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Sayers Lake 2006

Centre County

Sayers Lake is a 1,730-acre reservoir located on Bald Eagle Creek in Centre County, Pennsylvania, near the town of Howard. Most of the surrounding riparian area is part of Bald Eagle State Park. The lake is popular with anglers and there are seven public boat launches located around the lake. Sayers Lake is currently managed under Panfish Enhancement Special Regulations. These regulations are intended to increase the number, quality, and size of panfish through the use of minimum length limits on sunfish species (bluegills and pumpkinseeds) and crappies (black and white). Commonwealth Inland Waters Regulations for seasons, sizes, and creel limits are currently in effect for all other species. Tiger muskellunge are stocked on alternate (odd) years at a rate of three fish per acre and channel catfish are stocked annually at a rate of ten fish per acre. The 2006 trap net survey was the final evaluation of the Panfish Enhancement Special Regulations at Sayers Lake.

Fisheries Management Area 3 staff conducted the 2006 trap net survey of Sayers Lake from June 5 – 16, 2006. The 40 trap nets were fished for a total of 950 hours. Area 3 staff also conducted night electrofishing at eight sites to assess the black bass population from June 20-21, 2006. See Tables 1 and 2 below for the numbers and sizes of fish captured.

Trap Netting

White and black crappie
A nice 12” white crappie (left) and 10” black crappie (right) captured during trap netting at Sayers Lake. The white crappie population appears to be continuing to expand in Sayers Lake.

The catch rate of legal-size black crappie in the 2006 survey was about threefold higher than in 2004, which should make for good angling this year. Most crappie populations are generally characterized as cyclic, with irregular reproductive success and a good year-class entering the fishery every few years. Anglers are encouraged to take advantage of the good 2002 year-class currently entering the fishery. On average, black crappies reach legal-size by age 4 in Sayers Lake; thus, the majority of legal-size crappies this year (2006) are comprised by individuals from the 2002 year-class. Data collected during the 2004 and 2006 trap net surveys suggest that 2003 and 2004 produced weak year-classes of black crappie. These year classes should reach legal-size and enter the fishery in 2007 and 2008, respectively, which may result in reduced angler catch rates of legal-size crappie as compared to this year. However, the 2005 year-class appears to be very strong and should provide for improved numbers of larger crappies when this year class enters the fishery. As mentioned above, fluctuations in crappie populations are common and the boom/bust cycles occur in most crappie fisheries.

A nice 8” bluegill from Sayers Lake. The bluegill population appears to be rebounding as compared to catches in 2002 and 2004, with good numbers of legal-size fish captured.

Channel catfish
Fisheries Biologist Aide Sue Spong with a 29” (9.5 lb) channel catfish from Sayers Lake. The channel catfish population in Sayers Lake is continuing to increase with 12 individuals collected between 25 and 33 inches. Anglers are encouraged to take advantage of the good numbers of quality-size channel catfish.

Table 1. Length-frequency distribution of fish collected in 40 trap net sets in Sayers Lake from June 5 – 16, 2006.

Bluegill Pumpkinseed
2     4 2      
3 25   175 430 1 1  
4 968 1 163 340 39    
5 2,783 4 107 70 180 4  
6 72 2 192 94 153 10  
7 97   103 18 97 2  
8 290   50 1 26 6  
9 279 3     7 14  
10 6 5     4 12  
11   17     1 18  
12   10       17  
13   1     1 25  
14           24  
15           10 1
16           8 2
17           7 1
18           7 2
19           5  
20           2 1
21           4  
22           2  
23           4  
24           2  
25           1  
26           3  
27           2  
28           2  
29           1  
31           1  
32           1  
33           1  

Also captured in the trap nets were 201 brown bullhead, 63 yellow bullhead, 258 golden shiners, and 137 common carp. Other species collected include spotfin shiner, white sucker, rock bass, and largemouth bass. Note that yellow perch are abundant in Sayers Lake, but are not readily captured during June sampling.

Night Electrofishing

Largemouth bass
A 15” largemouth bass captured during night electrofishing.

Table 2. Length-frequency distribution of black bass collected during 3.3 hours of night electrofishing at Sayers Lake from June 20-21, 2006.

5 6  
6 12 1
7 6  
8 1  
9 1  
10 1  
12 1  
14 1  
15 1  
16 1  

A total of only 31 largemouth bass were collected during the 2006 night electrofishing survey (Table 2). The 2006 catch rate (CPUE; catch per unit effort) of 9.4 largemouth bass/electrofishing hour was the lowest in recent years at Sayers Lake (Figure 1). A reduced catch rate of largemouth bass (14.7 bass/electrofishing hour) also occurred during the 1998 survey. However, the electrofishing survey conducted the following year (1999) resulted in the highest catch rate of largemouth bass (60.3 bass/hr) recorded at Sayers Lake, indicating the ability of fish populations to quickly recover from low levels. Largemouth bass reproduction appears to be very good year after year in Sayers Lake as indicated by some of the highest catch rates of young-of-the-year (YOY) during statewide annual fall sampling. Thus, it is unclear why the 2006 catch rates were so low, but we expect the largemouth bass population to rebound to more desirable levels in a relatively short time period. The high number of small bluegills, pumpkinseeds, yellow perch, and golden shiners collected during sampling should provide for an excellent forage base this year.

