Eel Caught At St. Vincent Lake
Inside the Outdoors, March 12, 2010

As many people know, I am not one to sit in silence, whether it be in a doctor’s office, hospital waiting room, or wherever a crowd gathers. In the course of conversations, I often will ask, “Do you either hunt or fish?” A leading question at best, it always produces some kind of answer – most of the time, one sport or the other.

With that said, if my memory serves me right, I was either in one of two places mentioned above when a fellow and I got on the subject of fishing. In no time at all, he was quick to tell me he had caught an eel last summer at St. Vincent Lake. Now, I’ve heard about a lot of different creatures caught in a lot of different places throughout the area, but never an eel. So, in question, I contacted Mike Depew, Fisheries Biologist 1 for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission out of Somerset. This was his response when I asked him about this gent’s catch:

“The eel that was caught in St. Vincent Lake,” he began, “was introduced to the lake and was most likely the only eel found in freshwater in Pennsylvania, the American eel (Anguilla rostrata). The exact origin of that eel is tough to tell, but it was likely from a “bait bucket” introduction or possibly an aquarium hobbyist having his pet outgrow his tank.” Makes sense to me.

Now that that part of the mystery was taken care of, Depew filled me as to the datum surrounding this underwater resident.

“Eels are extremely rare in the Ohio River Drainage in Pennsylvania. We have only seen eels three times in the last 35 years in the Ohio Drainage. Two of those three sightings were definitely “bait bucket” introductions as they were located upstream of large, impassable dams. The other sighting was in the free flowing section of the Allegheny River below Kinzua Dam. It I possible that this fish was not a “bait bucket” introduction, but highly unlikely. Eels are a catadromous species, meaning that they spawn in saltwater and then migrate to freshwater to live their adult lives before returning to salt water to spawn again.”

Depew then revealed, “The eels spawning ground is located in the Sargasso Sea, which is roughly in the area south of Bermuda and northeast of the Bahamas. So for the one eel sampled in the Allegheny to have made it up that far, it would have had to swim through the Gulf of Mexico, up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and navigate through all the lock and dam structures. That’s one long journey for an eel.”

He concluded by telling me, “Historically, American eels were more prevalent in the Ohio River drainage, but were probably never as abundant as they were in the Delaware and Susquehanna River systems.”

Moving on…

Now that we are getting a little closer to opening day trout season, April 17, some of you may be itching to get out and do some fishing, particularly on Loyalhanna Creek. Don’t even think of it unless you are trying to entice the trout in the Delayed Harvest Area in Ligonier which is open all year. It’s an artificial lures only project. No fish may be killed or had in possession. Waterways conservation officers will be on the lookout for offenders who may want to try fishing on other parts of the creek particularly from Rt. 217 down. Every year I hear about wardens catching pre-season enthusiasts. Don’t start by having your license and fishing gear pulled before you ever get you feet wet opening day.

On a lighter note, I had the most wonderful conversation recently with Mrs. Soltys. She and her husband, Ted, previously owned Soltys’ Bait Shop before a fire destroyed their business. We were discussing past memories. She brought one anecdote to my attention that no angler should overlook especially this time of the year when fishermen of all ages are preparing for opening day trout.

“I remember a older man came into our store complaining his line was always breaking,” she shared. “I gave him a new spool right away so time wouldn’t be wasted, and told him, ‘when the company replaces your bad line, bring it in and give it to me. Then you can still fish.’ He agreed,” she said. “But even with the new line, it also broke, he said. The guy didn’t know what was happening.” With her typical big smile on her face, she conveyed, “I did.” She advised him, “Your eyelet on the tip of your rod is rusty. You need to have it replaced.” With that she said she willingly replaced it for only $.75, and did so again cheerfully. That’s the way she was, always sharing good cheer, advice and help to anyone seeking it.

May all those getting ready to head out to the stocked-filled waters make sure all your gear, including the eyelets on your poles, are free of rust, and in tiptop shape. In the long run, you will be glad you set some time aside to make that first trip a trouble-free adventure.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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