Big trout to be found in certain waters at certain times
There's rare, then there's really, really rare.
State record-size fish fall into the latter category. Few anglers will ever hook one, let alone land one, in their lifetime.
It is possible to tie into a really nice fish on occasion, though. That's never truer than in trout season.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will stock 3.2 million trout this year, most of them of the 11-inch variety. But it also will release tens of thousands of hefty brook, brown, rainbow and golden rainbow trout.
“They're definitely important for us, we feel,” said Rick Lorson, area 8 fisheries manager in the commission's southwest region office in Somerset. “They create a lot of excitement, a lot of enthusiasm, so we're glad to provide them.”
The goal is to stock about 8,500 “trophy goldens” — averaging 14 inches and 1.5 pounds — and 20,000 brook, brown and rainbow brooders. Those are fish 2 1⁄2 years old in the case of males, and 3 1⁄2 years old in the case of females.
If it's “unlikely” any of those fish will be record size when released, there will certainly be lots of big ones, with rainbows often the biggest of all, said Tom Cochran, fish production manager for the agency's southern hatcheries.
“You can get some of the bigger rainbows to go 6 to 8 pounds,” Cochran said. “And occasionally, they get even bigger than that.”
So where should you fish to have a chance to hook one of those bruisers?
That depends on what you're looking for.
If you want to catch a trophy golden trout, get out early in waters close to lots of people.
The commission stocks all of its goldens before opening day, Lorson said, so early is better than later. They only go into selected waters, too.
You won't find any in streams considered “low yield,” in that they attract few fishermen and consequently get just one in-season stocking. Streams managed under delayed harvest, fly fishing only and catch and release only rules don't get goldens either.
All other stocked waters managed under statewide regulations get at least a few, but some get more than others, based on things like the recreational use potential of the water and the surrounding human density, Lorson said.
What that means is, all other things being equal, a stocked stream in Allegheny County, like Pine Creek, will get more trophy golden trout per mile than a similar-sized stream in rural Somerset County, just because there are more people fishing it, he said. Likewise, an urban lake will get more goldens per acre than a similarly sized lake in a rural area, he said.
Things are a little different when it comes to rainbow, brown and brook brood trout. They get stocked on a per-mile or per-acre basis, too, with metro lakes getting more than rural ones.
But they're released into all stocked waters, regardless of regulation, Lorson said. They get sprinkled in throughout the pre- and in-season stocking period, too.
“That's essentially a numbers thing,” Lorson said. “We have more of them, so we get them in as many places as possible so that people have a chance to hook that big one.”
At least some of those big fish get caught. The Fish and Boat Commission runs an “angler awards” program, which allows fishermen to get certificates for catching big fish.
A brown trout qualifies for a certificate if it weighs at least 5 pounds, 8 ounces. The standard is 5 pounds, 3 ounces for rainbows and golden rainbows and 4 pounds for brook trout.
Junior anglers can get an award for smaller fish. There are catch and release categories for adults and kids for fish of certain lengths, too.
A look at the awards handed out last year shows big trout came from a number of area waters, including Deer and Turtle creeks and Deer Creek Lake in Allegheny County; Buffalo Creek in Armstrong; Traverse Creek and Bradys Run Lake in Beaver; Yellow and Evitts creeks in Bedford; Bull Creek in Butler; Chess Creek and Laurel Run in Cambria; Yough River and Virgin Run Lake in Fayette; Little Mahoning Creek in Indiana; Laurel Hill and Bens creeks and Stonycreek River in Somerset; Pike Run and Miller Run in Washington; and Fourmile Run, Linn Run, Loyalhanna Creek and Twin Lake in Westmoreland.
Your chances to get into a few of those fish are here already, too.
The trout harvest season doesn't start until April 12 in Western Pennsylvania, but anglers can fish for trout on a strictly catch and release basis right up to opening day on “approved trout waters open to year-round fishing.”
The list of local waters in that program is long. They're identified in the fishing summary book issued with each license.
That's relatively new. The rules allowing for year-round fishing for stocked trout just went into effect last year.
Not everyone likes it, admitted Tom Qualters, law enforcement supervisor in the commission's southwest region office. Some worry about hooking mortality leading to dead trout before anglers are allowed to keep them, he said.
But the program is popular overall, he said.
“There were quite a few people who took advantage of that last spring,” Qualters said. “Probably not as many up this way, in the mountains, and that may be tied to the weather and when there was open water. But it seemed like once you got down off the mountains, in the lowland areas, there were a lot of people fishing these lakes through March and into April.”
The big fish will be there, Cochran promised.
“Our fisheries managers put in their requests, and we fill them,” he said.