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Fish FAQs

1. I've heard some people talk about the fishing season for black bass, but I can't find anything about them in the Summary Book. Am I missing something?

When Pennsylvania anglers think of bass, two principal species usually come to mind: largemouth and smallmouth. Both of these species belong to a genus (or family group) of fishes that scientists call "black bass." In fact, there are six species within the black bass genus in North America. Three of these species inhabit Pennsylvania and include our most popular group of warmwater game fish: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and spotted bass. Black bass which do not occur in Pennsylvania include the guadalupe bass, suwannee bass, and the redeye bass. Within Pennsylvania largemouth bass and smallmouth bass occur throughout the state, whereas spotted bass are restricted to the Ohio River drainage.

The name "black bass" was used by early frontiersman and explorers to describe this group of fish. Fishes within the black bass genus are distinguished by a dark green back as adults with juveniles of some exhibiting a unique dark appearance, whereas the adults and juveniles of other types of bass the are silvery and light in color. These differences in appearance likely led to the general classification of black bass. In his classic work Book of the Black Bass, Dr. James A. Henshall wrote in 1881 that "bass" is a very vague term and that "the term Black Bass...is distinctive and should always be used when referring to the genus." The terminology has persisted to this day.

If you think that is confusing, consider this: black bass are not really bass at all. They are members of the sunfish family, more closely related to pumpkinseeds and bluegills than to members of the temperate - or "true" - bass family. And while many people apply the term sunfish only to the smaller species of the family, crappie bass (sometimes called calico bass) and rock bass are also misnamed sunfish.

You're not alone in your bewilderment. For many years, scientists though smallmouth and largemouth bass actually belonged in the perch family. Furthering the irony, the white perch is technically not a perch at all, but rather a member of the temperate bass family. Only three true bass are found in Pennsylvania. Along with white perch, white bass and striped bass round out the group.

2. The last couple of days we're seeing a large number (several dozen) dead carp floating past our place at Long Level on the Susquehanna River. Why are these fish dying? Is it a pollution? Should we be worried about going out on the river with this fish kill going on?

The fish you are seeing most likely died as a result of a bacterial infection. Pollution can most likely be ruled out based on the fact that the dead fish are almost exclusively carp. If this were a pollution case, a wide variety of fish species would be involved.

Your observations are not uncommon at this time of year (May). The Commission annually receives reports of similar kills for the Susquehanna and some of its tributaries as well as on the Delaware River and some of its tributary streams. As temperatures warm rapidly and carp spawning is occurring, some carp become stressed. Carp, weakened by the stress, are then susceptible to infection. The last two weeks of May represent times when most anglers and biologists report carp exhibiting these symptoms.

This type of fish kill is not unusual. In fact, they're more common than many people realize. Fish, like humans, battle disease and infection all the time. Often, because relatively small numbers of fish succumb, people don't even know a kill has occurred. But just as humans sometimes endure "bad flu seasons," the naturally occurring microorganisms that affect fish (or the agents like parasites that help transmit them) are periodically more prevalent or widespread than normal. This can be a result of environmental conditions such as water flow and temperature in a given year. Carp can sometimes be more susceptible than other fish species to certain infections. Because they are aggressive spawners, carp frequently scrape themselves in the rocky shallows. As we know from our own bodies, open wounds are often the pathway for an infection to take hold.

Other than the unsightliness and smell of decaying carcasses, there's most likely no threat to humans. Much as common human illnesses like a cold usually can't be transmitted to the family dog, fish diseases rarely affect people. And while a fish kill like the one you describe can be aesthetically displeasing to us, don't forget there are scavengers such as crayfish, birds, catfish - even raccoons - that greatly benefit from the plentiful food these remains provide. There's an old saying: "Mother Nature wastes nothing."

In 2000, the Commission received more reports of dead carp than usual, below are updates from that year.

(7/11/00) Similar carp die-offs have now been reported in the Harrisburg area, as well as the Upper Delaware River. In addition, kills have been noted in New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Ontario Canada. In working with our colleagues in other states/provinces, there has been discussion that the culprit could be viral rather than bacterial. There is a newly recognized virus, koi herpesvirus (KHV), that has been associated with mass mortality of juvenile and adult koi - a close relative of the common carp.

(7/12/00) Illinois and Michigan have also reported carp die-offs this summer. Aeromonas hydrophila (which in the past has caused carp die-offs in Wisconsin, Arkansas and the United Kingdom) and KHV are the leading suggested pathogens by biologists monitoring the kills. A flexibacter (bacteria) has been identified in the Delaware River kill. It is important to note that while it is interesting to observe widespread reports of carp kills this summer, it is also premature to assume a direct connection or single causative agent.

(7/13/00) Biologists monitoring the carp die-offs concur that given the large geographic region in which mortality has been noted, a broad reaching phenomenon (such as weather influence) seems plausible. It is unlikely any singular infectious organism or other such agent would spread that quickly across such a large area, yet leave many populations of carp unaffected. The fact that the dead carp are almost exclusively of adult size lends credence to the theory that spawning stress accentuated by fluctuation water levels and temperatures (heavy rains, winds, etc.) were the main contributing factors leading to die-offs. Fish may die due to thermal stress (large shifts in temperature after a rain) or oxygen stress (associated with runoff). Spawning fish are already under stress (including diminished immune capacity). Either a sudden or gradual shift in temperature or oxygen can further weaken a fish which may either directly kill the fish or increase the likelihood of secondary infections.

