MailHellbender

In late June 1999, I was fishing Pine Creek about 200 yards down from where Cedar Run comes in. As I was walking along the cliff side of the creek, I looked down and to my surprise I spotted a hellbender that was 20 to 22 inches long. As soon as I noticed it, I knew what it was because I remember seeing an article in your September/October 1997 issue about hellbenders by Karl Blankenship ("Some Pennsylvania Streams Are a Hellbender's Heaven").

I carefully picked it up and noticed a sore on the side of its face about a half-inch in diameter just above the mouth. I thought it was caused by its searching for food--the sore resembled the scars that trout get when digging for nymphs. I took some pictures and then put it back in the water and watched it slowly crawl away.

When I arrived home from my vacation, I searched for the magazine to read the article. I was amazed that the article said that hellbenders come out only at night and are found under rocks. In this situation things were a little different. I found the hellbender late in the afternoon in about five inches of water, curled up next to a little ledge.

I also read in the article that hellbenders feed on crayfish and other insects. While fishing that section of Pine Creek, I noticed an abundance of crayfish, so there was plenty of food. I was wondering if the scar was the reason for its being out in the open during the day. Or could it be that a few miles upstream in Blackwell, Babb Creek, which is polluted with mine acid, enters Pine Creek?--Frank Costello Limerick, PA.

Angler with hellbenderIt is difficult for me to identify the cause of the hellbender's condition without examining the animal. However, I suspect that the sore could have resulted from a fish hook. As a normally nocturnal species, this salamander is rarely seen by humans. Usually, hellbender/human interaction results after a hellbender has taken an angler's live bait. Depending on the person, a whole range of emotions including fear, concern and amazement may arise. Those who are fearful may just cut the line to rid themselves of the prehistoric creature on their line.

In normal conditions, hellbenders are well-hidden under large rocks and boulders during daylight. They consume small fish and invertebrates, but they definitely prefer crayfish. Hellbenders thrive in cool or cold-water streams. They are found less often in larger rivers.

Acid mine drainage, particularly in northcentral Pennsylvania, has eliminated hundreds of miles of hellbender habitat. Because of adverse water chemistry, hellbenders avoid areas of acid mine drainage, so it is unlikely that this particular individual was affected by the drainage of Babb Creek into Pine Creek. The above-average water temperatures that many PA waters experienced last summer because of a prolonged drought could have allowed the severity of injuries or infections to increase. Healthy hellbenders are secretive and typically nocturnal. Except for the sick individual you saw that was "acting out of character," chances are high that you'll never see a hellbender in the wild during daylight.--Andrew L. Shiels, Nongame and Endangered Species Unit.

Catfish article

"Fishing Patterns for Flathead and Channel Catfish," by Mike Bleech, in the July/August 1999 issue, was a good article. There are many catfish anglers out here who don't have computers to respond by e-mail and many who don't subscribe to PA&B (but who should) who would agree with this article and who would agree that it was well-written covering all the critical "need-to-know" details.

Thanks for covering this subject and giving some "space" to the sport of catfishing.--R. Barker, Oxford, PA.

Research tool

Enclosed is my payment for a subscription to PA&B for three years. I have been a subscriber to the Angler for a long, long time (maybe 50 years). Currently I have in my home library 10 years of the Angler, 1990 to 1999. Many more years of back issues are stored in the attic of my second home, at the Jersey shore. I keep the Angler on file as a research tool. When I get news of a fly that is hot or that should be in my fly box, I go to the index in the back issues for an article on that fly.

My fishing career started in the early 1940s on the Wissahickon Creek in Fairmont Park in Philadelphia and on the Schuylkill River (then totally polluted with coal dust from upstate mines) in Philadelphia. So I have seen a great deal of improvement in Pennsylvania's streams and rivers.

I consider PA&B to be a premier periodical always in the lead promoting conservation and sensible angling and boating. We in Pennsylvania are fortunate to have people whose careers are dedicated to preserving and fostering resources that so many take for granted or cast aside as valueless in their own selfish pursuit for gain.--John Jungers, Elkins Park, PA.

