Fishermen Flock to Well-Stocked Mon

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
5 April 2011
By Bob Frye

If you ask Bob Ventorini which of Pittsburgh's three rivers you should fish to find legal-sized smallmouth bass, you'll get one answer. If you ask where you should fish to find saugers, you'll get the same one.

It's the Monongahela.

As the bass fishing pros who competed in Pittsburgh's Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup found out, the Monongahela is tops for keeper bass, he said. And saugers? Well, the Mon is best there, too.

"We feel the Monongahela supports the best sauger fishery in all of Pennsylvania," said Ventorini, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Pittsburgh-based three rivers biologist.

There was a time when that wasn't the case.

When biologists surveyed the Monongahela at the Maxwell lock chamber in 1967, they found no fish at all.

A year later, they caught one bluegill.

Growing population

Here's a look at how some fish populations have changed at three lock chambers on the Monongahela River:

Lock chamber Total fish 2003 Total fish 2010 Remarkable species 2003 Remarkable species 2010
Grays Landing 13,823 51,280 9 14

7,310 29,690 11 12

1,127 23,370 11 14

But a survey there last year collected 26,690 fish representing 32 species. More than a third of those were so-called "remarkable" species because of their status as game fish supported solely by natural reproduction, as fish intolerant of pollution or as currently or historically endangered.

Those results - released Monday - also showed fish abundance and variety up exponentially at the Grays Landing and Braddock lock chambers, which were last examined in 2003.

"The 2010 findings provide further evidence that in a relatively short amount of time (40 years), fish populations of the Monongahela River have rebounded remarkably," said Ventorini's report on the study.

Part of the credit for the surging populations is attributable to the baitfish swimming in the Monongahela, he said. Biologists measure baitfish abundance on a pounds-per-acre basis. Forage fish include gizzard shad, emerald shiners, mimic shiners and channel shiners.

In 2003, biologists collected 10 pounds of forage per acre at the Grays Landing lock chamber. In 2010 they found 127 pounds per acre. Likewise, at Maxwell they found five pounds per acre in 2003 and 46 pounds per acre in 2010, and at Braddock 63 pounds per acre in 2003 and 162 pounds per acre in 2010.

The differences are not totally surprising, Ventorini wrote, given that baitfish numbers can swing year to year. But there's no doubt having lots of baitfish is important to sustaining good gamefish populations, he added.

That's not to say all is well with the Monongahela. His report warns the threat of "potentially catastrophic" releases of pollution from abandoned mine pools, gas drilling and other areas "could very easily tip the scales and reverse the ongoing recovery process of the Monongahela's fisheries."

It's in everyone's interests to make sure that doesn't happen, he suggested.

"Preserving the recovery made thus far and continued work to minimize/eliminate existing threats has potential to transform this river valley into an area containing some of the best sport fishing opportunities in the state," his report concludes.

Bob Frye can be reached at or 724-838-5148.