Slate Run Survey: The Shocking Results

b/w pics by Mike O'Brien

b/w pics by Mike O’Brien

During the summer of 2012, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission conducted an electro-shocking survey on Slate Run.  It was the first survey of this sort in eight years. The electro-team was led by Jason Detar, Fisheries Manager for Area 3. It responded, in

part, to requests made by the Slate Run Sportsmen (SRS). The SRS, a group of dedicated fly-fishers and lovers of the Pine Creek Valley, had asked the state of Pennsylvania to investigate the run because of long-standing, unsubstantiated reports that the wild trout population there was very low.

Biologists, in company with representatives from the SRS and the PA Department of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConservation and Natural Resources, electro-shocked two stretches of Slate Run that had been surveyed similarly on a number of occasions over the past few decades. The survey process employs a backpack generator and transformer to send electric currents through the water. Fish are temporarily stunned so that they can be captured, measured, and then released.

Within the two survey sites, each of them 300 meters in length, a number of calculations were made. The stream temperature and pH level were recorded. Adult trout were counted, and their ages and growth rates were collected. The health of other species was reviewed. In Slate Run, noted for its wild brown and native brook trout populations, the other fish groups surveyed were sculpins, dace, darters, and madtoms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Shocking” is the favored method of sampling fish in streams because it allows for maximum capture in the shortest period of time. From my own perspective, I was pleased to hear Jason Detar’s March 23rd presentation to the Slate Run Sportsmen group because I knew that his analysis of survey data would bring some closure to the controversy clouding the status of Slate in recent years. Electro-shocking was, for me, the scientific complement to personal investigation of the run. Throughout the 2011-2012 angling season, I fished all of Slate Run (7.5 miles) in a series of visits that I wrote about for Rivertop Rambles. My 13 posts on the subject comprise “The Slate Run Odyssey.”

Basically, the electro-survey came to these conclusions… The numbers of adult brook trout in the run were significantly fewer than in previous years when surveys were

20" wild brown

20″ wild brown

conducted. Reasons for the native trout decline are conjectural. One or two “year classes” of trout were missing altogether or severely limited. A “year class” takes in all fish of a species born in the same year. For example, all two year-old fish of a species might be missing from a stream for some reason or another. This is not a strange occurrence in our freestone waters. Natural events can limit a year class for a species. Over the past dozen years, Slate Run has witnessed flood, drought, limited spawning, heavy predation, and possibly even some thermal pollution. It’s no wonder, then, that wild populations fluctuate from year to year.

The numbers of adult browns in Slate Run weren’t exceptional for area freestones, but they seemed to be above average. Several large fish in the 16 to 20-inch range were netted, especially from the upper survey site where habitat is more stable and contains more structure than the lower site.

The best news coming from the survey data was that numbers of young brown troutOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA were impressive. These so-called young-of-the-year fish were found in high numbers at both sample locations. The high numbers suggest that the recent class of fish is healthy and substantial. The projections for the next few years on Slate are bright. Fishing should improve dramatically.

These long-awaited survey results put to rest all rumors that the famous freestone suffers from pollutants of some kind. The Slate Run watershed remains healthy, but this is not to say that SRS is sitting on its laurels and relaxing from its role as watchdog for the stream and its environs.

Slate Run is a Fly-Fishing Only water, a designation legislated by the Slate Run Sportsmen and the state of Pennsylvania. The stocking of hatchery fish need not apply. The wild fish have certainly struggled in recent years from the extremes presented by Mother Nature, but the fish are doing pretty well today. We need to continue doing our part for them. By working to preserve wild trout, we help preserve our last fragments of the wild and, in the long run, we help to preserve ourselves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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8 Responses to Slate Run Survey: The Shocking Results

  1. Junior says:

    The future implications are certainly good to hear, and it seems more than reasonable that periods of drought in the past several years could have severely damaged immature fish in particular. At least the beauty above the water surface will continue to be matched by vitality beneath.

    • Junior, I think the recent periods of drought had a negative effect on populations. Fish moved into more constrictive quarters and suffered higher predation and other injuries. Things look good right now, and if we get some rain this year the young ones will grow rapidly. Thanks!

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  2. Very nice post Walt. I received your book today and will send mine to you tomorrow. Sorry for the delay. I got caught up in editing news for the magazine I write for. It’s tedious work.
    I read your acknowledgements and the first chapter minutes ago and I am impressed. You write beautifully and it’s plain to see that you are one of those rare poet-sportsmen types that used to be far more common. This is my favourite type of outdoors writing.
    I’m sure I will enjoy your book. Thanks so much.

    • Thanks so much, Steve, glad you like the book so far. Take your time with it. Chapters pretty much follow the seasons throughout the year. I look forward to reading a Galea book. No hurry to put it in the mail, though. I’ll be gone from home the next 7-8 days, then hope to get back into local routines thereafter. The next couple of blog posts may come from the Virginia mountains.

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      • Bob Stanton says:

        Glad to hear that Slate is in tolerable shape, though I have to say that I didn’t believe most of “the sky is falling”, there-are-no- trout-left -in-Slate Run! hysterics put forth by some. As you’ve ably pointed out, trout streams go through the same population cycles all organisms are susceptible to. If I don’t catch fish in a given piece of water, I assume it’s a lack of skill on my part rather than the absence of fish, though maybe I should reconsider. Telling myself that “there ain’t any trout in there” would sting a lot less than haranguing myself for sucking as a fisherman, eh? And thanks Walt, for the work that SRS do to help protect this valuable stream. Have fun in ol’ Virginny!

      • Bob, You’re a seasoned trout fisherman who knows how to use your senses. Your comments remind me of some anglers in the 1980s who were going cold turkey on Slate because the stocking of fish was terminated a few years earlier. “There’s no fish left in the Run! Nothin'” Forgotten was the fact that wild fish are by nature warier and smarter than those stockers that couldn’t survive long after being put in the water. Some of these guys couldn’t adjust to fishing for wild things so they quit and left for the bridges. Just as well, I guess. Darwinism works for anglers, too.

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  3. Puget Keith says:

    Although I will probably never fish Slate Run I am glad someone is watching over it for future generations.

    • Keith, If you’re in the region, though, it’s worth a visit for a ramble, for watching eagles, eating a great sandwich, and kicking back for an afternoon. “Benefits” that come from “monitoring.”

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