Biologist reports logo Schuylkill River, Section 12

Chester and Montgomery Counties
Valley Forge National Park
October 21, 2005 and October 8, 2004

The Southeast Pennsylvania Area 6 fisheries management staff assisted the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with boat electrofishing in the collection of flathead catfish for flesh contaminant analysis. The work was part of both agencies’ efforts to develop public health consumption advisories for recreationally caught sportfish in Pennsylvania. Currently, a one meal per month consumption advisory exists for channel catfish and flathead catfish captured in the 28 miles of river extending from Black Rock Dam just north of Route 29 in Phoenixville downstream to Fairmont Dam in Philadelphia. For more information on other public health advisories visit the Commission’s web advisory page PDF logo - click for help with PDF files or DEP's website,

Flathead catfish
DEP Biologists Mike Boyer and Kim Long display 32 and 36-inch long flathead catfish collected from the Schuylkill River in Valley Forge National Park on October 21, 2005.

The Schuylkill River within Valley Forge National Park supports an exceptional riverine catfish population. During the October 21, 2005 and October 8, 2004 surveys a grand total of 82 channel catfish ranging from 19 to 30 inches in lengths and 16 flathead catfish ranging from 12 to 36 inches in lengths were collected via daylight electrofishing. Most catfish were in the 20 to 25 inch range. The abundance of many large catfish was credited to the favorable habitat of deep pools and slow current in this reach of the river.

A very low number of smallmouth bass and almost no sunfish were collected during the 2005 and 2004 surveys. Smallmouth bass and sunfish population densities were substantially lower than historic levels (1979) when both were abundant and flathead catfish were absent. Causes for the present-day lower abundance of smallmouth bass and sunfish in this reach of the Schuylkill River are not known. Habitat change, such as lower densities of aquatic plants, and excessive predation are two current considerations.

In some southeastern U.S. locations where flathead catfish have been introduced their establishment has negatively impacted riverine catfish and sunfish populations in particular. Since flathead catfish are native to the Ohio and Mississippi River drainages, their presence as an invasive species in the Schuylkill River may be harmful to resident fish, such as resident sunfish species and resident catfish species.

Anglers may access this stretch of river from shore or boat. Shore anglers may gain access to good habitat along the west bank from a parking area near Valley Creek in Valley Forge National Historic Park. Boat anglers may use the National Park Service access area located on the north side of the Betzwood Bridge (Rt. 422). Foot access is also available adjacent to Pawlings Rd. Bridge.

Channel catfish
Channel catfish. Area Fisheries Manager Mike Kaufmann with two channel catfish from the same reach of river in 2004. Note that channel catfish have a forked tail and the fish on the left clearly displays the channel catfish’s characteristic upper jaw protruding beyond the lower jaw.

Flathead catfish
Flathead catfish. Note that as with all flathead catfish the lower jaw extends beyond upper jaw and the tail is square (no fork). Most specimens seem to have the typical mottled olive and gray color shown above, but some are solidly olive or light yellowish-brown above blending into the typical gray below.

-- Bryan Chikotas, Fisheries Technician, Area 6

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