Notes from the Streams

PFD testimonial

Ever wonder why WCOs wear their PFDs when they are working on a boat? The reason is because they never know when an accident may happen. As statistics show, capsizing is the most common type of boating accident. WCO Stuckey and I had firsthand experience with just such a situation.

A group of us was on a short canoe trip on Bald Eagle Creek, Centre County. About 15 minutes from the conclusion of our trip, WCO Stuckey and I found we were falling behind the others (the fishing was too good not to make a few short stops). As we came to a split at a small island, we chose to paddle left (everyone else had gone right) and encountered a tree across our path.

By the time we saw the tree, we realized it had created a strainer and we were already caught in its power. In what seemed like seconds, we were both in the water. The swift current pulled our canoe under and was attempting to do the same to us. Fortunately, we were able to gather our wits and pull ourselves to safety. Except for a few bruises to our pride, we were uninjured.

If we had not been wearing our PFDs, the incident may have ended differently. Our PFDs provided us with the ability to fight the current, and the piece of mind to make the right decisions. If we had not been wearing our PFDs, we would not have had the opportunity to put them on.

Remember: PFDs work only if you wear them! WCO Thomas Burrell, Delaware County.

Are you sure?

Have you ever had the occasion to impose one of those odd, quizzical expressions in which one eyebrow is cocked way up and the other is frowning down? It takes a little practice, and once perfected should be used only in the most appropriate situation, like trying to convey the message, "Are you sure you want to ask that?" or "Are you sure you want me to answer that?" or "Did you hear what you just said?"

As a new officer, I've found that some questions I'm asked require answers that create more questions. Others are stated so that they require little more than an expression of acknowledgment.

Such was the case when I was approached by someone with the simple statement, "Uh, question, officer, I lost my license" (with eyebrows in the relaxed "Okay, I can answer this" position). My mind skimmed quickly through the replacement procedure. Before I could put thoughts into words, the statement was repeated. "Yeah, I lost my license." Then the added, "I'm not allowed to fish 'cause I lost my privileges. Can I still fish on Fish-for-Free Days?" The arched brows are now in the fully cocked "Oh, I get it now" position. Immediately the right brow uncocks into the droop of a frown. Combined with just the hint of a smile, the half-cocked look has the desired effect. No words, no debate, no confusion, no misunderstanding. With a sheepish grin the recipient of that odd, quizzical expression simply says, "That's a NO, right?"  WCO Martha A. Mackey, Southern Allegheny County.

Letterkenny litterer

From my location I needed a spotting scope to view the shoreline of the recently trout-stocked Letterkenny Reservoir. I observed a fisherman throw some beer cans at the base of a tree 10 yards behind him. I watched only a little while longer. Knowing I had a two-mile drive to the scene, I was worried about the possibility of the litterer leaving. As I was ending my observation, I saw another angler come up to the can-thrower. I gathered up my scope and chair and walked rapidly to the patrol car. While driving down the road to the shore access, I came upon a fisherman walking up the hill to his car. I saw several crushed cans in his landing net. I asked him if he had picked up the beer cans from behind the littering angler. He said that he always picks up littered cans and had indeed picked up the cans I had seen thrown. I was given the cans in question. After approaching the person still fishing but in a different spot, he admitted to littering. Even though I still believe in picking up after thoughtless fishermen, I am glad I spotted the catch in one angler's net to complete an arrest of another.  WCO Jan C. Caveney, Franklin/Eastern Fulton Counties.

First thing you do

While assisting WCO Steve Boughter in teaching a canoeing class one day, WCO Boughter was explaining some of the dangers of cold water. Steve asked the group, what is the first thing you do when you get cold expecting someone to say, "You shiver." One young person raised her hand and said in all seriousness, "Get a blanket?"WCO Lawrence P. Dvorshock, Lycoming County.

When WCOs talk, people listen

During a routine license check at Scott's Run Lake in French Creek State Park, a fisherman commented to me how much he appreciated the tip I gave him regarding musky fishing in the spillway at Blue Marsh Lake. He said he was amazed when his son caught a legal musky on his first cast (to tell you the truth...so was I). WCO John Sabaitis, Berks County.

Stolen car pursuit

I always try to remind myself to be prepared for the unexpected. Less than one minute after leaving my residence to teach a basic boating course one February evening, I was requested by county radio to assist a Newville Police unit in the pursuit of a possibly stolen car that was heading directly toward me less than a half-mile away. His closest backup was PA State Police 15 miles away. Before I knew it, the suspect car was heading right toward my patrol car with the police car on his tail. At about 60 mph, the suspect car passed by to my right going through a residential yard and almost sideswiped my patrol car. I turned around and began to assist in the pursuit. As I crested a hill, I observed smoke and vehicle parts scattering as the suspect vehicle and police car crashed while attempting to negotiate a 120-degree sharp turn.

