FRANK NALE’S 2014 TROUT SEASON SUMMARY
When I go spinner fishing, my objective is to attain the euphoric feeling that I am going to catch a trout on every cast. I cannot describe this feeling well in words -- it has to be felt to be understood -- but it is the force that motivates me to roust myself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning and drive to my fishing destination well before daybreak. When this feeling is attained time flies by quickly and I just cannot wait to make the next cast, sometimes for hours at a time.
In 2014 I achieved this objective many times and had another great trout season here in central Pennsylvania. I had many wonderful outings. In September I reached the milestone of catching my 250,000th trout on spinners in this my 36th year of casting spinners, and in October I even broke one of my long-standing records. In addition, like keeping count of the trout that I catch and always being on the lookout for new wildflowers, taking lots of digital photographs enhanced my fishing adventures.
In this summary I will be mentioning numbers of trout caught and other statistics. This is not meant to be bragging but to give you a factual account of my fishing adventures. If this offends you, please read no further. If you choose to continue reading, I can assure you that my numbers are perfectly accurate. I carry a small tablet and pencil with me while fishing. When I get to a stream I write down the date, stream name and section, color of spinner, time, and the air and water temperatures. While fishing, I count only trout I have hooked, played, and landed. After catching a trout, without exception, I get out my tablet and record the size, species, and time-caught before making my next cast. This process takes only seconds and eliminates any chance of double-counting. I accurately measure my trout by holding them parallel against the grid of inch-marker thread-wraps that I put on my custom-made spinning rod. When necessary, I round the size of my trout down to the nearest one-half inch. When I finish fishing for the day I calculate the hours I have fished to the nearest one-fourth hour. I also try to quit at or very near to one-fourth hour increments. All of my fishing is done in streams open to free public angling. (I believe accuracy is the foundation of credibility. I am an accountant by profession.)
Trout of the Year
Each year I like to pronounce one trout as my “Trout of the Year.” Usually this is a surprisingly large trout from a small stream, but this year it was a big trout from a rather wide stream. On Saturday, October 11th, I began casting my five-foot, ultra-light spinning rod on a limestone stream in the central portion of the state at daybreak. The air temperature was 49-degrees; the water temperature 52-degrees. Much to my delight, I began picking up trout on my White Bead Gold spinner immediately at each trouty-looking spot, including a 15.5” wild brown trout.
At the next pool, on the far side of the stream, most of the current rushed along the left bank against a downed maple tree. I picked off a pair of hatchery-size wild browns there and was ready to move on, but for some reason elected to make one final cast into the depression under the riffle along the tree.
It all happened so fast. The instant I began retrieving my spinner a “football-size” trout charged out and inhaled my lure. No strike was felt, but I knew the trout had to have taken my lure because I no longer felt the throb of the blade. I reacted instinctively to set the hook, then watched helplessly in amazement as the hawg rainbow plowed directly away from me, taking out a good twenty feet of line, clearing the water multiple times, with water flying everywhere. I remember at the time thinking that the commotion was like flushing a whitetail deer in belly-deep water.
Luckily, the instant the big trout made her first run I opened the bail on my reel and controlled the line with my fingers. I routinely keep my drag set as tight as possible (i.e., no drag) because I believe this gives me more power in my hooksets. This trout would surely have snapped my 4-lb. test line before I could have loosened the front-drag on my Shimano Stradic reel.
I kept as much pressure on the trout as I dared but felt confident I had a good hookset as I slowly player her, or maybe I should say, she played me. She worked me downstream at least fifty yards where the water was shallower and had fewer obstructions. After a good five minutes I eased the beast to the edge of the stream and lined her up against the inch markers on my rod to get an accurate measurement. At 24.5” this was my biggest rainbow trout ever, easily beating a 23” rainbow that I caught on November 7th, 1998. It was also the third largest trout of my life, behind a 26” brown trout that I caught on two successive outings in the summer of 2003 from a small limestone creek.
Most Productive Outing
Catching one hundred trout in a day during the warm weather months is how I gauge whether or not I have chosen streams well. In June I got to fish just eight days, mostly due to work, but I was able to salvage the month by actually topping 200 trout on five outings. The best day occurred on Saturday, June 14th.
On this day I began at 5:25 a.m. on a large limestone stream that is stuffed full of wild brown trout. The water temperature was 58-degrees and the air temperature was 50-degrees. The flow was perfect. My expectations were high.
The first hour produced 17 wild browns on my White Bead Gold spinner, followed by hours of 23, 20, and 22. By then I suspected something special was imminent, but since this stream is probably the most popular fishing destination in Pennsylvania, I realized the day could end at any time by running into another angler or water that had already been disturbed that day.
