First day of trout about more than fish

Back in winter, winter my son repeatedly asked me how many days remained until trout season would start. The first grader was eagerly awaiting the mentored youth trout day to arrive to shake his cabin fever. Seeing him excited for his opening day actually had me feeling the same way.

I always look forward to taking the kids fishing on both the mentored day and the standard opener. The tradition of waking up early, having breakfast by the creek and watching them reel in fish with a big smile on their face is what I believe opening mornings should be about as a parent.

With only one night of sleep separating River and some trout, we prepared for the sacred event by putting new fluorocarbon line on his reel, getting the next morning’s breakfast organized and loading the truck.

That morning the two of us were joined by my father for a cold outing along the water. Dad, a veteran trout angler, had spent many opening mornings with my brother and me as we were growing up. The past six years he has done the same watching my two children reel in the first trout of the season.

I was surprised by the lack of others along the creek as clock continued to wind toward the 8 a.m. start time. With only a few minutes remaining to wait, only one father and daughter duo was in sight upstream from our location.

Anyone who has taken young children fishing during an opening morning can attest that the last 15 minutes before you can legally fish is hard for them to endure. It is the equivalent to a kid in the back of the car on vacation asking “Are we there yet?”

The 7-year-old asked me a few times how long we had to wait, but overall, he was patient as he had his breakfast and we discussed what bait he wanted to try first.

Salmon eggs are always my go-to bait on trout openers. Growing up I learned to bounce them down the bottom of a stream with great success and never looked back. Both my children have caught the majority of their trout on openers using the same technique.

Why argue with good results? That was River’s thinking as elected to start with a yellow egg. Also waiting as backups were Powerbait, a multi-colored jar of eggs, worms, spinners and some Trout Magnets. I in no way thought we needed anything but salmon eggs, but I like to be prepared.

As 8 a.m. finally appeared on my phone screen, we looked up to see our only co-anglers already in the water. I put an egg on his size 10 hook and told him it was time for the first cast of the year.

He was proud of his bait selection as he landed two rainbows and a brownie on this first three casts. All three quickly were tossed back into the creek as the three generations of Knepp men shared smiles on what was already a successful day along the creek.

Next he decided to switch to a tie-dye looking jar of pink and yellow Powerbait I had purchased for his older sister, who unfortunately could not fish because of a prior commitment.

The trout were still hungry and apparently didn’t mind the crazy-looking bait as he continued to bring in fish to the net. Sure, he missed a few, but I was definitely proud to see a child at that age catching his fish by himself with making good hook sets that allowed the fish to be released.

At that point we decided to try the new few holes downstream since no one else had arrived. River went back to his salmon eggs and pulled five more rainbows out of the next hole, including his two biggest fish of the day.

Once that hole stopped producing we moved to a section of long, slow water where I knew a few trout would be hanging out. This water is not ideal for salmon eggs so we made a switch to a spinner made for River by my friend Jason who runs Summit Park Spinners.

He missed a decent one on his first retrieval. Eventually he did land on the spinner, but the bigger trout would not give him another opportunity. Without waders, that stretch was hard to fish from our location on the bank and we decided to go back where we started to finish out the morning.

River caught a few more on salmon eggs before the bites finally stopped. At that point the little angler from Middleburg had released 13 trout and was ready to call it a morning.

However, I suggested we try a Trout Magnet. I had purchased those lures in case we headed to a lake to fish the opener because of high water on the stream. The previous year River fished a stocked lake because of the creeks were too high and had a great time reeling in a lot of trout with Summit Park Spinners.

That day I watched kids with a trout magnet and bobber setup be surprisingly successful. While we could not use a bobber at our area, I assumed bouncing it down the creek bottom much like a salmon egg may result in a few bites from fish that were tired of the eggs or already were missed with that bait.

Using an all-white trout magnet, River caught trout numbers 14, 15 and 16. I was actually surprised they worked, but glad I made the purchase. They do not go bad, so they will likely stay in my vest for years to come.

While catching that many fish definitely made his morning memorable, I know that he would have had just as much fun if he had only caught one or two.

Even at a young age, I think he appreciates the event of the first day of trout season more than just catching fish. It is something we look forward to as a family and another way we can spend time together. The memories we made will be shared in upcoming years while waiting for 8 a.m. for years to come.

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Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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