Four years ago Lake Jean was reduced to a 20-acre pool surrounded by a vast expanse of muck.
The 245-acre lake in Ricketts Glen State Park was drawn down so the dam control tower could be replaced. Once the work was completed in 2016, the lake filled back up and thousands of fingerlings were stocked to restore the fishery.
On Wednesday night, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission surveyed the lake to see how well the fishery rebounded and if it could be returned to statewide fishing regulations in 2020, bringing an end to the catch-and-release restriction currently in place.
According to Rob Wnuk, fisheries manager for the PFBC’s Northeast Region, the bass population is being sampled first and a follow-up survey for panfish will be conducted later this summer. If the numbers are good, the restriction will be removed in two years.
“We want to see the numbers either what they were before the draw down or above,” Wnuk said.
After conducting electro-shocking surveys for bass on six sites on the lake this year, the catch per hour was 32.66. The last time the lake was surveyed prior to the draw down was in 2007, and the catch per hour then was 36.27. Wnuk said a catch per hour rate of 30 is an acceptable value, and even though this year’s figures were slightly lower, it doesn’t necessarily mean things aren’t better.
In 2007, all of the surveys were conducted in the upper part of the lake, which isn’t as impacted by acidic conditions found in the lower part.
So far, surveys on the upper portion of the lake indicate strong bass numbers with catch rates double what they were before the draw down. The catch per hour rate in the upper part of the lake was 68.97/hour. Wnuk said the high numbers could be a result of “new lake effect,” which is the release of nutrients from rotted vegetation as the lake re-fills. The nutrients make for prime growing conditions for fish and the benefit can be realized for several years after the water returns.
The numbers on the lower end of the lake, which was also surveyed by electro-shocking — a process that temporarily stuns fish — were much lower. On four sites, the catch per hour was 14.50/hour, and Wnuk suspected the acidic water coming from nearby Ganoga Lake was the cause.
“Lake Jean is more acidic that most lakes, which has its challenges,” Wnuk said. “We have a lower bar here because the populations weren’t high to begin with.”
Still, the new Lake Jean has some advantages over what was there before the draw down in 2015.
While the majority of the lake bed was dry, crews from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources took advantage of the new access and deposited dozens of fish habitat structures and more than 120 tons of limestone rock to improve the pH of the water.
In addition, the PFBC stocked thousands of fingerlings, including largemouth bass, black crappie, yellow perch, bluegill, chain pickerel, brown bullhead and golden shiners. Those young fish were augmented by those that survived in a pool of water that remained in the deepest part of the basin. One of those “survivors” turned up during Wednesday’s survey — a 19-inch, three-and-a-half pound bass.
The electro-shocking is done at night when bass move toward the shoreline to feed. The spring is also a good time of year, according to Wnuk, as bass are still on their spawning beds in the shallow water.
“We’re mostly looking at numbers right now and not size because these fish were stocked three years ago and we don’t have top-end growth yet,” Wnuk said.
A key to the success of the bass population are the golden shiners stocked in the lake that serve as forage base. Wnuk encountered a large school of shiners in the lake while conducting surveys and said the population is good.
If bass numbers are positive, Wnuk said the catch-and-release restriction will only be lifted if panfish populations are strong as well. That will be determined later this summer when the PFBC sets trapnets along the lake to survey panfish.
“I’m looking forward to this lake coming back to what it was or better,” Wnuk said. “It’s a very scenic spot and popular with families.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky