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The annual rite of spring is about to hit our area

By now, I hope most anglers are aware that trout season begins statewide next Saturday, April 3, at 8 a.m. Late last year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission set the opening day of trout season for April 3 for 18 southeastern counties and April 17 for the remainder of the state.

But in January, the Board of Commissioners changed all that to one statewide trout season opener on April 3. Those changes were made after the 2021 Pennsylvania Summary of Fishing/Boating Regulations handbook that comes with your fishing license was already printed, so unfortunately the information in that publication regarding the opening day of trout season is wrong. Despite that alteration, I hope most trout anglers in our area are getting ready for this traditional rite of spring.

During 2021, the PFBC is scheduled the release about 3.1 million trout around the state into 703 streams totaling 4,600 miles and 128 lakes. These figures include approximately 2.2 million rainbow trout; 686,000 brown trout; and 293,000 brook trout. Fans of golden rainbow trout will be interested to know that the PFBC will again be stocking 13,000 of those ugly genetic-freak fish that will average 1.5 pounds and 14 inches. In addition to trout raised at state fish hatcheries, PFBC cooperative nurseries operated by sportsmen’s clubs across the state will add another 1 million trout to selected waters open to public angling. Most stocked trout waters also receive at least one in-season stocking some time from the opening week of the season until late May.

Dealing with the prevailing water conditions is a basic skill when it comes to trout-fishing success. Every good trout fisherman knows how to “read the water.” And when it comes to fishing for trout in small to medium-sized streams, reading the water has two primary components.

The first is identifying the most likely places where a feeding trout will hold. Next is presenting your bait, lure or fly so that it drifts by the targeted feeding lie as naturally as possible. Both those skills take some practice and experience, but once you understand them, trout fishing will become much less complicated or mysterious. Here are a few tactics that can make you more successful.

Most of the streams in our region have a good flow of water this spring, so expect the trout to hold close to the stream bottom. where bottom irregularities create a thin cushion of slow current there, so getting your offering near the bottom where the fish are is vital.

That band of softer current allows the trout to maintain its position and feed with little effort. A trout will often move right or left a foot or more to intercept food that is in this bottom zone, but rarely will it move up a couple of inches into the main flow to take food.

Even stocked trout that are subjected to any amount of fishing pressure quickly seem to get the message that anything that is not behaving naturally with respect to the current is likely to have a hook in it and should be avoided. They will reject almost any bait that is moving too fast, too slowly or in the wrong direction.

Therefore, it is vitally important to get your offering right in that zone, usually drifting along about three or four inches off the bottom, by adding a few small split shot to your line at least a foot or more above the hook. Make sure your bait or lure is moving at the right speed in the current with the sinkers just ticking the bottom occasionally.

And don’t hesitate to add or remove shot as the current speed or water depth changes to achieve the proper drift. That takes a bit of extra work, but it’s one of the essential secrets of those anglers who catch fish consistently.

One of the most common mistakes I see on a trout stream is an angler standing where he should be fishing. On smaller streams the best approach is to stay out the water as much as possible. When it is necessary to wade, do so slowly and carefully and with a minimum of disturbance. In clear water, trout can easily see an approaching angler, so avoid wearing bright clothing, opting instead for shades that blend with the surroundings. Most important, keep as much distance as possible between you and the spot you are fishing. Don’t spook the fish before you ever make a cast. A little stealth can do wonders for success.

Of course, many stocked streams can be a bit crowded on opening day. For those anglers more seeking some solitude rather than bringing home a few dead trout, special regulation areas can offer an alternative to the typical congestion of the first several days of the season. Throughout or region, we have several stream sections designated as Catch and Release Artificial Lures Only, Catch and Release Fly-Fishing Only or Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only.

These special areas are popular spots because they permit year-round fishing for trout on a catch-and-release basis, but they are usually almost deserted on the opening weekend of the season as many anglers opt for the opportunity of stocked streams and keeping some trout.

Regardless of where you choose to fish next Saturday, enjoy your time outdoors on a spring waterway, alone or with friends or family. In that respect, catching some fish is just a bonus.

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