HOLLIDAYSBURG - I've become a Tuesday afternoon type of guy.
When I first began fishing for trout, nearly four long decades ago, the opening Saturday of the season held a special allure. There was a sense of awe about all lines into the water at 8 a.m., the elbow-to-elbow crowds on streams, and feeling the tug of that first brown or rainbow trout on a hook as early in the spring as possible.
But as the years have passed, my thinking has changed.
It's no longer quite as appealing fighting the first-day rush for a favorite spot on my favorite stream, often under rainy skies or bone-chilling temps, after staying awake most of the night before in anxious anticipation of making that initial cast.
Now, midweek afternoons in late April or May hold the greatest fishing interest for me. The opening-day crowds have dissipated profoundly, there are still plenty of fish to be caught and released, and the challenge of catching them is greater and more enticing because most of those trout have duly acclimated themselves to their surroundings and are much more difficult to fool.
Fishing for trout in my younger days was a social experience to be shared with friends and family. On some occasions, it still is, but now I find the solitude of being on one my favorite streams alone to be one of life's most pacifying and fulfilling pleasures.
Fishing and hunting are two of Pennsylvania's greatest enterprises, and the appeal of trout's opening day hasn't waned for a great many fishermen. That was abundantly evident on a chilly, rainy morning as the 2011 trout season opened Saturday.
The numbers were noticeably and expectedly down from the sun-splashed trout openers of the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but they were still impressive nonetheless. Parking space near some of the more popular fishing spots along Canoe Creek in Blair County was difficult to find, and the weather didn't discourage the hundreds of hardy souls astream from trying their luck.
"For the regulars, this weather probably doesn't make much difference,'' said Jason Gochnour of Altoona. "But I know a lot of people who would rather stay at home rather than deal with it.''
Travis Claar, who works at the log-cabin bait and tackle shop along Route 22 in Canoe Creek that has been owned and operated by his grandparents, Lee and Trudy Claar, for the past 30 years, was plenty busy Saturday.
"It's not like it usually is on the first day, but it's been pretty steady,'' he said of the customer flow early Saturday morning. "We've seen a lot of people go into the park so far today.''
The bait shop is open seven days a week from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. during the spring and summer months. Fathead minnows and wax worms were the bait most in demand Saturday.
"Usually, this is one of our busiest weekends of the year,'' Travis Claar said.
But not everybody loves the crowds on opening day. Some people who go out fishing then don't exercise good sportsmanship. A few litter, many wade through places in streams where they should be fishing instead, and others toss their lines in front of fellow fishermen without any particular regard for personal space.
Ken Brazile of Altoona, who was fishing with Gochnour Saturday, experienced that type of frustration along the stream.
"When I see somebody in a small hole, I usually don't try to crowd in, out of respect for that person,'' Brazile said. "But most people just don't care.''
Just one of the many reasons why I've become a Tuesday afternoon type of guy.
John Hartsock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 946-7444