Only one smallmouth bass was captured during the 2006 night electrofishing survey (Table 2). The electrofishing catch rate of smallmouth bass during summer sampling has decreased through time, signifying an apparent decline in the population (Figure 2). However, it is currently unclear as to what factors may be responsible for the decline, as good numbers of smallmouth YOY have been collected in recent fall sampling. Historically, the Sayers Lake black bass fishery has consisted of mostly largemouth bass, with smallmouth bass comprising a smaller component of the fishery. It is important to note that even though our electrofishing catch rates of largemouth bass have fluctuated widely from year-to-year, black bass tournament catch rates have remained relatively consistent from 1997-2005 (Figure 3). Electrofishing is only effective in shallow water, thus our sampling consists of electrofishing along the shallow shoreline areas. Night electrofishing is most commonly used to sample black bass populations because bass tend to move inshore to feed after dark. Sayers Lake contains good offshore habitat in places such as submerged roadbeds, rock mounds, and other structures. Thus, it is important to understand that our sampling is directed towards a limited portion of the lake and that bass inhabit other areas not sampled, especially during late spring/early summer when dissolved oxygen levels remain adequate in deeper water that contains good habitat in some areas of the lake. Nonetheless, we have sampled a number of the same sites through time and it does appear that the black bass population is down this year as compared to previous years in which surveys were conducted.

Figure 1. Mean largemouth bass CPUE (number/electrofishing hr) in Sayers Lake from 1990 – 2006.

Figure 1

Figure 2. Mean smallmouth bass CPUE (number/electrofishing hr) in Sayers Lake from 1990 – 2006.

Figure 2

Figure 3. Mean catch rate of black bass (number/angler hr) by anglers during PFBC permitted tournaments at Sayers Lake from 1997 – 2005. Note that these catch rates only reflect the catch of 12” and larger bass, as those under 12” are below the statewide minimum size limit.

Figure 3


During late-July 2005, anglers reported seeing a number of dead adult largemouth bass floating at the surface of Sayers Lake. Several of the fish were collected for analyses and tested positive for largemouth bass virus (LMBV). To date, Sayers Lake is the only lake within Pennsylvania that LMBV is known to occur. However, smallmouth bass collected in the North Branch Susquehanna River and mainstem of the Susquehanna River during summer 2005 also tested positive for LMBV. Current research has shown that the virus only causes disease in largemouth bass, while a number of other species including smallmouth bass, black and white crappie, bluegills, chain pickerel, and trout have tested positively for the virus and are considered carriers, but these species are apparently unaffected.

LMBV was first discovered in 1991 in Lake Weir, Florida. Since then, LMBV has been found in nearly 20 states in the eastern U.S., including Pennsylvania. The origin of LMBV is unknown, but scientists determined it to be most closely related to viruses isolated from ornamental fish imported into the U.S. from Asia (Hedrick and McDowell 1995). The disease caused by LMBV occurs during the summer months and primarily affects adult largemouth bass over 12” in length (Grizzle and Brunner 2003), which has helped to heighten publicity of the disease.

Fish kills have not occurred in all populations in which the virus is present. Fish kills attributed to LMBV often continue for several weeks, which can make it difficult to determine the total number of fish affected, especially in large bodies of water. However, the documented fish kills have been relatively minor in comparison to fish kills caused by other factors such as pollution or poor water quality and the numbers of bass that have died in association with the virus are typically low in comparison with the entire population (AGFC 2006). Although stressful conditions such as high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen levels, poor water quality, and poor handling have been associated with fish kills involving LMBV, there is no evidence that these factors contribute to the lethality of the virus (AGFC 2006). Fishing may be poor following a fish kill, but it is thought that there are no long-term impacts to largemouth bass populations (IDNR 2005). Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to eradicate LMBV in the wild. The following links provide very good additional information regarding LMBV, including steps that anglers can take to reduce the spread of invasive aquatic species and diseases:

Literature Cited

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). 2006. Largemouth bass virus facts.
-- Available:

Grizzle, J. M., and C. J. Brunner. 2003. Review of largemouth bass virus. Fisheries 28(11):10-14.

Hedrick, R. P., and T. S. McDowell. 1995. Properties of iridoviruses from ornamental fish. Veterinary Research 26:423-427.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). 2005. Aquatic invasive species – largemouth bass virus.
-- Available:

-- Jason Detar, Area 3

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