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Pumpkinseed Management and Fishing in Pennsylvania

Prepared by R. Lorantas, D. Kristine and C. Hobbs
PFBC Warmwater Unit


Goal: Maintain or enhance pumpkinseed sport fisheries through harvest management of naturally sustained pumpkinseed populations and through habitat preservation and enhancement.

The pumpkinseed occurs throughout Pennsylvania and was originally indigenous to the Ohio River, Susquehanna River, Delaware River, Potomac River, and Lake Erie Drainages. The Ohio River drainage includes the Ohio River, Allegheny River, and Monongahela River drainages. The pumpkinseed typically occupies reservoirs and lakes and slow moving rivers and streams within these drainages. Most natural warmwater lakes and man-made reservoirs in Pennsylvania contain self-sustaining pumpkinseed populations. In Pennsylvania, pumpkinseeds generally occur at lower densities in rivers and streams compared to lakes and reservoirs. The pumpkinseed tends to be more abundant in waters with aquatic vegetation.

Pumpkinseed populations are managed for sport fishing primarily through harvest management, habitat management, and habitat enhancement. With respect to harvest management, inland regulations accommodate harvest of up to 50 pumpkinseeds. The 50 panfish daily creel limit is a combined species creel limit which includes pumpkinseed and other species. No minimum size limit or seasonal restrictions apply. The pumpkinseed is generally considered a prolific species, which has lead to liberal harvest rules. In some cases pumpkinseed can become too dense and grow slowly which results in few individuals attaining desirable size. Liberal harvest is desired in these circumstances where less competition for limited resources leads to faster growth. Despite liberal harvest rules the average creel size of anglers completing their fishing trip in Pennsylvania who have kept at least one pumpkinseed or bluegill is 11 pumpkinseed and/or bluegill. Of course angler creels range from no pumpkinseed kept to 50 kept. Low average harvest reflects an increased practice of catch and release fishing, however in some cases anglers may encounter few pumpkinseed of desirable size in the population and an unwillingness of anglers to harvest smaller specimens. Many small pumpkinseeds may be a result of slow growth, or may reflect angler removal of many desirable size pumpkinseeds such that small size specimens remain.

Fishery biologists faced with many slow growing pumpkinseeds in reservoirs may elect to reduce refuge habitat through vegetation control, bolster predator densities or a combination of both. Here, planned over winter partial draw-down will freeze and desiccate near shore vegetation and serve to concentrate predators and prey over winter. The intent is to thin pumpkinseed numbers to enhance their growth (size). In addition, predator density might be enhanced through stocking or though application of predator harvest restrictions such as Big Bass regulations. Biologists may also prescribe addition of habitat devices that attract panfish, these devices bolster angler harvest. What determines the specific course of action for a particular water body relates to features as diverse as the species of aquatic plants susceptible to control through water level management, to the ability of the water body to sustain an increased density of predators. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has an active corps of volunteers that assist in placement of structures after an approve habitat plan has been developed. We encourage organizations interested in volunteering time to contact our Habitat Unit.

If the biologist is faced with angler harvest reducing density of desirable size pumpkinseed, harvest restrictions may be applied though selective application of Panfish Enhancement regulations. In this program, for example, pumpkinseed, bluegill and redear sunfish harvest is limited to specimens 7 inches or greater with a maximum daily harvest of 20 combined. The effectiveness of this size enhancement program in Pennsylvania is under evaluation. A variety of more specialized approaches to address these and other specific issues exist. Biologists regularly sample fish populations and measure their density and size structure, and examine fish habitat by measuring water productivity and aquatic vegetation density. Following such assessments management plans are prescribed that enhance density and size structure of pumpkinseed within the limits of the resource.

In association with these evaluations growth of pumpkinseed is examined by measuring length, weight, and taking a scale sample to determine age. In Pennsylvania, a 7 inch pumpkinseed is approximately 4.7 years old (Fig. 1) and weighs 0.2 pounds, when pumpkinseed are 9 inches in length they are approximately 11.3 years old and weigh approximately 0.5 pounds. We have tabulated average ages and weights for a variety of lengths of pumpkinseed in Pennsylvania (Table 1). Anglers find these tables useful in approximating the weight and age of their catch. In standard biological collections, the decrease in relative or absolute number of pumpkinseed at each age can be used to describe the total annual mortality rate of pumpkinseed. On average the total annual mortality rate is 60%, which includes annual losses due to fishing and loss due to natural causes such as predation and disease. In addition to measuring losses biologists index production of pumpkinseed by examining age structure. Growth of pumpkinseed, recruitment of young pumpkinseed to the population, and loss of older pumpkinseed are important considerations in developing harvest regulations that produce desirable size pumpkinseed for harvest.

Figure 1. Average length of pumpkinseeds and bluegills collected by fisheries biologists in assessment gear in Pennsylvania (March-June).

Figure 1

Inches Pounds Years
4.5 0.1 1.8
5 0.1 2.3
5.5 0.1 2.8
6 0.1 3.3
6.5 0.2 3.9
7 0.2 4.7
7.5 0.3 5.6
8 0.3 6.8
8.5 0.4 8.4
9 0.5 11.3
9.5 0.6 > 11.3
10 0.8 > 11.3
10.5 0.9 > 11.3
11 1.1 > 11.3
11.5 1.3 > 11.3
12 1.5 > 11.3

Tabulating catch and harvest by anglers from various waterways is also essential in developing harvest regulations. Information derived from these creel surveys yields information of interest to anglers since seasonal peaks in catch occur for most species. Pumpkinseed can be caught most any time of year, generally though, highest catch per hour occurs in winter (ice fishing) and in medium size reservoirs (Fig 2). Pumpkinseed catch rates are equally good in all seasons on large size reservoirs (Fig. 3). Since pumpkinseeds are concentrated in small groups in spring in association with spawning and brood guarding, adults can be quite vulnerable to anglers. Spring and summer yield the highest catch rate on rivers (Fig. 4). With fishing destinations identified from maps on this site and information describing the best seasons to catch pumpkinseed anglers need only select an effective bait or lure. Many anglers were introduced to fishing by catching pumpkinseed with a worm or minnow and bobber combination. Small jigs, flies, and surface poppers are attractive baits in spring and summer. Grubs are a popular live bait in winter. The abundance of pumpkinseed in many waters across the state, the ability to catch them in summer, fall and through the ice in winter makes them an especially popular panfish.

Figure 2. Average catch per angler hour of pumpkinseed from medium size Pennsylvania reservoirs.

Figure 2

Figure 3. Average catch per angler hour of pumpkinseed from large size Pennsylvania reservoirs.

Figure 3

Figure 4. Average catch per angler hour of pumpkinseed from Pennsylvania rivers.

Figure 4


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