3. My friend has a pond that has been taken over by Carp. He wants to shock and remove them. May he? Should he? Can you rent shocking gear from anyone?

An overabundance of carp in a relatively small body of water such as the typical farm pond may eliminate managing for other more popular sport fishes. Most remedies may be costly, may involve legalities and may be short-lived depending on the likelihood of carp becoming re-established. Some treatment methods obviously may be better than others but even then may not rid the pond of the carp. Carp are very prolific spawners so it would take only one pair to start things again. These suggestions are based on the assumption that carp are so abundant that the pond is worthless for other fishes and that once eliminated, the carp will not come back naturally.

Probably the most reliable and least expensive way to eliminate carp would be to drain the pond. I believe if the pond is less than one acre, a drawdown permit from PFBC and DEP (free) is not required. Caution needs to be used so it doesn't drain too fast not only to minimize erosion of the stream below but also to avoid sloughing off of water soaked steep banks around the pond. Downstream neighbors may not be too happy with stranded, dead and dying fish including carp.

The Commission doesn't get involved in salvage operations but a local angling club might for stocking a community pond (yes, even with carp). You might want to drain it say late Fall once air temperatures decrease to minimize the odor problem which often accompanies not only dead fish but also the much and decaying aquatic vegetation common to a drained pond. Allowing it to stay drained for awhile will assure a complete kill including those "hidden" in the mud. If the pond is going to be down for an extended period of time, I also suggest sowing some inexpensive grass seed around to establish a ground cover to minimize erosion and to reduce the eye sore. Another benefit of draining the pond lies in re-stocking it with the fish appropriate with the type of angling your friend desires. Suggestion: keep the new community simple. The smaller the pond the simpler the mix of species.

One might also use chemical reclamation if dewatering is not possible. Regardless of the fact your friend owns the pond and even the outlet stream, use of chemicals (aquatic herbicides, algacides, and compounds intended to kill fish, etc) requires a permit (free). Remember, said water will flow elsewhere and the permitting process protects downstream users and environments. Chemicals can be quite expensive and are usually not species selective. In other words, to eliminate carp usually means killing off everything.

Seining/electro-fishing operations, while likely to take a goodly number of carp, are also likely to miss some fish unless the pond is very small, very shallow, void of stumps-weeds, etc. I suggest if these techniques are desired, your friend should hire the services of an aquatic consultant. Then, the matter of permits and related issued can be handled by people who do this sort of thing for a living. While electro-fishing gear might be available on a rental basis, I do NOT recommend amateurs do it, as such has the potential for killing people in addition to being an illegal device unless covered by a permit. The fact that a highly proficient crew is likely to miss some carp, I might think twice before investing money in netting or electro-fishing.

One might consider making the best of a bad situation and fishing out the carp. This may rub the pond owner the wrong way, but at least he could enjoy this resource. It is very doubtful angling would result in elimination.

One might even stock predators such as the tiger muskellunge (hybrid cross between a northern pike and muskellunge) or muskellunge to prey on the carp. Even then it would take some time before any impact might be noted and existing large carp too large to be eaten might still outlive the toothy predators.

Wish I had a surefire and inexpensive suggestion for your friend. We have abundant carp in some of our lakes but then the larger the system the less impact one species has.

Whatever your friend does, should he be successful in eliminating carp he might want to think about restricting the use of live fish as bait to prevent someone from introducing young carp back into the pond.

-- Dick Snyder, Chief (since retired)
Fisheries Management

4. I was wondering if it is possible to breed fish that are of different species? Has it ever been done? Is it legal to do/try?

Various fish species have been crossbred over the years either as pure research or as a matter of routine for aquaculture purposes. In order for cross-breeding to succeed, parent fish have to be somewhat closely related.

A few examples:

    • tiger muskellunge -- a hybrid between muskellunge and northern pike
    • hybrid striped bass -- cross between white bass and striped bass
    • tiger trout -- hybrid between brook trout and brown trout
    • splake -- hybrid between lake trout and brook trout
    • saugeye -- hybrid between walleye and sauger
    • hybrid sunfish -- cross between two sunfish species such as pumpkinseed and redear sunfish>

There are advantages and disadvantages to use of hybrids. Most grow faster (hybrid vigor) than either parent, but some do not fare as well in regards to survival from egg through fry stage. Most are incapable of reproduction, which is often viewed as an advantage. Some are more fitting to certain types of habitat than one of the parents, and some may have better catchability (in terms of angling) than one of the parents.

It is legal to propagate approved hybrid species. Some species are prohibited from being possessed, transported, sold, etc. in Pennsylvania. For others, we do not permit aquaculture operations with such unless said fish are included on permits issued by the PA Department of Agriculture or raised in a closed system.

For the aquarium hobbyist working on species that are not native to PA, it is legal to raise hybrid fish, as long as the fish and progeny are NOT released into waters of the Commonwealth anywhere in the state. Further, it is illegal to introduce a species into a watershed where it doesn't already exist.

There are also regulations for specific species where it is unlawful to sell, offer for sale, purchase, possess, introduce, import or transport. Some commonly known species include northern snakehead, black carp, silver carp, bighead carp, round goby, tubenose goby, European Rudd, and grass carp/triploid grass carp (unless by permits authorized by the Commission). To assemble a comprehensive list of all species forbidden would be a major undertaking as possibly any species in the world would have to be included, just remember it is illegal to introduce a species into a watershed where it doesn't already exist.

Tiger Trout

Commission trout hatcheries have experimented with raising and stocking small numbers of tiger trout to determine if they would grow any faster or more efficiently than other species. 

