Trout season begins in Centre County on April 13. As I write this, the trout stream flowing past my house looks perfect besides being a bit on the cold side. The flow is good and the water is what I call “green” — just a little off-color, as opposed to being crystal clear.
Almost all of the snow is melted in the mountain hollows, and we have not received a significant rain in over a week. I have fished on well over 50 opening days, and even a week out, the weather and stream conditions for opener 2019 remain a question mark. You will have more fun and likely catch more fish if you know how to deal with differing stream conditions. A good contingency plan might even involve finding another stream for backup.
If it does not rain between now and the opener, many streams will be low and clear. If we get a downpour close to the opener, some streams will be too high for good fishing. A 20-degree Friday night will make for tough fishing the following morning, while a warm night will have the opposite effect.
Here is my guide to being prepared for what Mother Nature offers us on the 13th:
High, brown water
The trout cannot see you, but you cannot see them either. Trout do not like brown, high-velocity water and they tend to do one of two things — move to the edge of the stream or the bottom of a deep pool where the water is moving more slowly. Cast your bait in those places as well as any eddy or back-current where the water is moving slowly.
Consider using split shot to get your offering to the bottom. Remember: The trout will not be able to see your bait, so use something that gives off a lot of scent, such as salmon eggs or Powerbait.
Lure anglers should consider using an artificial one that displaces a lot of water or causes vibrations, because the trout will have to “feel” your lure — rather than see it. Using the same logic, the best fly would be a bushy streamer, such as a muddler minnow.
If the water is too high or too brown, remember that all streams are not created equal. Creeks flowing through forested watersheds, such as Sixmile Run, tend to have less runoff and stay clearer than valley streams. Headwaters are a better choice than the lower reaches of streams. If all streams are too high, plan to fish Poe Lake at Poe Valley State Park or Cold Stream Dam near Philipsburg.
Low, clear water
Stealth is the key. Stocked trout might not seem to be frightened by the presence of humans, but they are quick learners. You will be more productive if you stay as far away from where you are casting as you can. It is best to move upstream slowly, keep a low profile, and wear camouflage clothing or at least earth tones.
If fishing bait in clear water, it is best to use a lightweight leader and smaller hooks — ditto for flies. Your leader (the piece of line to which the hook is tied to) should be no heavier than 4-lb-test; even better would be using 2- or 3-lb-test. A size 10 or 12 hook would be a smarter choice than a size 6. Smaller baits or lures are better than larger ones.
Look for trout and cast just up-current from where they are stationed. Polarized sunglasses cut surface glare and make it easier to see trout. Use as little weight as possible to get your bait to where the trout are. After the opening hour, the trout will likely be hiding under cover, such as logs, undercut banks or near larger rocks.
Consider going to a larger stream, such as lower Bald Eagle, Penns or Marsh creeks, where the trout will be less disturbed by anglers.
Here is a novel idea that might work for some of you. Trout anglers need something to keep their equipment in. If you stay in one spot, a tackle box will do. However, if you are a mobile angler, you will need a fishing vest or at least lots of big pockets. Typical fishing vests are gray, tan, or even worse — almost white. In light of what was mentioned previously, I prefer to wear a camouflage vest. Mine is nearing the end of its life, and while looking for a new one I happened upon a camo turkey vest.
I checked out the Nexus “Torched” turkey hunting vest and it seems to fit the bill. It has lots of roomy pockets and a large pouch in the back to hold my raincoat. The box-call pocket is a perfect fit for my lure box and a narrow, deep pocket holds my stream thermometer. This turkey vest has two other extras that fishing vests do not have. If you like to sit on the bank, a log or an upside down bucket while you are fishing you might appreciate the fold-down camo cushion that is attached to the back of the vest. I often fish mountain streams during hunting seasons and I am sometimes concerned about not being seen by hunters.
This turkey vest has two florescent orange flags that I can pull out of a neck pocket and let trail down my back.
Trout are a coldwater fish, but when the water temperatures drop into the 30s, they do not hit as well as they do in slightly warmer water. Natural bait fished slowly will produce more trout than artificial lures. Trout are more likely to be on the bottom, so make sure that your bait gets to where the trout are.
Perfect stream levels, color and temperature
Of course that is what I am hoping for, but I am often disappointed. No matter what the weather, good luck to you on Saturday. If we happen to cross paths, please don’t ask, “Are you fishing or hunting turkeys?”
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