Fish commission staff update trout group, public on waterways issues

SETH NOLAN/Sun-Gazette
Waterways Conservation Officer Chad Lauer introduces himself at a meeting of the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

SETH NOLAN/Sun-Gazette Waterways Conservation Officer Chad Lauer introduces himself at a meeting of the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Updating those who are on the county’s waters the most, the area’s main members of the state Fish and Boat Commission spoke to the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited on Feb.8.

Chad Lauer is a waterways conservation officer whose coverage area includes the western wilds of Lycoming County. He’s also the officer for the entirety of Tioga County.

Growing up in the Pine Creek Valley created a fundamental appreciation for the environment that would become a career.

“I grew up just like all of you,” Lauer said. “I was dunking worms in brook trout streams and out there in the woods every day. It lit a spark in me.”

During college, he researched the impact of Marcellus Shale on brook trout, he said.

He’s been with the commission since 2010 as a fisheries biologist aide but is new to the law enforcement aspect of conservation.

A changing wilderness

Lauer, Commissioner Eric C. Hussar and WCO Emmett Kyler attended the public meeting to update those who use the waterways they work with most about new and ongoing projects with the agency.

Many listening to the update expressed a concern about the shifting mindset of people away from outdoor recreation. Some attributed it to a social shift as electronics grow even more popular.

Hussar, recently elected to the board as vice president, explained another possible reason for the shift.

“A lot of people have their kids involved in the competitive sports … some three or four at a time,” he said.

But David Wonderlich, a former teacher, said he sees a positivity in the youth who come out to fish.

“I see a lot of young people out there approaching the streams cautiously, picking up rocks and looking and learning about the insect life,” he said. “They have a mind not only on conservation but preservation.”

‘A need to evolve’

Historically, the agency has done a lot of work with little resources to do it, Hussar said.

“The time has come,” he said. “There is a need to evolve.”

The agency has a new website and is trying to be more active on social media.

“We need to recruit, retain and re-engage,” Hussar said. “We need manpower but we will keep fighting the fight and keep doing what we can to get done what we need to get done.”

Lauer explained some of the programs the commission is including this year to help recruit.

The agency is creating a new program completely focused on women and children for fishing and fly fishing.

“It’s a great benefit to the pasttime we all in here love,” he said. “People are becoming more and more robotic and we could use stuff like this to keep the legacy going.”

Youth fishing days are a popular opportunity for kids to wet a line in streams. Youth under the age of 16 can join a mentor angler at least 16 years old who has a current fishing license and trout permit.

This year, they can harvest up to two trout with a minimum size of 7 inches on stocked trout waters within the county on April 8, Lauer said.

Youth anglers must have a mentored youth permit or a voluntary youth fishing license.

“It’s voluntary, but for each one purchased, the commission gets $5 back in federal reimbursement so we can do our jobs protecting you and keeping it all available for you,” Lauer said.

Updates

Slate Run is an area hot spot for anglers hoping to land a monster trout somewhere along the 2.8 miles of Pine Creek.

The commission has been conducting studies on the stretch of waterway, as well as many others.

“As a fishery, I would say it’s doing very well,” Lauer said.

And wild trout populations frequently have very unsteady numbers.

“They are up and down year in and year out,” Lauer said.

The agency looked at two locations, Morris Run and Two-Mile Hollow, to see what they could find. They found that both were very similarly populated, with about 54 brook trout observed.

“Thirteen of those were legal size of 7 inches or larger,” Lauer said. “Considering the low water in the summer and the fact that it takes years for brook trout to reach that size, that’s impressive.”

Progress

Class A category wild trout waters are streams that support a population of naturally produced trout of enough size and abundance to support long-term sport fishing.

The commission added 31 streams to its list in 2016, Lauer said. “We added nine in Clinton, seven in Lycoming, 14 in Potter and one in Tioga counties.”

Like the work on Slate Run, the agency diligently studies these stretches of streams.

“It’s impressive that a state agency is putting out such great research,”said Lauer, who has a foundation in environmental science. “Some of it is published in world-renowned journals.”

The river

The commission announced on July 8 that it would close the boat access to the Susquehanna River in Muncy Creek Township because of unsafe conditions created when a natural sandbar led to a pool of sediment and deep mud. After the commission was done with the updates, someone asked what was happening to it.

According to commission spokesman Eric Levis, the commission was going to wait until more rain fell to reopen it, but it blocked the ramp from the flow of the river all season.

“It will not be reopened,” Kyler said when asked about the access.

He is the primary officer who patrols the county’s portion of the Susquehanna River and has been aware of the issue since he came to the region.

“That area has seen sedimentation issues for 15 years,” he said. “And the amount of time, money and manpower to fix the situation wouldn’t be worth it.”

The commission is working closely with state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, to look for a new access.

“We are looking to keep a good access to that part of the river because it is an excellent fishery,” Kyler said. “Anyone who knows of any properties, let us know.”

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