Anglers who have ventured onto the ice at Lake Jean this winter have all walked away empty-handed.
And it’s by design.
The lake in Ricketts Glen State Park is under a catch-and-release designation and will likely remain that way until 2020. The designation has been in place since since the 245-acre lake was drawn down in 2015 so the dam control tower could be replaced.
Before the lake dried up, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission worked extensively to remove as many fish as possible and release them at Frances Slocum Lake and Lily Lake. Additionally, employees with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources netted more than 2,000 fish as the lake dried up and deposited them into a 50-acre pool that remained on the east side of the lake bed.
Still, once the work on the control tower was completed in 2016 and the lake began to fill back up, more fish would need to be stocked to re-establish the fishery.
Over the last two years, the PFBC has stocked thousands of fingerlings in the lake, including largemouth bass, black crappie, yellow perch, brown bullhead, chain pickerel and bluegills. Rob Wnuk, fisheries manager for the PFBC’s Northeast Region, said the range of species represents what was in Lake Jean before it was drawn down, and more fingerlings will be stocked this year. Fish and Boat Commission employees will sample the lake in 2019 to gauge the success fo the stocking efforts, and Lake Jean could return to statewide fishing regulations in 2020, meaning an end to the catch-and-release restriction.
“I expect the fishery to be much the same as it was before the drawdown. That includes species compostion and size structure,” Wnuk said, adding that the only change will be the absence of stocked trout.
“We had an adult trout stocking program at Lake Jean before the drawdown, but it was not popular so we’re not going to re-instate it.”
Allan Schreffler, education specialist for the PFBC’s Northeast Region, said Lake Jean wasn’t a big draw for trout anglers in the area as places like Bowmans Creek attracted most of the attention.
While the composition of fish species in Lake Jean will be the same to what it was in the past, the fishery will benefit from habitat improvement work conducted by park staff while the lake was drawn down.
With the basin empty, crews were able to access the lake bed with vehicle and place numerous fish structures, including porcupine cribs and 124 tons of limestone rock piles, around the lake bed. The limestone rock piles will serve as fish habitat and aid in improving the pH of the water.
Even the old wooden dam tower that was replaced was cut into four sections and placed in the lake to serve as cover for fish.
While the fishery recovers, angler pressure has been light at Lake Jean. Park manager Scott Wilson said he hasn’t heard any negative comments from anglers about the catch-and-release designation and said a patient approach is best.
“We don’t want to see the designation lifted too early. We have to do what’s best for the long-term with the fishery so it does come back at full strength or better,” Wilson said.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky