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Notes from the Streams banner
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Notes and observations from around Pennsylvania
from Commission Waterways Conservation Officers
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First Ice Angler of the Year
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Every winter the avid hard water anglers wait in anticipation for the first safe ice to venture out and try their luck. This winter the ice just formed and I was pondering how thick the ice had become when I noticed a mature bald eagle out on the ice.

A look through my spotting scope revealed that it wasn’t fish on the menu, but an unlucky duck. A few days later the human anglers started to appear.

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— WCO Patrick W. Ferko, Somerset County
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Annual Advice
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As the trout stocking season fast approaches, I look forward to seeing some of the volunteers who assist the PFBC with this endeavor.  I am particularly interested in hearing the advice offered to the agency and me.

Two individuals that never miss a stocking are Yuotta and his friend Yushooda.  Yuotta generally has advice for the agency, while Yushooda usually provides me with specific advice.

Yuotta always states that you (the PFBC),  otta stock bigger trout, you (the PFBC) otta stock more trout and you (the PFBC) otta stock other waters not on the stocking list.

Yushooda usually provides specific advice such as: you shooda stocked more trout in that hole, or you shooda float stocked or you shooda got more people to help stock, or you shooda spread the fish out better, or you shooda put more fish where people could get to them easier.

As always, I take all of this advice with a grain of salt.  In return for this valuable input I tell them you otta contact the agency and you shooda carried some buckets today.

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— WCO Albert Colian, Cambria County
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Wear It!
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I regularly check hunters and anglers during the cold months of the year in small boats, those 16 feet and under. I watch them struggle into a headwind on their return to shore when the wind kicks up suddenly. They barely make it back to the boat ramp, the battery on the boat almost depleted, and the boat loaded to the maximum capacity with equipment.

I notice they have no oars on the boat, and they have two old conventional style life jackets in the boat, under the bow, covered with the slurry of water mixed with debris from the floor of the boat. One of them is wearing laced up high top hunting boots and both are wearing seven layers of clothing trying to stay warm.

I used to tell them that the water was cold and that they really should wear their life jackets when out on the lake. That was before the Cold Weather PFD Law.

I had one such individual then put his hand in the water and say, the water really isn't all that cold, "it actually feels kinda warm, that's weird", besides, I am a really good swimmer, I was on the swim team in High School.

If it is 15 degrees out, and you stick your very cold fingers into a 33 degree lake, the water will indeed not feel all that cold. However, you can be sure that if you decide to jump overboard and go for a swim, that it will be mere seconds until you realize just how cold that water really is.

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission regulations require that operators of small boats, those under 16 feet and all kayaks and canoes must wear a type l, ll, lll, or V while underway or at anchor from November 1st to April 30.

If your old life jacket isn't comfortable to wear in cold weather, then replace it with one that is comfortable that you will actually wear. If you are not sure that you are worth the extra few dollars that a comfortable, quality made life jacket costs, I am sure that if you ask the people in your life you can find someone who does.

Don't forget to tie a whistle to your jacket, as it’s pretty exhausting to try to yell for help when the water is freezing cold, you keep sinking, and you are trying to get your darn boots off.

Wear your PFD, it will not only save you from a ticket, but more important, it might even save your life.

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— WCO Thomas Benevento, Southern Chester County
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Try it before buying it
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As the opening day of trout season was now underway for a few weeks, I was on patrol along the Weissport Canal checking anglers and engaging in conversation about their fishing experiences for the day. Most anglers were found to be in compliance with the exception of a few not displaying their fishing license. After a quick reminder to display their fishing license, it appeared that all were now in compliance, and I continued with my patrol along the canal.

Further downstream along the canal, I observed a young man fishing and not displaying his fishing license. Upon speaking with him, I asked him if he was having any luck which he replied “No.” He continued to tell me that he usually fly fishes the river and does well catching trout and bass. After a brief conversation about his fishing experience for the day, I requested to check his fishing license which he informed me that he did not have one.

