The opening day of Pennsylvania’s trout season is just two weeks away. Although it might defy logic, I look forward to it today almost as much as I did when I was much younger. It is a special day.
At one time, the trout that I caught on the opener amounted to a fourth to a third of all the trout that I caught for the season. One year, as a 12-year-old, I landed 39 trout on the “first day,” as my brothers and I referred to it. The first day of what? In my family, the “first day” needed no further explanation. Anyway, those 39 opening day hatchery trout ended up being about half of my catch for that particular year.
I now fish for trout at least eight months a year — often more. The opening day is no longer important as far as my season tally goes. However, it is still a special day for me — one filled with many memories.
I caught my first trout on the opening day in 1957 — I was six years old, but I still remember it like yesterday. I was tagging along with my dad, watching him fish Beaverdam Run in Southern Blair County. We were at the spot where the tiny Hidden Valley Run entered the larger stream, and the water was a little off color. At one point, he handed me his bamboo fly rod and said, “Why don’t you fish for awhile.”
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I was thrilled, of course, and before you know it, I felt a tug on the end of the line. With no shortage of encouragement and praise from my father, I reeled in a 9-or-so inch rainbow trout.
Given the hindsight of age and my own fatherhood, I am quite sure that my father hooked that trout before he handed me the rod. That is just what good dads do. Although he probably hooked the trout, I was definitely hooked on trout fishing for life.
Over the course of several years, the opening day evolved from a time shared with my father to a group outing with my brothers and sisters. While my dad drove to more-distant waters, such as Spring Creek, Penns Creek or the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River, we fished within walking distance of our home.
My siblings and I would scout the two local stocked streams almost every day after school, trying to select the best spots. We dug worms and made our primitive gear as ready as it could be. When the big day arrived, our walk in the pre-dawn darkness took us one quarter to a half-mile down the branch PRR rail line to one of the streams. Then we took positions at our preselected pools — just “fishin’ holes,” as we called them then. Trout catching was better some years than others, but it was always great family fun.
The second opening day evolution occurred when my father realized that we kids were catching more trout than he was — and we didn’t have to drive anywhere. About that time, he started to join us on Beaverdam and/or Smoky runs.
With marriage and living in Altoona — for awhile, I continued to returned to “home waters,” even after I moved to Centre County in 1979.
At some point, I began taking my own sons fishing on the opening day here in Centre County. As luck would have it — bad luck — they attempted to endure some terrible opening day mornings with me. Unfortunately, cold rain, and/or sub-freezing temperatures do not nurture youths to turn into lifetime anglers. My son Forrest returned to angling for a few years — and he even learned to look forward to our opening days together.
For a time, then, I shared my opening days with my teenage son and my daughter, Lindera. Then it was just Lindera and me. Her husband John joined us on the opening morning the year of their wedding. I am pretty sure that he did not know what all of the excitement was about, and he just walked along. Well, he did not have to see his wife catch very many trout before he was fishing with us on the next opener.
It has been that threesome — starting on Bald Eagle Creek — for the past eight years. We have shared a lot of memories together — big trout caught and missed, unexpected dips in the cold water, and a creel-full of good fellowship and camaraderie.
This year will be a little different — John tore an Achilles tendon during the winter and will be somewhat sidelined on opening day. We will position him at a likely-looking trout spot, but he will not be able to fish side-by-side with us as we move upstream. I am sure that he will be with us in spirit.
Mentored Youth Day — April 11 — Advice for parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents or other well-meaning fishing mentors — please leave your fishing rod at home, or just take it as a backup. Assuming that your goal is to help introduce a youngster to trout fishing, that end will be best served if you give them all of the patient attention that you can. Cast for him or her as necessary, bait the hook, help with tangles and with releasing trout. Be observant and let the child guide you as to the best ways that you can help.
Weather permitting, Saturday, April 11, should provide a unique opportunity for you to easily get a youth out on an uncrowded local stream — and catching trout. Check the stocking list at www.pafishandboat.com for a list of stocked streams.
The youth will need a voluntary license ($2.70) or a free mentored youth permit. You will need your 2015 license and a trout stamp. All of these are available from any licensing outlet. Although the voluntary license is unnecessary with the free mentored youth permit, the PA Fish & Boat Commission is reimbursed $5.00 by the federal government for every youth license purchased.
If trout fishing is all new to you, almost any rod and reel will do. I would suggest 4 or 6-pound test line and size 6 or 8 hooks. Bait the hook with a single meal or waxworm, a salmon egg, a canned corn kernel or a small clump of white bread squeezed into a ball around the hook. A snap swivel and/or a small weight might help with casting, but limit the weight so that the bait sinks under the surface, yet still moves slowly with the current.
Good luck to all of you — both on the opening day and on the mentored youth day. I hope that you enjoy your experience as much as I know that I will.