Anglers out for opening day of trout season can choose from a variety of flies, lures and baits to catch fish.
Graphic: Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
Not every angler with a Pennsylvania fishing license will be on the water when the statewide trout season opens on April 14.
But it might feel like it.
If history holds, more than half a million people – about 60 percent of all those who buy a license – will fish for trout this season.
Some have been at it a while. Delayed harvest waters are open to year-round angling. Two mentored youth days will have come and gone by the opener. And of course March 31 was “regional” opening day in 18 southeastern counties.
Still, the greatest rush is yet to come.
Statewide opening day is fast approaching.
The rules are the same as last year. Fishing officially begins at 8 a.m., and anglers can keep five trout per day. All must be at least 7 inches.
Plenty of such fish are out there, or will be soon.
“Roughly 3.15 million fish is what we requested this year, the same as last,” said Dave Nihart, coldwater unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “Species-wise, we’re doing about two million rainbows, 640,000 brown trout and about half a million brook trout.”
Getting them to the water is a job.
According to Brian Wisner, chief of the commission’s hatchery bureau, agency staff made 1,328 stocking trips and drove approximately 277,000 miles stocking fish last year. They’ll do about the same this season.
Stocking began March 1. Ninety-five percent of the 3.15 million trout being moved will be in the water by late May or early June.
“So it’s definitely a busy time of year for hatcheries, for sure,” Nihart said.
The remaining 5 percent are stocked in fall.
Those fish are spread out. The commission will release them into 126 lakes and 720 streams.
Anglers should take some time to check the stocking list before opening day to see just where fish are headed. That’s because each year, some waters are added to the list, while some others come off.
This year is no exception.
Cooks Pond in Bradford County has been added to the stocking program for the first time, for example. Meanwhile, Glade Run Lake in Butler County – which was drained so its dam could be rebuilt – is getting more fish than last year. It will receive a second in-season stockings as well as a winter one.
A new section of the Shenango River is getting trout this year while the one historically stocked is coming off, all thanks to contaminants found in the water.
As for the fish going out in spring, most will average 11 inches.
Some trophy brood fish of each type are also being stocked, too. Those are fish stretching 14 to 20 inches.
Roughly 6,500 are going into Keystone Select waters, which are managed under delayed harvest artificial lures only rules. That means they can be fished year-round, but no harvest is allowed until mid-summer.
Keystone Select waters get 175 to 225 big trout per mile. That makes them comparable to some of the state’s best wild trout fisheries.
The remaining 19,500 big hatchery trout will be scattered in streams and lakes around the state. Densities are much lighter than on Keystone Select waters, though.
The maximum number of big trout per mile managed under general statewide regulations is five, for example.
But generally, all lakes get some, Nihart said. Most flowing waters do, too, though anglers with lunker trout on the mind should concentrate their efforts on bigger streams.
“Obviously, if you have a smaller stream, you can’t put nearly as many of those larger fish in as you could in a small river or large stream,” Nihart said.
The commission is also stocking 8,700 or so of the wildly popular, and even more wildly colored, golden rainbows, commonly called palominos.
“Most of the time, we shoot for those to be 14 inches. But typically, they’re bigger than that,” Nihart said.
There’s still more.
Sportsmen’s clubs in the commission’s cooperative nursery program are stocking another one million trout across the state.
Co-ops get trout as fingerlings – three to four inches long – from the commission. They raise them at their own expense, then stock them in waters open to public fishing.
Often, those waters are ones not on the commission’s stocking list.
Add it up and it’s a lot of fish.
The idea, Nihart said, is that many of them will get taken home for the table.
Like pheasants released by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, stocked trout are a “put and take” commodity, Nihart said. They’re most often put into “marginal” waters, where the kind of cold water trout need to survive gets scarce in summer.
So the commission expects – even hopes – that anglers will make use of them before that.
“We don’t stock fish in anticipation of them carrying over year to year. We encourage people to harvest the fish that we stock,” he added.
So get your gear ready. Opening day is almost here.
It’s time to fish.
Trout season and record fish
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission maintains a listing of state record fish, broken down by species.
There are categories for brook, brown, rainbow and golden rainbow (as well as lake trout and steelhead).
Beating a record is not necessarily impossible. But it is difficult.
This is Pennsylvania’s state record golden rainbow trout, caught in 2008.
Photo: Fish and Boat Commission
The standard bearer for golden rainbows is a 13-pound, 8-ounce fish caught by then-12-year-old Eli Borger of Palmerton from Mahoning Creek in Schuylkill County in 2008.
It was apparently bested last year.
A Quakertown angler named Mychael Althouse caught a 13-pound, 11-ounce golden rainbow from Little Lehigh Creek.
Althouse decided against officially entering his fish for record consideration, preferring to let Borger retain his top spot.
Still, that’s 10 years between record fish.
The other records are even older.
The rainbow trout record dates to 1986, the brook trout record to 1996, and the brown trout record to 2000.
To top any of those marks, anglers this year will likely have to find either a holdover trout that’s grown fat over time or one stocked by a private club or nursery, said the Fish and Boat Commission’s Dave Nihart.
“There have been some anomalies out there. But usually we don’t try to stock record fish,” Nihart said.
“So chances are when you come across a fish like that, it’s not a Fish and Boat Commission-stocked fish.”