But the great action continued. In the afternoon it got so fast and furious that I could not help but smile to myself, realizing my good fortune. Time passed almost without notice. Successive hours yielded 19, 26, 28, 23, 19, 30, 27, and 28. At the 12-hour mark I ran into the fly angler who was fishing downstream toward me that I had been watching since first spotting him from about 400 yards away. He was wearing a blaze orange hat and his rod was constantly throwing strobe-like flashes of light from the bright sunshine. I did not see him catch any trout.
I had 282 trout at this point and faced nearly a 1.5 hour hike back to my SUV, so I decided to quit for the day. My largest trout was a 15” rainbow. The longest wild brown was 14”. Overall, 239 trout were 7” or longer; 43 were sub-legal. This was my most productive outing since May 28th, 2007, when I caught 311 trout in 10.50 hours from a small limestone stream.
Some Freestone Wild Browns
I enjoy catching a lot of wild brown trout from large limestone streams, but there is something special about fooling a bunch of them on tiny freestone streams. Casting fifty feet or more between tight obstructions to spots sometimes smaller than a couple feet in diameter requires pinpoint accuracy, which I find challenging and rewarding. The trout are often quite small, but I believe it takes much more skill to hook these wary trout than larger trout on full-sized creeks. Often the wild browns are more colorful in mountain brooks, too.
On Saturday morning, June 7th, I turned off my alarm clock at 3:30 a.m., ate breakfast, and soon began the one-hour drive to a little freestone stream that I usually visit just once per year. In past years I had gone to this remote brooklet in early May as a way of getting away from the early season crowds, but this year I had planned on going later in the season because I felt cooler water temperatures had limited my catch in past years. Due to mixed results in the past, including some real duds, I had even questioned whether the trout population was still as good as it had been many years ago when catching a hundred trout here was almost expected.
After arriving at my parking spot, I donned my camouflage clothing, booted-up, and then walked in for a solid half hour before beginning to cast at 5:43 a.m. The flow looked perfect and checked in at 56-degrees. The air temperature was 50-degrees. The sky was crystal clear so I knew bright sunshine would soon pierce the tree canopy once the sun topped the mountain over my right shoulder. Tied to the end of my 4 lb. test Stren line was one of my solid brass White Bead Gold spinners.
Immediately I knew that it was going to be an exciting day, as little wild browns came to hand one after the other. The first hour yielded 23 trout, including an 11.5” brown and a pair of 12.5” brownies. Despite the fact that the stream is braided in many places, an issue that I often forget about when daydreaming about my adventures here, I logged over 100 trout before the end of the fourth hour.
I fished a total of 8.00 hours and caught and released 160 trout, including a few native brookies. Seventy-three of the trout were seven-inches or longer; 87 were under seven-inches. As I hiked back to my SUV, ever vigilant for rattlesnakes, I felt contented despite having had more productive outings in the preceding weeks on larger limestone streams.
Two Days in One Day
When I am fishing and reach one hundred trout for the day, I usually either just continue fishing the same stream, or if it is getting late, quit fishing and head home. Sometimes, though, the action peters out and it seems like it is too early to stop for the day, so I go to another stream for a while. But it is rare that my second stop produces another one hundred trout, which is almost like combining two days of angling into one day. In fact, though I did it once in 2013, prior to that I had not caught one hundred trout from each of two different streams in the same day since 2004.
On Friday, May 30th, after catching 105 trout in 6.75 hours on a large limestone stream, I ran out of undisturbed water. Since it was only about 1:00 p.m., I decided to drive to a small limestoner to round out the last day of my vacation week. I figured I would fish for about an hour unless the action was really good, in which case I would stay longer. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to catch another one hundred trout. I could recall only one other time when I had caught over one hundred trout on this stream.
I began at 1:25 p.m. on the brushy, six-foot-wide creek and recognized immediately that these trout had likely not seen a spinner yet this year. I used to have this happen often when I visited streams for the first time each year, but that was before a lot more anglers started casting spinners. The trout were acting like Kamikazes – attacking my spinner with reckless abandon, seemingly oblivious to seeing their stream-mates being caught. Trout were in the pools and spread out in the riffles, too. As long as my spinner hit the water it was a good cast, with trout ready to pounce on it. I fished 3.75 hours and had consistent action the entire time and ended up with 106 trout. The biggest trout was an out-of-place 15” rainbow. Other than two other smaller rainbows, the remainder of the trout were small wild browns, the longest being a 13”er.
