Surprise Trout Opener

To say that the spring of 2020 wasn’t normal would be an understatement. We were coming out of a fairly mild winter, and seeing unseasonably warm weather threw many of us who enjoy the outdoors out of our routines. This season’s shed hunting felt like trying to get last-minute shopping done before the big holiday.

We were also still scrambling to scout for turkeys and make plans for the upcoming opening day of trout season. All those plans came to a screeching halt when Governor Tom Wolf informed Pennsylvania residents his plan for shutting down the state and asking citizens to stay home.

In preparation for the arrival of coronavirus cases, mandated business closures and home quarantine orders left those of us who hunt and fish in a very strange place. We didn’t know what to do.  We were all trying to navigate these uncharted waters together. When could we get outdoors to fish and would these restrictions spill into the upcoming spring turkey season?

Never before had there been such uncertainty heading into the spring trout and upcoming spring hunting seasons. Our happy place to get away from the madness of 24-hour non-stop news coverage, analysis, and expert opinions was no longer an option for refuge. More importantly, we weren’t supposed to be near the people we enjoy spending time with outdoors.

Amidst school closures, layoffs, and what was supposed to be a delayed opening day of the storied trout season – we got a welcomed surprise. On Tuesday morning, April 7, 2020 at 8:00 am, The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat commission opened the fishing season for trout statewide.

Social media posts and text messages lit up cell phones around the state with apprehension and excitement. Many anglers were unsure if it was a gift or a prank. After a quick search – many would soon realize it wasn’t a prank and that it was indeed true. Officials felt with proper social distancing measures in place, anglers could hit the water for trout that have had ample time to acclimate and separate.

At lunch, I checked my fishing pack, found a few rooster tails and strung up my St. Croix Trout Series rod for its first trip I thought it wouldn’t see for a few more weeks. I was uncertain of where I wanted to go, but that was settled by PA Fish and Boat’s website leading me to a stocked farm stream a few miles from where I live. I let my wife know where I was heading and I tossed everything in the back of the truck and headed down the road.

The main question on my mind of whether anyone would be out or not was quickly answered by the several cars parked by the local bridge and those anglers fishing nearby. There were parents and grandparents enjoying a day on the stream and that wasn’t something I wanted to interrupt so I decided to take a longer, more out of the way, walk through a pasture would put me at a nice bend in the stream.

Before making one single cast, a male Canada Goose would persuade me to find another place to fish. Both he and his mate had a nest streamside and in the interest of future waterfowler’s success, I headed further downstream.

As I moved on, another angler was on the opposite bank reeling one in. At a minimum of six feet apart, I congratulated him. He thanked me and said with that one, and four more on the stringer, he was heading home for the day.

“Good fishing here if you want to try it.”

Had I not seen him just catch a trout – I really wouldn’t have believed him. There wasn’t much to the stream, no pools, eddies, or water clear enough to see any fish even with polarized glasses. However, I’ve been wrong before.

Casting and watching the rooster tail maneuver under the surface was interrupted abruptly by a flash of silver and that signature underwater argument from a fish that says, “this lure is now mine – sorry about your luck.”

Surprise turned to excitement, then concern, and after getting the treble hook out of its mouth on the bank – excitement again.

Within a few minutes, I had caught a pair. Even though there’s a daily limit of five, my wife and I only needed two for dinner that night. Besides, the grandfather downstream with his three grandkids who were losing worms and getting snagged in trees would probably appreciate any additional chances of success they could get. And with that, I called it a day.

As I drove back through the farmland, windows down enjoying unusually gorgeous early April weather, I had a feeling of appreciation and gratitude wash over me. I had caught two fish from the generosity of a stranger on the stream. Some may even call that the perfect day.

It was the kind of day where you weren’t worried about who had symptoms and who didn’t. You weren’t worried about if you had enough hand sanitizer or toilet paper at home. This year’s opening day was a nice reminder of normality and that there’s still calmness and comfort fishing your local fishing spot during these uncertain and chaotic times.