If I found a lamp and a magic genie came out and granted me three things I could change about trout fishing in Pennsylvania, I have an idea what those things would be.
The first selection would be that all wild trout streams would be turned into catch-and-release only. Instead of having to put up signs on every special regulation area, I would make all non-approved trout waters strictly catch-and-release to avoid any loopholes.
As many of you know, I do not kill any trout, but I understand why anglers do take some home to eat. I would much rather have those fish in the frying pan be stocked rather than stream bred.
Reproducing trout are a very special part of our ecosystem. They require clean, cold water that is getting harder and harder to find. These pockets of fish should be protected for future generations to enjoy and appreciate.
My second choice would be to have to have more opportunities provided by the Fish & Boat Commission for children to be successful when trout fishing. Most of the youth derbies today are held by private clubs and organizations.
When I was growing up and starting to fish with my father and grandfather in the 1980s, I had no trouble catching a limit of trout most outings.
Obviously the biggest reason for that was the amount of trout being stocked in the good old days. We all know the Fish Commission is stocking fewer trout today because of a reported financial crunch.
One way to accomplish my second wish would be to hold a state-wide opening day just for kids. If we can have them for turkeys and ducks, stocked trout does not seem like a stretch. Even if it was only held within certain boundaries on each stream, kids would be able to enjoy themselves without selfish adults trying to cast over their lines and quickly catch the same fish.
A smaller limit would not hinder the fish population for adults who would take exception to youngsters catching their fish. These sections utilized for the youth day could also be restocked for the traditional opening morning.
More kids-only sections for the entire year would also make a positive difference. Even if they were catch-and-release, it would still allow children to catch fish after the stocked trout in regular streams have gone missing. Obviously kids would kill a few through swallowed hooks, but everyone that survived would give another child the thrill of reeling it in.
The final thing I would love to change would be the in-season stocking schedule. I often joke that most of the trout stocked during the season are caught by retired anglers and those who are not working the day the stock truck rolls down the road next to the stream. While you may feel it is a generalization, it is pretty accurate in the smaller streams that are stocked locally.
A few years ago I was filming a segment for a television show while fly fishing with streamers for crappies at Faylor Lake. After we had caught enough fish, I mentioned to the producer that they were stocking Middle Creek if he wanted to film that for a future show. We caught up with the truck and I helped dump a few buckets of trout in the creek.
I was shocked at the amount of people along the creek waiting with rods in hand. In fact, I vividly remember one guy reeling a fish out of the hole I was stocking. Another man already had two on a stringer when I returned with my second bucket full of trout.
My "Do you want me to just put them directly in your bucket for you?" joke was not well received by the older gentleman.
I would like the stocking schedule after the first day of trout season to be kept from the public. Instead, I would prefer the stocking of streams to be random according to the public. This would give all anglers a better opportunity at the fish. It would also give the fish some time to adapt to the water and spread out like they do when stocked weeks before the opener.
Out of my three wishes, the first could be easily accomplished. However, I know the final two are more on the side of wishful thinking than reality. Of course, they did come from a magic genie, proving anything is possible.
Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.