Reborn Pennsylvania trout streams - Fly Fishing Forum
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Old 08-27-2005, 01:17 AM
flytyer flytyer is offline
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Reborn Pennsylvania trout streams

The last week of July/first week of August I visited my father and siblings in Northeastern Pennsylvania and was very pleasantly surprised to find the Little Schuylkill River and the middle and lower Lehigh River were supporting rather large and healthy populations of trout. The reason I was so surprised is these were biologically dead from acid mine water (Little Schuylkill) or acid mine water, zinc mining pollution, and zinc smelting pollution (middle and lower Lehigh) since the middle 1800's. Obviously something changed for the better.

Dad and my brother Dave told me that a small group of local fishermen from the area around Tamaqua, PA (it is a mere 7 miles from where I grew up in the small village of Delano, PA) began looking into how to bring the Little Schuylkill back to life after 150 years of being polluted by the coal mining. They found adding liming stations on the river would neutralize the sulfuric acid from the coal mines and began a campaign to get other fishermen and sportsmens groups and the legislature to put a single liming station on it right below where the 4 small streams (only one of them was polluted, the others supported trout) that form it came together and formed the river. This single liming station proved to be so successfull that insects, minnows, and trout began to repopulate the first 4 miles of this small river.

This allowed them to get more liming stations downstream and now the Little Schuylkill River in the area from New Ringgold to Origsburg is considered class 1 trout water. Remarkable considering it was biologically dead as recently as 1985. Now there are several fly shops and many people fishing this 30 mile long small river. And because liming was so successful on it, it was tried on its sister river the North Branch Schuylkill downstream of Pottsville, PA. The result is not only do both the Little Schuylkill and North Branch Schuylkill now support trout, the mainstem Schuylkill supports trout to an area downstream of Reading, PA, or another 30 miles of river. To put this into historic reference, during Colonial times, the Schuylkill River had brook trout and shad in it all the way to its mouth in Philadelphia, where it joined the Delaware; but by the time of the Civil War, it was biologically dead to well below Reading from the acid mine water.

The middle Lehigh was badly hurt by acid mine water from stream that joined it from near the town of Weatherly, PA to below Mauch Chunk, PA (which is now known as Jim Thorpe) some 20 miles of river. These steams are now cleaned up and no longer dump acid mine water in the river. Weatherly is 15 miles from the village of Delano and Mauch Chunk is 20 miles from Delano. The Lehigh below Mauch Chunk beginning near the town of Lehighton, PA (which is 25 miles from Delano) all the way down stream to Palmerton had zinc mines and zinc smelters along it and both the mines and the smelters dumped lots of toxic crap into the river; thus, it was biologically dead as well.

The Lehigh now supports trout all the way to its confluence with the Delaware at Easton, PA. This means that over 50 miles of river have been reclaimed since the mid-'80's. There are now fly shops, rafting companies, kyac outfitters, general tackle shops, and even fishing guides in the towns along the Lehigh River. My brother told me Pennsylvania Fish Commission is beginning to try and reintroduce shad to the Lehigh.

The reason I posted these success is that the movement to restore them was started by sportsfishers and they show that it can be done if fishermen get themselves informed, get other interested user groups involved (like rafters), inform the public, and work on local legislators (or get new ones elected, possibly from among the ranks of the concerned sportsfishers).

I honestly never thought I'd see in my lifetime the rebirth of these rivers, and yet they have been reborn. Next time I visit Pennsylvania, I will be taking a rod with me so I can fish them because they are rather pretty rivers that now hold good populations of trout, instead of sulfuric acid from the coal.
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Old 08-27-2005, 08:29 PM
John Desjardins John Desjardins is offline
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Its always good to hear stories of river rebirth. They remind all of us of what can be accomplished by groups of dedicated people.

And good luck the next time your back east. I know that in the area around me several rivers that previously were heavily polluted now offer good fishing for a variety of fish.
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Old 08-29-2005, 08:11 AM
BigDave BigDave is offline
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Thanks for that report. It's rare that we get a positive post from the envronmental front.

PA has some of the best trout fishing in the east. Love the limestoners and their picky wild fish.
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Old 08-29-2005, 02:16 PM
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Charlie Charlie is offline
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Very cool info flytyer,

I fished on 2 others this year that are benefiting from this type of activity. Pine creek in north central PA has active liming stations and is doing very well. And Kettle creek, also in north central PA.

Kettle is a bit different then the rest because they are using a new passive method of liming the creek. They have created settling ponds where the acid mine drainage is concentrated. The ponds are lined with limestone. I understand that they have learned a great deal since they put them in and there are some improvements to the system they are making, but the results have been amazing. Kettle is now loaded with wild brook trout. I went down in the late spring and caught dozens of them. Love wild brook trout!

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Old 08-29-2005, 02:38 PM
flytyer flytyer is offline
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Charlie,

I was aware of the Pine Creek reclamation, but was unaware of what was happening on Kettle Creek. Kettle Creek is a one of the prettiest creeks I've ever seen and as you know, the fishing on it used to be limited to the rather small upper creek above the acid mine water problems. Good to hear it now has fish in it further downstream and that they are brook trout.

I was told by my brother and father that the Little Schuylkill River has brook trout in its upper few miles that have moved into it from Schuylkill County's Pine, Locust, and Tamened Creeks.

Big Dave,

The middle and lower Lehigh River has some very good, but little known, limestone spring creeks emptying into it. Since it has been reclaimed, I would expect that some of the larger brook trout in those streams will move into the Lehigh. And one of the very nice things about the Lehigh is that access is very easy if a person is willing to walk a little via the old Lehigh Valley Railroad bed on the river's west bank, which is part of the rail-to-trails program and thus public land. The public access points to the trail and boat launching areas are spaced 5-7 miles apart, so if a person walks just around the bend, he pretty much would have the water to himself.

And the Lehigh above Mauch Chunk (I know the maps now call it Jim Thorpe, but it was Mauch Chunk when I was growing up. The town council changed its name because someone offered them money to do so since the Native American athlete Jim Thorpe played semi-pro ball for the long defunct Mauch Chunk team. To me, it will always be Mauch Chunk, which means big, black, rock-i.e. antracite coal.) all the way to the town of White Haven is part of the Lehigh Gorge State Park.
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Old 08-30-2005, 12:14 AM
DEERHAAWK DEERHAAWK is offline
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Good News!

Quite an eye opener! Thanks for the positive info, just goes to show it can be done!
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Old 08-31-2005, 05:37 AM
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BLACK FRANCIS BLACK FRANCIS is offline
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if you guys haven't seen it, there was an article on kettle creek in the latest issue of trout, the trout unlimited magazine. great info, flytyer.
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Old 09-10-2005, 11:11 AM
chromedome chromedome is offline
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Talking Great News!

Having been raised in north east PA, it was great to hear about all the reclamation that has gone on. I never fished the Lehigh but do remember where it went under the highway on the road from Scranton to Mount Pocono. That was over 50 years ago and at that time the area around there was still quite wild and beautiful. That area was apparently above the pollution and I do recall a lunker brown of 24" was taken in that stretch at the time. I was never aware of the down river pollution so I'm grateful that someone took the time to post this reclamation report.
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Old 09-20-2005, 12:07 AM
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I greatly enjoyed you'r post. It's been some years since I fished in the south west near
State college, and Dunbar Creek in Fayette county. Do you know anyone who fishes
these waters ? Just curious.
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