In this case, not in the biblical sense, but in admiration of our neighbors to the North, East, and South from the perspective of a Pennsylvanian. Pennsylvania has more flowing water than any other state in the contiguous United States. It’s a bit peculiar then that such a state has no “brook trout-specific” angling regulations. The closest thing we have to angling regulations that protect brook trout is that Class A waters (Pennsylvania’s best wild trout water designation) becomes catch-and-release only from Labor Day until the opening of trout season the following year.
Region 1 in New York encompasses Suffolk and Nassau counties on Long Island. The home of the fabled Webster world record brook trout (a salter) from days gone by. All Brook Trout caught in streams within region 1 must be released at all times. Additionally, Brook Trout caught in Hards Lake must be released all year round as well. Round Lake to Little Tupper lake in region 5 in Northeast New York regulates fishing for brook trout specifically with artificial lures only with a daily limit of 3 fish over 12 inches in length.
In addition to the brook trout specific regulations mentioned above, there are numerous brook trout streams that benefit from the extended season regulations that essentially turn “wild trout” waters into catch-and-release waters similar to Pennsylvania.
New Jersey now has a “Brook Trout Conservation Zone” where all brook trout are protected under catch-and-release regulations. From New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife:
All Brook Trout caught within the “Brook Trout Conservation Zone” must be immediately released unharmed. The zone consists of all waters within the northwest region of the state, where most remaining wild Brook Trout populations occur. The Conservation Zone includes all waters west of I-287 and north of Rt 202, extending to, but not including the Delaware River.
In 2007 Maryland DNR designated the majority of the upper Savage River as “zero creel” for brook trout. The conservation zone comprised approximately 100 miles of connected waterways where brook trout are protected from harvest. In January 2021 Maryland passed a new statewide regulation that protects all brook trout east of I81 where no brook trout may be harvested. West of I81 no brook trout may be harvested in stocked trout waters. In my opinion, Maryland has one of the strongest brook trout protections in the native eastern brook trout’s native range.
Virginia has a unique approach to brook trout protections in Shenandoah National Park and Blueridge Parkway waters. Below is from VADWF
The release of any brown trout back into any Park stream is prohibited and brown trout less than 7 inches must be disposed of within the Park but away from Park streams, roads or trails. This is an effort to limit the impacts of brown trout on the native brook trout populations.
Brook trout also have a 9 inch minimum size while brown trout and rainbow trout have a 7 inch minimum size.
West Virginia has numerous streams and entire watersheds established as catch-and-release only waters where brook trout are either the dominant species or the only species present in the water. Additionally, these C&R brook trout waters are not stocked with nonnative hatchery fish.
So every one of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states has some form of special angling regulation to protect brook trout. Most states handle the regulations from a regional or watershed level. This leaves Pennsylvania as the only mid-Atlantic state within the eastern brook trout’s native range without any specific brook trout angling regulations to protect our state fish. All of our brook trout only waters are under general statewide angling regulations with a 5 fish daily limit over 7 inches in length during the regular season (April 3rd to September 6th) and a 3 fish limit over 7 inches in length during the extended season (Jan. 1 – Feb. 15 and Sept. 7 – Dec. 31). The only exception being the 301 Class A brook trout sections (small pieces of streams, not the entire stream) where harvest is prohibited in the extended season (Jan. 1 – Feb. 15 and Sept. 7 – Dec. 31).
Pennsylvania has numerous waters throughout the Commonwealth where brook trout regulations make sense and in my opinion, are desperately needed. The map of Pennsylvania below is from the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture’s range-wide assessment and highlights high priority brook trout strongholds. The green areas on the map are the highest priority watersheds for brook trout protection in the state.
In addition to the high priority areas in North Central PA, there are numerous low elevation limestone groundwater-influenced streams in South Central PA where brook trout protections should be a high priority. Big Spring in Cumberland county (I talk about HERE) is a perfect example of where the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission could easily implement protections for brook trout.
Half of the stream is already classified as Fly Fishing Only Catch & Release year-round. The lower half above an impassable mill dam is still stocked by the commission with hatchery brook trout despite their statement to end the practice of stocking brook trout over wild native brook trout. Rainbow trout in Big Spring will need to be removed to make that stream “brook trout only”, and the commission admits that it’s required, but so far has done nothing to remove the rainbow trout. The only work carried out so far “for brook trout” on Big Spring was the installation of in-stream spawning habitat that was supposed to favor brook trout. The results of which are questionable in my view.
Brook trout face a multitude of threats across their native range from habitat loss, water quality impairment, warming temperature trends, nonnative species, and angling. Work to improve habitat and water quality are ongoing thanks to the efforts of many organizations, including the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, but it is expensive, requires manpower, and is limited in where it can be done. Angling regulations are free and can be instituted practically overnight. Angling may not be the number one cause of declining brook trout populations, but it’s something we have immediate control over at little to no cost.
Pennsylvania should follow our neighbor’s lead. We’re behind the eight ball on brook trout protections and need to catch up.