The water was 60 degrees, high and slightly off-color. I fished my way up Bald Eagle Creek north of Port Matilda. The first 12 minutes of the morning gave me the impression that the water was barren of trout and I was beginning to question my stream selection for this mid-July morning.
I then made a long cast into a deeper riffle and was rewarded by a solid strike. A few moments later, I was admiring a 10 1/2-inch, pink-striped rainbow trout — still hanging around since the April stockings. Fortunately for me, that trout was not alone. I soon had another strike, but I did not connect with my hook set. Three more hits quickly followed — all catches and all rainbows caught from the same riffle. Maybe this stream was not such a bad choice after all, I concluded.
The next spot yielded two small wild brown trout, which I carefully unhooked and released. My spinner disappeared in its retrieve past the edge of an over-hanging silky dogwood bush — my reward the tug of a heavy trout. That trout leaped three times — spraying droplets of cool water into the morning air as it tail-danced across the surface. The rainbow measured just over 13 inches, and I released it to join the others.
Fishing continued at this fast pace for the next three hours and resulted in more trout caught than most would believe. Just over half of the trout were wild browns and the other half were mostly stocked rainbows, with a few stocked browns and one brook trout thrown in for good measure. I bested the leaping 13-incher twice with stocked rainbow trout measuring 14 and 16 inches.
It is July, not one of my favorite trout fishing months. Last year at this time, most of my favorite flows were parched — just a trickle of water oozing between the rounded stream stones. I had pushed trout fishing to the back recesses of my brain and busied myself with other tasks. Not this July, however — the unusually wet weather (record-breaking in some areas, according to AccuWeather) has made for fantastic fishing.
I do not tolerate heat and humidity well, but with streams flowing the way that they have been recently, I have made exceptions. To avoid the heat as much as possible, most of my fishing has been in the early morning hours.
During the past few weeks, I have cast lures in seven different Centre County streams. Two were Class A Wild Trout Waters and the majority sported a mixture of stocked and naturally-reproduced fish. The streams included Spring Creek, Bald Eagle and Marsh creeks, the stocked section of Wallace Run and three other smaller streams. Higher than normal water levels allowed me to catch limits of stocked and wild trout in each of them.
The message here is not that I can catch trout, but that there are buckets of trout still available, and the water conditions are nearly perfect for catching them. If nighttime air temperatures drop 10 degrees, as they are predicted to, then conditions will be perfect.
All streams fish “better” — meaning easier to catch trout — when water levels are higher than normal for this time of year. We are experiencing that situation, and the long range forecast is for the wetter than usual summer to continue. I have collected over seven inches of precipitation in my rain gauge since July 1. Considering the recent rains, I believe that good stream conditions will continue for at least two more weeks.
The rain has not been uniform. The trick is to avoid the streams that are too high or discolored as well as those that are surprisingly low. For example, on July 5, streams in the upper Bald Eagle Valley were perfect, but the Little Juniata River was high and brown due to the rains in Blair County. However, just a little farther south in Bedford County, a friend reported that Yellow and Potter creeks were actually too low for good angling.
As another example, on July 10, over 3 inches of rain fell on the upper Bald Eagle Valley, making chocolate streams that raced over their banks. The next day, Bald Eagle Creek was still way too high and discolored for productive fishing, but Fishing Creek at Lamar, where little rain had fallen, looked perfect the next morning.
We have also had excellent water temperatures. Based on my fishing records, I consider water temperatures between 53 and 63 degrees to be the most conducive for trout catching. During my past seven outings, the morning water temperatures have been 58, 62, 65, 63, 62, 60 and 58 degrees. Trout respond to those water temperatures by being more active, feeding more often and therefore more likely to strike my lures. On Thursday afternoon, I measured a water temperature of 710 on a small Centre County freestone flow. This is too warm for good trout fishing.
The perfect water color is a matter of preference, and I risk getting an argument about this topic. However, my fishing records are again clear — totally brown water is not as productive for spinner fishing as clear to slightly off-color water. If the visibility is not at least one foot, spinners do not work well, and I would much rather fish somewhere else or stay home. Bait fishing can be good in totally brown water, but even better if the water is just slightly brown.
If you like to fish for trout — wild or stocked — then you should take advantage of our current water conditions. We all have other things to do, but I encourage you to park the lawnmower temporarily and take the time for trout fishing now.
Hunter-trapper classes filling up
Those who plan to purchase their first hunting licenses this year will need to make plans to attend a Hunter-Trapper Education course. There’s no time like the present to sign up, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Classes are already beginning to fill. To register for a course in your area, visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), and click on the “Hunter Education Classes” icon in the center of the homepage. From here, you can elect to take either the basic “Hunter-Trapper Education” course, which is typically a six-hour course held over one or two days, or the “Hunter-Trapper Education Independent Study” course, which is a home-study course followed by a one-day, two-hour classroom review and test. Once determining which course format best fits your schedule, you can register online by selecting a course in your area and then following the instructions.
There is no fee for the basic HTE course. Pre-registration is required, and online registration is available for all courses through the Class Calendar.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is the president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. He can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com.