I asked him why he did not have a current fishing license. He immediately replied that he knew he needed one, but he wanted to try it before buying it. During my career as a Conservation Officer, I thought that I have heard almost every possible excuse for not having a fishing license, but his excuse was a first.

Upon hearing his excuse, I looked at the young man somewhat confused. He then replied, you don’t understand I just bought the spinning outfit and tackle about an hour ago, and I wanted to try fishing with it before buying the fishing license. If I like it then I will go and buy the fishing license. He even went so far as to show me the receipt for the spinning outfit including the fishing tackle that he purchased for a total of about $70.00.

Being familiar with the store where he purchased the equipment, I asked him if he noticed a sign about fishing licenses at the store when he purchased the equipment. He replied that he seen the sign and even indicated it was next to the cash register.

I informed him that if he wanted to try fishing before buying a license he could take advantage of the Fish for Free Days that are designated each year where no fishing license is required, but today was not Fish For Free and he was required to possess a valid PA fishing license. After informing him that he would receive a citation for fishing without a license, the young man told me that he was done fishing and asked me if the store would take the spinning outfit back.

After completing and issuing the citation to him, I looked at his spinning outfit and noticed that he now had a bird’s nest of fishing line around the reel. In response to his question, I informed him that he would have to ask the store if they would take it back. Upon leaving the young man, I had no doubt in my mind that he was going back to the store to return the spinning outfit and tackle in exchange to hopefully purchase a fishing license or pay towards his fine.

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— WCO Scott J. Christman, Southern Carbon/Western Monroe County
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Angler Ethics
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While I was cleaning and organizing my office I came across a decal from Future 21 Dupont Stren. On the decal is written ANGLER ETHICS. I thought these nine suggestions would be worth a reprint for those who have never seen it, so here they are.

ANGLER ETHICS

  1. Keep only the fish needed
  2. Do not pollute – Properly dispose of trash
  3. Sharpen angling and boating skills
  4. Observe angling and boating safety regulations
  5. Respect other anglers’ rights
  6. Respect property owners’ rights
  7. Pass on knowledge and angling skills
  8. Support local conservation efforts
  9. Promote the sport of angling

I have some of my own that I could add to this like:

  • Always purchase a fishing license when required to. It supports the cause and is a lot cheaper than the fine.
  • Take a kid fishing, better yet, take a parent & a kid fishing, be a mentor.
  • Support the COOP fisheries in your area with the hatchery work and the stocking of trout.
  • Never prevent kids from fishing a hole by crowding them out or fishing over top of them.

As you can see there are many points that can be added to this list of angler ethics so add your own and practice using them in hope that others will follow your example of what is good angling ethics.

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— WCO Daniel McGuire, Southern Somerset County
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Got Caught
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This summer PPL at Lake Wallenpaupack and the PFBC sponsored a program where they handed out tee shirts to youth who were boating and wearing their life jackets. The shirt stated “I Got Caught Wearing My Life Jacket”.

The program was very successful and rewarding for both the boating public and us as officers on the lake. It not only was a good idea to encourage, especially, youth to wear their life jackets but it also showed the youth and adults that we as police officers were not something to fear. The look on the young faces when they received a free tee shirt for wearing their life jackets, were priceless.

There was even this one instance where Sgt. Bendock and I were patrolling Martin’s Cove, as we noticed this one pontoon boat full of youth that kept watching and waving at us from a distance. As we made our way around the cove and closer to the boat, all ten of the youth were all proudly standing at the edge of the railing wearing their life jackets and smiling from ear to ear just waiting to get their reward. If this is what it takes to save lives then it was a success.

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— WCO Robert A. Plumb, N Wallenpaupack District (Pike County)
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Buried Treasure
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While on foot patrol along the Stonycreek River, I observed two people out on a rock in the middle of the river drinking from plastic bottles. I decided to ensure that the empty bottles did not remain behind.