Miraculously, the two cars continued down the roadway side by side, smashing together. The police officer then reported that his brakes were out and requested that I take over the lead in the pursuit. Before doing so, the police officer crashed his car into a bridge abutment to get it stopped. I stopped to see if he was OK, and the police officer jumped in my car and we continued the pursuit. With the PA State Police helicopter and several ground units on the way, the police officer was on my low-band radio with county control and I was directing the helicopter on the high-band radio. We lost sight of the vehicle until a passerby informed us that it went up a private lane into the woods. We found the undrivable vehicle a few minutes later, stashed along an old logging road near a residence.

As the officer and I approached the vehicle, we found that the driver had fled. At that time we heard a voice yell "I give up," and we turned to the residence located close by. Leaving the back door of the house was the suspect with his hands high in the air, escorted by his aunt and uncle who talked him into giving up.

With the PA State Police helicopter circling directly overhead, the suspect was taken into custody by the police officer and me without further incident. Eight to 10 PA State Police, sheriff and DCNR units arrived minutes later. Although the car turned out not to be stolen, it had expired plates and was not registered. The suspect was driving on suspension, he was in possession of drug paraphernalia and possessed alcohol as a minor. He also was charged with several vehicle code violations.

I left the scene and arrived at my boating course just in time to start the program. All in a day's work! WCO Craig A. Garman, Cumberland County.

That's no polar bear: it's a walrus

In many northern cities that experience harsh winters, there are groups of hardy men and women who take an icy dip in frigid waters as an annual event. While on patrol in Cambria County in early December, I came upon a couple who must have been "training" for just such an event. When we arrived at the scene, one swimmer was completely naked and the other wasn't far behind. I turned to my deputy and said, "They must be polar bears," to which he replied, "That's no bear; it's a walrus." We had to cut their swim short and they were cited for disorderly conduct.  WCO Christopher D. McDevitt, Cambria County.

Caller caged, snake released

Late one summer afternoon I received a radio call from Regional Manager Bill Hartle requesting that I call him. I did so and was informed that he had been called by a young lady who was trapped in a house with a snake. I was informed that the caller seemed to be a young teenager and had no one to assist her with this situation. I replied that I would respond to the address but it was on the far end of my district, so it would take about 45 minutes to get there. Manager Hartle told me that he would call the young lady and tell her I was responding.

I was greeted at the door by the young lady and directed into the living room where I was shown an old-style sewing machine cabinet, the type in which the sewing machine folds down under the lid. With my flashlight I could look into the front of the cabinet, but saw no snake. I then lifted the lid carefully and looked into the cabinet. Again, no snake. I then lifted the sewing machine and was greeted by a

4 1/2- to 5-foot black rat snake that had twisted around everything inside the cabinet. I gently grabbed the snake by the neck and began unwinding it from its hiding spot. As I freed it from the sewing machine, the snake shot a large stream of musk all over the wall, the carpet and my pant leg. I sacked the snake and explained to the young lady how to use white vinegar to clean up the mess and kill the smell. I then left the residence and notified county control that I had completed my assignment.

The dispatcher at county control asked if I could give them a phone call from the residence, and I replied that I would. I knocked on the door and requested to use the phone. Upon reaching the dispatcher, I was asked, "Is she still there?" I replied that she was. I was then asked if she could hear the conversation I was having. I responded that she could not. The dispatcher then said, "Listen, she has four warrants out for her arrest and the constable heard you calling us on the radio and is on his way to your location. Would you assist him with the arrest? He has informed us that she knows his car and will flee when he arrives." I told them that I would assist. I thanked the lady for the use of the phone and left the residence. The constable arrived and the young lady was arrested, placed in handcuffs and transported to the Adams County Prison. In this case, the caller was caged and the snake was released.  WCO David R. Keller, Adams\Western York Counties.

Predator one day, prey the next

This past summer, Lavelle Fish & Game stocked trout from its co-op nursery in Bear Creek at the Schuylkill County Fairgrounds for the Schuylkill County Conservation Camp sponsored by the Schuylkill County Sportsmen Association and the Schuylkill County Conservation District. Most of these fish were in the 12- to 16-inch range. The campers ages 12 to 15 would fish when they had a break from their many activities.

During one break, I was walking over the bridge in the fairground and saw what I thought to be a nice brown trout on a rope stringer. As I got closer, I realized that the stringer was a large northern water snake trying to swallow a 12-inch brown trout. About 10 feet away were two girls fishing. I told them about the snake 10 feet away. They said they knew that it was there, but they also knew that more and bigger trout were under the bridge. We gathered campers and most of the staff on the bridge to watch the snake with his meal. He was having a hard time with the fish. The last we saw him, he had the head swallowed and was working the rest in. It then went under some rocks along the stream. The campers saw firsthand that they were not the only ones looking for a meal from our waterways.

