fish. Appearing in public to conduct classes or provide information to groups are also highlights of the WCOs duties.

“They work demanding schedules, including holidays and weekends, to perform their vital public safety and conservation duties,” said Colonel Corey Britcher, Director of the PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement. “It’s a challenging but rewarding career.”

All WCOs begin their career as a WCO trainee. Before candidates are assigned the highly independent duties of Waterways Conservation Officer, they must complete an extensive 52-week specialized training program, beginning with approximately 20 weeks of instruction in law enforcement principles and practices which meet the standards of the Municipal Police Training Act. The training covers all phases of police work, from the Vehicle and Crimes codes to use of firearms and conducting criminal investigations.
An additional 32-week period follows, with 20 weeks of classroom training at the PFBC’s H. R. Stackhouse School of Fisheries Conservation and Watercraft Safety in Centre County, Pa., and 12 weeks of supervised field training. During the on-the-job field training, officers join seasoned WCOs and assist with investigations, patrol regions, participate in public outreach events and stock waterways.

The 52-week training program is scheduled to begin in July 2015.

Applicants must be at least 21 years of age at date of hire and possess a current valid Pennsylvania driver’s license. Applicants must be residents of Pennsylvania and be able to perform the essential functions of the job. Successful candidates must pass written, oral, and physical evaluations. Additional information about a career as a WCO is available on the PFBC’s Careers page.

Application forms and further information on the process can be obtained from the State Civil Service Commission website at Information may also be obtained from State Civil Service Commission offices in Harrisburg at 717-783-3058 (Text Telephone: 717-772-2685), Philadelphia at 215-560-2253 (Text Telephone: 215-560-4367), or Pittsburgh at 412-565-7666 (Text Telephone: 412-565-2484.) Information may also be obtained by contacting the PFBC’s Human Resource Office at 717-705-7820.