Volunteers stock Little Muncy Creek for opening trout season
MUNCY – The rain never stopped along the West Branch of Little Muncy Creek on the morning of Thursday, March 10, but there was no way the weather was going to stop the fifteen volunteers from helping the Fish and Boat Commission stock trout in the popular stream.
The unpaid sportsmen stood up to the rain and dampness and followed the stocking truck for hours, making many stops until more than 50-buckets of fish were placed in the creek. Each bucket was filled with about 40 pounds of fish, brought here from a hatchery near Mill Hall, Clinton County, one of thirteen hatcheries used by the state.
The volunteers came from everywhere, from Lock Haven to the Tunkhannock Area, but this day belonged to three generations of volunteers from Lycoming County – Ira Hutchins of Unityville, his daughter Lisa Stubbs, 34, also of Unityville, and her two year old son, Benjamin. Benjamin has been at Mom’s side at every stocking since he was born, Fish Commission workers say, “We’ve watched him grow up.” Ira said his daughter has been fishing since she was three years old and when asked how long she has been helping with the stocking, Lisa said, “Forever.” She said her other sons, ages 6 and 8, would have been with her today if they were not in school.
For Ira, 70, this season is a milestone, his 50th year of volunteering with the stocking program and proud of a special volunteerism spanning three generations of his family.
And the Fish Commission can use all the volunteers it can get. “We’re up against it,” said Captain Gerald Barton. Barton has been with the agency for 23-years and is the North Central Regional Manager, responsible for thirteen-counties, including Lycoming. “Doing our job with less people is the biggest challenge,” he said.
The Fish and Boat Commission is funded by anglers and boaters through license and registration fees and the federal excise tax on fishing and boating equipment. But as Commission Executive Director John A. Arway documented, “We have lost over 25 per cent of our customers in 20 years.”
There has not been an increase in the cost of a fishing license since 2005. There has not been a new class of cadets trained to become WCO’s (Waterways Conservation Officers) since 2011. Retiring Officers have not been replaced. There have been no new hires. Arway said there were 1.16 million license buyers in 1990. Today, he reported in the Pennsylvania Angler and Boater Magazine, “We sell about 850,000 licenses and continue on a slow rate of decline. We could sit back,” he continued, “and watch this trend continue, or we can try something new or old to attempt to reverse this trend and get more people interested in fishing and boating again.”
The turnaround is underway. The Director brought back the metal fishing license button that caught on and has become a collectors item, bringing in much needed revenue. The one-time one-dollar discount on a license attracted more anglers. There are now 17 types of fishing licenses, including a 3 and a 5 year license and a voluntary youth fishing license for those under the age of 16. All of the changes benefit both the commission and the anglers. A new class of cadets is midway through its training and sometime this summer, eighteen new WCO’s will be on the streams, easing a shortage of 25 WCO’s statewide, including four vacancies in the north central region.
Until then, the commission will look to volunteer sportsmen more than ever. Imagine this assignment for 2016: Stocking 3,898,000 trout in 723 streams and 123 lakes. Surprisingly, with the budget problems, Captain Barton says the amount of fish stocked has not changed much in the last four-years. In fact, Lycoming County will receive a benefit bonus this Spring with the placement of trophy trout, fish larger than 20-inches, in some locations designated as Keystone State Waterways. Loyalsock Creek is included.
Trout season will open April 16 in Lycoming County. That allows anglers more than a month to get involved and volunteer with the stocking. Details are available on the commission web site, www.fishandboat.com, along with the complete list of 2016 Fishing Licenses and Costs, or you can stop at your favorite fishing store.
One final quote from Director Arway, his favorite sign-off, “Hope to see you on the water.”