As we approach another opening day of trout season, I have been reflecting on the opening days of my youth. My father, an ardent trout fisherman, took me out for my first opening day when I was 6 years old. This would have been 1957.
My, how things have changed -- and not all for the good.
Back in those days, fishing started before daylight. I am glad that tradition changed. I did not get to experience the opening hour -- probably a good decision on my dad's part. He came back to the house for me some time during mid-morning, and I tagged along with him while he fished. At some point, he asked if I wanted to hold his fishing rod. A few seconds later, I felt a fish tugging on the end of the line and reeled in a 10-inch rainbow trout. Of course, as an adult, I know that my dad probably hooked the trout before he handed me his rod -- that is what dads do.
At an early age, my father taught me the basics of trout fishing -- digging earthworms, baiting the hook, where to cast, setting the hook and later how to tie fishing knots, such as the improved clinch and barrel knots. We were a relatively poor family with one wage-earning parent and seven children, so fishing equipment was of the barest design. That did not matter. We had fun.
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Considering today's norms, some of you might think this was strange, but two stocked trout streams were within walking distance of my home, and by the age of 10, I was often fishing by myself. Sometimes, my 7-year-old brother John fished with me. No one entertained the thought that my parents were neglectful. I certainly did not -- my young life was full of outdoor adventure and fun. It is sad that we have lost those days.
The opening of trout season was something to be prepared for. We saved our meager 50-cent-per-week allowances to buy hooks, split shot, salmon eggs and, if we were lucky -- a spinning lure or two. I tied homemade snelled hooks and wrapped them around a piece of cardboard. A pocket knife and all of our important fishing "treasures" were kept in an Army surplus ammo box, with a skin-pinching, snap-shut lid. We did not own fishing boots or fishing vests. We wore our 12-inch-high winter boots.
By the time I was 12, I was the "fishing leader" for my brother and two sisters. We kept the trout that we caught alive in a bucket, and I would run them a half-mile or more back to a small spring-fed pond that we dug with pick and shovel on my grandmother's property. Those trout became our pets, and we fed them every day. Often, I would just sit and watch. A young mind can learn a lot about fish behavior that way.
Before the season, my brothers (and sometimes sisters) and I would prowl the stream banks, feeding the freshly-stocked trout bread and attempting to assess where the biggest fish concentrations occurred. Then we would discuss and plot our locations for the opening morning.
I remember one opening day very clearly. It was about 1965. My sisters did not fish that year and my brothers Paul (age 9) and John (age 12) had decided to select their own starting spots. I found what I hoped to be a real "honey hole," but to take advantage of it, I had to be sure to be there first.
I got up in the middle of the night and walked to my spot, arriving around 3 a.m. It was very cold, maybe 25 degrees, but I sat there by myself in the dark on my upside down bucket waiting for the magical starting hour. No other anglers ever showed up, so my night vigil was wasted. My disappointment, however, was brief. During the first three hours of fishing, I caught and released 25 trout in a row from that one spot. It was totally amazing.
Two of the trout swallowed the hook and were bleeding, so I kept them. I remember that it was so cold that the trout froze solid while lying on the streamside rocks. I finished the day with 39 trout, which for a kid was fantastic. That was my most productive opening day, and that record held for another five years.
I do not expect to -- nor will I be trying to -- break any records this year. It will be a family fun outing. I will be out there on the streams on April 14, with my daughter Lindera and her husband John. I know that we will have fun, and I hope that you do, too. Pennsylvania trout fishing is a grand tradition.
Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com