While out taking photos one sunny day last week, I happened to see a robin and a bluebird eating berries in the very same bush. Both those birds, of course, are usually considered harbingers of spring, but I was having a hard time believing it right then. In spite of the brilliant sunshine and cloudless sky that day, the air temperature was only in the high teens along with a chilling wind, and my fingers were so numb I could barely work the camera controls.
Fortunately, the last weather forecast I saw indicates we may enjoy a stint of above-freezing temperatures next week, possibly even into the 50s by the end of the week. This welcome warming trend will undoubtedly have me, along with many other avid anglers in the area, thinking about getting out for the first fishing trip or two of the year.
For me, my favorite benchmark of spring is landing the first smallmouth bass of the year from somewhere on the Juniata River. That first meaningful encounter with those smallmouths, however, usually happens when the river water temperatures near the 50-degree mark, which typically occurs in mid to late March most years.
But after this cold and lingering winter, I'm not sure that I want to wait that long. Thankfully, our region offers plenty of other opportunities for the early-season angler. This time of year can be excellent fishing for two other popular Juniata River game fish, muskellunge and walleye. And for those dedicated anglers willing to brave the elements, the next several weeks offer one of the best windows of the year for catching trophy-sized specimens as well. Muskies are now in season year-round, while the walleye season runs through March 14 and then reopens on May 7.
The extended trout season closes on Feb. 28 on all stocked trout waters and will reopen on April 16 in our area this year. But we also have several streams and sections of streams that are managed for year-round trout fishing. Because most of these areas also require catch-and-release fishing either year-round or for most of the year, they tend to provide better quality fishing as well.
The Little Juniata River in Blair and Huntingdon counties and Spring Creek in Centre County are managed under "Catch and Release All Tackle" regulations. As the name implies, fishing on these waters can be done with either spinning or fly tackle and flies, artificial lures or natural bait. Both these streams have remarkable populations of wild brown trout.
Nearly a mile of Spring Creek is under "Catch and Release Fly-fishing Only" regulations. This is the famous Fisherman's Paradise section between State College and Bellefonte. About a mile of Yellow Creek in Bedford County is also under the same regulations. Fishing on either of these sections is restricted to fly tackle and artificial flies only.
A half-mile section of Spruce Creek in Huntingdon County is managed under "Catch and Release" regulations. Both spinning and fly tackle are permitted here, but fishing must be done with artificial lures or flies only. The use or possession of live bait is prohibited.
A section of the Little Juniata River near Bellwood in Blair County, 1.3 miles Black Moshannon Creek in Centre County and over a mile and a half of Chest Creek near Patton in Cambria County are managed under "Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only" regulations. On these streams, too, the use or possession of live bait is prohibited.
While most waters under special regulations for trout require all fish caught to be released, three lakes in our area are in the "Early Season Trout-Stocked Waters Program." Canoe Lake in Blair County and Duman Dam and Lake Rowena in Cambria County will be stocked early and are open to fishing from March 1 to March 31 when other stocked waters are closed to all fishing. During this period, the daily limit on these lakes is three trout with a minimum size of 7 inches. These lakes will be closed to all fishing from April 1 until the opening day of trout season.
For the specific locations and regulations for these and other waters, be sure to check the "2001 Pennsylvania Fishing Summary" book that comes with your fishing license. And of course, make sure to purchase your new fishing license and trout permit if you haven't done so already.