Several thousand tigers were raised each year and a few were put in with loads of brook trout to be stocked throughout the Commonwealth. As no biological advantage was found, this practice was discontinued around 2005.

Although biologically possible, wild tiger trout are extremely rare.

5. Why do musky sometimes swim slowly with their head out of the water? I have seen this twice in the last 2 years.

We receive more descriptions of unusual behavior associated with muskellunge than most other fish. For most of us trying to catch a trophy muskellunge, the "odd" behavior is swimming toward a lure and turning away just as one's heart begins pounding in anticipation of an attack. From time to time, we do hear from anglers who have witnessed similar "head above water" actions like you describe.

There are a couple of theories about this action, including:

  • Since muskellunge attack prey from the side and then swallow them head-first, the musky might bet taking one last gulp associated with consumption of a large meal.
  • Musky like to be well acquainted with their surroundings and are surfacing to get a "better look around."

Muskellunge have also been seem "basking" and occasionally "porpoising" with their backs out of the water. This is suspected to be associated with getting to warmer surface water, perhaps to increase metabolism and aid digestion of a large meal (reptiles seek warmth for similar reasons).

6. I read somewhere that someone caught a piranha on the Ohio or Allegheny River. What's the story?

The fish are most likely pacu, and not piranha. Some 20 species of pacu are found in Brazil. The largest may attain length of 31 inches and weigh in excess of 40 pounds.

They will eat about anything but most favor vegetables and fruit. One reference indicated a good place to catch them is where a fruit tree overhangs a stream. Pacu are considered a tropical delicacy when barbecued or smoked.

The chances are good that the specimens caught in Pennsylvania waters are red-bellied pacu. This is one of the more common species sold in tropical fish stores. The going rate is about $4 for a 1.5 inch fish. They are definitely vegetarians. And it may not be unusual for well cared for specimens to "out grow" their aquarium homes.

Pacu have much smaller teeth than do piranha and are usually stubby as for a typical herbivore. Pacu teeth are small and square, more molar-like (for grinding) than piranha teeth which are large, jagged and sharp.

It is unlikely that these tropical fish will survive in Pennsylvania waters. Under Pennsylvania law, it is unlawful to stock or place these species of fish in state waters. The Fish and Boat Commission maintains a list of species authorized for placement in Pennsylvania waters.

7. I came across an old fishing story that said the popularity of yellow pike fishing was growing. I've lived in various places around the country and I never heard of a yellow pike. Are there yellow pike in Pennsylvania? What else can you tell me about this fish?

One of the many nicknames for walleye is "yellow pike." Walleye have also been called been called "Susquehanna salmon" and even "pickerel." All these nicknames put it in the wrong fish family - walleye are neither a pike cousin nor a salmon. It's the biggest, toothiest member of the perch family.

The name "walleye" refers to the fish's large, milky eye that looks luminous when light is shined on it. The eye has a reflecting membrane behind the retina, which causes this effect. The species name "vitreum" means "glassy," and refers to the appearance of the eye.

Walleyes are native to central North America and Canada, including the Ohio River and Great Lakes drainages. A popular sport fish and table fare, they have been extensively stocked - including in this state. In Pennsylvania they are now found throughout the state. Walleye are often the top predator fish in their habitat, eating other fishes, as well as frogs, crayfish, and large insect larvae. Although they can be caught at any time of day, night fishing or fishing the dim depths with live bait or fish imitation lures and jigs is effective for catching walleyes.

8. I would like to know if stocked fish reproduce in a stream?

Nearly all the species stocked from state hatcheries are capable of spawning in the wild. The exceptions are hybrids such as tiger muskellunge, hybrid striped bass, and saugeye.

In the case of trout, if some make it through the summer and find suitable habitat, natural reproduction might occur.  Whether or not those young trout make it through the first year of life depends largely on the habitat, particularly summer water temperatures. Many of the streams we manage with stocking of trout are at their very best seasonal trout habitat. They lose flow and experience elevated temperatures during much of the summer and trout don't do well there.

We do not stock hatchery trout to spawn and provide any contribution to the wild trout community. This would be too expensive. We place them out there for anglers to have a chance to fish for them and to catch them. In several places we stock fingerling trout on a put-grow-and-take basis. In those cases the habitat is suitable for year-round survival, but spawning and nursery habitat may be missing. So we add the stocked trout.

9. I was fishing a local stream today and caught a trout with a numbered tag on it. Who tags the trout and why is it done?

Just about every spring the Commission receives several inquiries from anglers having caught a tagged trout. In most cases, these are NOT the result of any Commission study or program. Clubs, commercial establishments and even individuals tag trout for a variety of reasons. Most involved hatchery trout as part of a contest or promotional activity. Some are part of a short term special event where individuals register for possible prizes from catching tagged fish. And, these are often limited to a particular body of water and even a relatively short piece of stream at that. Others may be more regionalized. In Spring 2003, a major beverage producer is stocking tagged fish (not necessarily trout) as part of a contest or promotion. Tagged fish were stocked in numerous waters.  Usually, those events involving prizes have sufficient information on the tag so that anglers can make contact. But, in a few cases, tags have little if any info.

Tagging is sometimes undertaken by a sportsman's club involved in the Commission's Cooperative Nursery Program. This program centers on the Commission providing fish, usually fingerling trout, to organizations for rearing in their facilities and then stocked for fishing. The facilities and related activities have to be approved by the Commission. Clubs may occasionally stock tagged trout as part of the process of evaluating the extent of their stocking, movement, and so forth. The tags used are metal rings placed around the lower or upper jaw of the trout before stocking. And, they will have info on the tag for contacting the Commission. These tags also will have the initials "CNP" on them. If you catch a cooperative nursery program trout with a tag on it, please follow the instructions on the tag for reporting it.

