Changes finalized for trout and steelhead seasons in Pennsylvania

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

Anglers now have an easier way to figure out the first day of trout season each year.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission approved Monday making the first Saturday of April each year as the start of trout season.

In past years before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an earlier start of the season in eastern Pennsylvania and a second starting day for the rest of the commonwealth.

Waterfowl: Pennsylvania hunters asked to help with study

Q&A: Bears, canines and hunting questions answered

Under this change, which will result in a longer regular season for trout for most anglers, the practice of holding a separate regional opening day for Pennsylvania's 18 southeastern counties will no longer occur.  A single, statewide Mentored Youth Trout Day will now occur one week prior to the regular statewide opening day.

Anglers should plan on trout season opening on April 2, 2022.  A statewide Mentored Youth Trout Day will be held March 26, 2022.

Anglers try out their luck Oct. 19 for steelhead trout where Walnut Creek flows into Lake Erie. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission approved Monday making the first day of trout season each year be on the first Saturday of April.

"Thank you to the anglers of Pennsylvania for making their voices heard about trout season and being a partner in this decision,” Richard Kauffman, PFBC Board president, said in a written statement.  “While necessary changes to the last two seasons because of the pandemic were inconvenient for many people, we used the unprecedented opportunity to ask a lot of questions about how we’ve been doing things for the last 15 years.  Through a wealth of public input, including angler surveys presenting opening day options, it became clear that our agency and most Pennsylvania anglers value and prefer a single opening day of trout season moving forward."

In selecting the first Saturday in April as the proposed permanent date for the statewide opening of trout season, the PFBC considered several factors such as weather, water temperature, stocking and enforcement logistics, and social impacts.

The change to one opening day simplifies the regulations statewide over having two separate first days. Some of the regulations that reflected the first day of trout included regulations on Delaware River, West Branch Delaware River and River Estuary, Permits for protection and management of Trout and Salmon, Catch-and-Release Artificial Lures Only, Catch-and-Release Fly-Fishing Only, Catch-and-Release All-Tackle, and Special Regulations Applicable to Lake Erie Tributary Streams.

The changes go into effect Jan. 1.

Steelhead and Lake Trout

The commissioners approved an amendment to the seasons, sizes and creel limits —Lake Erie, Lake Erie Tributaries and Presque Isle Bay Including Peninsula Waters regulations that would modify the start of the opening day of trout season as well as daily creel and minimum size limits for both rainbow trout (steelhead) and lake trout. 

Currently, the daily creel and size limits for trout during the regular season of trout (8 a.m. on the opening day of trout season through Labor Day) are five trout per day (combined species), only two of which may be lake trout, greater than or equal to nine inches in length. 

Under the amendment, the daily limit will remain at five trout during this period, only two of the fish may be a lake trout, and the minimum size limit would be increased to 15 inches for rainbow trout and lake trout.

The changes will not impact the creel or size limit for brown trout, which is a popular put-and-take fishery during the months of April and May. Then, during the extended season for trout (the day after Labor Day until 12:01 a.m. to the Friday before the opening day of trout), the daily creel limit would be reduced to three trout, only two of which may be a lake trout, and the minimum size limit for all trout and salmon is 15 inches. 

The agency believes these changes  will provide for greater simplicity to regulations and optimize the trophy component of the steelhead fishery.  The amendments will go into effect Jan. 1.

Trout Slot Limits

The commissioners approved a Trout Slot Limit program.  Given the success of an experimental slot limit regulation program in place since 2014 that resulted in the presence of larger wild brown trout on Penns Creek, Section 03, located in Centre and Mifflin counties, the commission recognizes potential opportunities to have an official regulation of this type at other suitable wild trout waters in the future.  The Trout Slot Limit program will have two subprograms under the PFBC's Special Fishing Regulations: All-Tackle Trout Slot Limit and Artificial Lures Only Trout Slot Limit.  These subprograms will provide the commission with the ability to select the most appropriate tackle option to achieve biological and social objectives for each water considered for inclusion in the program and provide an opportunity to evaluate the effects of different terminal tackle types. The new regulation will go into effect upon publication of a second notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Bowfishing concerns

The commissioners tabled a proposal to amend bowfishing regulations.  While the use of long bows, crossbows, spears, and gigs used in bowfishing is already regulated within the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Code, a proposal presented to commissioners addressed an increasing number of complaints to PFBC law enforcement regarding the intense lighting and generator noise that can be created by those participating in bowfishing. 

The proposed amendment aimed to clarify that bowfishing is prohibited on any special regulation trout waters, would make it unlawful to shine any artificial light from a watercraft onto any building or other watercraft, and would limit noise from generators used aboard a boat while bowfishing to no more than 90 dB(a).  The proposed amendment will be discussed by the agency’s Law Enforcement Committee.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.