By: Chris Shaffer
The general Pennsylvania trout season opens Saturday when thousands of anglers flood the state’s rivers, streams, creeks, ponds and lakes where millions of trout have been stocked. We’ve tabbed Andy Shiels, Director of the Bureau of Fisheries for PA to give us the scoop on what to expect for this year’s opener.
Team Pautzke:How are water conditions for this year’s opener? Are streams and lakes providing favorable flows?
AS: The winter of 2017/2018 has been a curious one. There were periods of extreme cold throughout much of PA and then in February warm, spring-like weather appeared for a week or so. More recently, winter conditions have prevailed. Overall, in the western two-thirds of PA snowfall has been below average with the notable exception of the Erie area, which received crippling snowfall amounts early in the winter. Likewise, the far Northeast corner of PA also has had multiple, significant snow events throughout the winter. Flows in general are normal if not a little lower than normal outside of those areas. Water clarity is also very good in most areas. Air temperatures for the statewide opener are forecast to be about 10-15 degrees below average.
Team Pautzke: Will the recent cold weather affect conditions?
AS: Flows should be good, with air and water temperatures colder than normal for mid-April. This means that after the initial surge of catches on opening morning, fishing will improve later in the day as the sun warms the water and boosts fish metabolism. For anglers, that means “low and slow” with lure, fly and live bait presentations near the bottom in slower currents. In lakes, spoons, spinners and minnow plugs may work initially and then a shift to live or prepared baits fished near the bottom should be productive throughout the day. As the season progresses, the days get longer and as air and water temperatures rise, a wider variety of presentations will be effective.
Team Pautzke: If I want to catch a golden rainbow – where’s the best place to catch one.
This is a tough one to answer. We list on the FishBoatPA app (and the stocking schedules on the website) the species breakdown by water and section. We do not however, list golden rainbows.
I can say this though. all goldens are stocked in the preseason and they are only stocked in waters that are already receiving rainbows. So, if the app. shows only brook trout or brown trout are stocked in a given water there would be no chance that goldens would be stocked there. Also, these are typically used in the larger streams and in places like state park lakes.
Team Pautzke: Where are five places that will be well stocked for the opener?
AS: Perennial favorites are:
*Yellow Breeches Creek (Cumberland County) Southcentral PA
*Pine Creek (Tioga and Lycoming Counties) Northcentral PA
*Little Lehigh Creek and Lehigh River (Lehigh County) Eastern PA
*Loyalhanna Creek (Westmoreland County) Southwestern PA
*Canoe Creek & Canoe Creek Lake (Blair County) Southcentral PA
*Oil Creek (Venango County) Northwestern PA
Team Pautzke: I’m taking kids with me and want to take them to a family friendly lake. Can you recommend a few places?
I would recommend a state park lake as there are almost always family friendly facilities including restrooms and picnic tables nearby. Using the FishBoatPA app one can search for waters using the “Near Me” feature or by count. The “Best Waters” feature for stocked trout lists the best lakes and groups them by acres. I would choose a less than 50-acre lake and focus on being there soon after a planned stocking. The PFBC stocks nearly 4,800 miles of streams and 155 lakes with trout so there is a water type, size and location to fit everyone’s needs.
Team Pautzke: Is the department stocking anything new this year?
AS: We have increased the number of waters in the Keystone Select Stocked Trout Waters program. These are existing Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only streams that receive higher than normal allotments of 14-22 inch trout. There are now 22 of these sections relatively equally distributed around PA. While bait may not be used these areas offer anglers an opportunity to fish over a good density of big fish and perhaps catch their biggest trout ever. Often these areas are bordered by areas upstream or downstream that are open under statewide regulations including the use of bait. As fish move around after stocking anglers who wish to use bait may find some of these fish a considerable distance upstream or downstream from the special regulation area.
Team Pautzke: What is the largest fish the commission is stocking this year?
AS: In general, the trophy or brood-sized fish range in length from 16 to 22 inches. Around 30,000 fish of that size are stocked each year. Occasionally, there are some stocked that are a few inches larger. Some volunteer cooperative nursery sponsors will hold some of their allotted fish over and stock them at even larger sizes. In higher quality trout streams, wild and holdover trout from previous-year stockings may reach the 24-30 inch range.
Team Pautzke: What is the best way to improve my catch rates when there is heavy fishing pressure.
AS: Walk if you can to get away from the most heavily fished holes and easy-to-access areas. Some anglers never leave the bridge hole or obvious roadside stocking points. On a lake shore, seek out areas where deep water is closest to shore and where steep drop-offs are within casting range. Move to brushy shoreline areas that are more difficult to fish from and you will have less competition from other anglers than fishing the wide, mowed lawn areas.
When lake fishing from shore, use weighted bobbers or casting bubbles to get your baits further from shore and the range of the average angler. Fish early in the day as the season progresses. Be the first one to present a bait or lure to a fish that has been rested overnight. Use the lightest line sizes you are comfortable with and smaller, less threatening baits and lures. If you most often use 6 or 8 pound test lines in the early season, shift to 4-pound line when the bites get tough and even 2-3 pound leaders if needed. Shift to less gaudy colors in clear water but use brighter colors in dirty or stained water.
Observe successful anglers nearby and try to match their setup and tactics. Constantly pay attention to the depth, speed and drifting attitude of your baits. If you have not caught fish in a spot in 10-15 minutes and you are confident in your bait or lure setup, move to another spot. You can always return later in the day when conditions may be more favorable. Finally, when fish are pressured in clear water, look for and present your baits and lures under cover such as logs, trees, shade, large rocks, undercut banks and anything else a trout can be get near or under to provide it with a sense of security.
Team Pautzke: How many fish have been planted and will be planted this spring? What species?
AS: The annual target is approximately 3.15 million hatchery trout stocked by the PFBC. In addition, the 162 cooperative nurseries operated by volunteers raise and stock another 1 million trout, which have been provided to them by the PFBC as fingerlings to raise and stock in waters open to the public. About 60% of the PFBC fish are stocked before the opening day and the rest are stocked inseason. Trout stocking begins on March 1st each year and typically finishes up in the first week of June depending on the weather. Some waters are stocked preseason only, some inseason only and the majority are stocked both. The FishBoatPA app. is available for free and works with Android and IOS platforms. It will tell users where, when and how often any water is stocked. It also has location services that can help direct you the waters. Recently, it was downloaded for the 100,000th time. The PFBC stocks rainbow, golden rainbow, brook and brown trout. Rainbows make up the between 50-60% of the species compositions.
Editor’s Note: For more information on Saturday’s opener please visit http://www.fishandboat.com/Fish/PennsylvaniaFishes/Trout.