After a relentless, treacherous and seemingly endless winter in which paralyzing snowstorms and wind-chill factors below zero were commonplace occurrences around the country, and the term Polar Vortex became part of the national lexicon, the long-awaited arrival of spring may have been a more pressing thought for most this year.
It was certainly on the minds of fishermen who were shopping for bait and tackle this week in preparation for Saturday's 2014 trout-season opener in Blair and surrounding counties. Fishermen in this area will finally be permitted to cast their lines into streams stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission at 8 a.m. Saturday, and the magic moment won't come too soon.
"I fish until December, but I've got cabin fever real bad,'' said Will Miller, 42, of Altoona, who was shopping for gear at Unkle Joe's Woodshed in the Pleasant Valley Boulevard Shopping Center. "Everybody I know seems to like to get out there.''
The trout season opened March 29 in 18 southeastern Pennsylvania counties, but Miller chose not to travel east this spring.
"I've fished as far east as Philadelphia, Chester and Downingtown some years, but I didn't go out early this season,'' said Miller, who plans his first cast Saturday for Bob's Creek near Pavia.
Spencer Holmberg, 25, of Altoona was perusing fishing gear at Unkel Joe's with his father, Kevin, 48, also of Altoona. The two are going fishing at Chest Creek near Patton on Saturday.
"It was a long winter, and I think it will be good to get out,'' Spencer said.
Tradition has been a big part of fishing season in general, and the opening day of trout season in particular, for generations of families, and it is with the Holmbergs. Since he was a toddler, Spencer has accompanied his dad to the trout stream each opening day.
"The first day of the trout season is something that we've always done together,'' Kevin Holmberg said. "It's like a tradition. My son is an adult now, but we've been going fishing together on the opening day since he could walk.''
There's a friendly rivalry between the two fishermen, as well, Spencer admitted with a smile.
"We try to see who can catch the most fish,'' Spencer said. "He usually wins.''
The weather forecast is favorable for Saturday's opener, and stream levels in the immediate area are good, too, according to Craig Garman, a sergeant with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Garman supervises trout stocking in eight counties, including Blair, Bedford and Huntingdon.
"We had to alter our stocking schedules for some streams out of thise area because the ice from the winter hadn't melted yet, but all the streams are perfect right now,'' Garman said.
James Knepper, 70, of Coal Valley near Mount Union, drove about 40 miles with his son-in-law, Lane Matney, to shop at Unkel Joe's. Knepper and Matney will fish Shade Creek in Orbisonia as part of a foursome on opening day.
"I'll be going out with my son-in-law, daughter, and grandson,'' Knepper said. "My grandson is 12 and he has been going fishing with me on the first day for the past three years. He seems ready to go this year. It's a special day.''
Richard Lewis, 61, of Hesston, is a lone wolf when it comes to trout fishing. Lewis will escape opening-day crowds and fish for brown trout in the Little Juniata River near Barree. Those trout are put into the water as small fingerlings, and often grow to trophy size.
"I used to fish around the first-day crowds, but I don't like it,'' Lewis said. "I want to be myself, and I can go anywhere that I want to on the Little Juniata.''
Whether fishing alone or with company, the sentiment among opening-day anglers this spring appears to share a common theme.
"It's been a long winter,'' Frank Rimbeck, 66, of Altoona, said. "As long as the weather is good for the first day, sportsmen around here just like getting out of the house.''