Catfish state record?

Angler with catfishI was fishing in the Delaware River in Philadelphia last May and caught a channel catfish 26 1/2 inches long and 6 1/4 pounds, and also a bullhead catfish that same day measuring 22 inches long and weighing 5 3/4 pounds. I threw both fish back. I was not aware that the bullhead was a state-record fish. I thought it might be of interest to you for your magazine.--Eileen Kicinski, Philadelphia.

Congratulations on a very successful catfish trip in the Delaware estuary and thank you for providing us with photos of your catch, including the possible state record brown bullhead that you released.

Even though the channel catfish was the larger of the two catfish in the photos, I was actually more impressed with the fish that you identified as the bullhead. Unfortunately, this was not a brown bullhead or a state record; instead, it was a very fine specimen of a white catfish, which was only 0.75 inches short of the longest white catfish that I have ever seen in 19 years of fisheries surveys in southeastern Pennsylvania. I would have been quite pleased by catching that fish.

Angler with catfishYour identification error was one that is quite common among anglers, because many anglers are unaware that white catfish even exist, let alone know that they are fairly common in eastern Pennsylvania rivers and some eastern lakes. The shallowly forked tail on the white catfish was the dead giveaway in your photo that separated it from a brown bullhead, which has a square tail. Also, brown bullheads have a much more brown pigment on the dorsal side than white catfish, which tend to be gray to gray-black on the dorsal side, but may occasionally show some brown color. White catfish adults have very large heads for their length and all ages of white catfish display pure-white barbels (whiskers) as opposed to mottled barbels beneath the lower jaw. If it's any consolation, I was introduced to white catfish as being bullheads when as a child I was first taught to fish along the banks of the Susquehanna River. Along the Schuylkill River, some anglers refer to white catfish as blue catfish, another local misnomer.

Thank you for enclosing the photos of your catch. The quality of the white catfish photo left no doubt about the fish's identification. Good luck in your future fishing trips on the Delaware estuary­its catfish population is outstanding.--Michael Kaufmann, Area 6 Fisheries Manager.

Editor's Note: Please remember to wear your life jacket aboard your boat.

Nockamixon

Concerning the article about Lake Nockamixon in the January/February 1999 issue, I found Mr. Attardo's article very accurate. I also gave a wholehearted "amen" when I read his comment about assuming that a hair jig on the rocks should have produced a smallmouth bass. The only thing I have to say to that is, "Welcome back to Lake Nockamixon." The lake's diversity can work against you at times. At best, Lake Nockamixon could produce enough fish to feed an army battalion for a month. But go back the next day and in frustration you might throw your rod in the water and wish you never started fishing.

I will let you in on a secret about the lake. Depending on how well they settle in, watch for good tiger musky action in the future. The lake was stocked three years straight (1995-1997) with tiger muskies, and they certainly have plenty of food! Lake Nockamixon­diverse and loving it.--Joshua S. Roeder, Quakertown.

Canadohta Lake

This letter is to thank you for the fine job that the Fish & Boat Commission has done at Canadohta Lake (Crawford County) this year. We have owned a cottage there for eight years and the fishing this year has been extraordinary. I know that you have moved a lot of fish from Tamarack Lake, which was drained, and perhaps that's where all the bass and panfish came from. I don't think we've seen in previous years as many of those types of fish.

It's fun, as well as encouraging, for 3-, 4- and 6-year old boys to catch fish. On one occasion, my 6-year-old son made three casts and subsequently caught a walleye, a perch and a bluegill. He then had to take a rest because he was "tired." On another evening, my wife, the three boys and I took our boat to our "hotspot." After baiting hooks, helping cast, releasing eight different fish and rebaiting hooks again and again, it was 40 minutes before I even got my own line wet.--David J. Anselm, Wexford.

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January/February 2000 Angler & Boater


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