Tagging is legal providing the trout are from a commercial hatchery and not those taken from the wild and then tagged. Just about the only time we permit fish from the wild to be tagged if such is part of a scientific study undertaken by researchers authorized to do so by special permits from the Commission. I have heard of individual anglers catching fish and them tagging them as a personal research effort. This activity is not legal under Commission regulations.

10. When I was in the tackle shop last night I saw a fish tagging kit for sale and got to be thinking that maybe I would tag all the trout I caught this coming season to see what would happen to them. Would the Commission like me to do that and let you know if I re-catch some of the tagged fish? Also, what kind of tags do you recommend?

Commission regulations prohibit anglers from tagging fish taken from Commonwealth waters. The only exceptions relate to an ongoing cooperative nursery tagging program or for activities pursuant to a scientific collectors permit. Although it's legal to tag fish that you purchase from a commercial source and stock, you must prove the source for such fish.

Tagging is anything but positive for the fish and even when done by experienced taggers can cause problems for the fish. Depending on the type of tag used, the process can result in the skin or body cavity being punctured. This can lead to infection and even a slow death. In fact, even in our own research we don't tag except as a last resort.

Also, any results from tagging fish have to be viewed with question: Did the tagging cause the fish to behave in a manner that it wouldn't have been had it simply been caught and immediately released. Tagging can disrupt normal behavior including feeding, swimming and even hiding.

We don't mean to dampen your enthusiasm for doing some amateur research. Actually, doing so might even help your "stream smarts." Depending on the species you may be able to recognize individual fish without tagging. Trout are easy compared to bass. On trout look at the orientation of spots and related marks. Like snowflakes, no two trout will be alike. Keep a detailed log of where you catch fish, what time of day, the weather conditions, the water temperature, your fishing method. At the end of the season you'll have a nice record of your activities to look back on and you'll likely discover some patterns that will make you a more productive angler.

11. I've caught a bunch of walleye this year with unsightly growths or tumors on them. What causes these growths? Are the fish safe to eat? How should I prepare my catch?

Walleye are commonly affected by two skin conditions that may occur separately or in combination. Differentiation of the two infections may be somewhat difficult for the untrained eye. Both of these conditions are considered to be caused by fish viruses.

These viral skin infections are not associated with walleye mortality, and they are harmless to humans. Infected walleye should be processed for consumption in the normal manner. On the rare occasion when a skin lesion penetrates into the musculature, that portion of the fish tissue can be removed and discarded to improve its appearance. A more detailed discussion of these two conditions is presented below.

The first condition, called lymphocystis, is commonly found in the central portion of the United States, especially in and around the Great Lakes region, and in the south-central and south-eastern regions of Canada. It is characterized by raised, rough, nodular masses of generally light colored, somewhat opalescent white, gray or cream-colored tissues that superficially resemble warts. Larger, more developed lesions may have areas of pinkish or reddish coloration due to blood vessels in the infected tissues. These lesions are usually external, located on the skin or the fins, but occasionally they are found internally along the gut and in the heart and other internal organs. Massive replication of the virus within the walleye skin cell causes the size of the infected cell to increase in size dramatically. Eventually these cells burst or slough off, releasing the virus and leaving a light colored scar. Lymphocystis usually appears in the spring and reaches maximum development in the summer. In the fall and winter the lesions gradually disappear. Although walleye are most susceptible to the lymphocystis virus, perches, sauger, darters, sunfishes, basses, bluegill and crappie can also develop the infection.

The second condition is called dermal sarcoma. This benign skin tumor is similar to lymphocystis in gross appearance and location on the fish, although dermal sarcoma tend to be found more frequently on the body than on the fins, and the lesion tends to be more variable in color, depending on the blood supply and the amount of fibrous tissue present. These single or multiple, smooth and firm nodules develop to about a half inch in diameter. They are more prevalent in the fall and spring. They are less frequently observed in the summer. Female and younger walleye tend to be more affected by this condition. The cause of dermal sarcoma has not been determined definitively, but transmission studies suggests viral activity.

12. Over the past few years, I started finding cream colored balls in the flesh of bass I caught in ponds. Upon further inspection, I found that they are worms. This year I found the worms in bass in streams and the Susquehanna River. Is there anything that can be done to rid the bass of these worms?  Is it okay to eat the bass?

Note: We also receive inquiries about black spots on fish, comments regarding them are included in the answer.

Thank you for your inquiry and keen observation. Indeed freshwater fish may contain a variety of parasites. Without seeing the fish and parasites, a positive identification cannot be made. Two distinct parasites are typically observed by anglers in fish muscle. One is a small yellowish worm or grub, the other is a blackish spot.

Yellow grub

Your description suggests you observed encysted metacercariae larval stage of the yellow grub (Clinostomum) parasite. The encysted, yellow to yellowish white worm can be up to 1/4 inch in length. It can be found in virtually all species of North American freshwater fish.

