The proposal to keep Penns Creek’s wild trout wild faces a stocking truck full of opposition

Penns Creek, nestled in the gentle folds of the Pennsylvania Appalachians, is one of a kind. Not because of its history, or its hatches, or its scenery, even though it has all of the above, but because it has the kind of remarkable wild brown-trout population that only exists in two percent of streams in the state. Two percent—for a state that is second only to Alaska in miles of trout water. These rivers, designated as Class A, are at the center of a potentially precedent-setting struggle in Penn’s Woods.

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) is currently examining a proposal that would add protections to Penns Creek browns by designating a new 4-mile stretch of the river catch and release, artificial lures only. George Costa, manager of TCO Fly Shop in State College, says he’s “all for the changes because they would take care of the wild trout of Penns.” He notes that while anglers have every right to keep fish, data shows that stocking over existing wild trout populations has a negative effect when the stockers compete with the streambred fish.

The proposed C&R zone is located directly downstream of 3-plus miles of currently designated “special regulations” water that ends near Cherry Run. High volumes of limestone-infused flows, tumbling through a picturesque canyon, characterize the stretch in question. Known as Section 05, it’s stocked annually with two thousand hatchery-reared rainbows. The current bag limit is five fish over seven inches. These allowances exist despite other Class A Pennsylvania streams, such as Spring Creek and the Little Juniata River, being no-kill zones. The Class A designation also defines these waters as having “Exceptional Value,” which gives them additional protections under the EPA.

Recognizing the need for regulatory changes that better reflect the notable fishery on Penns, PFBC presented the results of its electro-shocking surveys to the public earlier this year at Mifflinburg High School. In front of a crowd of about 250 anglers, commission biologists stated, “It is truly something special, especially for a stream the size of Penns Creek to be able to support such a high quality wild-trout fishery. It’s simply an amazing resource.”

The problem is not everyone agrees on how the resource should be managed. While many regional fly anglers want to see Section 05 set aside for wild trout, there are a number of anglers on the other side, who want to see that the stocking programs remain status quo.

At the Mifflinburg forum, Charles Klauger (fish manager of the Union County Sportsman’s Club) expressed concern for anglers who fish the river to fill their freezers. In a follow-up piece with a local newspaper in May he went on to downplay the validity of PFBC’s wild-fish counts. Klauger argued that, “…results showed a trout population that was just 10 percent above the requirements for Class A status.” Clearly not good enough for him.

This type of backlash prompted the commission to open things up for public comment, to gauge where the majority of PA anglers stand. With the open comment period now closed, PFBC is set to render a decision next week. The looming verdict could be felt statewide. If the example can be set that these pristine streams will allow stocking, as well as the keeping of fish, then every one of the state’s Class A trout waters is in danger.

As part of the proposal PFBC is considering, fish currently stocked in Section 05 would be moved to a previously unstocked piece of water downstream. Stocking would also simultaneously cease wherever wild browns in the river thrive. And these kinds of mindful actions would certainly help preserve what makes Penns one of the top destination fisheries in the East.

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Tom Bie is the founder, editor, and publisher of The Drake. He started the magazine in 1998 as an annual newsprint publication based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He then moved it to Steamboat, Colorado (1999), Boulder, Colorado (2001), and San Clemente, California (2004), as he took jobs as managing editor at Paddler, Senior Editor at Skiing, and Editor-in-Chief at Powder, respectively. Tom and The Drake are now both based in Denver, Colorado, where The Drake is finally all grows up(Swingers, 1996) to a quarterly magazine.

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