The Every Day Hunter
We don’t say “Spring has sprung” because it surprises us. We say it because it comes fast and furious. We’ve waited anxiously, winter has tested our patience, and suddenly our to-do list is longer than it is any other time of the year. Somehow we need to work it all in because it’s time to fish for trout and hunt for turkeys.
Yes, trout season is upon us. It’s now open in New York, and opens April 13 in Pennsylvania’s northern tier of counties. (Earlier in certain PA waters — check your regulations.) Two things to remember as you hit the streams. Moderate water levels will give you the best success, and trout are transitioning from hatchery food to natural food.
Finding the right water level isn’t always easy this time of year. Winter melt off is creating turbulent water that isn’t friendly to trout fishermen. If you can find a stream or a few holes in a stream where the water levels stay fairly consistent, you might find a honey hole for aggressive brown trout. Later on, from late May through July, water levels will rise and fall more quickly. Rainstorms will prompt trout feeding frenzies by adding water volume to the streams and washing newly available food into the water. Right now though, stream banks harbor fewer bugs and other trout delicacies, so natural food is scarcer than it will be later in the season.
If you find the water high in April, your challenge will also be high. In deep, cloudy water food can drift right by a trout’s nose without him seeing it, or it could be out of sight before he reacts to it. High water also makes trout more reclusive. Low, clear water (more common in late summer) makes them cautious. So look for the Goldilocks zone — not too high and muddy, not too low and clear.
Fly fishermen say, “Match the hatch!” but all fishermen do better when offering trout what they recognize as food. When fishing edible baits, salmon eggs are an old standby and still tempt trout. Hatchery trout are less aggressive than wild trout, so if you can bounce and drift your bait in a way that even sluggish trout can catch them you’ll reel in some nice fish.
If the fish have been in the stream for several weeks, bring along some grubs — mealworms and wax worms. Rigging a tiny marshmallow with them adds buoyancy, keeping them off the bottom and in the fish’s line of sight. Whatever you offer, make sure it moves with the current. Your bait shouldn’t appear unnatural, or outrun a lethargic fish.
Don’t feel like you need the best of everything for opening day success, especially if you have a kid along. That iconic Andy Griffith Show television image of Opie Taylor and his sheriff dad heading for the water reminds us that classic fishing is low-tech, a casual affair where the catching may not be as memorable or as important as the bonding experience. Some fishermen skip the bait shop and open a can of corn, or boil up some elbow macaroni, or roll some white bread into little balls and color them with Jell-O. These soft but less-than-natural vittles fool lots of trout and are great baits when fishing remains a poor man’s game.
Artificial baits, if you work them properly, will catch as many fish as edible baits. Put spinners and spoons into little eddies and backflows where trout can rest but food comes by just a few inches away. Work the lures slowly. Spinners give you extra motion and reflection, mimicking live minnows. I’ve always believed (and a few manufacturers market their lures this way) that the spinning blade creates a vibration that fish will seek out.
Whatever you tempt trout with, offer it on a small hook and light two- or four-pound line that allows the most natural presentation — unless you’re going for that trophy trout. When I was a kid I had my dreams set on a lunker, so I used 8-pound test line. That big trout always eluded me, and I would have put many more ordinary fish into my creel if I had used lighter line. Lighter line makes you more careful too, and allows your bait better natural movement. Of course, when you tie into a steelhead, heavier line is the ticket.
Where to go? Our area has ample waters, most of them have fish, and all of them will draw fishermen. The trout stocking schedule put out by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation will put you where the fish are. PA’s Fish and Boat Commission does the same.
From March to the end of June, more than 70,000 trout have been (or will be) introduced into Chautauqua and Cattaraugus County waters where fishermen are now tossing off winter doldrums as they toss their lines into the water. It’s an exciting time — especially for kids. There’s nothing that puts a bigger smile on a youngster’s face than the tug of a trout on a line.
While you’re fishing for trout, you might want to tune your ear for gobbling turkeys. Spring gobbler season opens in New York on May 1 (youth season April 20 and 21). New York hunters licensed for PA can get started a little earlier. The Pennsylvania season opens April 28 (youth day is April 21).
With a few weeks to go before turkey time, work in a little scouting as you fish for trout, practice your turkey calls, and tune up your patience. Fishermen are known for patience, but consistent spring gobbler hunters need the serenity and long suffering of a saint. Most turkey takers know what it’s like to sit without moving for one, two, even three hours, barely moving.
When spring finally arrives here, it’s a great time to live in western New York and northwest Pennsylvania. You have plenty of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, so get out and appreciate the fast and furious spring.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.