FISH AND FISHING IN THE ALLEGHENY RIVER 15 MILES NORTH OF PITTSBURGH: WHAT IS IT REALLY LIKE!
Have you ever wondered just how many people fish, what they fish for, what they catch, or what anglers think of the fishing in the Allegheny River in the area near Harmarville, where the Pennsylvania Turnpike crosses the river in Allegheny County? Twenty-five years ago the answers would have been simple: not many people fish, the only thing possible to catch were bullheads and carp, and the fishing was terrible. Some of you may be able to relate directly to these statements! Well, the Allegheny River has improved dramatically, as has the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers over those 25 years.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), Division of Fisheries Management determined answers to these questions and more during an angler creel survey on the river from May to October in 2000. The survey took place on the Allegheny River from Acmetonia, PA (Pool 3-Tarentum), upriver to Schenley, PA (Pool 4-Freeport), which is a distance of 16 river miles. The PFBC had two full-time creel survey agents that worked 1,950 hours on the water collecting these valuable data.
It was estimated that almost 57,000 hours of fishing took place, amounting to 27,700 angler trips between May and October of 2000. This provides an estimated $860,229 value to the local economy for this amount of angling recreation. The top three species fished for in 2000 were walleye, smallmouth bass, and sauger. These three species made up 34% of the total directed angling effort during the survey. The PFBC survey estimated that anglers caught a total of 30,788 smallmouth bass; 12,292 sauger; and 4,162 walleye from May to October. We must remember that a lot of fishing also takes place for these three species from November through April. Only 5% of the total smallmouth bass, sauger, and walleye caught were harvested.
And, here is a list of the many other species and numbers that were caught during the survey: 2,874 rock bass, 2,071 white bass, 1,936 channel catfish, 1,921 skipjack herring, 1,619 largemouth bass, 1,580 carp, 803 freshwater drum, 784 crappies, 618 suckers, 530 bluegill, 482 spotted bass, 381 gizzard shad, 277 hybrid striped bass, 244 flathead catfish, 201 redhorses, 137 longnose gar, 124 quillback, 80 trout, 78 mooneye, 67 muskellunge, 65 saugeye, 36 brown bullhead, 36 northern pike, 35 yellow perch, and 6 bowfin. There sure are a lot of possibilities for what may be on your line in the Allegheny River! Again, most of these species would have been released after they were caught. Several of the species listed here were considered gone from Pennsylvania waters at one time due to pollution loads entering the rivers.
It took three-fourths of an hour for an angler to catch any species of fish during the survey. For an average angler from the survey, it took 1.5 hours to catch a smallmouth bass; 3.5 hours to catch one sauger, and 9.4 hours to catch one walleye. The smallest fish that were recorded as harvested were rock bass at six inches and the largest fish harvested was a 26-inch walleye. The average size smallmouth bass that anglers harvested was 15 inches; 17.5 inches for walleye; and 14 inches for sauger.
The PFBC creel survey also made some comparisons of the fishing between two sections of the Allegheny River as Pool 3-Tarentum and Pool 4-Freeport. The catch rate of smallmouth bass was higher in Pool 3-Tarentum and the average size of smallmouth bass harvested was greater in Pool 3-Tarentum than in Pool 4-Freeport (16 inches versus 14 inches). The sauger and walleye catch rates were both higher in Pool 4-Freeport than in Pool 3-Tarentum. The average size of sauger harvested was the same in each pool at 14 inches. The average size of walleye harvested was larger in Pool 3-Tarentum at 18 inches compared to 16 inches in Pool 4-Freeport. Anglers fishing the River in these areas may consider using this information to decide which Pool to fish and for what species.
How about fishing the Allegheny River from shore compared to fishing from a boat for the “Big 3 species” of smallmouth bass, sauger, or walleye? The smallmouth bass and walleye catch rates were higher when fishing from a boat compared to fishing from shore, but not dramatically higher (30% higher for smallmouth bass and 20% higher for walleye). However, sauger catch rates were higher by 13% when fishing from shore compared to fishing from a boat. The point here is that good fishing can be found on the Allegheny River whether you choose to do it from shore or by boat!
Ninety-six percent of the anglers fishing during the PFBC survey resided in Allegheny or Westmoreland County. And what about some angler opinions for bass fishing, a very important component of this river fishery. The creel survey agents asked anglers their overall opinion of bass fishing and 63% of the anglers felt bass fishing was Good or Excellent in the Allegheny River. What is more important to you when bass fishing: size of bass caught or number of bass caught? Surprisingly, answers were split evenly with 48% rating size of bass most important and 48% rating number of bass as most important. Another interesting and important question pertained to the amount of fishing trips a bass angler would take to waters with different regulations from least restrictive to most restrictive. Low and behold, anglers reported that 25% of trips would be taken to Conventional Regulations waters (12 inch length limit and 6 per day creel limit); 30% of trips to a Big Bass Regulation stretch (15 inch length limit and 4 per day creel); and they would take 45% of their trips to a No Kill- Catch and Release water. This is another indicator that bass anglers are willing to have the more restrictive regulations (even Catch and Release) to improve the quality of their bass fishing experience. Finally, 70% of bass anglers questioned stated that they liked the new spring bass catch and immediate release fishing opportunities on rivers coupled with greater harvest restrictions from October through mid-April.
A mountain of interesting and useful data was acquired from the PFBC Allegheny River creel survey. The data will be used to better manage the Allegheny River for fishing in the future. We also hope that more residents can realize the angling recreation available in the Three Rivers in and around Pittsburgh, PA.
-- Area 8
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