Memorable Quick Stop
If things always turned out like I would like them to, I would go to one stream each day and fish there all day, assuming there is enough stream-length to make a day of it. But it does not always work out like this, so I often find myself scrambling to find a second stream to fish. Sometimes these secondary stops prove to be very memorable.
On Sunday, October 12th, after fishing the Little Juniata River for a few hours on a windy, frosty morning, I decided to fish a section of a heavily stocked creek that I had not fished in many years. The stream holds a decent population of wild brown trout. I hoped some stocked trout would remain as well. My expectations were low because of the bright sunshine and expected low water temperature and volume.
As it turned out, wild browns and more stocked trout than I ever dreamed could ever still be available were out feeding and readily attacked my White Bead Gold spinner. In 3.75 hours I caught 54 trout under less-than-ideal conditions. Though I typically target wild trout, it was fun to salvage the day with stocked trout. Some of them had really colored up since being stocked six months earlier.
Wildlife Event of the Year
Because I spend a lot of time alone along babbling trout streams wearing camouflage, I often encounter wildlife in an undisturbed state. Each year I like to christen one of these sightings as my “Wildlife Event of the Year.” However, in recent years the pickings have been pretty slim. I have seen enough rattlesnakes, black bears, and whitetail deer up close that it has become difficult for a new event to really stand out. But this year was different. In fact, this year’s event might better be called the “Wildlife Event of My Life.”
On Thursday, October 23rd, David Whiteman, a talented spinner fisherman and gifted photographer, joined me for an outing in the catch-and-release section of Penns Creek. We began at daybreak in the long straight riffle upstream from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s cabin. We were fishing side-by-side from the right edge since the rocks were a little too greasy and the water a little too swift to cross. About forty-five minutes into the morning we looked ahead and saw a deer about a hundred yards away on one of the islands where the stream becomes braided. With the naked eye it looked like a doe, but my curiosity always gets the best of me when I see a deer, so I reached into my breast pocket to retrieve my binoculars for a closer view.
To look through my 8 X 24 power binoculars I had to take off the clear, non-prescription glasses that I wear in low-light situations to protect my eyes from treble hooks instead of the darker polarized sunglasses that I wear throughout the day. Without realizing that they were not attached around my neck with chums like my sunglasses, I took them off, and in my haste, unknowingly dropped them into the water in front of me. After identifying the deer as a doe, I put my binoculars away and then realized my glasses were gone.
Even though I had bought the clear glasses with a gift certificate, I still hate to lose things. So while Dave continued to fish, I slowly waded downstream looking for my camouflage glasses. I searched the edge in vain for about 75 yards before giving up. Just as I began walking back upstream, an osprey lumbered by with a 13” wild brown trout in its talons, clearly in violation of the catch-and-release regulations. It was about twenty feet above the water and headed upstream toward Dave. As it passed I could hear its laborious wingbeats.
I stopped to watch the osprey and noticed it flinch oddly. It was then that out of the corner of my eye I saw another large bird above the leafless trees to my right in a full wings-tucked dive headed toward the osprey, which by now was close to Dave’s position. At first I thought it was a second osprey, but then I saw the white head and tail. Just as the osprey turned to go up the left channel of the stream, the bald eagle was within a few feet of the osprey and fanned out its wings and white tail, ready to hit the fish hawk.
The osprey somehow dodged the bald eagle and continued up the left channel with the bald eagle in hot pursuit. While behind a large sycamore tree they circled and rose above tree level. I could hear the bald eagle’s distinctive call. Together they circled to their left and came back toward us. It was then that the osprey let go of the trout from a good one hundred feet above the creek. We watched as the brown trout flew through the air diagonally and either hit on the bank or at the water’s edge not far from Dave but out of my field of vision.
The osprey flew downstream past us while the bald eagle dove toward the sailing trout and landed on a low tree limb along the left bank near Dave. It apparently saw Dave almost instantly because it quickly took off and flew upstream.
Dave was smiling ear-to-ear when I caught up to him, knowing that we had just witnessed an event that few people will ever see. A few minutes later a 13” wild brown trout floated downstream past us. It had just one small talon mark on its right side.
As it turned out, Dave only noticed the eagle and the osprey after the bald eagle called from behind the sycamore tree. So I guess losing my glasses was worth it because I got to see the entire event. I could not help but think about how extremely low the odds were of witnessing this event close-up in one of the most beautiful places in Pennsylvania. Dave summed up the sighting best by saying, “That alone was more than worth the price of admission!”
