Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Warming of the Waters a Good-News, Bad-News Story: The Yough Is Getting Cleaner, but Its Tributaries Are Heating Up

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Warming of the Waters a Good-News, Bad-News Story: The Yough Is Getting Cleaner, but Its Tributaries Are Heating Up

Article excerpt

Participants at the Youghiogheny River Symposium, held June 24 at Penn State's Fayette Campus near Connellsville, heard about a river in recovery from past abuse, but one facing emerging threats. The Chestnut Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Mountain Watershed Association and Fayette County Conservation District convened the event. About 120 people attended.

Biologists from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission noted a rapidly developing recreational fishery. They presented results of fish surveys and compared past results with recent assessments in 2012 and 2014.

"Compared to earlier surveys, both the number and quality of smallmouth bass are impressive throughout the river, from Confluence down to the mouth," said Rick Lorson, Fish and Boat Commission area fisheries manager for southwestern Pennsylvania.

Lorson said the Youghiogheny's smallmouth fishery, largely due to improved water quality from the tributary Casselman watershed, now rivals that of the upper Allegheny River, long recognized as the premier smallmouth stream in Western Pennsylvania.

Using electro-shock equipment deployed from rafts, biologists captured an average of 12 bass greater than 12 inches per hour in several sections of the Youghiogheny in 2014. The average catch rate for 12-inch smallmouths in the upper Allegheny was six bass.

Surveys also revealed improvement in the number and size of trout, especially from the Youghiogheny Reservoir outflow at Confluence downstream to the mouth of Indian Creek.

Biologists captured four times more rainbow trout in 2012 than in a 1994 survey. Youghiogheny rainbows captured in 2012 averaged 15 inches compared to 9 inches eight years earlier.

Though captured brown trout also averaged larger, their numbers were low, prompting biologists to adjust the ratio of trout fingerlings stocked in the Yough. Formerly, trout fingerling stockings were 50 percent rainbow trout and 50 percent brown. Future stockings will feature 70 percent rainbows and 30 percent browns.

"Our surveys indicate that rainbow trout fingerlings survive better in the river than do browns," Lorson said.

The Fish and Boat Commission annually stocks between 200,000 and 300,000 trout fingerlings, between 3-5 inches in length, throughout the Youghiogheny's colder upstream sections.

In the future, a portion of those fingerlings - about 7,000 - will be stocked as "advanced fingerlings," about 8 inches long.

"Anglers have reported their observation that larger stocked fingerlings have a higher survival rate," Lorson said. "To learn if that is true we will fin-clip these advanced fingerlings so they can be identified later when caught."

In reporting survey results, Lorson cautioned that the Youghiogheny's large size, fast currents and deep pools make it a difficult river to sample with the equipment available to the Fish and Boat Commission. …

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