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A look at the fisheries in Dutch Fork and other lakes

August 22, 2018 GMT

This wasn’t the plan for Dutch Fork Lake.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which owns the 91-acre water in Donegal Township in Washington County, drained it in November of 2004 after Hurricane Ivan damaged its dam, rendering it unsafe. It remained empty until spring of 2013.

Then, the dam finally rebuilt, the commission stocked it with adult trout and warmwater species.

The hope is that those latter fish — largemouth bass, channel catfish and sunfish — would repopulate the lake on a sustainable basis.

But things aren’t going as expected, at least not on all fronts.

There’s some good news.

Fish and Boat Commission biologists surveyed the lake this spring. They didn’t find any gizzard shad, a good thing as those fish often outcompete panfish for food and space.

The lake’s crappies at least are benefitting.

“In our previous survey in 1998, before the lake was drained, we captured 710 crappies, with only 11 over 9 inches,” said Mike Depew, a biologist in the commission’s area 8 office in Somerset. “This year, we only captured 131 crappies, but 33 were over 9 inches and some even reached 13 inches.

“I don’t think the lake has reached its full potential with crappie but hopefully will in the next few years.”

But there’s bad news, too. And it’s connected to the overabundance of another species of fish.

Dutch Fork Lake is polluted with common carp.

“We captured over 300 in our nets and most were small fish in the 1 to 2 pound range. Water clarity was poor (turbid) even with the stream feeding the lake being low and clear. This is quite likely attributed to the abundance of carp,” Depew said.

In such situations — small lakes with turbid water and too many carp — bluegill populations suffer. That seems to be occurring at Dutch Fork Lake, he added.

“We only handled 65 from 2 to 6 inches. It is also possible that these could just be very young bluegill that have not had time to grow to larger sizes. We will know more when we age them this winter,” Depew said.

Rick Lorson, recently retired as the commission’s area fisheries manager, said carp are likely so abundant because they swam into Dutch Fork Lake from upstream before its predator base got established.

Two things can turn that situation around, though.

“They have a head start, but will stabilize at a lower level as bass begin to eat the smaller ones. We encourage anglers to catch and keep them or bow fish for them,” Lorson said.

The commission plans to survey the lake’s bass population next year, Depew said. It may also stock fingerling-sized channel catfish in the future, too. .

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-216-0193 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.