Opening day of trout season busy, but quiet fishing still available
So just how crowded is it going to be Saturday?
Take Heinz Field, PNC Park, Petersen Events Center and Beaver Stadium and fill them to capacity, two-and-a-half times each. Add in a few crazy uncles, a handful of neighbors and maybe that friend of a friend whose name you don't really know.
Then you'd be getting close.
There will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 570,000 fishermen on the water at 8 a.m. on Saturday when trout season officially opens across Western Pennsylvania. That's about seven out of every 10 fishermen who will wet a line at any point this year statewide, all on the water on one particular day.
“We expect everyone to be out fishing this weekend,” Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission spokesman Rick Levis said.
The commission has been preparing for that by stocking most of the 3.2 million brown, brook and rainbow trout in its hatcheries. The last of the preseason stockings take place this week. More than 1,000 stream sections and 100 lakes will have gotten fish by Saturday.
Still, solitude will be at a premium.
Things need not be that way, though. Anglers who aren't concerned with keeping trout — the daily limit is five fish of at least 7 inches — or at least with filling their creel first thing in the morning can find elbow room aplenty by concentrating on streams managed under delayed-harvest, artificial-lures-only and fly-fishing-only regulations.
On those waters — which also have been stocked in recent weeks — you can't use bait, and you can't keep fish.
But you can find trout without loads of competition — even on opening day.
“It's been my experience on the first day of trout season that you can find plenty of room on those delayed-harvest waters. Everybody wants to kill 'em and grill 'em on opening day,” said Woody Banks, owner of Indiana Angler, a fly shop in Indiana.
“A lot of fly fishermen who don't care about keeping trout anyway and don't want to fight the crowds will fish them. Some will do that for the whole first week,” agreed Dan McMaster of Ligonier Outfitters. “But it's never a lot of people on the first day.”
Opening day doesn't have to come down completely to choosing quiet fishing or harvesting a few for the table, though.
Opening day's crowds thin considerably after noon or so, said Pat Ferko, a Fish and Boat Commission waterways conservation officer in Somerset County. Anglers can take advantage of that.
“Every year, we see guys who go to a delayed-harvest water early to fish, with flies and lures, because they've got the bug like everyone else. They catch fish and release them,” Ferko said.
“Then after lunch, when a lot of people have gone home, they go to stocked waters under statewide regulations and fish where they can still try for their limit.”
Often, those waters are one and the same.
Many stocked streams have sections managed under delayed-harvest rules and sections managed under statewide regulations side by side, said Rick Lorson, area fisheries manager for the commission based in Somerset. Laurel Hill Creek in Somerset County is a good example.
“A long stretch of Laurel Hill is stocked from up near the Turnpike (in Somerset) all the way down to Confluence, with Laurel Hill Lake in the middle,” Lorson said. “It's got two delayed-harvest stretches, one in kind of the upper portion above the lake and one in the lower portion, as well as lots of water under statewide regulations.”
Anglers can fish pretty much alone in the delayed-harvest section early then move as little as a mile and fish for a few keepers, he said.
Bull, Deer and Pine creeks in Allegheny County; Buffalo Creek in Armstrong; Dunbar Creek in Fayette; Dutch Fork Creek in Washington, Little Mahoning Creek in Indiana; Slippery Rock Creek in Butler and Lawrence; Loyalhanna Creek in Westmoreland; and Clear Shade Creek in Somerset are other waters that offer those opportunities.
The Yough and Stonycreek rivers offer options bait fishermen also can take advantage of.
Both have sections that get stocked with adult trout but also long sections that get stocked only with fingerlings. Those latter stretches don't draw big crowds opening day but can be productive, Lorson said.
It really comes down to picking the kind of experience you want to have.
“I hate to call them all good, but all of the waters we put fish in are that way, or we wouldn't be stocking them in the first place,” Lorson said.