The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission has announced a major change in the upcoming trout season. The two regional opening days have now been consolidated into a single Saturday, April 3, statewide trout season opener.
If you recall, up to 2006 the statewide trout season opener was always on one date. In 2007, the PF&BC decided to change the trout opener to two different dates with the explanation being that southeastern creeks and streams got warmer earlier than those in the northern tiers of the state. Warm waters, they said, were not healthy for stocked trout, hence the earlier opener.
In addition to this change, the statewide Mentored Youth Trout Day will now occur on Saturday, March 27. The PF&FC said that because the mentored youth day was cancelled in 2020, all Voluntary Youth Fishing Licenses purchased last season, will remain valid during the 2021 season.
According to Tim Schaeffer, PF&BC Executive Director, “The move back to a statewide single opening day is to insure that we can preserve our cherished fishing traditions, while reducing the amount of travel across multiple opening days. We wanted to give anglers as much time and information as possible to plan ahead, and we think they will especially like having stocking dates and locations at their fingertips again this year on our FishBoatPA mobile app and website (www.fishandboat.com).
Because of this change, the PF&BC will begin pre-season trout stocking operations on February 15, which is two weeks earlier than previous seasons.
Although the Extended Trout season is published to run until Feb. 29, all streams that are designated as Stocked Trout Waters will be closed to angling beginning Feb. 15. Anglers should keep this in mind.
While many anglers customarily assist the PF&BC in the pre and in-season trout stockings, the agency is reinstating a limited number of volunteer stocking opportunities due to Covid-19. A source said that local Waterways Conservation Officers will only use a select number of volunteers that have faithfully served over the past several years.
The agency also announced that a stocking schedule will be provided on the PF&BC’s website and FishBoatPA mobile app beginning Feb. 1. These dates are subject to change due to weather and other factors, but new dates will be posted on both sites.
PGC/PF&BC INTRODUCE HUNTFISHPA SITE
The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission have partnered with digital government solutions company NIC Inc. to manage the new HuntFishPA licensing and secure payment system at www.HuntFish.pa.gov.
Anglers, hunters and boaters will now be able to buy their respective licenses and associated stamps online plus submit harvest reports and access 24/7 call center support.
Customers who prefer to purchase these licenses and stamps in person, may continue to do so at 750 licensing agent locations including bait shops, convenience and sporting goods stores and Walmart. When doing so, licenses/stamps will be printed at time of purchase on durable green paper instead of the previous yellow license color.
ICE FISHING REPORT
All ice fishing action still remains in the Pocono Mountain lakes and ponds. Because of the high winds this week, neither famed Ontelaunee Reservoir in Berks County or Lehigh Lake in Lehigh County have any safe ice. But Chris, from Chris' Bait & Tackle in Mertztown, believes both lakes could have safe ice by Monday, Feb. 1.
A new report from the National Deer Association shows that more mature antlered deer are being taken
While the Pennsylvania Game Commission has not yet issued their annual deer harvest report for the recent deer hunting seasons, the National Deer Association (NDA), a non-profit deer conservation group that leads efforts to ensure the future of wild deer, wildlife habitat and hunting, has issued an interesting national report.
NDA’s study reveals that deer hunters in the United States took more adult and mature bucks in the 2019-20 hunting season than ever reported. This is based on a near-record buck harvest of 2.9 million and a record 39% of those bucks estimated to be 3? years or older. Their 2021 Deer Report is a recent and comprehensive update on the status of deer populations and deer hunting.
Says Ki Adams, NDA’s Chief Conservation Officer, “Hunters now shoot far more bucks that are at least 3? years old than 1? years. This is very different from hunting seasons a decade or two ago.”
Those statistics seem to be true for Pennsylvania since Gary Alt, PGC deer biologist at the time, instituted statewide antler restrictions. At the time, Alt took a lot of criticism for doing this, but in retrospect, his plan is showing success as indicated in NDA’s report.
The report goes on to say the steadily climbing percentage of 3?-and-older bucks in the harvest is the result of steadily declining pressure nationwide on yearling bucks (1? years old). Only 28% of the 2019 antlered buck harvest was yearlings, the lowest rate ever reported. The total buck harvest of 2,885,991 was only 2.5% down from the record buck harvest of 2017. As a region, the Northeast bucked this trend, increasing its buck harvest 4% over the 2018 season.
NDA’s deer report covers data for the 2019-20 hunting season, the most recent season with complete harvest data available from all major deer states.
Nationally, the antlerless harvest (which includes does and buck fawns) declined 1% from the previous season to 2,864,698 and for the third year in a row was lower than the antlered buck harvest. Modern antlerless harvests first surpassed the buck harvest in the 1999 season and remained higher until 2017.
The antlerless harvest has now declined 12% in the decade from 2009 to 2019. This decline was felt most sharply in the Midwest, where the decline over that period was 27%. Long-term reductions in buck and antlerless harvests have many hunters concerned, and for good reason. Harvest declines of 20 to 50% are very noticeable, and state wildlife agencies and legislators hear the brunt of this frustration from hunters. Deer management is in a very different period today than a decade ago, says the NDA, and how closely legislators, wildlife agencies and hunters work together will dictate our future deer management successes.
Among other facts to be found in the new Deer Report:
* 64% of deer taken in the 2019-20 season were killed with a firearm compared to 25% with archery equipment and 10% with a muzzleloader.
* New Jersey had the highest percentage of deer harvest with archery equipment at 63%, Rhode Island was highest with muzzleloaders at 48%, and Idaho was highest in rifle/shotgun deer harvest with 94%
* Texas had the highest total buck harvest at 460,242.
