Pittsburgh region's cleaner waterways allow for plenty of trout stocking, fishing

It has been only a few decades since Pittsburgh's three rivers flowed with a tint of orange and a smell of rotten eggs — their tributaries too polluted to hold most fish species.

Today, sections of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers are clean enough to sustain hatches of delicate mayflies, while in the suburbs the state Fish and Boat Commission maintains a robust trout-stocking program.

As the April 12 opening of trout season approaches, anglers statewide can look forward to having a reasonable chance of catching brook, brown and rainbow trout close to home. In Allegheny County, state-stocked Approved Trout Waters range from Deer Creek in West Deer to Flaugherty Run in Coraopolis to Turtle Creek at Trafford.

“Recreational fishing is a healthy, good thing for this state,” said Denny Tubbs of the Fish and Boat Commission. “Everybody in Pennsylvania benefits from having water that’s clean enough for trout and a culture that supports getting out and going fishing.”

Trout are cold-water species — cooler water holds more oxygen, necessary for their high metabolism. In parts of southwestern Pennsylvania west of Chestnut Ridge, summer water temperatures can surpass 68 degrees, which is stressful or even life-threatening for most trout species.

The trout-stocking program is generally not designed to plant fish that are intended to grow and live for prolonged periods. Funded by trout anglers’ permit fees, it’s known as a put-and-take operation. Trout are raised in state-run hatcheries. When they reach 8 to 11 inches, they are stocked in lakes and streams in the numbers expected to be caught by anglers before the water warms in summer. Statewide, the Fish and Boat Commission stocks more than 3.5 million trout per year.

Since the 2012 completion of a three-year, $21 million dredging and upgrade of North Park Lake, fishing has been improving at Allegheny County’s largest lake. Warm-water species and many thousands of rainbow and some brown trout have been stocked, including about 3,000 rainbows stocked last Thursday.

Mr. Tubbs said that in a couple of years, North Park Lake is expected to mature to peak fertilization — a perfect nutritional balance in which substrate minerals are transferred up through aquatic vegetation to fish and other aquatic animals. Following a very good ice-fishing season, angling pressure is expected to be high in the weeks following opening day.

“Rainbows seem to go for the red worms, wax worms and some of the artificial [paste] baits,” said Dwight Yingling of North Park Sports Shop. “I would go deep — put on some weight and find fish off the bottom.”

Below the dam, Pine Creek is in good condition. Periodic stream improvements — including a cleanup held Saturday by the Allison Park Sportsmen’s Club and some $100,000 in upgrades since 2004 by Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited — have greatly improved the stream.

“There’s nothing wrong with driving to the mountains to go fishing, but with urban streams like this, you really don’t have to spend all that time and money going someplace,” said Tom Walsh, Trout Unlimited member and Pine Creek project manager.

On Pine Creek, Mr. Yingling recommends red worms, wax worms and live minnows fished at creek bends and eddies. In the 1.4-mile special regulations area designated for fly and spinner fishing, anglers might use small chartreuse nymphs or caddis patterns. Joe’s Flies, Mepps spinners and bucktails work in pools and riffles.

On April 12 on nearby Little Pine Creek in Shaler, a Children’s Fishing Day program for kids 12 and younger will be held at Fawcett Fields Park, with fish supplied by Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited.

Farther west, Big Sewickley Creek is easily accessible because landowners permit anglers onto private property.

“Anglers have done a good job of keeping the area clean. That’s why landowners let them fish there,” Mr. Tubbs said.

South of Pittsburgh International Airport, parts of Montour Run parallel the Montour Trail, providing easy access. Smaller and more susceptible to warming than some Allegheny County trout waters, it can be productive early in the season.

Walking trails at Upper Deer Lake and Middle Deer Lake in Deer Lakes Park provide easy access for mobility-impaired anglers. Deer and Bull creeks have areas that are designated Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only for fly and spinner anglers. The banks of the special regulation waters are generally cleaner, and trout can almost always be found there because fly and spinner anglers don't carry bait cups and other potential trash, and many practice catch and release.

East of Pittsburgh, tiny Long Run parallels Route 48 between White Oak and McKeesport and retains stocked trout until about June. And on the Allegheny-Westmoreland county line, Turtle Creek is stocked throughout a nearly 4-mile curve with walk-in access along a railroad. Veteran angler Jim Marcinizyn of Harrison City has fished Turtle Creek since it was rehabilitated in the 1980s.

“I change my style of fishing and let water conditions dictate how I fish,” he said. “Opening day it’s usually packed and it’s good for families, but during the weeks after it’s great to be able to walk away from the crowds and find a spot and maybe catch some trout right here, not far from home.”

John Hayes: 412-263-1991, jhayes@post-gazette.com. First Published April 3, 2014 12:00 AM

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