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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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New Snake Species?
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As a Conservation Officer, one of the frequent calls we respond to, are calls regarding conflicts between people and snakes.  Particularly when said snakes, enter the complainants home.
One such call I received last year, was from a woman who was literally frantic.  More so I believe, than anyone I have ever spoken to regarding a snake.

Most people call, and ask if we can respond and remove the snake.  This lady however was clearly in fear for her life.
Normally, such calls are referred to a pest control agent, if the snake is located inside the home.  However, this woman was having none of that.  She wanted that snake gone NOW!
Given the woman’s obvious fear and state of mind, I agreed to come out and try to remove the snake. The address was local, so I informed her I could be there in about a half hour.

Prior to ending the call, I asked how big the snake was, in order to ensure I had the appropriate equipment. Much to my surprise, the woman responded, “about four inches long, and that it must be some exotic species, because she had never seen such a snake before.”

I hung up the phone, and departed for the residence, fully expecting to find a nightcrawlers that had found its way into the house.  Or, possibly a juvenile water snake, since the woman said she lived next to the creek.

Upon my arrival, the woman was waiting for me in the driveway.  Upon seeing me, she could not thank me enough for responding to what was in her mind, a life threatening emergency.

We entered the house, and the woman stated it was in her bedroom, underneath the bed.  The door to the bedroom was closed, and a towel was placed below the door, to prevent the demon from escaping.

The following conversation went something like this.
Me-“Ma’am, it is not a snake”
Her-“Yes it is!”
Me-“No, it isn’t”
Her-“Are you sure?”
Me-“Pretty sure!”
Her-“How do you know”
Me-“Because the Fish and Boat Commission spent a lot of money teaching me what a snake looks like.”

I retrieved the alleged snake, and we both had a great laugh as I handed her the remains of a broken rubber band.

We spoke for a few minutes laughing, and her being obviously relieved.  She then stated her husband would be very upset with her.  Apparently, she had called him at work and demanded he come home immediately.  I just smiled, and informed the nice lady, that my report would read I responded to a snake call, resolved such issue and continued my duty.  It is unknown to me whether she ever told her husband what type of snake it was or not.

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— WCO Aaron B. Lupacchini, NE Region
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One Minor Detail
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This past spring I received a phone message from the regional office for a person wanting to install a barrier in a stream to prevent trout movement in a small stream stocked by a local cooperative trout nursery.  I called the person and explained that a permit would be required for that type of activity and would probably not be effective.

The person wanted me to stop by and look at the location and give my opinion on what could be done.  I told him I would stop and look at the section of stream but since it was the first week of trout season, I didn’t know exactly when I would get there. One Sunday afternoon I was in the area and stopped by the stream to take a better look at the stream section where he wanted to install the fish barrier.

As luck would have it, the person who had called was fishing there and when I stopped he put down his fishing rod and came up to my vehicle.  He explained what he wanted and I showed him the requirements in Title 30 for getting the permit.  We looked at the stream section he was talking about and discussed alternatives to installing a barrier.

When I was about to leave, I asked him to see his fishing license.  A word to the wise, if you are going to invite the WCO to stop by, make sure you take care of the little details like buying a fishing license first.

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— WCO Rick Valazak, NC Region
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New Type of Lure
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I was patrolling Lake Winola aboard a patrol boat on a week night this summer. There was very little boat traffic on the lake and I was focused on locating anglers fishing from docks without licenses, as is often the case when lake residents don’t think I will be on the lake. I noticed a man standing at the edge of a dock with a fishing pole in his hand, and he appeared as if making a sort of a snagging type motion. Thinking I had found a case, I began to approach the dock.

When the gentleman looked up and saw who I was, he exclaimed “this is not what it looks like.” I thought to myself “I can’t wait to hear this.” He explained that he had lost a drill bit while doing some work on his dock and was trying to retrieve the bit from the water. I looked at his fishing equipment and, sure enough, there was no hook or lure of any type. Just a small magnet. Knowing there are no steelhead in the lake, I assumed he was not trying to catch a fish with a magnet, and did not issue a citation.

