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Pymatuning Reservoir
Crawford County
Annual Trapnet Survey
Spring 2010

Pymatuning Reservoir, Pennsylvania’s largest inland lake, is located in Crawford County (PA) and Ashtabula County (OH).  About 14,000 acres of the 17,000 acre impoundment are located in Pennsylvania. In addition to boating and angling, the reservoir and surrounding Pymatuning State Park offer a wide array of recreational opportunities: wildlife and bird watching, camping, environmental education, and more. The DCNR feature page for Pymatuning State Park is a good resource for visitors. Anglers are urged to carefully review the PFBC special regulations for Pymatuning Reservoir.

Area 1 fisheries management personnel performed the annual spring trapnet survey of Pymatuning Reservoir from March 31 – April 9, 2010.  With early April air temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s and high winds, our net catches were not typical for this time of year. A slightly later start date and higher than normal water temperatures were reflected in the relative abundances of the fish we captured. Catch rates for species that spawn in cooler water (walleye and yellow perch) were down while catch rates for species that spawn in warmer water (muskellunge, crappie, and catfishes) were up. We had four nets roll over in the high winds and two nets that lost all their fish through large holes, one of which likely caused by an outboard motor. A total of 28 sets encompassing 635.75 hours of effort yielded a catch of 4,003 fish representing 25 species (Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1.  Species, number, and size range of sportfish captured during trapnet sampling of Pymatuning Reservoir by Area 1 fisheries management personnel from March 31 – April 9, 2010.

Species Number Size Range (inches)
Walleye 468 7 - 27
Muskellunge 66 28 - 50
Black Crappie 958 2 - 13
White Crappie 62 3 - 14
Yellow Perch 245 3 - 11
Bluegill 245 4 - 8
Pumpkinseed 13 5 - 7
Channel Catfish 360 8 - 29
Largemouth Bass 8 12 - 16
Smallmouth Bass 1 4
White Bass 7 14 - 15
Brown Bullhead 218 9 - 14
Yellow Bullhead 34 7 - 12
Rock Bass 1 8

Table 2. Species and total numbers of forage and rough fish captured during trapnet sampling of Pymatuning Reservoir by Area 1 fisheries management personnel from March 31 – April 9, 2010.

Species Number
Common Carp 685
Gizzard Shad 162
Spottail Shiner 202
White Sucker 31
Alewife 69
Quillback 103
Emerald Shiner 1
Spotted Sucker 1
Golden Shiner 61
Silver Redhorse 1
Log Perch 1

Unseasonably warm weather negatively affected the walleye catch and the 2010 totals were lower than recent years (Figure 1). However, there are still plenty of legal walleyes for anglers to target: 76% of walleye sampled were over 15 inches, 59% were over 20 inches and 10% were over 24 inches.

A bright spot in the walleye catch was the presence of sub-legal walleye (Figure 1). The low numbers of small walleye over the last couple of years had anglers and biologists a little worried about the future of the fishery. Pennsylvania and Ohio both added walleye fingerlings to the stocking program and the results for 2008 and 2009 have been positive. Those stocked fingerlings are now 7 to 14 inches long and anglers report they are catching large numbers of these juvenile fish. Release them gently; they are the future of the fishery. Both states will continue to stock fingerlings for the foreseeable future.

FBA Matt Gordon with a nice Pymatuning Reservoir walleye

Figure 1. CPUE for legal and sub legal walleye sampled in Pymatuning Reservoir during annual spring trapnet surveys from 1989 - 2010.

Figure 1

We collected 66 muskellunge ranging from 28 to 50 inches (Table 1), an average number compared to past years. On the negative side, the incidence of red spot disease was a little higher this year than in the recent past. In total, 22 muskellunge captured this year had symptoms of red spot infection. However, about one fifth (1/5) of these muskellunge had scars from the disease but no active red spot, indicating some fish survive bouts with this disease. Still, a great population of healthy fish exists for anglers seeking the elusive muskellunge.

Fisheries Biologist Tim Wilson with a 50” Pymatuning Reservoir muskellunge

Our catch rate of black crappie was higher than ever before during spring trapnet surveys (Figure 2) of Pymatuning Reservoir. This could partially be explained by the warmer weather, but the catch is still extremely impressive. The crappie fishing should improve this year compared to the past few years. For those targeting panfish, decent populations of yellow perch and bluegill are present in the reservoir with some quality sized fish present (Table 1).

Figure 2. Historical average and annual CPUE for black crappie sampled in Pymatuning Reservoir during annual spring trapnet surveys from 1989 - 2010.

Figure 2

Black crappie
A couple of nice Pymatuning black crappie

Pymatuning Reservoir angling usually revolves around walleye, muskellunge and panfish. However, anglers seeking a change of pace may wish to target channel catfish. Nearly 33% of the channel catfish processed were over 20” and about 10% were over 24”. These often overlooked fish put up a solid fight when hooked and make great table fare.

As is common knowledge by now, a large fish kill occurred in mid-May 2010, involving almost exclusively black and white crappie. Extensive testing of the water and fish flesh was performed by the PA Department of Environmental Protection, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Cornell University. This testing has determined the kill to be the result of an outbreak of columnaris (a common soil and water bacterium). Crappies can normally ward off columnaris infections, but the stress of a rapid increase in water temperatures and the stress of spawning weakened their immune systems and resulted in a lake-wide fish kill. Review of the analyses referenced above by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and our agency have resulted in a determination that fish from Pymatuning Reservoir are safe to eat.

While a significant number of crappie were killed, the overall crappie population is still strong. Only a fraction of the crappie in the lake died, leaving plenty for anglers to fish for and harvest. The kill was mainly of larger crappie and younger year classes should fill in any gaps rather quickly, given the excellent growth rates of crappie in Pymatuning Lake.

— Area 1

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