Next Saturday will bring a long-awaited rite of spring to throngs of anglers throughout most of Pennsylvania - the opening day of trout season.
Some of the more eager among them will arrive at the stream hours before the 8 a.m. start time in order to claim a choice casting position on their favorite pool. Hopes will be high when the time finally arrives for that first cast, and anticipation will continue to build until the first trout of the season puts a most welcome bend in the rod.
Most of the streams in Blair County were stocked a month or more ago, and with all the high water in recent weeks, many of those trout have had ample time and opportunity to spread out since being released. I always have to laugh, however, when I hear someone comment that fish will be "washed downstream" during periods of abnormally high water. If that were the case, we wouldn't have any fish in freshwater; routine floods would have flushed them all out into the ocean thousands of years ago.
All trout - even those of hatchery origin - are most capable swimmers, and their streamlined shape makes them well adapted for holding their own in the stiffest currents and enduring the effects of flood waters when need be. High springtime flows provide optimal conditions for fish movement, both upstream and down. A recent study also revealed that the movements of stocked trout vary tremendously and are nearly impossible to predict. Quite often, the majority of the trout were caught very near to the spot where they were stocked, while at other release sites the fish seemed to leave the area almost immediately. And a few individual fish would tend to show up many miles from where they were originally planted.
One slightly dubious reason the first day of trout season is so popular is that hatchery trout can be pathetically easy to catch. Freshly stocked trout can be coaxed to eat just about anything you can get on a hook, regardless of how badly it is presented. But just as remarkable is how quickly those same fish transform from suicidal to skeptical once they are exposed to some fishing pressure.
For a large percentage of stocked trout, their first mistake will be their last as they are unceremoniously plopped into a creel or impaled on a stringer and then carted home by the angler who catches them. But there are always a significant number of fish that receive a second chance, either by slipping off the hook before being brought to hand or being granted their freedom by one of an ever-growing number of fishermen who practice catch-and-release. Having once felt the sting of a hook seems to wise up most hatchery trout and instills in them a certain amount of wariness to the presence of anglers. And given the time to acclimate themselves to the natural foods found in most streams, they can become almost as tricky to catch as their wild cousins.
One very valid reason that trout are among the most popular freshwater game fish is they can be caught by a number of different fishing techniques, from live bait to artificial lures to elegant handcrafted flies. Regardless of what you choose to cast for trout this spring, however, I will share a basic tip to make your efforts more successful.
To catch more trout you need to get your offering down where the fish are. That will be especially important during the early part of this trout season. Because of all the rain we've had so far this spring, most streams are still running bank full. As mentioned earlier, trout can easily deal with strong currents and high water, and they do so by holding near the stream bottom. Therefore, you'll want to get your offering right in front of them by adding the correct amount of weight to your line.
Small split shot are the best choice for most trout-fishing situations. I prefer the removable style of split shot so I can adjust them as I move from spot to spot. I want the rig to get on the bottom quickly and drift along naturally without hanging up too often. I find it more effective to use several small shot rather than one large one. Depending on water depth and current speed, I'll start by attaching two or three shot, about an inch or so apart, from 12 to 18 inches above the bait or lure and add or remove them until I dial in the drift I want. I'll continue to adjust the amount of weight, of course, to suit the water I'm fishing.
I suppose that all sounds relatively simple, and it is, at least with a bit of practice and experience. But mastering the proper use of weight for trout fishing is well worth effort. Doing so could easily double your catch.