The yellow grub is a digenetic trematode. These types of parasites require several hosts to complete their life cycles. In the case of the yellow grub, the adult parasite is found in the throats of fish eating birds, such as herons. During the feeding process, eggs produced by the adults are washed out of the bird's mouth and into the water. There they hatch, yielding a free swimming larval stage (miracidia) that will die within several hours if it does not find and infect a snail of the genus Helisoma. After further development within the snail, a free swimming cercaria leaves the snail and seeks a fish host. The cercariae burrow through the skin of the fish and encyst, where they develop into the metacercariae. These yellow grubs may live several years in the fish. If the fish is eaten by the bird host the larval metacercariae will develop into adult parasites, completing the life cycle.

Infestations by a few individuals likely cause little harm to fish, however, under certain circumstances, heavy infestations can kill fish. Yellow grubs are described as unsightly by fishermen. A related species occurring in Asia has been found to infect the upper respiratory tract of humans. Thorough cooking kills the North American yellow grub and the parasite does not alter the flavor or the infected fish; however, fish with heavy infestations are typically not eaten by anglers.

Infestation is somewhat greater for fish caught in shallow water where snails and fish eating birds are most prevalent. Fish caught from deep water typically exhibit less infestation. Like many biological phenomenon, prevalence of the grub may be greater in some years and less in others for a variety of reasons including an abundance of intermediate host mollusks and birds.

Black spots

Black spot disease is commonly observed in rock bass and other sunfish, bass, pike, perch, minnows, and other fish species. It can be identified by the presence of small black spots, usually about the size of a pin head, in the skin, the fins, the musculature, and the mouth of the fish. The black spots are caused by pigment that the fish deposits around the larval stage of a parasitic digenetic trematode, usually a Neascus spp.

The lifecycle of the "black spot" parasite is complex. The adult parasite is found in a fish eating bird, the kingfisher. The larval parasite is transferred from the infected fish to the bird during the feeding process. In the kingfisher, the larval stage develops into an adult parasite. The adult parasite in the intestine of the bird produces eggs that are eventually deposited in the water. There the eggs mature, hatch, and develop into the miracidium stage of the parasite. The miracidium infects a snail. In the snail, the miracidium develops into the cercaria life stage. The cercaria leaves the snail and actively penetrates a host fish. In the fish, the parasite becomes encysted. In about 22 days, black spots form around the cyst. This entire lifecycle takes at least 112 days to complete.

In general, the presence of the "black spot" parasite does not affect the growth or the longevity of the infected fish; however massive infections in young fish may cause fish mortality. The parasite is incapable of infecting humans and, as is the case with all fish parasites, it is destroyed by thorough cooking. When fish are heavily infected, some anglers prefer to remove the skin to improve the appearance of the cooked fish.

For further information please reference:

    • Parasites of North American Freshwater Fishes by G. L. Hoffman (This book may be available from your local University Library)

Numerous state Fisheries' agencies and other web sites describe parasites --- try typing "Neascus" or "Clinostomum" in search engines to learn more.

Like many biological phenomenon, prevalence of worms and parasites may be greater in some years and during some seasons for a variety of reasons, including an abundance of intermediate host mollusks and birds. Bluegills are a colonial spawner and congregations in early summer provide opportunity for infested fish to be in close proximity to one another.

Trout FAqS

1. I noticed on the Class A Wild Trout Waters list there is a total alkalinity column for each water. Some levels are very low (2) and some are very high (17). When chosing a water what is an ideal T-Alk level for wild trout?

Alkalinity is a measure of the buffering capacity of water, or the capacity of water to neutralize acids. Knowing the alkalinity of a stream is important in determining its ability to neutralize acidic pollution from rainfall or from wastewater effluent. Alkalinity is not the same as pH, but is related to pH since it refers to the ability of water to resist changes in pH. The greater the alkalinity, the greater the buffering capacity and the greater the resistance to changes in pH. The presence of buffering materials in water helps to neutralize acids as they get added to the water through rainfall or discharges.

These buffering materials are mostly made up of bicarbonate and carbonate. Carbonates and bicarbonates get added to streams as the water within a stream's drainage area passes through soil and rock that contain these materials, primarily calcite (Calcium Carbonate). Where limestone and carbonate-rich soils are predominate, streams will often have a high alkalinity. Where igneous rocks and carbonate-poor soils are predominate, waters will have low alkalinity.

Because alkalinity varies greatly depending on geology, there are no general standards for alkalinity. In other words, alkalinity is best used to describe the stream conditions where fish live, rather than be an accurate predictor of what the trout population will look like. Streams with high alkalinity typically have much higher productivity since, under high alkalinity conditions, more nutrients become available to the food chain.

However, it should be noted that the quality and quantity of available habitat is a more important factor in determining the overall density of trout fishery. You can have a stream with high alkalinity, but if it lacks quality habitat, the density of trout population may still be quite low. On the other hand, streams with low alkalinity and excellent habitat can have outstanding trout populations.

Alkalinity levels between 20 and 200 parts per million (ppm) are typical of freshwater streams in Pennsylvania. Levels less than 10 ppm indicates the stream has a poor buffering capacity and may be susceptible to changes in pH from natural and man-made acidity sources. However, as previously mentioned, this does not necessarily mean that the trout population will be poor, but continued input of acidity into streams with poor buffering capacity may begin to negatively effect trout populations.

Keep in mind that all of the streams on the Class A list all have exceptional trout populations, regardless of their alkalinity level. Alkalinity should be used to give you some information about the type of stream on the list. For example, streams with high alkalinity tend to flow through large valley areas with limestone geology present, while lower alkalinity streams tend to be located in more mountainous terrain with very little influence from limestone geology.

Additionally, as you look through the list you will note a tendency for brook trout to predominate these low alkalinity streams. Brook trout tend to be better suited to cope with low alkalinity conditions and more drastic fluctuations in pH than do brown trout.

