A long-term construction project to rebuild the dam and spillway at Lehigh County's Leaser Lake has received final approval from state regulators, just in time for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to refill the lake and reopen it to the public for the 2013 regional opening day of trout.

"This is great news for all the anglers, boaters and outdoor enthusiasts who use the lake and have been waiting patiently for the project to be completed," PFBC executive director John Arway said. "Rebuilding a dam is a big project which requires cooperation between state agencies, local officials and the public. We will start refilling the lake in mid-December, with the goal of being able to stock the lake with adult trout in time for the regional opening day of trout, which is Saturday, March 30."

Located near New Tripoli, the 117-acre lake, which is owned by the Commonwealth and managed by the PFBC, was drained in 2008-09 in advance of the dam and spillway $3.5 million construction project, which began in fall 2010 and was completed this June.

Refilling of the lake involves continuous monitoring and takes numerous months to complete, depending on the amount of rainfall. As the earthen dam needs time to properly and safely absorb the water, PFBC engineers will raise the water level two feet per week and will inspect and monitor the dam until the lake is completely filled.

PFBC staff will monitor the water level and expect to know by late February whether they will be able to stock the lake with adult trout. PFBC Division of Fisheries Management chief Dave Miko said the long-term plan is to stock the lake with fingerlings from various warm-water species, like bass, crappie, blue gills and yellow perch, and allow those fish to grow over the next several years into a sustainable fishery.

Miko said the short-term plan is to stock adult trout in the lake this spring so anglers can get back on the water and enjoy their sport. As long as the lake is about half-full, and anglers can safely access the water, the PFBC will stock trout for the opener.

*****

New, tougher anti-poaching legislation has been signed into law, increasing the maximum fine for illegally harvesting fish from $200 to $5,000 and extends the period the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission can revoke fishing and boating privileges from two to five years.

"This new law will have an immediate impact on our ability to deter large-scale poachers from illegally taking fish," PFBC executive director John Arway said. "These are the individuals who deliberately come in after dark and take large amounts of game fish, often by using illegal methods such as netting or spearing in the streams.

"In the past, poaching was subject to a $200 maximum fine. Now we can hit violators with up to $5,000 in fines, as well as the cost of replacing the fish they illegally harvest."

This legislation took effect immediately upon signing. Rep. Michael Peifer (R-Greentown) sponsored the legislation as House Bill 2293.

"Weak laws made our waterways extremely vulnerable to poaching, with highly sought-after trophy species of fish repeatedly stolen from our waterways and sold on the black market," Peifer said. "This is a serious problem that has a detrimental impact on our regional economy, and under this law, we finally have a punishment that fits the crime."

This law creates a new section in the Fish and Boat code for "serious unlawful take," which increases the penalty for harvesting more than the legal daily limit of fish from a summary offense of the first degree to a misdemeanor of the second degree. It also allows the PFBC to collect from violators the costs to replace the poached fish, and it increases the amount of time a violator can be sentenced to prison from a maximum of 90 days to two years.

In particular, this laws will be beneficial in the Erie watershed, where the annual steelhead season is underway. Annually, PFBC waterways conservation officers apprehend and cite individuals for large cases of poaching of dozens of fish over the legal creel limit.

*****

Hunters who take a bear during the statewide general bear season, which opened today and continues through Wednesday, must take it to one of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's check stations within 24 hours. Check stations will be open today from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Wednesday from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Check station details are on pages 37 and 38 of the "2012-13 Hunting and Trapping Digest," which is issued with each license.

Hunters harvesting a bear during the extended seasons should consult the list of available check stations detailed on page 38 of the 2012-13 Digest. Hunters should note that the days, hours, locations and number of check stations open during the extended seasons often differ from those open during the general season.

*****

Sunday's edition of "Experience The Outdoors," hosted by award-winning Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association member Doyle Dietz, at 7 a.m. on 1410 WLSH and 9:30 a.m. on Magic 105.5, will feature nationally known dog trainer and breeder Joe DeMarkis of Pottsville.

*****

Pat McKinney of the Schuylkill Conservation District will lead the "Mahanoy Plane Hike," Sunday, from 2-4:30 p.m., meeting at the Frackville Public Library.

*****

Pagnotti Enterprise of Wilkes-Barre has enrolled nearly 3,000 acres of Natural Coal Company and Indian Head Coal Company land in western Schuylkill County in the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Hunter Access Program. A large portion of this land, located near Donaldson, was reclaimed from abandoned strip mining operations and was leveled and terraced and carefully designed erosion control diversion trenches were established and lined with rock.

*****

Entries for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's annual photography contest are being accepted until Thursday, January 31, 2013. Previous winners have had their entries featured in PFBC publications, including "Pennsylvania Angler & Boater" magazine, and enlarged as visuals for agency sportshow exhibits.

Categories for the contest are "Anglers and Boaters," "Waterway Scenics" and "Reptiles and Amphibians." To obtain an entry form, complete with contest rules and past winning entries, visit www.fishandboat.com/photocontest.htm [1].