For the first time in almost nine years, there are trout swimming in Dutch Fork Lake.
Employees from the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and a group of volunteers released roughly 3,500 trout into the shallow waters of the lake Friday, much to the delight of local anglers and aquatic enthusiasts.
“They had been aiming for having the lake open for the first day of trout season,” said Donna Riggle, secretary of the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association, a nonprofit group that has been working to reopen the lake. “It looks like they may make it.”
Riggle said after working so long to get the lake reopened, it was nice to see this important milestone.
“So many people come up to us and say, ‘I caught my first fish at Dutch Fork,’” Riggle said. “It’s such a great water resource; we can’t wait to see it reopen.”
One of the group residents gathered to watch the release was Arthur W. Clark, 78, of Houston.
“I’ve been fishing up here all my life,” Clark said. “I couldn’t believe there was water in the lake again.”
Volunteers braved freezing temperatures to release the rainbow trout from the tanks of the stocking truck into the roughly five feet of water now standing at the bottom of the lake.
For volunteer Joe Romano, 83, of Washington, it was a day chock-full o’ fish. The Holy Trinity First National Church parishioner left another volunteer gig at the weekly fish fry to help release trout and was headed back to church afterwards.
“I’ve been volunteering (with the commission) since ’94,” Romano said. “It’s great because we know where all the fish are when we go fishing. Now I can add Dutch Fork back to my fishing spots.”
Romano had an interesting perspective of the lake’s recent journey. In addition to being there for the release of the first batch of fish back into the refurbished lake, he was a member of the team that helped collect wildlife from the lake as it was originally drained in 2004.
Throughout the winter, the lake has seen fluctuating water levels as part of the commission’s refill plan. Officials allowed the water level to rise before releasing it in order to test the rebuilt control mechanisms in the dam and to allow the lake bed to absorb the necessary amount of moisture.
“It’s been up-and-down, up-and-down with the lake,” said Robin Seeber, of West Alexander, who lives a stone’s throw from the water. “I’ve been excited, then disheartened, exited, disheartened. It’s probably very confusing for the wildlife.”
Although they were thrilled to see the lake restocked, many longtime fans of the lake balked at the decision by the commission and Department of Environmental Protection to leave some of the trees at the bottom of the lake in place. At an August meeting updating the public to the progress of the lake, officials said they made the decision in order to give aquatic life a place of refuse.
But some of the anglers assembled weren’t so sure. They warned of the danger of decaying trees de-oxidizing the lake and of impending submerged dangers to watercraft.
“I don’t like all the trees in there,” Clark said. “If they would’ve asked, any of the sportsmen would’ve helped and cut all the trees down for free. But they didn’t ask.” Although the lake may take years to rid itself of the overgrowth of timber and return to all of its former glory, many of the organizers who worked to make it possible were overjoyed.
“There were six happy mallards this morning,” said Judy Campsey, vice president of the Buffalo Creek Watershed Association. “It brought a tear to my eye. They didn’t need a memo, they just found the water and showed up. It’s truly a happy day for us – and for anglers and fishermen, too.”