While black bass, which is the classification of largemouth and smallmouth bass, remains the No. 1 fish species targeted by Pennsylvania anglers, trout continue to attract the most attention.

This year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission unwontedly drew more attention to trout when it unexpectedly opened trout season statewide April 7 in response to COVID-19. In addition, there were no announcements of when or where the “Great White Fleet” would be stocking the trout that been earmarked for distribution by the original statewide opening day, April 18.

During the recent virtual quarterly meeting of the PFBC board of commissioners, action was taken that retroactively supported the unprecedented move by executive director Tim Schaeffer under Section 65.25 (Pa. Title 58) which authorizes the executive director to take immediate action to temporarily modify fishing regulations to protect the safety and health of anglers. He had taken action because of concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 among large groups of anglers and eliminated the Southeast Regional opening day of trout season scheduled for March 28.

“These were not easy decisions, but the agency firmly believes they were correct in these very difficult and challenging times,” Schaeffer said. “In particular it was difficult to cancel Mentored Youth Trout Day, but we were confident anglers would adjust and in time even those who were initially critical of the decisions would understand this is much bigger than just catching trout.”

What casual anglers — who think “fishing season” starts with the opening of trout season — fail to realize, however, is that regulating trout and trout waters is just portion of what the PFBC has on its plate. Ironically, one of the most popular game species in one of Pennsylvania’s best known trout rivers is getting the attention of the PFBC in order to protect its future.
When the majority of anglers think of the Delaware River, they think of the Upper Delaware with its pristine scenery, soaring bald eagles and strong healthy trout. At the other end of the river, however, the Delaware conjures up a far different picture for an admittedly smaller, but no less avid group of anglers.

From the Pennsylvania-Delaware state line upstream to the Calhoun Street Bridge connecting Calhoun Street in Trenton, New Jersey, and Trenton Street in Morrisville, anglers pursue striped bass and hybrid striped bass. Smokestacks from refineries and factories take the place of pine trees and mountains and serve as the backdrop for portions of the Lower Delaware. But when horsing a tackle-testing striper, ambiance is not a consideration.

In accordance with a fisheries management plan adopted by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Striped Bass Management Board — of which Pennsylvania is a partner — changes have been adopted that are intended to reduce by 18 percent the fishing mortality of caught-and-released striped bass. Affected are minimum size requirements and slot limits for harvesting stripers in the Delaware Estuary, Delaware River, West Branch Delaware River. They also enact a mandatory circle hook requirement for anglers using bait while fishing for all species within the Delaware Estuary.

“Harvest and delayed mortality have reduced the coastal population of striped bass below levels needed to sustain high-quality recreational angling experiences,” Schaeffer said. “Due to the negative impact on the fishery, harvest and terminal tackle restrictions went into effect April 1 and were needed to help rebuild the coastal stock.

“These regulation changes, tackle and registration requirements do not apply to inland populations of striped bass or hybrid striped bass listed in the ‘2020 Pennsylvania Summary Book.’ ”

As for size limits in the Delaware Estuary, from (Jan. 1-March 3 and (June 1-Dec. 31, anglers can keep one striped bass that measures 28 to 35 inches.

“During the period from April 1 through May 31, anglers may harvest two striped bass daily that measure at least 21 inches, but less than 24 inches,” Schaeffer said. “In the Delaware River, from the Calhoun Street Bridge upstream anglers will be permitted to harvest one striped bass per day that measures at least 28 inches, but less than 35 inches year-round.”

Yes, for the PFBC, it’s about more than trout. Thank goodness that is the case.

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