* Michigan killed the most bucks per square mile at 3.7.
* Mississippi killed the most bucks per 100 hunters at 70.
NDA’s 2021 Deer Report is available for free download at this link: https://www.deerassociation.com/2021-deer-report/
Ice fishing has finally kicked-off, but mainly on Pocono Mountain lakes and ponds
With the recent cold nights we’ve had, ice fishing has finally kicked off, but mainly on the Pocono Mountain area lakes and ponds.
According to Willie from Willie’s Bait & Tackle in Cementon, most of his customers are hitting Promised Land Lake where there’s about five inches of ice, especially at Pickerel Point where some crappies and bluegills are being pulled up. On Promised Land Lower Lake, ice anglers are nailing trout that were stocked there.
Elsewhere, Willie said Mud Pond, off Route 402, did have five inches of ice as did Lake Minisink. Both were producing panfish mostly on waxworms and fathead minnows. As for Leaser Lake, it held skim ice mainly in the coves.
Mike, at Mike’s Bait & Tackle in Nazareth, also reports Promised Land Upper Lake was fishing good for nice bluegills, crappie and perch, mostly all on waxworms. The lake had 6-7 inches of ice depending on what part of the lake you were on. The Lower Lake there was good, but you have to be right on them according to Mikes’ customers who fished there last week.
Minisink Lake was iffy with five inches of ice at one section that diminishes to three inches elsewhere. Certainly not safe to fish. Gouldsboro Lake was producing some trout and pickerel and Tobyhanna Lake predominately gave up panfish. Brady’s Lake was yielding mostly little dinks but the action seemed better by the island.
For veteran and even novice ice anglers, the folks at Frabill, who specialize in ice fishing equipment, offers these tips for more productive days on the ice.
Playing the odds they say, is a tip all the pro ice anglers speak about in one way or another. This also coincides with the mobility tip.
Typically, anglers will start in shallow water in the morning and move deeper throughout the day. This is a reliable method but can have its disadvantages as well. When every ice angler in the area is drilling holes up shallow where the fish have already staged, the odds of spooking them to deeper water increases. And vice versa, as the day extends and anglers are chasing the fish to deeper water they may also be moving them back to shallow water where there is less pressure.
A key to this thought is to stay stealthy, don't move when they move. Stay a step ahead of them and be patient as they will come to you, say the Frabill pros. Be strategic when picking your locations and plan for the entire day of fishing. You may start the day in 10'-15' foot of water in the morning, but slip over to deeper water (30') close by. Staying mobile is the key, suggests Frabill, as it will only take a few minutes to get back to other spots for when the conditions are right.
Frabill believes ice fishing is rapidly growing due to the relatively low cost of entry and the ability to involve the entire family for a great day spent outdoors during the winter.
Squirrels are Pennsylvania's most abundant small game species that make great table fare
As most big game hunting seasons are over, small game species are still available for upland hunters and continues until Feb. 27.
Among the group that includes pheasant, rabbit, quail (good luck finding those) and squirrel, the latter is the most abundant because they live longer and are the least hunted small game animal. Yet they make delightful table fare as their meat is mild and a tad sweet. Perhaps this is because of their diet of nuts, sunflower seeds and peanut hearts from bird feeders, flower bulbs (I lost all my Holland tulips to them) and bark from bushes in the winter when there’s deep snow on the ground that prevents them from finding their buried nuts.
If you haven’t tried squirrel be it grilled, creamed or in pot pie, they’re all good ways to prepare them. My favorite is creamed and the recipe I use is from long-time fellow outdoor writer Sylvia Bashline and her Savory Game Cookbook. Her Creamed Squirrel recipe is as follows:
Three skinned squirrels cut into pieces
Prepare flour and season with salt & pepper
One-quarter cup cooking oil (I use peanut oil)
One chopped onion
Half cup chopped mushrooms
One cup dry white wine
Half teaspoon thyme
One tablespoon chopped parsley
One cup light cream
Quick Mixing flour
Roll the squirrel pieces in the flour mixture. Heat cooking oil in a large heavy skillet and fry squirrel pieces on all sides until brown. Remove the pieces from the pan. In the same pan, fry onions and mushrooms over medium-high heat for five minutes, then return squirrel pieces to the skillet. Add wine, thyme and parsley to the pan while mixing well, then cover and simmer until squirrel is tender for one to one-and-a-half hours. Add water to the pan if necessary. Remove squirrel pieces from the pan and cool. (Sylvia said the above can be completed an hour before dinner.)
Remove the meat from the bones if you haven’t already. Add enough water to a pan to make one cup. Add cream to the pan and bring to a boil. If the liquid is too thin, add a little flour and stir to thicken. Add pieces of meat, heat and serve over toast or hot biscuits. Garnish with parsley and enjoy. This can serve four or five.
Most squirrel hunters use a .22 rifle opposed to a shotgun for squirrels. The latter would require the chore of picking out spent shot from the meat. If missing one tiny BB, it could mean a trip to the dentist for a cracked filling or chipped tooth.
CCI, the popular ammo company, recently came out with a Quiet-22LR rimfire cartridge that is ideal for squirrel hunting in that it offers less noise to spook or scare other squirrels. This 40-grain round nose has a low velocity of 710fps and generates 75 percent less perceived noise than a standard .22LR round, says CCI. They’re also ideal for target shooting and retail for $4.99 for a box of 50 through CCI’s online store.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.