The drinks were consumed and the two people carried them back to shore where their ATV was parked. The one person opened his back pack up and for whatever reason decided that the empty plastic containers didn’t belong there. He then bent over and dug a hole in sand and buried the two plastic bottles and covered them up much like a dog would bury a bone.

Shortly thereafter, I approached these two people and made small talk and then asked about the plastic drink bottles. The one person told me they were in his backpack, while the other took a few steps away and stood over the spot where the bottles remained buried.

I told the person with the backpack to show me the empty bottles. He searched for a long time in the backpack before I finally told him that he would have better luck digging in the sand where his companion stood nervously.

Needless to say the bottles were dug up from beneath the sand and both individuals carried home a citation, while I carried out the two empty plastic bottles as evidence.

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— WCO Patrick W. Ferko, Somerset County
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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a Fish
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Working with the public you hear a lot of fish and other animals being misidentified, with snakes being at the top of the list for being confused with the wrong species. I experienced a case of misidentification while on patrol at Tuscarora Lake with SGT Sabo that really made me scratch my head in amazement.

A man approached us near the boat cove and said there were three Copperheads alongside a moored boat and one of them was eating a bird. I heard many complaints in the area of Copperheads and none proved to be accurate, so I had my doubts.

We approached the area and saw three watersnakes with one trying to swallow a nice sized fish, which looked to be a bluegill or crappie. The two snakes that were just watching the meal slithered into the water but the feasting snake remained for some good photo opportunities.

I had a good laugh with SGT Sabo, the snake confusion is common but I never had someone confuse a fish with a bird before!

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— WCO Doug Daniels, Eastern Schuylkill County
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Measure Twice Cut Once
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This past ice-fishing season Sgt. Bendock and I were patrolling Promised Land Upper and came across two fishermen with a nice catch of Bluegill.

Promised Land Upper and Lower Lake are both regulated as panfish enhancement lakes and the minimum size requirement for harvesting bluegill is seven inches. Although the fish appeared to make the seven inch mark, (barely) I asked the two gentlemen if they had measured their catch. “Yep, all eight inches or better,” one replied. Sgt. Bendock and I looked at each other doubtful that these fish were eight inches.

I picked up one of the fish and asked the gentleman to measure it. He proceeded to place the fish on a cutting board equipped with a graduated scale, but instead of placing one end of the fish at the zero he started at the one inch mark, adding an inch to the fish’s length. “See, eight inches,” he announced.

Sgt. Bendock and I commented on the unusual method he had for measuring. “What do you mean?” he asked. We explained that he had just added an inch to the fish’s length by not starting at the end of the scale. “I’ve always measured that way,” he said indignantly.

“You’re not a carpenter I hope,” I said jokingly. “As a matter of fact I am!” he shot back. Oh well.

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— WCO Tereschak, NE Region
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Osprey Rescue
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Littering is a constant battle encountered by Conservation Officers year long. One of the worst things is fishing line left along streams and lakes.

Over the years I have encountered ducks entangled with fishing line. The hardest part with them is catching them which usually means some type of net.

Geese are another victim and the biggest obstacle is freeing the young gosling while someone occupies mother goose to prevent her natural instinct to protect which causes a wing beating. I have suffered a bloody nose from wing beats when I wasn’t fast enough to free the fishing line from the young goose’s feet before she came to the rescue.

In early May while patrolling Cloe Dam, Brandon Burkett and Megan Uplinger of Punxsutawney reported that they had found a bird that they thought was a hawk struggling in the outflow below the dam breast. They took me to the scene where the raptor was actually an osprey which had fishing line wrapped around it’s wing tip and feet preventing it from flying. I contacted the Game Commission and DWCO Charles Spuck arrived on scene to assist.

The osprey was near exhaustion, but one of us was going to have to grab it so that the fishing line could be cut to free it from its predicament. DWCO Spuck and his wife have experience with other rescues of raptors and he brought a box and a bed sheet to catch the osprey and possibly have to transport it if injured.

