A strong hit rewarded my long cast into the deeper water near the bridge. I set the hook, and seconds later, a large brown trout erupted from the calm water. It leaped once twice and then two more times, spraying crystal beads of water into the cool morning air. I held my breath at each jump enjoying the colorful trouts acrobatics but at the same time hoping that my hook would not be shaken free.
I truly needed that hit. After fruitlessly fishing 200 yards of marginal water, I was beginning to question my stream choice for that mornings outing.
One good cast can change everything.
The hook held, and after the exciting battle, I was measuring a 14-inch brown trout. Cherry and chocolate spots accented the trouts golden flanks. Along with its large eyes and perfect fins, the fishs bright colors marked it as a naturally-reproduced trout, rather than one raised in a hatchery.
My next six casts yielded three more trout two browns and a brook. I no longer questioned my stream selection. I just continued to work my way up the small stream, smiling at my good fortune.
As the first hour of fishing was drawing to a close, I recorded my 12th trout in the pocket notebook that I always carry with me not bad for a section of stream that I had never fished before.
Just then, a movement on the opposite shore about 15 yards upstream caught my eye. I paused and waited. It was a short wait, because moments later, a mink swam by with a crayfish in its mouth. The mink reached just downstream from me when it dove under an undercut bank. It was most likely a mother taking food back to her young in the den.
I was enjoying both trout and nature, one of my favorite late spring and early summer pastimes fishing off the grid. By that, I mean fishing in non-stocked trout streams that are also not included on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissions Class A Wild Trout Stream or Wilderness Trout Stream lists. These small streams are not on any list except my own. They are just out there often full of trout and rarely fished.
During the month of May, I fished a half-dozen different off-the-grid streams three in Centre County and three in Huntingdon County. I had fished each of them in previous years, but this spring I tried three new sections on the longest of these six streams.
I take pleasure in exploring new water, but this new water was special. Each bend in the small freestone stream revealed beautiful pools and nice riffles. I was surprised at the quality of the habitat and also amazed that I did not see another boot track. I was certainly the first fisherman in weeks and maybe the only angler to cast a line there this year.
Fishing came to an end when I ran into some No Trespassing signs. And what a morning outing it was my notebook revealed that I had caught and released 25 trout. They were naturally reproduced brooks and browns ranging in size from a tiny six inches to the colorful 14-incher that was my first catch of the morning.
Believe it or not, all of my visits to these six off-the-grid waters resulted in very productive fishing. The trout measure from 5 to 16.75 inches in length, and most of them were stream-bred. However, on one stream that is stocked by the Bald Eagle Sportsmens Club but contains wild trout I caught a number of their cooperative nursery fish.
Although I do this every spring, I still marvel that such good fishing exists and hardly anyone takes advantage of it. It seems that many Pennsylvania anglers have the mindset that, if the white stocking trucks do not stop there, then the streams are not worth fishing.
Locating your own off-the- grid stream is easy. Just start by consulting a topographical map of any stocked streams watershed. The Pennsylvania Atlas and Gazetteer provides topographical maps of the entire state and is my constant fishing companion. Identify the larger tributaries and give each a try. Tributaries to Class A Wild Trout streams are always a good bet, as are the tributaries to many stocked trout streams. The list of Class A Trout Waters and the stocked Approved Trout Waters can be found on the PFBC website ( www.fish.state.pa.us). Another place to start would be any club or organization that raises and stocks trout. These cooperative trout nurseries, such as the Bald Eagle Sportsmens Club, stock trout in many popular streams, but they also stock a number of smaller off-the-grid streams. In Centre County, the club stocks Dix and Sparrow runs; in Huntingdon County, they stock Warriors Mark Run; and in Blair County, trout are planted in Schell Run and Decker Run. Their complete stream stocking list is posted at the club, which is located off Route 350 just north of the Bald Eagle intersection.
A half-hour of fishing on any of these potential gems can easily tell you to fish elsewhere or continue exploring. Trust me the rewards are well worth suffering a few disappointments along the way.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the PA Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.