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Opening day of trout season features warm weather, large crowds

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One rule not being followedIt has been three years since the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission changed its rules to require anyone fishing from a canoe, kayak or boat shorter than 16 feet in length to wear a lifejacket from Nov. 1 through April 30.

Not everyone seems to have gotten that message.

Waterways conservation officers around the region encountered a lot of anglers fishing from boats without their lifejackets on opening day of trout season.

“I bet half of the boats I saw would fall into the category where that rule would apply. But in a lot of them, at least a third or 40 percent, people weren't wearing their lifejackets,” said Pat Ferko, one of the commission's officers in Somerset County. “Most had them in their boat, but they weren't wearing them. That's why I went out on the water.”

Matt Kauffman, conservation officer in northern Westmoreland County, said he likewise eventually launched a boat on the lake at Keystone State Park just because so many people were not wearing lifejackets as required.

“It's warm out, so people think they don't need them. They're not realizing the water temperature is still 50 to 52 degrees,” Kauffman said.

Water that cold can be deadly in a hurry, said officer Mike Johnson of central Allegheny County.

He and other officers do a lot of cold-water training. It's “almost impossible” to put a lifejacket on once you've been dumped into cold water, even under the best of conditions. That's why it's important to already have it on, he said.

Officers handed out a lot of warnings the first year the rules change went into effect in 2011-12, Bob Wheeler said. They ramped up enforcement a bit last year. Now, anglers should know better, he said.

“We're not cutting any breaks on that one anymore,” Wheeler said.

Saturday, April 12, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

Saturday's opening day of trout season lasted all of about 30 minutes for Ronald Buschel.

The Alverton man was fishing Upper Twin Lake in Greensburg. He started at 8 a.m., when it became legal to keep fish. He had his five-trout limit by 8:30.

His daughter, Melissa Hertzog of Greensburg, was having luck of another sort.

Fishing immediately beside her dad and using the same waxworms as bait, she caught nine fish by about 10 a.m., but only one was a trout. The rest were bluegills.

“You never know what you're going to get,” Buschel said.

Both were enjoying the morning, as was Staci Taber of Latrobe, who was fishing next to them with her husband, daughter and a family friend.

They'd caught several trout between them, too, and were relishing the unusually warm weather and sunny skies.

“When does that ever happen on opening day? Usually it's cold, windy and raining,” Taber said.

A lot of anglers were similarly drawn by the opportunity to get outside after a long winter. Reports from around the region were consistently about nice-sized crowds for the opener.

“Dunlap Lake has been as crowded as ever. Virgin Run is very crowded. And all of the streams we've checked have been packed,” said Scott Opfer, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's waterways conservation officer in Fayette County. “There are people everywhere.”

“Every approved trout water in the county has been busy,” said Jeremy Allen, the commission's officer in Beaver County. “It's probably the most people I've seen since I've been in the district for five years.”

There were “a lot of people out” across Somerset County, too, added conservation officer Pat Ferko.

“I saw more people camped out for the opener this year than any time in probably the last seven years,” added deputy officer Amil Zuzik, who saw tents pitched along Fourmile, Mill and Loyalhanna creeks.

If the crowds were uniformly large, catches of fish were more sporadic.

Fishing on Enlow Fork and Templeton Fork in Greene and Washington counties, respectively, was hit and miss, said conservation officer Eric Davis from Greene County. Things were much better for those fishing within Ryerson Station State Park.

“There were a lot of people leaving there with their limits. That seemed to be the hot spot today,” Davis said.

The fishing was “pretty good” on Mill and Loyalhanna creeks and at Keystone State Park, said conservation officer Matt Kauffman in Westmoreland County. Anglers fishing with minnows did well on Linn Run's brook trout, Zuzik said.

But things were slower elsewhere.

In Armstrong County, there were a few limits caught on Patterson Creek, with one family catching — and releasing — three big brood trout, said conservation officer Bruce Gundlach. But overall “the catch was kind of spotty, I guess you'd say,” Gundlach said.

Officers Dan McGuire in Somerset County and Al Colian in Cambria said fishing was tough in parts of their districts, too.

“There was a tremendous turnout. Great weather. The creeks were just about perfect. But the fish did not seem to cooperate,” Colian said. “I don't know if the water was too cold or what the problem was.”

Sometimes the fishing varied on the same water.

Fishing Lower Deer Lake, Anthony Buccigrossi of Penn Hills had caught four largemouth bass but only one trout by about noon. But one young girl fishing across the lake caught two 21-inch rainbows back to back, said Mike Walsh, waterways conservation officer for eastern Allegheny County.

“Everyone on both sides of the lake started clapping for her. They gave her a standing ovation,” Buccigrossi said.

At North Park Lake, Baldwin resident Jovo Crnokrak had a limit of five nice rainbows when he called it a day around mid-afternoon. The fish hit on minnows and green Powerbait.

Mike March was fishing there with his soon-to-be stepson and a family friend, but they'd caught only three trout among them. March wondered if rules allowing people to catch but not harvest trout right up until the opener might be hurting the fishing.

“Some guys are probably keeping them, and some of those fish are probably dead after being released. That's a waste. I don't agree with that,” he said.

The season's far from over, though. With six more weeks of trout stocking still on the calendar, opportunities should continue to be good, said Kauffman.

“We're hearing a lot of good things about the size of the fish, and there are lots of them still left,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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