After contemplating which emergency room to go to for stiches if the plan went wrong, I decided that I would toss the sheet over the osprey and grab it. To make matters worse, Brandon had his iPhone out to document the beating if things went wrong. I pictured myself starring in a YouTube video.

I threw the sheet over the osprey and grabbed it expecting the worst. To my surprise the osprey remained peaceful and calm. DWCO Spuck cut away at the fishing line while I held the osprey. I got a good look at the talons and the beak of the bird and was glad that it was as calm as could be.

It took about eight minutes to free the bird and no major damage other than crumpled primary feathers and the bird appeared fine. After the line was removed, the osprey remained calm and needed time to recover. DWCO Spuck then placed the osprey on a stick for a perch and as darkness neared, the osprey took flight and circled back and landed in a tree.

This time the story had a happy ending, but I am sure there are many birds that are never found. The simple lesson is to make sure to pick up after yourself and prevent the unnecessary rescue in the first place.

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— WCO Rick Valazak, Elk County
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Batmobile
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I was on boat patrol on the Allegheny River between Locks 2 and 3 with WCO Walsh and WCO Johnson one Sunday afternoon. Johnson was using his binoculars to observe oncoming boat traffic when he remarked that the batmobile was heading our way.

Getting my attention, I put my binoculars on and focused on the watercraft that Johnson was referring to. Sure enough it was all black with a square bow, not the usual watercraft we encounter on patrol and I remarked that it looked like a Rambler (reference alert: for those younger than 40 - last produced in 1969).

As this ‘thing’ approached front wheels became visible, however a registration sticker did not. Now we have a reason to stop this watercraft and perform a safety and registration check. Walsh maneuvered the patrol boat alongside and I asked the operator for the registration card. He replied that the paperwork was in his vehicle back at the marina so I instructed him to return to Fox Chapel Marina and that we would follow him and continue the inspection there.

When we arrived at the marina the operator pulled the watercraft to the ramp and proceeded to drive right up the ramp. Much to my surprise the owner did have a valid registration and all required safety equipment. We spent the next fifteen minutes discussing the watercraft and it turns out it has a Jeep Wrangler body and frame and that’s about it. Everything else; motor, transmission, axles were modified. After some picture taking we went back to work

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— WCO Bob Wheeler, Southwest Region
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'A' for Effort
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An angler from out-of-state presented me with a Louisiana salt-water license as I was conducting compliance checks along Lake Erie’s South Pier. He pretended surprise when I informed him that he needed either a Non-Resident or Tourist license issued by Pennsylvania to lawfully fish.

Then, without a moment’s hesitation and this is no joke, he replied, “I’m sorry, that license is for fishing on ocean waters; and, since the Gulf meets the Atlantic and all the water in Lake Erie eventually flows into the St. Lawrence which empties into the Atlantic, I thought I was OK to use that license here.”

Now, I didn’t believe a word; but, I was a social studies teacher in another life, and I was impressed with his sense of geography. So, since he had just wet his line, I gave him the ‘A’ for effort, had him pack his gear, and walked him out. Before we parted, I made sure to get his plate number—I had a feeling we’d cross paths again.

Later that year, during steelhead season, about 4 o’clock in the morning, whose car was it that I spied in the Walnut Creek Access parking lot… yep, his. After a little look-see, he and a companion were found secreted along the stream and observed to be illegally taking steelhead.

Given their choice of methods and location, not to mention the hour, I, again, applauded the effort. At this meeting, however, in order to demonstrate my captured attention, I issued them multiple souvenirs with which to recall the occasion.

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— WCO Mark T. Kerr, Venango County
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Listen to your friends
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As a Waterways Conservation Officer we are always checking anglers to see how the fishing is and also to make sure they are legal and have a current PA fishing license. Often times we observe several people fishing our waterways and can usually see licenses displayed. Sometimes this can be done by sight and sometimes we have to use our binoculars for a closer look.

