The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ recognition of the Stonycreek River as the state’s River of the Year for 2012 carried with it a financial component designated for use to promote the resource.
Those funds were divided among local groups that have worked to improve the river for public use, and were put to use in various ways.
The Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project (SCRIP) split its share into two parts, one of which was used in August to provide instruction and hands-on experience in paddling canoes and kayaks at Quemahoning Reservoir. The other portion was paired with donations from the Jenner Rod and Gun Club and Mountain Laurel Chapter of Trout Unlimited to buy fish for the Stonycreek River to support recreational fishing in years to come.
The latter portion of the project was finalized on Thursday afternoon with the distribution of nearly 300 smallmouth bass fingerlings between Blough and Ferndale. The fish ranged from 7 to 9 inches in length.
“This stocking is in addition to 1,100 trout that we put in the Stonycreek a week ago,” said SCRIP Chairman Len Lichvar.
Lichvar also is the manager of the Somerset Conservation District, which maintains a device to record water temperatures on the Stonycreek near the mouth of Quemahoning Creek, the outflow of Quemahoning Reservoir. That includes water that comes from the depths of the lake and is much colder than the natural stream flow, which has sparked interest in creating a tailwater trout fishery below the impoundment. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission had already planned to stock fingerling trout next year to initiate that project, but SCRIP’s efforts have gotten the plan off to a faster start.
Fish Commission biologist Rick Lorson was consulted before SCRIP scheduled the stockings, and gave the go-ahead.
“The primary reason was the minimum-flow bottom release that is now in place from the Quemahoning Reservoir,” he said. “That also comes by way of the temperature loggers that the Somerset Conservation District has in place. Even though the one in the river there suggests marginal habitat for trout, it’s still worthwhile to try to establish a fishery there. The habitat in the Stonycreek is better than in Quemahoning Creek right now.”
Greg Shustrick, watershed specialist for the conservation district, is designing habitat improvements that will be necessary to establish a viable trout fishery in the lower reaches of Quemahoning Creek. He is also seeking funding to make the plan a reality.
“We’re hoping to establish a fishery there in the future,” Lorson said.
It’s not the first time SCRIP has stepped in to get a fishery rolling before the Fish Commission could get things under way. In 2001, the group put its own funds together with those from local sportsmen to stock more than 2,400 smallmouth bass in the Stonycreek River when the state agency could not get the fish through its usual suppliers. Two years later, the Fish Commission began stocking smallmouth as well, adding rock bass in 2004. Those fish have prospered.
“We noted in our last survey that there is a smallmouth bass population established in most of the river,” Lorson said. “This (SCRIP) stocking would basically supplement that.”
While SCRIP views the trout stocking as a head start on the Fish Commission’s plans, Shustrick said the bass are a recognition of the Stonycreek’s history and its potential as a multi-species fishery.
“We didn’t want to only focus on trout that a lot of groups, organizations and agencies stock,” he said. “We wanted also to add a supplemental stocking of smallmouth bass, which are native to the Ohio River drainage, which includes the Stonycreek River.”
Joe Gorden is vice chairman of the Stonycreek-Conemaugh River Improvement Project.