From the local paper:
Can Erie Become a Lake for Brown Trout?
By Mike Bleech
February 15, 2009
An effort to build up the brown trout fishery in the Pennsylvania portion of Lake Erie has gotten some attention lately. While I fully support this effort, there are good reasons to be cautious in predicting success. Several years ago, Pennsylvania and other Lake Erie states attempted to establish a good brown trout fishery in Lake Erie. In fact, enough brown trout have been stocked into tributaries over the past decades to establish a good brown trout population.
Why has it never flourished, and will it ever? "We know that on Lake Ontario, they have a nearshore spring fishery for them in the lake itself. So if we can uncover some secrets here and share them with everybody, maybe we can develop a fishery that's going to be attractive to everybody," said Chuck Murray, biologist at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Lake Erie Fisheries Unit.
Several years ago in an interview, a New York fisheries biologist who specialized in Lake Ontario explained that one thing holding that lake back from becoming a better brown trout lake is that brown trout just do not seem to like to inhabit water deeper than 100 feet. Although there is very fine brown trout fishing along most of the Lake Ontario shoreline, the better brown trout fishing is toward the eastern end of the lake where the bottom does not drop so steeply as it does across most of the southern shoreline.
This would seem to make Lake Erie the perfect lake for brown trout, since so much of it is less than 100 feet in depth. Temperature is another factor favoring Lake Erie. Brown trout would seem to be better suited to Lake Erie than any of the Pacific salmon that flourished here from the late 1960s and as late, to a small degree, as into 2003. "The thing is, I guess, just looking at the animal, it has wider temperature tolerances than Pacific salmon,"Murray said. And yet a good brown trout fishery never has been established in Lake Erie despite serious efforts going back as far as the late 1970s.
In 1977, there were 49,096 brown trout stocked into Lake Erie -- 11,096 in two tributaries and 38,000 in the lake. Obviously, there was an effort made to establish a brown trout fishery, even though this number paled in comparison to the 978,925 chinook salmon, 635,955 coho salmon, 141,333 domestic rainbow trout and 39,500 steelhead that were stocked that year. Note, however, that the number of brown trout and steelhead were about equal.
Brown trout stockings increased through the next several years, first peaking in 1985 when 112,537 brown trout fingerlings were stocked. But it should be noted that 95,000 of these were small fingerlings that had a lower chance of survival. After a decline to about 65,000 the next year, brown trout stocking was back up to 117,899 fingerlings in 1990. This included 64,500 of the special Seeforellen strain, imported from a European lake where brown trout were reputed to liv longer and grow larger. These brown trout also were stocked in New York until the program was abandoned because of lack of success.
New York made a more extended effort to get a brown trout fishery started in Lake Erie beginning in 1974 when 88,000 brown trout yearlings and fingerlings were stocked. From 1974-93, brown trout stockings averaged 63,300 per year. But the only encouraging results have been a fair brown trout fishery at Cattaraugus Creek each fall and a modest brown trout fishery during the winter at Dunkirk Harbor. Brown trout stocking ceased from 1994-2000, then have been stocked every year since, averaging 48,429 per year.
One possible reason that stocking brown trout in tributaries has not started a brown trout fishery in Lake Erie is because in their efforts to breed fast growing trout in hatcheries, most of our stocked trout live only about four years, although this does not mean that none can live longer. Also, many of these fish are harvested in the creeks.
Combined brown trout stocking by all state fisheries agencies connected to Lake Erie averaged 87,707 per year from 1989 through 2004. From 1989 through 1993, the average was 156,562 brown trout per year. The current effort to establish a brown trout fishery will involve stocking approximately 60,000 brown trout per year, with many of them coming from cooperative hatcheries. Obviously, this effort is no greater than past efforts.
I asked Murray why the Fish and Boat Commission is making another effort to establish a brown trout fishery in Lake Erie. "One thing was because the coho disappeared after 2003," Murray said. "So the anglers have been asking that we incorporate some diversity into the fishery again. Of course, we know the success the DEC has had on Lake Ontario, and a few years ago they implemented a similar but smaller-scale program on Lake Erie.
"We have caught a number of those fish in our gill nets when we're sampling for lake trout in August. Granted, those brown trout can be from a number of sources. They can be from the New York DEC's stockings of lake brown in Lake Erie, their lake brown program. They could be escapees of our put-and-take brown trout stockings that take place in Lake Erie tributaries. And then there's also, I think, some of the cooperative nurseries from time to time have been stocking a few thousand here and there right in the lake for the purposes of a trophy brown trout fishery as well. I guess what we're trying to do, though, is resurrect that."
This year, brown trout stockings in the lake will be done by local cooperative nurseries. These brown trout will be the standard domestic brown trout strain. According to Wesleyville Conservation Club president Ron Dombrowiak, his club will stock 16,000 brown trout this year. The brown trout they stock are about a foot in length, which gives them a good chance at survival. "We always put a couple thousand of the leftovers a year in," Dombrowiak said. "This year we have 16,000 to put in. "We put them in Peck Run last year, because it's real close to the lake, and they washed out real fast."
Dombrowiak explained that the new stocking effort is largely a result of urging by the Erie PA Sport Fishing Association and Capt. Pete Alex, who worked with PFBC District 1 Commissioner Sam Concilla. A new 200-foot raceway in the planning stage will be devoted to brown trout. Dombrowiak said most of the east side tributaries get a few returning brown trout each fall.
On the west side of Erie, 3-C-U will be stocking 25,000 brown trout, according to Bob Hetz. They will average about 9 inches in length when they are stocked. "We'll put them right directly in the lake," Hetz said, "probably anywhere from Elk Creek to Walnut Creek. Probably mostly Trout Run and Walnut because they're the most accessible." Hetz is one of few who remembers past 3-C-U brown trout stocking efforts. "Every year we put a few in," he said. "The most that we ever put in was about 10 or 12,000 several years back. But we've been putting in at least 3,000 or 4,000 every year, minimum. "They won't migrate. If you put them in the creek they won't go anywhere," Hetz said.