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— WCO Kadin Thompson, NE Region
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Drops the Dime on Dad
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One of the various duties of a Waterways Conservation Officer is to present information & education programs to the public, civic groups, sportsmen clubs and including presenting school programs. Each year, a local school in the district presents a Career Day for their students. The Career Day provides the students with the opportunity to learn about different careers and to interact with the speakers.

While presenting a program about the duties of a Waterways Conservation Officer to the students, I had asked them if they went fishing or boating which a number of them raised their hand and indicated that they did. Some of the students stated that they went fishing at Mauch Chunk Lake and related that they did well catching fish. I explained to the students that it would not be uncommon to see me or other Officers on patrol if they went to Mauch Chunk Lake, Beltzville Lake or some of the other waterways in the district.

Upon hearing my comment, a young girl immediately raised her hand and proudly said she had seen me numerous times patrolling at Mauch Chunk Lake. She went on to further say that one time while fishing with her father; I had caught him taking short Bass and gave him a ticket. Somewhat caught off guard, and all the eyes in the classroom now focusing on her, I quickly explained to the class that unfortunately sometimes a citation is issued for certain violations and I believed this was probably the best time to explain why rules and regulations especially relating to seasons, sizes and creel limits are established, and the importance to read the fishing summary booklet.

I would not have been surprised to learn that when she went home for the day, she related to her family about the career speakers she met in school and also told her father why rules and regulations are established, and the importance to abide by them.

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— WCO Scott J. Christman, Southern Carbon / Southwest Monroe Counties
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Required Reading
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After issuing a citation to a boater for not wearing a personal flotation device during the “cold weather period” I offered him a copy of the of the Pennsylvania Boating Handbook. He declined my offer and told me that he had a current copy in his pocket, but had neglected to read the section regarding the cold weather rule.

Anglers and boaters should remember that although the fishing and boating rules and regulations rarely are changed in major ways reading the fishing and boating summaries in their entirety is always a good idea.

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— Sgt. David R. Keller, Asst. Supervisor South Central Region
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Illegal Fishing
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One night while checking a group of anglers on the Susquehanna River with SGT. Bendock I observed a man fishing on the opposite shore. We finished our conversations and SGT. Bendock made note of the litter produced by this group (which ultimately lead to a citation). We drove to the other side and split up looking for the angler.

SGT. Bendock found the angler and requested his license before I got there. It was pretty clear to me that not only did he not have a fishing license he also was not able to produce valid identification. So without positive identification we handcuffed the man and transported him to the State Police Barracks for fingerprinting.

The man’s information returned and to my surprise he had a warrant for his arrest out of Bucks County. The catch is that Bucks County does not drive to Bradford County at 10:00 on Friday night. So we then transported the man to Bradford County jail where he stayed until Monday. Before parting ways I issued the man a citation for fishing without a license.

Moral of the story here is to always buy your fishing license and if you happen to forget it make sure you have proper identification. Breaking the law with a warrant for you arrest probably is not advisable either.

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— WCO Chad McKenrick, Bradford County
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Not the Sound You Want to Hear
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Recently while on boat patrol on Lake Wallenpaupack WCO Curt Tereschak and I stopped a pontoon boat for displaying an expired registration sticker. After clearing up this matter (confirming with the Wayne County Communications Center that the boat was currently registered) we went through our standard boating equipment safety check.

The operator / owner was able to produce all the required equipment but in shifting from handling one of the personal flotation devices (PFD) to obtain the fire extinguisher he let the PFD fall to the deck . The older orange “horse collar“ type hit with a responding ‘thud’. Hearing this, WCO Tereschak asked to examine the PFD in closer detail.

