Electrofishing Survey in the Indian Creek Watershed—Some Shocking Fish!

Last week, we were out in the field to do something we’ve been looking forward to for a while: fish shocking with the team from Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s (WPC) Watershed Conservation Program. Fish shocking, or electrofishing, is performed using a backpack-like apparatus that supplies an electrical current to a handheld wand submerged in the stream. The mild current that is produced attracts the fish closer to it, and at that point they are stunned by it. When done with a professional’s touch like the team from WPC there’s no permanent harm to the fish, and in their stunned state they can be collected with nets, identified, and counted. In doing this, we gained an understanding of the fish numbers and diversity in sections of Indian Creek along with some of its tributaries—Camp Run, Champion Creek, and Poplar Run. We were shocked by what we found.

We began at Camp Run, a healthy “reference” stream in Forbes State Forest already known to have a naturally reproducing native brook trout population. As expected this stream was full of trout, both brook and brown, with a diverse array of other fish like dace and sculpin.

Adorable brown trout from Camp Run

On Champion Creek, we began near Melcroft in a section currently designated as an “impaired” stream. As a result of this work, this stretch is being re-designated as a naturally reproducing trout stream! Classifications like this can afford more protection to the Champion Creek watershed; that’s especially important given threats like the active and expanding Rustic Ridge mine located within. Varying size classes of wild brown trout were abounding, with the one below found near Melcroft among the largest.

Brown Trout from Champion Creek near Melcroft

Indian Creek downstream of the Melcroft, Kalp, and Sagamore abandoned mine drainage (AMD) treatment systems contained an array of chubs, smallmouth bass, suckers, and minnows. There was not enough ample habitat along the areas shocked for many trout.

The Poplar Run watershed held treasure within its waters. It’s known that it sustains wild brook trout populations in some of its reaches, but what wasn’t known is how amazingly huge some specimens were. While we did find some stocked trout, the ones pictured below are wild—showing no signs of being raised in a hatchery. Eric Chapman, Director of Aquatic Science at WPC, said the 13” one is the largest wild brook trout he has seen in his 15 years of surveying over 1,000 miles of streams!

13″ wild brook trout
12″ wild brook trout

Unfortunately, the Poplar Run watershed is impaired by AMD from extensive past mining (you can read more about AMD here and here). On top of that, a 110 acre strip mine is in the works which could directly impact Poplar Run and worsen existing polluted discharges into the stream.

This was an important project, and we’re eagerly awaiting the compiled results from WPC. When that happens, we’ll be posting an up to date map of stream designations within the Indian Creek watershed. We hope to do more electrofishing in other tributaries so all healthy, valuable waters can be correctly classified and protected for future generations.