The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which stocks certain state waterways with millions of trout each year, is experimenting with stocking trout in a portion of Bald Eagle Creek in Centre County where wild brown trout have been found to be reproducing. This could mean more chances for catches for the growing number of trout anglers in Pennsylvania.

The commission had a long-standing policy of not stocking waters that were naturally blessed with wild trout. Bald Eagle Creek was not so blessed. So, the commission for years was stocking it with hatchery-raised stock. Something interesting happened: The commission discovered awhile back that there were suddenly growing populations of wild brown trout. Instead of discontinuing the stocking program, the state commission decided to undertake an experiment and has designated part of Bald Eagle Creek a “Stocked Trout Waters, Class A Wild Trout Stream,” meaning both stocked trout and wild trout will be found in the waters.

The Fish and Boat Commission gives a designation of Class A Wild Trout Waters to those waters that support a population of naturally produced trout of sufficient size and quantity to offer long-term fishing opportunities. Class A waterways meet federal and state water quality standards and were not stocked with trout from state hatcheries.

The ongoing experiment at Bald Eagle Creek will gauge the fishing opportunities with both stocked and wild trout and make sure nothing goes awry with the mixed population.

The commission estimates that its stocking program involves introducing about 3.2 million adult trout to the state’s waterways each year. These trout are raised in hatcheries, along with another million raised at cooperative nurseries. That’s because many waterways have limited or no wild trout reproduction due to poor water quality. The stocked trout, which aren’t expected to live long after stocking, open up more areas for anglers during the beginning of trout season.

Experimenting with both stocked trout and wild trout in Class A waters is something the Fish and Boat Commission will monitor closely. Five months of biological stream study and angler opinion surveys began on opening day, April 3. The results will help shape future commission rules.

The experiment is not without its critics. Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited opposes stocking in waters where there are naturally reproducing trout, and some critics are concerned about stocked trout breeding with natural trout, creating an undesirable hybrid. But commission officials said only rainbow trout will be stocked in the experimental section of Bald Eagle Creek because they don’t breed with brown trout.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped boost the number of people purchasing fishing licenses to nearly 1 million last year, of which the Fish and Boat Commission says 70% were used for trout fishing. That’s an indicator that people are eager to get outside and enjoy the sport of fishing after months of confinement. The commission’s experiment to add stocked trout to waterways with naturally breeding trout should be monitored, but it has the potential to open up more opportunities for interested anglers.

— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS

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