It turned out this particular one was quite dated and used kapok inside a heavy plastic bag for flotation. This type of PFD construction has not been used for decades. The problem with this system is that once the plastic is compromised water can permanently seep inside and render the device useless. Once the water saturates the kapok, it can harden. Without a boat owner closely examining PFD’s (or any other safety equipment on board) it gives a false sense of security. This operator, after scrutinizing all the PFD’s more closely did, in fact, have enough serviceable devices on board for all his passengers.

Upon parting, Officer Tereschak reminded the owner to check over all the required equipment prior to each outing and that the sound a PFD should make is not “thunk “!

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— Sgt. Bryan C. Bendock , NE Region
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Displaying Proudly
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Mentored Youth Day seemed to be a very well received opportunity for youth and mentors to experience a great day to spend together fishing. One observation that I noticed was that a number of youth seemed proud to have and display their very own license.

While walking the streams talking to people I had at least 7 youth specifically go out of their way to point out and show me that they had their own license without me even asking to see it. I specifically had one youth about 5 years old, who had just pulled into an access area with his dad, hopped out and walked straight over to me.

He pulled out his wallet and took out his free Mentored Youth Fishing Permit to show me. He then pointed to something else in his wallet and stated that that was his ID and “you are not allowed to touch that.” I assured him that I wouldn’t touch his ID. He then proceeded to tell me all kinds of information about fishing, etc. etc. etc. His father just stood behind his son and looked at me and smiled about everything his son was saying.

After about five minutes OR MORE, the child advised me he needed to get started fishing now. I wished him good luck as he and his dad began a great day of fishing together.

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— WCO Terry Crecraft, Eastern Crawford/SW Warren Counties
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You Have an Awesome Job
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Since starting my career as a Waterways Conservation Officer (WCO) one of the most common comments I hear is “you have an awesome job.” I can’t argue with them that I do have an awesome job but there are times!

I usually tell them that while their enjoying themselves at Memorial Day, 4th of July or Labor Day Picnics I’ll be working. Another thing I express to them is that when their sitting in their 70-72 degree office year round I’m outside when it’s zero or 100 degrees and when it’s snowing, raining or when the sun is a blazing.

Another item that most boaters don’t realize is that when the season is over some just call the marina and tell them to pull their boat and they’ll see it again in the spring. As WCO’s we do a lot of our own maintenance when it comes to cleaning, washing, buffing and anything else that pops up.

This past fall I was asked to take another WCO’s boat to the canvas shop so that a new mooring cover could be made. The canvas shop we use is a very busy place so I called and made an appointment. The commission usually doesn’t pull boats until the last minute because anglers are still fishing and we also respond to emergencies. The appointment date was an entire month out so I just parked the boat at our office in the boat barn.

The second week on November I pulled the boat out on the day of the appointment to 6 inches of snow on the ground and gusty and blowing snow in the air. So here I’m towing a heavy boat on snow covered roads to get its new cover. Down the road from the office I get behind a snow plow and the next 10 miles was one of the funniest times I can remember on the job.

It was garbage day and in my area we have commercial garbage pickup and they give out those big square green can with wheels. The snow plow in front of me was throwing the snow to the berm and it knocked over every single garbage can in 10 miles like Domino’s! I still have an awesome job!

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— WCO Matt Visosky, Central Erie County
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Detour
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It is never a good thing when your patrol boat has maintenance issues in the middle of summer, but that was the case this year.  I needed to get the boat to the mechanic. For me, that means getting assistance from a neighboring officer, picking up the boat trailer and dropping the vehicle with trailer off at the boat launch. Then we have to drive to the marina, get on the boat, cruise over to the launch, load the boat onto the trailer and transport the boat and trailer to the mechanic. After that I have to drop the neighboring officer back off at the marina so he can get his vehicle. A little time consuming!