2. Trout season is just around the corner and I have to make a decision. I am deciding between two streams to try for opening day. The first stream is stocked with 6,000 trout. Another is stocked with 700. My question is: Can I assume that the fishing will be better at the first stream since there are more fish being stocked there? (When I say "better," I mean are my chances better to catch a fish?)

You have posed a variation of the question just about every trout angler has pondered at some point in time: "where's the best place for me to fish?" For as many times as we've been asked the question, there's still no one single right answer. There are so many variables that affect fishing success, that the question is impossible to answer with a reasonable degree of certainty. Resource factors such as stream size, flow rates and relative water clarity play a part. So do things like fishing pressure. It's usually the angler him- or herself that determines success more so than the specific waterway. Fishing skill, fishing method and amount of time spent on the water are the best predictors of angling success.

Trout stocking numbers alone only tell part of the story. The Commission allocates trout to stream sections on the basis of a resource classification system. Based on the information collected from our stream examination surveys, we evaluate the biological, chemical, physical and social attributes of a stream section. Under this system, stream sections are placed into one of 11 specific stocking categories. Stream sections with similar attributes are placed into the same stocking category and treated the same in terms of stocking rates (number of trout stocked per acre) on a statewide basis. So a big stream in a rural area with limited angler access may get 3,000 fish. Meanwhile a smaller stream near a population center with plenty of easy access may get 1,000 trout. Although the total number of fish is higher for the first stream, the second stream is actually stocked at a higher rate proportionally.

Keep in mind that higher stocking rates do not always translate into a better chance of success. Individual angler success may be more related to selecting the type of water that is most compatible with your fishing skills. This is where you have to decide what type of stream to visit. Factors such as the size of the stream may come into play, as you may be a person that tends to do better on a smaller stream or you may like moderate to larger size streams. You might want to consider location as well. The number of other anglers likely fishing a highly stocked stream near an urban area might not have as much appeal to you as a small headwater stream in a remote woods with fewer anglers to compete with.

Ultimately, you will have to be the one to decide which type of experience that you want to fish on opening day. Most of all, remember to have fun when you are out there on opening day. Its a great time of the year to enjoy outdoor recreation.

For help deciding on where to fish be sure to check out our Regional Information/Guide page.

3. I have read that our native "brookie" is not a true trout but a char. I have been trying unsuccessfully to discover the difference. Can you explain?

Scientific classification and taxonomy of fishes, at times, can be somewhat confusing. It is sometimes helpful when you understand the history that lead to the development of the current scientific classification system. There are two distinct taxonomic systems currently in vogue among professional biologists today. The traditional, or Linnaean, taxonomy is still largely in favor among field workers, conservationists, and husbandry people. The alternative, Cladistic taxonomy, is overwhelmingly supported by evolutionary biologists.

The undisputed father of taxonomy was the Swedish botanist Karl von Linné (1707-1778). Because virtually all science in the 18th century was written in Latin, von Linné is better known by his Latinized name, Carolus Linnaeus. Linnaeus created the system of scientific nomenclature still in use today, wherein every species is given two Latin names, a genus, or group name, and the species name. Over time, biologist added additional, larger and higher level group names, called taxons (plural: taxa), from Family up to Kingdom, arranged in a hierarchical order, until a standardized 7-level hierarchy was established, as follows:

                                                                                  Brook Trout

                  Kingdom                                                  Animalia

                     Phylum                                                 Vertebrata

                        Class                                                 Osteichythes

                           Order                                              Salmoniformes

                              Family                                          Salmonidae

                                  Genus                                      Salvelinus

                                      Species                                fontinalis

Every living thing is biologically classified using this taxonomy system. The original purpose of taxonomy was the recognition, categorization, and identification of organisms. Species were placed into groups based primarily by apparent resemblance, shared traits or evolving within similar habitat. In Pennsylvania, the fish we refer to as trout are all grouped under the family known as Salmonidae. However, they are each very different from one another and further grouped under their Genus names. In North America, there are several genus of fish within the Salmonidae family, some of which look nothing like what we think of as “trout.”

Family: Salmonidae

Genus: Coregonus (Ciscos)

    Prosopium (Whitefish)

    Oncorhynchus (Pacific Salmon)

    Salvelinus (Char)

    Thymallus (Grayling)

    Salmo (true trout)

 

The confusion usually comes when we use the common name of a species and attempt to group them using the common names. For example, the rainbow trout is actually scientifically classified as a pacific salmon because it is more closely related to chinook, chum and sockeye salmon, which have evolved in the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean. In your example, the brook trout is actually classified as a char because it biologically is has traits more closely related to other species of char, which have generally evolved in more northern latitudes, colder water temperatures and at higher elevations. Other members of the Salvelinus (Char) genus are lake trout, bull trout, and arctic char. To compound matters even more, the Atlantic salmon is scientifically classified as a true-trout being more closely related to the brown trout than either salmon or char.

It is important to keep in mind that the common names we use for fishes have very little to do with how they are classified in the biological world. We use common names to maintain a distinction from similar fishes, and not to put them into distinct biological groups.

4. I've been told that you can tell a wild trout from a stocked one by the color of their flesh and if they have a hooked jaw or not. Wild trout are supposed to be more reddish looking but stocked trout are whiter or paler. And I was always told that only wild trout grew large lower jaws. I caught a big trout with a hooked jaw, but it was white. So what type of trout did I catch, a stocked one or was it a wild one?