One day on the Juniata River, I observed several anglers wading and fishing underneath the Mifflin Bridge. I could see several anglers fishing but as I approached closer by vehicle, one angler went from fishing to instantly becoming a swimmer. He didn’t have shorts or swimwear on but when he finally stood up from the water, he was no longer holding a fishing rod.

I got out of the vehicle and asked everyone to hold up a fishing license and all did except for my swimmer (to my surprise?). He stated he wasn’t fishing. I asked him if he always goes swimming in jeans. He came to shore where I explained to him that if I had to go get his rod that he would be getting some additional fines. After knowing the gig was up, he waded out and got his rod.

His friends told him, “ I told you to go get a license.” Listen to your friends I told him.

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— WCO Richard Morder, Southcentral Region
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Son Knows Best
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While checking a private community lake, I came upon a young man making his way down a path to where his boat was docked. His stature seemed kind of bulky because he was wearing two life vests with his arms full of fishing rods and gear. I said to him that he was only required to wear one life jacket while boating. He said ‘“I know that, but my dad usually forgets to bring his, so I wore his down because that’s the only way I could carry everything else.”

Shortly after that, I ran into his father coming down the same path with an arm load of boating and fishing gear. I asked him if he had a life jacket. He said he forgot it again and began to turn around to go back. I said, “No worries, just walked past your son a little while ago and he was wearing his and yours.”

Smart kid …knows how to plan ahead for safety and look out for dad.

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— WCO Eric Weredyk, S Monroe / N Carbon Counties
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COB
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I started out the day on the patrol boat with Capt. Nestor and USBP Agent Mooney and we were checking anglers and boaters fishing in Lake Erie.  Very quickly the wave conditions changed and four to six foot waves covered Lake Erie.  So, after putting our boat away for the day, I received a phone call from the Northwest Region Office indicating there was a capsized boat with two people somewhere in the water out by the Ohio & Pennsylvania state line in Lake Erie.

After talking with Ohio Division of Watercraft and US Coast Guard, WCO Smolko, USBP Agent Mooney, and myself decided to get underway and assist in the search and rescue effort.  Immediately exiting Walnut Creek Marina and entering into the Lake we encountered now six to eight foot waves.  The waves were crashing over the bow and cabin of the boat as we would come out of the wave troughs.   It wasn’t going to be a pleasant ride.

Thankfully, the USCG helicopter out of Detroit Michigan arrived on scene and was able to locate and recover the two boaters safely from the water.   Their location was within the limits of Ohio, but they were transported to Erie via the helicopter for medical attention.  When I was interviewing both boaters they said they were fishing and the Lake just kicked up very quickly and they took a wave over their bow and then a second one and they were capsized before they knew it.  Luckily, one of the boaters was able to make a call to 911 before his cell phone died.  Thankfully they were already wearing their personal floatation devices (PFD’s) and they stayed with their boat holding on to it for almost an hour in very rough seas.

During my interview with the boat owner/operator he indicated to me that this is not the first boat he has sunk.  I looked at him funny, and he said that he was a retired Chief of the Boat (COB) with the US Navy’s Submarine Service.  Well done Master Chief.

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— WCO Brook Tolbert, Western Erie County
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The New Scarlet Letter
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Working in the Region Law Enforcement Office involves daily interaction with the public. Occasionally we get phone calls that rise above the routine and venture into the world of oddity and amusement. Linda Emel, North Central Region Seasonal Clerk Typist, took one of those calls recently.

A gentleman called to lodge a complaint regarding our automated licensing system. Due to the way the software is programmed, when this man attempted to buy his license it would only sell him a senior license based on his date of birth. Normally, this isn’t an issue. In fact, for many anglers, the reduced cost of a senior license is often a welcomed change after years of paying full price.

For this caller however, the presence of the letter “S” on his license broadcast the fact that he was a senior citizen. He was indignant when he informed Linda that he looks at least 10 years younger than he is and he didn’t want to advertise the fact that he was over 65.

Luckily, tragedy was averted when he found out he could purchase and display a license button and keep his license in his wallet.

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— CPT Gerald Barton, NC Region
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