Thursday, June 23, 2011

Accidental hybrid release creates new Pymatuning fisheries

A giant fishing hole, the massive 14,650-acre Pymatuning Reservoir offers anglers just about any warm- and cool-water sport fish imaginable.

The entrée includes largemouth as well as smallmouth bass, crappies in abundance, white bass, channel catfish, a good stock of sunfish as well as yellow perch, an improving walleye fisheries and a healthy supply of muskies.

Now add hybrid striped bass to the brew. This cross comes from the egg of a female white bass and the sperm from a pure-strained male striped bass.
he hybrids were accidentally released about five years ago into Pymatuning. Maybe, as the potential exists that some hybrids - often called “wipers” - may have been washed into the reservoir from the watershed’s many private farm ponds and campground lakes, says an official with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Managed jointly by the Fish and Boat Commission along with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, Pymatuning’s fisheries is of regional importance. It attracts anglers from such diverse locations as Erie and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania to as far west as Cleveland, and south to Akron-Canton.

“The number of escapees is unknown. What happened is that we would get these hybrid fry or fingerlings from another state because we don’t produce them here at the (Linesville, Pa.) hatchery,” said Freeman Jones, a Fish and Boat Commission fisheries biologist.

“At some point something happened and some of the fish got flushed out.”

Then at that point the Fish and Boat Commission started to get anecdotal reports of angler catches. The hybrids likewise began popping up via the trap nets each agency drops in the spring in order to catch muskies, Johns said,

“We really don’t want them in the sanctuary where we have our brood walleye but we’re still getting reports of fish being taken,” Johns said.

Johns said also that some of the watershed’s farm ponds or camp lakes may be a contributing factor, too.

“And there’s always the possibility that someone has released them,” said John of the thoroughly illegal activity.

Most of Pymatuning’s wiper catches appear to be taken near the Linesville spillway. This is a very popular fishing spot for Pennsylvania anglers and is where the Fish and Boat Commission has established a physical presence by virtue of its hatchery and fish/waterfowl sanctuary.

“This is where I mostly hear of them being caught,” Johns said.

And while Pennsylvania does not have a state record fish category for hybrid striped bass, Ohio does with the current leader being a 17.68 pound fish that was caught May 4, 2001 from Deer Creek Lake.

Johns said also that the Fish and Boat Commission does raise wipers to stocking size at which point they are transported and released into nearby lakes Arthur and Shenango.

In these two systems the wipers can grow up to 28 inches with a few larger specimens occasionally being caught.

Regardless of where the hybrids are found the fish tend to live for 8 to 10 years. Thus, with the accidental release happening abut five years ago the angler- and trap net-related catches are “likely petering out” at Pymatuning, Johns said.

“It’s not something that we want to see as a program, though,” Johns said.

As for another introduced species that many Pymatuning anglers still debate; yes, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission did at one time stock alewives.

Chiefly this species was stocked in order to provide forage for the reservoir’s predatory game fish. It was enough of a bad idea that the Fish and Boat Commission
soon hauled the practice.

“We probably did stock them back in the 1980s or even earlier in the 1970s but our (trap) net samples going back to 1989 have shown only a few being caught,” Johns said.

Something of an alewife explosion did occur several years later but has since withered to next to nothing, Johns also said.

“None were caught in our trap nets either this year or in 2009 and only 69 were caught in our trap nets last year,” Johns said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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