For trout, the pigment of their flesh and outward coloration is largely influenced by their diet. For example, carotenoids (color pigments) found in crustaceans such as; crayfish and freshwater shrimp are largely responsible for the red, pink and orange pigments that you find when examining fish flesh. Trout that do not have access to these types of food items would typically lack this pigmentation.

Hatchery trout are typically more bland in coloration in comparison to their wild cousins. This is primarily due to the fact that they are fed a formulated diet that does not include the many of the food items that provide the color pigments found in nature and more readily available to a trout foraging in the wild.

Secondary sex characteristics such as, the kype on the lower jaw of a large male trout will develop in older and larger trout regardless of their origin. These characteristics are due to physiological changes in the fish as it matures and are not related to specific items in their diet.

From your description, it would appear most likely the trout you caught originated from a hatchery.

5. It's my understanding that after Labor Day the extended trout season goes into effect. I'm a little unclear on how the rules apply to wild trout streams that aren't on the list of waters approved for stocking. I know I cannot keep any trout from the wild trout streams, but can I fish catch and release? Or are these waters closed to fishing now?

The only waters the Commission closes to fishing are the designated stocked trout waters which are closed from March 1 until the opening day of trout season. It is unlawful to fish in them for any species during that period of time.

The Commission does not prohibit fishing in other waters which contain wild trout even when it is unlawful to keep them. So it is not a crime to fish in those waters during the extended trout season.

However, the current regulations also do not specifically permit catch-and-release of wild trout during the time when they are out of season. This means that anglers who fish for trout in anything other than stocked trout waters or some specially regulated waters during the extended season could find themselves in violation of the law.

Here's how: The fishing regulations state that it is unlawful to catch fish except during their season. To protect those who may inadvertently catch a fish during the closed season, the regulations state that it is not a violation if a fish is caught during a closed season while legally fishing for another species if the fish is immediately returned unharmed to the water. This does create a strict liability standard: If the fish caught out of season is harmed or killed - even inadvertently - the fact that an angler says he is fishing on a catch-and-release basis is no defense.

Bottom Line: The current regulations are not intended to encourage fishing for any species during the closed season even on a "catch-and-release" basis, but it is not illegal to fish as long as the fish is immediately returned unharmed to the waters from taken. Anglers who target a fish during the closed season could potentially harm the fish and would then be liable for violating the closed season regulation.

6. This year for the first time I caught what I've always called a palomino trout. When I took it to the bait shop, nobody could agree on what kind of trout it really was. Some guys agreed with me that it as a palomino. Others said it was a golden trout. And somebody else said that we don't have golden trout in PA and that my fish was an sterile albino rainbow trout. But I thought albinos were white not orange. I figured since the Commission stocked this fish you'd know what kind of fish it really is. Can you help?

The orangish trout stocked by the Commission are accurately called "golden rainbow trout."

The golden rainbow trout originated from a single rainbow trout that was spawned in the fall of 1954 in West Virginia. This trout's body color was a chimera of golden and normally pigmented tissue. When this fish was crossed with a normally pigmented rainbow trout, the offspring (what we have come to refer to as palomino rainbow trout) were lighter in color.

Golden rainbow trout and palomino rainbow trout are not sterile hybrids, they are simply color variations of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and should not be confused with the golden trout (Oncorhynchus aguabonita) native to a few drainages in California. It took selective breeding for several generations to result in the development of true breeding golden rainbow trout. Typically, these fish are more of a brilliant golden color than the palomino rainbow trout, which has a color phase intermediate between the golden and normally pigmented rainbow trout.

In Pennsylvania, the rise of the palomino rainbow trout stemmed from obtaining fertilized golden rainbow trout eggs from West Virginia. Subsequently, when these golden rainbow trout reached maturity, they were crossed with normally pigmented rainbow trout and the offspring resulted in the development of the palomino rainbow trout. The initial stockings of palomino rainbow trout in Pennsylvania waters occurred during the 1967 season. At present, however, due to their more brilliant coloration, we use golden rainbow trout exclusively for production purposes rather than the lighter palomino rainbow trout.

7. When was the opening day for trout established as the 1st Saturday after April 11? What was it before that?

Under current Commission regulations, the statewide trout season opens at 8 a.m. on the first Saturday after April 11. Regular trout season can open as early as April 12 or as late as April 18.

The "regional" trout season for southeastern Pennsylvania counties opens at 8 a.m. on the first Saturday after March 28. The earlier regional opening day was introduced in 2007. To see which counties are regional visit our Fast Facts about the PA Trout Season page.

Regulations established a trout opening day beginning in 1950, having been legislated under the Fish Law of 1949 (Act 65). The Act prohibited fishing of any kind in all waters of the Commonwealth, between March 14 and 5 a.m., April 15 in any year, except in rivers, ponds and lakes not stocked with trout by the Commission. The new law prohibits fishing in trout streams which are stocked by the state for a month prior to the opening of the legal season on trout. Note the opening day did not have to occur on a Saturday.

Section 20 of the Fish Law of 1959 listed opening day as 5 a.m. on April 12 (if a Saturday), or the first Saturday thereafter. This became effective in 1960. Section 251 of the same law authorized the Commission to change opening days by regulation. The wording in Section 20 of the Fish Law of 1959 was not changed until enactment of the Fish and Boat Code of 1980, but the Commission adjusted the opening days periodically after 1959 using the regulatory authority set forth in Section 251.

Sometime after 1959 opening day was "changed" to the Saturday closest to April 15. Regardless of the wording used, it works out to be the same Saturday as the original 1959 law and the current definition (1st Saturday after April 11).

