Panfish enhancement rules changing at two lakes

Posted on: May 15, 2018 | Bob Frye | Comments

Panfish enhancement rules could mean bigger crappies.

Panfish enhancement rules are going into place at Shenango Lake.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures

One Pennsylvania lake is being added to the panfish enhancement program. Another is coming off.

It’s all about potential and unrealized expectations.

The former applies to Shenango Lake in Mercer County. It’s a roughly 3,600-acre U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake.

The crappie fishing there has been, in recent years, well, crappy.

The lake is managed under statewide regulations for panfish. That allows anglers to keep 50 fish per day, without regard to size.

Prior to 2010, the fishing for crappies in particular was pretty good, said Chris Kuhn, chief of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s fisheries management division. The crappie population was split about 50-50 between blacks and whites. Both existed in low densities.

But the average size of fish was pretty good, Kuhn said.

Since then, things have changed.

Starting around 2011 or 2012 especially, white crappies took over, he said. They account for 95 percent of the total population now.

More importantly, he noted, angler harvest appears to be limiting the fishery.

Biologists surveyed the lake a few years ago, he noted. The 2011 year class of crappies dominated the population. By 2014, most of those fish were gone, presumably harvested by anglers.

“Essentially, that 2011 cohort appears to have been cropped off and disappeared three years later,” Kuhn said.

The result is a fishery that’s in good shape population-wise, but has few large fish. Ten inchers are increasingly rare, Kuhn said.

Anglers sometimes catch some bigger crappies there. But the fishery isn’t what it was and most know it and are unhappy about it, too.

Biologists last summer surveyed anglers on the lake. Ninety of 138 talked to specifically identified themselves as crappie anglers. Less than half were satisfied with the fishery, while more than half were unhappy with existing regulations.

Eighty-nine percent said they would prefer a 9-inch minimum harvest limit, and 71 percent said they’d support a 20-fish daily creel limit.

So that’s how the commission is going to manage Shenango moving forward.

The new rules will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Biologists will attend a public meeting set for 7 p.m. on May 23 at the Hadley Rod and Gun Club in Mercer County to explain all that. All are free to attend.

But Kuhyn said the hope is Shenango’s crappie fishery will respond. The potential is there.

Shenango’s crappies tend to grow larger quicker, he said. That’s a good sign.

“For the most part they are above the statewide average and there’s a robust forage base in the lake that does not suggest they are resource limited,” Kuhn said.

“Application of panfish enhancement regulations has improved size structure and density of crappies in other Pennsylvania lakes,” added area 1 commission biologist Tim Wilson.

Lake Chillisquaque is not one of them, however. So it’s being removed from the panfish enhancement program

It’s a 165-acre lake in Montour County. Chillisquaque exists primarily to serve as a backup water supply for the PPL power generation plant near Washingtonville, Kuhn said.

It was among the first lakes added to the panfish enhancement program in 1999, to improve its crappie and sunfish populations.

But it just didn’t respond as hoped.

“We saw low catch rates and poor size structure” for both species, Kuhn noted.

Biologists surveyed it annually from 2003 to 2007. The size and density of crappies remained unchanged, while those of sunfish actually declined.

A follow-up survey in 2017 yielded similar results, he added.

It’s hard to say what the problem is, said Andy Shiels, director of the commission’s bureau of fisheries. But the lake is relatively infertile to start with, he said, and its role as a water supply means water levels fluctuate a good bit. That limits habitat.

It’s not bad for crappies, he said. It’s just a different kind of fishery.

“It has some of the largest crappies in all of Pennsylvania. It has the potential to grow giants,” Shiels said. “But it just doesn’t have the potential to grow enough fish.”

Given all that, commissioners took it out of the panfish enhancement program. It will be managed under statewide regulations.

“It’s got to ride on its own,” said commissioner Ed Mascharka of Erie County. .

No panfish enhancement; in fact, no fishing regulations at all

A third Pennsylvania lake has, for now, no regulations at all.

The Fish and Boat Commission lifted all seasons, sizes and creel limits on Lake Williams in York County in anticipation of the York Water Co.’s plan to drain it. That’s so its dam can undergo repairs.

“We want anglers to fish the water and make good use of as many fish as they can” before then, said Chris Kuhn of the agency’s division of fisheries management.

York Water plans to slowly lower the lake beginning just after July 10. Its goal is to empty it completely by Labor Day.

The bridge over Lake Williams will close starting Sept. 4 and will remain closed until the project is completed. That could take a year, the commission said.

A private consulting firm, Normandeau Associates, will conduct a fish salvage starting July 14. Fish collected will be released into the South Branch of Codorus Creek.

Larger ones may go into Lake Redman.

At 252 acres, Lake Williams holds largemouth bass, striped bass, walleye, channel catfish, crappies, sunfish and perch.

The lake also contains gizzard shad, an undesirable species introduced by anglers, Kuhn said. They will not be saved.

The commission will re-stock the lake after its dam is rebuilt. But it will take three to five years to become a good fishery again, it noted.

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.