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Notes and observations from around Pennsylvania
from Commission Waterways Conservation Officers
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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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Yummy!
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I was working a well attended trout nursery open house at the West Caln Sportsmen’s Club Co-op nursery located in Hibernia County Park with WCO Tom Benevento. At last count 127 people enjoyed the event and had the opportunity to see the trout and how they are raised. One young boy about 6 years old had the chance to learn something a little bit extra.

The usual process as someone came to the event was that either WCO Benevento or myself would introduce ourselves, welcome them to the event, answer any questions, then hand out stocking information to the adults, goodie bags with snake and fish charts, as well as SE PA fishing maps, to the younger children and we would then direct them to a volunteer at the nursery who would hand them a 32 oz. paper cup which was about half full of the large size trout food pellets so that everyone then had an opportunity to feed the fish. They then got to see some of the large trout that had been put in a large white tank as a display, so that club members or we could identify the different types of trout for them.

It was about 3 hours into the event when the young man in question arrived at the event with his family. WCO Benevento handed out the goodie bags and I could see the young man's face light up as he admired the much prized snake and fish ID charts. He was then directed over to where he could get his cup of trout pellets to feed the trout in the runs.

About 3 minutes later we were startled by the panicked shrieks of the young boy's mother. I turned around expecting to see that the young man had fallen into the water as he fed the fish. But no, that wasn't it. The young man had the large cup of trout pellets tipped way back and had filled his mouth with the tasty morsels and began to chew.

Further investigation revealed that apparently the young man, who had not had any breakfast, was delighted when he was handed the half cup of trout chow without any instruction or direction about its purpose. We could only imagine the young man’s excitement, his stomach growling with hunger, as he tilted back his head and poured himself a mouthful of the tasty looking treats, and crunched down expecting the taste of sugary goodness, of what he thought was a rather large portion of Cocoa Puffs! I can only assume from the look of disgust on his face as his mother shrieked at him to "spit it out" that it didn't taste a lot like the breakfast cereal he thought it was!

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— Sergeant Alan W. Moyer, SE Region
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Boat Launch Entertainment
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Boat activity really picks up during the spring and summer months. Because of this, I spend a lot of time around boat launch areas. Anyone who has boated for any length of time can tell you stories about the crazy things that they have witnessed at launch areas.

Things like launching a boat without the plug in, realizing it, and then the frantic dash back to shore before the boat sinks to the bottom of the lake. Another fun one is watching the people who have absolutely no ability to back a trailer down a ramp. Where else can you get so much quality entertainment for free? In fact, I have long suggested to bored anglers to gather up their equipment and relocate next to a launch ramp, then sit back and enjoy the show.

The following account is of my own personal boat launch fiasco. The time that a chain of seemingly random events and a little bit of bad luck came together to make me the nights entertainment.

I decided to take my wife and son fishing after work one day. I contacted a friend to see if he wanted to accompany us, but he couldn’t because of work. However, he said that his boat was ready to launch and already hooked up to his truck. All that I had to do was pick up his truck, drive to the lake, launch the boat and start fishing. By the time I picked up the truck and boat, it was dark.

I launched the boat flawlessly, parked the truck, made sure I locked the doors, and then walked back to the ramp. As I got closer to the boat, I could see that it was sitting too low in the water. Realizing that I had not checked the plug; I quickly put two and two together and realized that the boat was filling with water.

I immediately implemented plan A by running back to the truck so I could back the trailer under the boat, pull it up the ramp, drain it, put the plug in, then back to fishing. Unfortunately, I discovered that my friend’s key ring did not contain the key that unlocked the doors. The same doors that you may recall I had just locked about two minutes ago.

I quickly transitioned into plan B which basically involved me pulling the boat by hand as far up the launch ramp as I could so it wouldn’t slip below the surface of the water. I managed to accomplish that without further incident. So, aside from my damaged pride and the fact that the boat I was responsible for was now blocking one of the two available launch ramps, no harm done.

I then called my buddy to update him on current events. He called his wife who agreed to bring the key to my location. Since we had some time to kill, I lit a Coleman lantern, set it up and watched as my wife and son started fishing from the dock. After about 60 minutes, I walked up to the parking lot to see if the key had arrived yet.

It was then that my nine year old son decided that he would be able to see better if he moved the lantern to the left a couple of feet. Unfortunately, he learned that Coleman lanterns get very hot after he placed his right hand on top.

After that, the boy was no longer in the mood to fish. We finally got the boat loaded back onto the trailer. By then fishing had lost its appeal. On the way home my son summed it up pretty good when he said, “Dad, fishing from a boat wasn’t near as much fun as I thought it would be.”

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— WCO Scott Opfer, Fayette County
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But my dog is not a good swimmer
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The day began with torrential downpours throughout the county. The skies were still threatening rainfall when I encountered a female in a kayak at a local impoundment.

She did not have a personal flotation device onboard. Her eleven year old son was in another kayak and was not wearing a personal flotation device as required. In addition, he did not possess a personal flotation device.

However, a small dog sitting on the mother’s lap did have its personal flotation device on. The mother received two citations.

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— WCO Albert Colian, Cambria County
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Distant Lands
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The Central Erie District has been vacant of a WCO for a few years now; consequently, WCO Smolko and myself have been spending a lot of time in that district conducting patrols.

After being in Erie County for over 10 years I have come across a number of anglers and boaters from around the country, and most Eastern European block countries coming to Erie, mostly to fish. Now that I’m in the city limits checking boaters and anglers my interaction with people has gone to a whole different level when it comes to meeting people from distant lands.

While out on routine patrols around the City of Erie I have encountered people from the following counties: Bhutan, Nepal, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and of course our neighbors to the north, Canada.

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— WCO Brook Tolbert, Western Erie County
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