WCO Walsh and I were in the middle of this operation, he was pulling the boat onto the trailer and I was cranking the trailer winch. Then I noticed it, a bluebird had built a nest under the winch and of course there were 3 baby birds and 1 egg that was hatching in the nest. Now what? We could not just leave them there, they would surely die. So we carefully removed the birds and nest and placed them in a cup. Change of plans. We headed back to where the trailer was parked and made a nest site using a 55 gallon drum, a bucket and some rocks. It looked good to us; we just hoped that momma bird would find them.

Three days later I made a check on the nest. Momma bird had found the nest and was feeding the babies. Success! As Walsh can attest, every time we load my boat onto the trailer we have issues. There are incident reports to prove it!

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— WCO Jeremiah Allen, Southwest Region
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That’s Just About Right
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While out on patrol one day, I came across a gentleman who, along with his canoe, looked a little “well-seasoned”.  I walked up to him and introduced myself and told him that I was doing a standard check of his equipment.  He gladly showed me his life jacket; but, when I asked him if he could show me his registration or launch permit for his kayak (I could see that there was none displayed on his boat), he looked at me quizzically and asked, “What’s that?”

I then proceeded to explain what the permit was and why it was needed.  He apologized profusely for not being aware that he needed such a thing.  I then told him that, I, too, was sorry; but that I would have to issue him a fine for not having the proper permit.  When he asked me how much the permit cost, I thought he was referring to the actual permit, and replied $10.  He smiled broadly and said that that wasn’t so bad.  But when I handed him the fine for $120, his smile slowly disappeared.

When questioned about the difference, I said that $10 was all that it would have cost him to prevent receiving the actual fine of $120.  I then watched as he began to count on his fingers, holding each one up at a time, as he appeared to be thinking to himself.  Finally, he announced, “Well, that sounds about right!”

Feeling comfortable with this gentleman, I replied, “OK.  I’ll bite.  What’s just about right?”  With a grin back on his face, he calmly told me that he had been out on his canoe for over 10 years to his recollection and never had gotten a permit in any of that time; so, he figured he was just paying for his past.  We both got a good chuckle out of that as I told him not to wait another 10 years for the next time.

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— WCO Darrin Kephart, York County
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You’ve got to get up pretty early
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I was patrolling the Youghiogheny River by bike below Dawson on a sunny summer day when I noticed a female fishing from a blue kayak and floating down stream. There were two males with her, one in a red kayak and the other in a green kayak.

Neither of the males were fishing and neither possessed a fishing rod, but the male in the red kayak had a license displayed on his hat and I had observed him fishing earlier in the day. Putting two and two together I realized that the male in the red kayak had probably given his rod to the female who probably didn’t have a license.

This section of river had a fast current and steep bank so before they drifted past me I went to the edge of the steep bank and yelled down to the female to hold up her fishing license. She looked up at me with a deer in the headlights look and said to one of the males “he wants to see my license” the male replied “stop fishing” then they were swept past me. I quickly observed that the female had on a blue top and a black ball cap and of course was in the blue kayak. It was important to get a good description of her because there were many other people on the water that day and the next available spot for me to have access to the shoreline was about ¾ of a mile downriver.

I quickly pedaled to that spot and discovered that they had not yet arrived. I looked upriver and spotted them hidden in some brush on the far shore. I saw the female switch kayaks with one of the males then the male took of his white shirt and handed it to the female who immediately put it on. She then took off the ball cap and gave it to one of the guys. To complete the deception they split up and staggered their departures so that the female was the last to continue downriver and about 5 minutes behind the males.

Had I not seen them switch clothes and boats she might have gotten away with it. When I called her into shore and explained that her deception while well thought out had not worked she admitted that she did not have a license and was trying to elude me by changing her appearance and getting lost in the crowd.

As I wrote down her information I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else had ever used that trick on me and gotten away with it. I thanked her for giving me a good story for a stream note and sent her on her way.

I started this story with a bear reference and I think I’ll sum it up with another one. Sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.

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— WCO Scott Opfer, Fayette County
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