Statistical Summary and Analysis
I ended the year with 9,144 trout caught and released during 674.50 hours of fishing spread over 83 days. This was my fourteenth best year. I averaged 13.56 trout per hour and 110.17 trout per day. The 83 days that I fished were the fewest since 1989 when I fished just 76 days. My days on the water were limited due to work.
I fished a total of 37 different streams this year, 17 of which gave up more than 100 salmonids. I caught trout in all of them. The top stream yielded 3,466 trout in 257.00 hours during 38 visits (13.49 TPH; 91.21 TPD). The ten best creeks surrendered 7,613 trout in 562.75 hours (13.52 TPH), while the ten worst produced just 151 trout in 13.75 hours (10.98 TPH). Of the top ten streams, seven were limestone streams and three were freestone creeks. On a lifetime basis my best stream has yielded 84,219 trout.
I caught 100 trout or more on 52 of the 83 days that I fished, which is 34 fewer than the record 86 triple-figure outings that I had in 2004 out of 106 days fished. These 52 days yielded 7,121 trout. On a lifetime basis I now have 1,306 days where I have caught 100-plus trout. My permanent fishing logs show that I have caught 172,637 trout during these 1,306 days.
A breakdown of the 9,144 trout by species reveals 8,166 browns (5,873 were 7” or longer; 2,293 were under 7”), 759 brookies (269 were 7” or longer; 490 were under 7”), 214 rainbows (195 were legal-size; 19 were sub-legal), and 5 golden rainbows (4 were legal-size; 1 was sub-legal). Overall, 6,341 were 7” or longer (69.35%); 2,803 were sub-legal (30.65%). I did not catch any wild tiger trout in 2014, so my lifetime tally of wild tiger trout remains at 19.
I caught 46 trout that were 16” or longer, up ten from the prior year but 55 less than the record 101 that I caught in 2005. I consider catching large trout to be an incidental statistic, since I prefer to catch lots of small trout rather than a few big ones. I also enjoy fishing in the beautiful places that small trout lure me to. If catching large fish were my objective, I would probably give up trout fishing and concentrate on warm-water species. Many mountain streams that I fish likely do not even have any large trout. With this said, I do enjoy catching a big trout now and then, particularly when it is unexpected. Rainbow trout of 24.5”, 21.5”, 21”, and 20”, plus one 20” golden rainbow, were my only trout that were 20” or longer. A breakdown shows 26 browns, 19 rainbows, and one golden rainbow. These trout were all caught and released from just eight different streams. Just two were caught in purely freestone waterways. In addition, I also caught 50 trout that were in the 15”-to-under-16” category, so overall I caught 96 trout that were 15” or better. Although 96 trout of this size may not sound like many out of 9,144 trout, it averages out to better than one large trout per day fished. I believe most non-steelhead anglers would be quite satisfied with this in Pennsylvania.
I am a firm believer that the color of the spinner I am using has little, if any, affect on the number of trout that I catch. This year I caught 7,672 trout on my homemade White Bead Gold spinners, 1,307 on Pink Tread Silver spinners, and 165 on Yellow Bead Gold spinners. This difference reflects time spent rather than the effectiveness of the lure.
When I do my “Spin Fishing for Trout” seminars I state that I believe spin fishing is the most consistent, most productive method for catching trout all day long, anytime of year. One statistic in particular that I think supports this statement is that I have now averaged 100 trout per day for more than 22 years. My records show that since October 30, 1992, I have gone fishing on 2,101 days and have caught 210,119 trout in 16,044.75 hours. This averages out to 100.00 TPD and 13.09 TPH, or one trout about every 4 minutes and 35 seconds. Also, on a lifetime basis I have now caught 251,456 trout on spinners since 1979 when I began spin fishing. The last time I went fishing and did not catch any trout was on March 8, 1987, but I fished just 1.25 hours due to high, cold cloudy water on three streams. I have now gone fishing on 2,620 days since the last time I got skunked. I believe these statistics support my statement.
Like past years, I really enjoyed the 2014 trout season. My only regret is not making a trip or two to the remote mountain streams of north-central Pennsylvania to soak in some of that atmosphere. This just did not work out due to my work schedule and low summertime water levels, but I got to revisit some of my old friends locally. Taking digital photographs for the second year added an enjoyable dimension to my outings, particularly since I was often thinking about sharing my passion with other anglers by posting photo essays of my adventures in the Trout/Salmon Fishing Forum on HuntingPA.com. As I enter my 37th year to cast those shiny things that trout cannot seem to resist, I hope to remain in good health and have many more years ahead to prospect for the gems of Pennsylvania’s wild trout streams.
- Frank Nale –