Trout seekers should plan now for opening-day success
The stuff of fine angling literature this is not.
The trout fishing stories you read in pricey, hardback books written by men who either wear tweed sportcoats or, at the other extreme, live off the grid and salve their cantankerous souls with bouts of Zen-like fishing, are often of the one-on-one type. The angler casts to the same wary fish over and over until he catches it, finds the meaning of life or goes crazy.
This is different.
Opening day of trout season in Pennsylvania is a time for chuckin' and pluckin'.
Anglers camp out the night before or arrive at their favorite lake or stream hours before the official starting time of 8 a.m. Even at that, they still sometimes have to hack out a narrow fishing spot amongst the crowds. Hordes of boats bob around within casting distance of one another. There are kids ready to heave out earthworms under big bobbers on superhero rods, parents interested in fishing, parents interested in keeping an eye on the kids while a spouse fishes, grandparents in both categories, anglers who look like they stepped out of an Orvis catalog, and anglers who look like they couldn't get into an Orvis catalog with a ticket.
It's a circus without the clowns. But it's also a grand tradition no true Pennsylvania angler wants to miss.
“It's one day unlike any other when parents and grandparents have the chance to create memories that last and spark a desire to fish amongst their children and grandchildren,” said Carl Richardson, outreach coordinator for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
This year, opening day of trout season in western Pennsylvania is April 13. Anglers planning to fish should be getting ready right now, though.
It's time to scout, for example.
Work by biologists to study how far trout move after being stocked has shown that most don't wander too far, said Rick Lorson, the commission's area fisheries manager based in Somerset. Given that, anglers might want to spend the next couple of weeks following the stocking trucks.
“One thing I always recommend, especially if you can do it on a Saturday, is to get out there and meet the stocking truck and see how they release fish and where they put them. It can really increase your chances of success for opening day if you can know in advance where fish have been planted,” Lorson said.
While there, look for likely fish-holding spots, said Tom Greene, the commission's coldwater unit leader and a noted trout fishermen.
“Hatchery trout have a tendency to school, so they often wind up in big numbers in large pools,” he said.
Spots around bridge piers are good, too, as are the beginnings and tail ends of pools and current breaks caused by rocks and other features, so seek them out, he said. If you're looking at lakes, he suggests finding where streams pour in, water depths change and structure exists.
These last few weeks are the time to be getting your tackle box organized, too, he said. He recommends re-spooling all of your reels prior to opening day — he prefers 4- to 8-pound test line on a 6- to 7-foot light- or medium-action rod — and making sure you have enough swivels, bait and other equipment.
A good supply of sinkers is especially important whether you're fishing with live bait or spinners, he said.
“One of the biggest mistakes I see people making early in spring is not using enough weight. They're not really getting the bait down where the fish are,” Greene said.
He typically uses seven split shot when fishing bait and only a few less when using something with some weight of its own like a spinner.
“You might not get hung up as often if you don't get your bait down to the bottom, but you aren't going to catch as many fish, either,” he said.
Richardson said parents and grandparents planning to fish with children should think of the “four Ps”: plan, prepare, practice and pressure.
Get kids involved in planning where to go, preparing their equipment and practicing their casting and knots to ease the pressure you and they might feel later. That leads to more fun for everyone, he said.
“There are an awful lot of those kinds of things people can be doing now that all add to the experience. A lot of times we as adults feel pressure to make sure the kids catch fish on the opener, because we think that's most important. That's not always the case,” Richardson said.
“Sometimes it's the whole experience that matters.”
It's time to start working on those experiences now.