The opening morning of trout season is only days away.
This much-anticipated date on the outdoors calendar is always one of the most popular in the Juniata Valley as both hardcore trout fishermen and weekend warriors head out to try and land their first fish of the season.
Over the past few days I have been watching the local streams very closely as I try to predict the water conditions for Saturday's outing. Water level and clarity play a big factor in success rates for the average angler during the opener. The water conditions also determine what baits and lures should be the go-to options on the first casts of the season.
The long, cold winter was one we will not forget in the near future. The constant cold temperatures still have frost in the ground. When you combine that with the late snow pack that recently melted, the water table is high.
The saturated ground means the recent rains we experienced over the weekend and the early part of this week stayed near the surface. That rain water eventually drains into the water that trout anglers are hoping to fish Saturday morning.
No matter what type of stream you are planning on fishing, the water levels will be high. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Many anglers head to the mountains and fish small, cold-water streams. High water should not affect the clarity of the water since these types of streams clear up very quickly. The high water should have the trout spread out in more pools, ripples and holes that in normal years when water is slightly lower in regards to the bank.
Trout bite better when there is a tint to the water. They feel more protected from predators and also do not get as good of look at the bait while having to decide to bite or pass. While the mountain streams will likely be clear, the deeper water that is moving faster does result in similar trout behavior.
Most fishermen I know use live bait when fishing mountain streams. The most effective way is to roll minnows rigged with needle. Brook trout are almost exclusively stocked in mountain streams and love a fresh minnow making its way down the stream. Meal, wax and red worms are also a great choice for mountain brookies.
Make sure you have the right amount of sinkers fishing live bait. Mountain streams are best fished when you can slowly have your bait go down the stream on the bottom. Obviously some trout can be caught in deep pools by leaving bait sit on the bottom, but those fish do not last long once 8 a.m. arrives.
Spinners, spoons and other lures will work for mountain streams, but casting is sometimes an issue with the trees overhead and brush along the water. Many fishermen in small quarters also can cause problems with tangles.
The water appearance in the larger creeks will depend on the location you will be fishing. The higher on the stream you fish, the quicker the muddy water will disappear. Mountain streams drain clean water into the bigger streams in the valleys. Where the creeks run through farm land, the dirty water will persist until the run off ceases. That dirty water collects and flows downstream.
If we do not get any more rain this week most of the larger creeks should have a descent color. As I drove to my office Tuesday morning the big stream near my home looked like chocolate milk and was up to the top of its banks. The same occurred last week after a big rain storm and the catch-and-release section on that creek was fishable in three or four days.
Even if a large stream is fishable for the opener, there is very little chance it will be clear unless is above areas with farm land. If that is the case, most baits and lures that worked in the past will be just as effective.
If the water is muddy in your area, go with something the fish can smell. My go-to bait in muddy streams has always been a nightcrawler. I fish them near the edge of the fast water and it seems to produce trout. I prefer to bounce salmon eggs along the bottom, but in muddy conditions that tactic rarely brings a fish to the bank.
Once again, the amount of weight on the line will be key. Too little weight and your bait will quickly float down the stream without reaching the bottom. Too much weight will have it sitting near where you made your cast and will not be in front of trout waiting for food coming down the creek.
Minnows, any kind of worm and some Powerbait will also do the trick. Spinners can also work as the flashes made from the blade will appear though the dark water. Vibrations from lures can also help a trout locate what it thinks is a meal.
Make sure you take some different options to present on the end of your line. When water conditions are not ideal you need to work a little harder to land a limit of trout. Once one thing stops working, switch for a while and you may be surprised at the results.
Even more important, enjoy your time along the water with family and friends on what is an unofficial Pennsylvania outdoors holiday on Saturday.
Zach Knepp writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.