By Jacob Tumminello, Communications Intern
Karen Gainey might as well have been born with a rod and reel in her hands. Since she was four years old Gainey has loved fishing and challenges herself to accumulate and share as much knowledge as possible. She is a certified instructor for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, has hosted her own fishing television show, and has fished in professional tournaments.
“Someone once asked me how passionate about fishing I really am, and I told them I’d be catching fish in my bathtub if I thought there was a way” said Karen.
Originally from Detroit, Karen knew something about fishing rivers but, after hearing stories of the poor quality of Pittsburgh’s waterways, she was hesitant when approached to assist in setting up a fishing program here.
“As far as I was concerned the rivers were too polluted from the steel mills to fish. I mean you can still walk along the shores of Riverside Park where some kids like to swim and see the oil line”
After fishing Pittsburgh’s waterways for 25 years, Karen claims the rivers are clearer than ever and continue to improve. With an environment now suited for fishing, TriAnglers was formed 17 years ago and has provided Pittsburgh residents with a unique opportunity to catch fish for free while also learning about the rivers. And when it comes to fishing, Karen is a wellspring of knowledge.
She begins by explaining Pittsburgh’s unique river junction where the Allegheny and the Monongahela form the Ohio, a hot spot where the TriAnglers first began experiencing success.
“We started fishing at the Point because, when the water is high, a pocket of quiet water forms where the rivers meet. The higher the water, the higher the concentration of fish”
Pittsburgh offers anglers three different rivers to choose from, each with its own qualities which regularly provide a different fishing experience each time. The Allegheny is generally clearer than the Monongahela, although Karen claims not to rule out the potential for monster-sized fish to lurk in the murkier of the two rivers.
“If you’re looking for bigger catfish, they’ll probably be in the Mon. I’ve personally caught catfish that hung from my waist to the ground when lifted”
Catfish aren’t the only monster-sized fish who call these rivers home. Karen also recalls reeling in 10- pound stripers as well as large musky, walleye, and carp. She says the important thing to remember with river fishing is accounting for how far fish tend to travel.
“The difference is that the big fish move up and down the river, so you won’t find the same fish repeatedly in one spot. This depends on the conditions of the river including temperature, water levels, and PH levels. You never really know what you’re going to catch!”
Karen cites the Kinzu Dam as another hotspot, especially for smallmouth bass.
“Below the Kinzu Dam are fast currents with many rock piles where you can catch smallmouth bass until your arms fall off!”
Another spot which boasts some of the most concentrated areas of continuous fish is just below the Alcosan outflow. Alcosan is responsible for much of the restorative efforts of Pittsburgh’s rivers and produces extremely clear water which Karen explains is a thriving ecosystem for fish. Unfortunately, there is no way to access the Alcosan outflow without a boat.
“I would rather be fishing the river from a boat anyway, but if we could get the state and Alcosan to put in a fishing dock, even a quarter mile away from the outflow, people could still experience phenomenal fishing.”
From day one Karen and the TriAnglers program have educated Pittsburghers on the rejuvenated rivers while providing an enjoyable and accessible fishing experience. Participants are treated to a break from the day’s monotony by relaxing outdoors and catching fish.
“Fishing at lunch time is perfect because tons of people walk by here on their lunch breaks anyway. We frequently have people in business clothing passing by, and we handle all the messy stuff for them while they still get the thrill of catching a fish before returning to work.”
There are still plenty of fascinating things to learn from Karen and all of our TriAnglers. Stop by our tent underneath the Roberto Clemente bridge each Wednesday between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to rediscover Pittsburgh’s waterways and enjoy free fishing!