Wildwood Outfitters Blog and Fishing Report
Growing up, there were few days more sacred and more anticipated than opening day. The official start to trout season meant there were months of adventures ahead, whether that be camping trips into the mountains or morning excursions to the local delayed harvest streams. My dad and I religiously participated in the opening day hoopla despite the headaches that can be created by too many fishers in too small a space.
Each opening day would begin the same: breakfast at the Ice Box in downtown Leechburg. This particular establishment has been closed many years, and even the most devoted Kiski Valley historians might have a tough time remembering it, but the imagery and scene are as clear today as they were then. We would sit at the counter top stools that lined the old school bar setup in front of old booths in desperate need of some new upholstery. The smell of burnt coffee singed the nose and heightened senses, not that any senses needed heightened on this day.
Excitement ran at a fever pitch, almost to the point of being unable to eat my usual order of pancakes and bacon...almost. I would scarf the meal down as fast as I could while my dad sat there slowly (it was more like a normal pace, but slow compared to me) enjoying his eggs, toast, and coffee. No amount of pleading and awkward staring could coax him to finish sooner, and he reminded me that we couldn't start fishing until 8 AM, anyhow.
After the breakfast that seemingly took forever, we would hop into the car and drive for an hour to our fishing destination, Clear Creek in Jefferson County. I'm not sure why we chose this spot for our opening days or when this tradition started, but I still remember each picturesque pool and riffle of this tumbling mountain stream. We would string up our fly rods as the clinking of minnow buckets could be heard and the smell of power bait emanated from the other vehicles near ours. One hole in particular was our favorite and we would hike directly there each year, though we were rarely alone. As anglers got into position up and down the stream everyone was anxiously awaiting for 8 AM and the fun that would be sure to follow.
My knowledge of fly selection was limited in those days, but I knew enough to tie on the trusty green weenie, a Pennsylvania classic. It never took more than a few casts because we started catching some of the innocent stocked trout that had never before been subjected to the offerings of fishers. The bland colored trout quickly came to hand, and the gasping, almost audible horror, was plentiful as my dad and I released each caught fish back into the stream. There were close to as many stringers as anglers present, so releasing a caught trout was viewed as throwing away a just-purchased box of pizza before even having a look at it.
Now, those are treasured memories as everything from the Ice Box to my father are gone. What can never escape though, are the joys of releasing those caught fish back into the stream, or barely being able to sleep the night before knowing what was waiting the morning of opening day.
As I grew up, opening day remained part of my life, and evolved as I did. Zach, the future best man in my wedding, had a camp in the mountains and in our late high school years we would go there for opening day, unleashed from the seeming burden of parental supervision. Fishing was still the main course, but now considerations were given to how early we could build a fire and whether or not we might run out of adult libations.
No matter how early we put the old, rotting logs on the flames or cracked open a can of adulthood, we would be on the water for opening day. One year in particular sticks with me as we decided to fish Salmon Creek, some ways from camp. We joined the dozens (but what seemed like millions) of other anglers who chose this stream to spend their morning. It was balmy for April in PA, being warm enough for short sleeve shirts. As we ventured up and down the stream we stopped to strategize near a snarl of roots and logs on a bend in the stream.
The water slowed considerably in this spot, almost like a car approaching a sharp curve on the road. Water clarity was excellent on account of no rain (a rarity for this time of year) so as we talked we peered into the hole that seemed to go down forever. Our discussion meandered away from fishing and towards the cooler back at camp when I noticed the fanning of a giant tail among the wooded debris. We stared at the spot so long what we saw was either a mirage or one of the biggest trout either of us had seen to date.
A plan hatched and it was decided that Zach would go after the fish from upstream as I stayed in my current position to direct him. Fish like this, hatchery reared or not, were smart and pulling him from the dead-fall would be no easy feat with a fly rod. Egg patterns were up first, followed by worm imitations and mayfly nymphs but with the same, less than positive results. Finally, we tried a white streamer loaded with enough lead to sink a ship, or in this case a wooly bugger. Line was fed down into the hole as the flashy white marabou and bead sank into the depths. Slowly, ever so slowly, Zach stripped the bugger back upstream, pausing to let it sink after each retrieve. When his line went taught I assumed that fly was gone, buried in some fallen tree but then I heard, "got him!"
For the life of me I can't remember the fight or getting him in the net, only that we got him. It was a brook trout, upwards of 20 inches and the crown jewel of our day. Zach would spend the day bragging (rightfully so, as it was a heck of an angling job by him) and regaling anyone willing to listen about his besting of the giant fish. Back at camp that evening, we retold the story to each other over and over again, with the fish size growing at a rate similar to the pile of aluminum cans near the fire. Now, a decade later, it goes into the fishing archives as one of the most memorable opening days of all time.
For anglers throughout the Commonwealth opening day is about more than fish caught or a trophy to mount on the wall. It's about memories that will span a lifetime, and the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. The joy of fishing cannot be imitated, and the experiences we have pursuing trout are both authentic and unique. While opening day has changed over the years, the childlike excitement and giddiness that leaves us up nights never wanes. It's what brings us back for more, year after year, in the hopes that more memories will be made on the banks of a trout stream.