August 24, 2008

High Point Lake to Lose Some Green

By Bob Frye

High Point Lake is the kind of place you fish only if you really mean to.

Located near Mt. Davis -- the highest point in Pennsylvania -- in the mountains of Somerset County, it's far off the beaten path. Still, it gets considerable fishing pressure from anglers all across southwestern Pennsylvania.

If there's one problem with the 338-acre lake, though, it's been the sometimes carpet-like cover of vegetation within it.

"The weeds are really bad there," said Scott Gates of S&S Bait and Tackle in Chalk Hill. "That's been an ongoing thing for years."

The issue is going to be addressed this winter.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plans to draw the lake down 10 feet between September and March, then again every two years starting 2010. The hope is that doing so will expose some of those weeds to killing frosts over the winter.

The practice has worked well to eliminate overabundant weeds at Somerset Lake, said Rick Lorson, the commission's area 8 fisheries biologist in Somerset.

"We would anticipate that it will be successful and help the fishery at High Point Lake as well," he said.

Ideally, a lake being managed for warmwater and coolwater species will have about 20 percent weed cover, Lorson said. At High Point, that figure is approaching 70 percent this year.

The overabundance of weeds has negatively impacted the lake's fishing.

Catches of northern pike and perch are common at the lake, especially in the winter through the ice, Gates said. But the walleye fishing has been relatively poor.

There's some truth to that, Lorson agreed.

"Basically, we've watched the bottom drop out for some species, and that's especially true regarding the walleyes. The numbers are still there, at least on perch, but quality sizes are lacking," Lorson said.

The lake was lowered five feet last year, the result of a Department of Environmental Protection order to repair its spillway. The 10-foot drawdown planned for this fall will lower the water level beyond that and perhaps cause some short-term problems, particularly as regards what may be the relatively inaccessibility of the lake's boat launches, Lorson admitted. But the long-term benefits outweigh those concerns.

"It's definitely to that stage where we need to do something," Lorson said.

The Fish and Boat Commission manages High Point Lake for largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, crappies, bluegill, yellow perch, brown bullhead, and walleye.

Three of those species will serve as canaries in the coal mine as regards the drawdown of the lake. Fisheries biologist Rick Lorson said that the effort will be considered a success if it boosts the number of quality-sized bluegills, yellow perch and walleyes.

Ironically enough, the lake's abundant-if-typically-small northern pike may benefit from the drawdown, too, even though they need weed cover to spawn, Lorson said.

"The numbers of northern pike have always been good enough up there, and the overall numbers go down slightly, this may allow some of the others to get bigger, which is something we've started to see happening already," he said.

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