Later in the summer, I talked to a fishermen who had fished that same section of Bear Creek and caught a 15-inch brown trout. In the fish's stomach was a small water snake that the fish had eaten. What is a predator one day can be prey the next.  WCO Gary l. Slutter, Schuylkill County.

Techniques for underwater capture

Shortly after arriving in Bedford County, I was contacted by the Pennsylvania State Police to perform an electrofishing demonstration on an unnamed tributary to Shawnee Creek. The demonstration was for their "Camp Cadet" program, which is held every year at Camp Living Waters. I obtained electrofishing equipment from the Reynoldsdale hatchery, and DWCO Brad Criswell requested to help with the program since he had assisted with this program in the past.

On arriving at Camp Living Waters, Brad and I prepared the equipment. We were presented with some 70 boys and girls who were in a parade-type formation and answering "yes sir - no sir" to commands barked by some of the troopers. Along with other programs, speakers and activities, discipline and respect are taught during this week-long program. After introductions and a brief description of what the electrofishing demonstration would accomplish, Brad and I headed downstream to begin. During some small talk walking downstream, I asked Brad if anyone had ever fallen in during this program. His reply was reassuring: "Not in the 15 or 20 years I have been assisting with this program."

Entering the stream, we headed upstream toward the group. The boys and girls were watching eagerly to see fish that would float to the top and be captured in my net. Approaching the small bridge where most of the students were gathered, we had captured only a few small panfish, suckers and minnows. Disappointed with this, I made the remark to Brad that some deeper water was located under the bridge and we should see some bigger fish in this section. A quick flash caught my eye and I realized it was a brown trout attempting to elude the net. Not wanting to lose this opportunity to show the students a fair-sized wild brown trout, I made a quick and off-balance swipe with the net. I then lost my footing and fell into the deepest part of the pool.

It would not have been so bad if only my pants hadn't gotten wet, but after the thrashing around and my futile attempts to keep my balance, the only thing visible to the students was my head above water. And yes, I was in full uniform. Luckily, Brad had lifted the electrofishing probes out of the water. After a few awkward seconds, a forced smile came to my face, which seemed to relieve some of the tension, and the students all started to giggle and talk among themselves.

At the end of the demonstration, Brad and I answered a variety of questions from the cadets. Brad and I will remember for a long time one question directed to me. One girl asked if I were attempting to try some kind of new underwater capture technique when I fell in. This question brought a loud burst of laughter from the cadets, troopers and even Brad and me. One trooper also said that he had just shut the camcorder off or he would have "had" me for the rest of my career. Maybe next year I will ask a DWCO if he could assist Brad with this program.  WCO Terrance L. Kane, Bedford/Western Fulton Counties.

Thank you

Having only about 80 WCOs in the state, we rely on help from other agencies as well as information from citizens who observe violations. When information is received, WCOs respond to serious violations immediately. More often than not, these calls come in when you have already promised your spouse that you will be home on time or that you will attend a social function. I would like to dedicate this stream note to all the spouses, especially my wife, Susan, who continue to understand and be supportive of what we do. Thank you!  WCO Clyde N. Warner Jr., Southern Lake Wallenpaupack.

Walking around the house

Fisheries Biologist Aide Chris Graf and I were pulling trap nets this past spring on a state park in southeast Pennsylvania (lake name not mentioned to protect individual's privacy). We were soon motioned to shore by a female landowner whose home bordered the park property and was clearly visible from the lake. She began by asking if it was legal to operate a boat on the lake after dark because she was seeing boat lights in the cove on hot summer evenings. I informed her that it indeed was legal to operate a boat after dark on this lake, as long as the boats were displaying the proper running lights and abiding by other regulations. Chris and I should have known better than to ask what was at the root of her concerns because her response was more than we anticipated. She was worried that the boaters could see into her home because, as she put it, "I like to walk around the house in the nude and I don't have any curtains on my second-floor windows." To date, waterways conservation officers have not noticed an increase in boat traffic in that area of the lake.  Dave Miko Area 6 Fisheries Biologist.

Steward of the land

It was not too many years ago when the idea of limiting livestock access to stream water was almost thought of as radical or unworkable. I can recall back in the early 1970s, when I first came to my largely rural district in the center of the state, it was unusual to see cattle restricted to stream access. Now, after 25 years, it is becoming the exception in many areas to see cows in a stream. Stream fencing is quickly becoming an important part of livestock management. It has always been a tenet of the farmer to be the steward of the land. One can only applaud these land stewards in their efforts to improve the quality of the streams flowing through their land. One such stream in Mifflin County, Hungry Run, has seen its quality greatly improved by such fencing done by farmers Larry Goss, Doug Glick and Don Corbin and their families. The example they have set is one to be admired and applauded. WCO Larry R. Baker (retired), Mifflin/Juniata Counties.


March/April 2000 Angler & Boater


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