The Fish and Boat Code of 1980 (30 Pa.C.S. 2102(b)) provides that the Commission establishes seasons, sizes and creel limits by regulation. The Commission has followed a standard approach of having opening day on the first Saturday after April 11 for many years, but it could adjust opening days by regulation if it chose to do so.

That leaves the starting time, which was 5 a.m. in both the 1949 and 1959 legislations. It stayed that way until 1969, when the April 12 opening day started at 8 a.m. According to the April 1969 Pennsylvania Angler magazine, "The new opening hour was set by the Commission when numerous complaints were filed by property owners after fishermen camped, built fires, and littered private grounds throughout the night as they awaited the 5 a.m. opening last year. It is hoped the later starting hour will discourage overnight waits along the waterways by fishermen - and ultimately keep some of that ground open to public use which, with another pre-opener night of abuse, might be closed."

Sadly, changing the start time to 8 a.m. has not resolved this problem completely. Littering and other abuses by some fishermen continue to cause private lands to be closed to public fishing.

The mid-April date is based on several factors. First, experience has shown that weather and water conditions are usually conducive to trout fishing by mid-April. Second, the opening day in mid-April allows the Commission about six weeks to stock trout in stocked trout waters during the closed season, which extends from March 1 to opening day. This time is needed to complete the pre-season stocking of the millions of adult legal-size trout in Pennsylvania waters.

8. This past weekend I caught a nice rainbow trout. While cleaning it, I came upon what I assume was the egg sack. It was approximately 2 to 3 inches long filled with small, round, soft balls. I was not happy because if this was the egg sack, I figured that the fish may possibly lay the eggs. I was under the impression that trout had already spawned for the season. Is this correct and what is the normal spawning period? Is there a way to determine female versus male trout so I will not remove a fertile female in the future?

In female trout, eggs are held within a thin membrane in the body cavity. Trout eggs range from pale yellow to orange in coloration. The size of the eggs depends upon the stage of development and the size of the female (in general, larger trout produce larger eggs). Nonetheless, when a female trout is ready to spawn, the eggs will fill much of the free space in the body cavity.

In Pennsylvania, brook and brown trout are fall spawners. Brook trout generally spawn between September and November and brown trout spawn a little later, usually between October and December. By nature, rainbow trout are spring spawners. However, by process of selection in the hatchery system, this species has been selected to spawn during the late summer and early fall (August - September). Basically, from the time that the eggs hatch, it takes about 16-18 months to produce trout of catchable size (averaging 9-11 inches in length) for stocking. Therefore, this process has allowed us to have relatively uniform size catchable size hatchery trout of all three species during a time period when they are in the most demand, or during the spring.

You shouldn't be too upset about harvesting the rainbow trout. This fish was most likely an older hatchery trout that had begun to develop eggs for the upcoming season or possibly had some old eggs remaining from a previous spawn (eggs that are not expelled are absorbed internally by the fish). It is highly unlikely that this hatchery fish would have successfully spawned with another rainbow trout in the wild in Pennsylvania waters. Although we have a wealth of reproducing wild brook and brown trout populations in the Commonwealth, only about a dozen streams support reproducing wild rainbow trout fisheries.

The methods to distinguish between male and female trout are difficult to determine to the untrained eye. Again, the older the trout is and the closer to spawning season, the easier it is to determine between the sexes. In general, mature male trout will develop a kype (or a hooked snout on their lower jaw). Male trout also tend to be more laterally compressed than female trout and during the spawning period may be brighter in coloration. Conversely, female trout tend to have a more rounded snout and body conformation. Of course the positive way to determine this would be as you did, to sacrifice the fish and examine for the presence of eggs or sperm.

9. I'm wondering about mortality rates for the trout you stock in the fall and winter. Do you put these fish in at this time of year so they can spawn in the spring? How many of them will live long enough to reproduce? Also, will they be around to be caught next season?

It is generally accepted by fisheries biologists that annual natural mortality rates for wild trout in streams range from 30% to around 65%. For hatchery trout, mortality rates are considerably greater. For example: A study was conducted by Commission staff to evaluate the survival of stocked brown trout (planted during the fall) from October until the opening of the angling season during the following April. As part of the study, four streams were evaluated. At the time that this study was conducted, the streams were closed to angling during the fall. As a result the study served as an evaluation of the survival of hatchery brown trout from fall to spring without the influence of angling pressure during this time period.

For evaluation purposes, all of the fall stocked trout were tagged with a small plastic tag. Return to the creel rates were determined by a combination of creel census and volunteer angler tag returns. Survival rates were determined by population estimates via electro-fishing surveys. The results of this study indicated that return to the creel rates of the fall stocked brown trout were very low, as only 4.6% of the fall stocked trout were caught by anglers the following spring. In addition, only 20% of the fall stocked brown trout were estimated to have survived the winter to become available to the angler at the beginning of the next season. Based on the results of this study, over winter mortality of fall stocked brown trout was approximately 80%.

Adult trout stocked during the fall and winter are intended to expand fishing opportunities beyond the traditional spring and summer time frame. By extending trout stockings throughout the year, we are able to provide greater variety for Pennsylvania's anglers. It is not likely that the adult trout we stock will reproduce in the streams, nor is that our goal. Adult trout stockings are designed primarily to support "put and take" trout fisheries in waters that otherwise could not provide much recreational sport-fishing without plantings. Those waters with viable naturally reproducing populations are managed specifically for wild trout.