Parks offer chance to extend opening day of trout season into weekend
It has been a far cry from last spring.
Remember? March rolled in, and snow, snow and more snow followed. Then there were the arctic temperatures.
None of that was good for stocking trout.
“We were stocking fish through the ice on lakes, and when we weren't doing that we had stocking trucks that we had to pull out of snow banks with tow trucks,” said Tom Cochran, fish production manager for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Not this year.
The 2016 trout season opens at 8 a.m. Saturday, and the commission had an easier time getting fish in the water, Cochran said.
It will stock 3.2 million adult trout averaging 11 inches. About 1.8 million of them will go in before opening day, with most of the rest scheduled to be released in the six weeks after.
Of those, about two million will be rainbows. That includes 8,500 goldens 14 inches and bigger.
“Most run 16 to 18 inches, though there are some a little bigger,” said Tom Greene, the commission's coldwater unit leader.
About 642,000 will be brown trout, and 522,000 will be brooks. More of those go into streams, and lakes typically get exclusively rainbows.
“We try to match the species to the water, such as putting brook trout in mountain streams,” Greene said.
Anglers pursuing them might have good conditions. Accuweather is predicting lots of clouds but little rain and temperatures in the upper 60s for most of the weekend.
With that in mind, fishermen might want to extend their opening day fun by combining fishing with a little camping. There are plenty of opportunities in state, county and municipal parks.
Keystone State Park in Westmoreland County, for example, is home to a 70-acre lake stocked with trout. It also offers cabins, cottages, yurts and space for tents and RVs. There will be people in all of them, park manager Kris Baker said.
The park's campground opens the first Friday in April, but the biggest early season crowds by far come for the trout opener.
“If it's reservable, it's generally taken,” Baker said with a laugh. “A lot of families do it out of tradition. They make their reservations 11 months out.”
Raccoon Creek State Park in Beaver County doesn't get quite that pressure, even though Raccoon Lake and Traverse Creek are stocked within its borders. But if the weather is nice, it will have 20 to 30 campsites rented, almost all of them to fishermen, said manager Al Wasilewski.
“You'll see them out Friday walking around the park, walking along the stream or the lake, with their polarized sunglasses on trying to find fish,” he said. “They're trying to figure out where they're going to go the next morning.”
More than a half dozen state parks around the region offer similar combinations of camping and fishing, from Laurel Hill and Kooser to Linn Run and Ohiopyle.
There are other options, too.
Westmoreland County allows anglers to camp Friday night along Loyalhanna Creek, said parks spokeswoman Lauren Jones. It's a unique one-night, once-a-year opportunity, albeit not for the faint of heart.
“There are no rules posted at the site, and campers do not need a permit,” Jones said. “There are no proper camping facilities at the site, either. We provide a few port-a-johns, but there are no permanent restroom facilities or potable water at the Gorge.”
Beaver County, likewise, allows camping in Bradys Run Park from Thursday through dusk Sunday for anglers.
In Indiana County, Blackleggs Creek Watershed Association and Cooperative Trout Nursery offers free camping at Blackleggs Memorial Park. That also is the site of a free, day-long wild game feed for fishermen, so campers can share meals in a picnic atmosphere.
No matter where they go, fishermen-campers need to be prepared if they are going to have a good time, said Mike Mumau, manager of Laurel Hill and Kooser state parks. That especially is true for those tenting, he said.
“You've got to have a proper sleeping bag,” he said. “That trusty old one you've used for years in summer may not cut it. It pays to get something rated for colder weather.
“A good sleeping pad can be vital, too, not only for comfort but for insulating you from the cold ground.”
He expects his campgrounds to be busy. But, like at most of the other parks, there still is room for those who want to make a last-minute reservation. He will see some familiar faces and some new, but they all will be interested in one thing: enjoying themselves.
“It's nice. You see the bucket angler. You see the fly angler. You see all walks of life and all ages,” Mamau said. “And they're all out looking to have some fun.”