Frank’s Opening Day 2017
When I was a kid growing up in the 1960’s, my Dad, three brothers and I called the Opening Day of trout season “The First Day.” The day was much anticipated. Rock dams were built (a practice I don’t recommend today) in Beaverdam Creek and Smoky Run, two small streams within easy walking distance of our home in northern Bedford County, to make places for the trout to congregate and remain after being stocked. I recall my mother not being especially happy with us playing around in the streams building dams in the cold of late March and early April.
We had all of the major “holes” named. The Stump Hole, Butternut Tree Hole, Brush Hole, Pipe Hole, Big Curve, Little Curve, Creighton’s Hole, Dog Box Hole, and John’s Hole, to name a few, were all known by name to each of us and other local kids our age. After the trout were stocked a couple weeks before the season opener we thoroughly scouted the pools and fed the trout white bread. Disappearing balls of white bread deep in the murky green water meant the trout were there. Sometimes there were so many trout in a pool that when we fed them the water boiled with trout taking floating pieces of bread. Knowing about a pool like this sure made the sleeping difficult the night before The First Day. A common question among us was, “Where are you going to start this year?”
On The First Day there was the usual brotherly competition to see who would catch the most trout, as well as the biggest trout. Sometimes twenty to fifty trout or more were caught by one of us (not me) and released to be caught on another day. Many childhood memories were created, including the time I caught three trout on a tiny yellow-dotted, black-bodied, gold Panther Martin spinner on the drop before I even reeled in on one First Day at Frank’s Hole. I recall my brother John getting a little perturbed at me for interrupting his fishing by yelling for him to come downstream, from you guessed it, John’s Hole, to unhook the trout for me, his little brother.
But gradually we all got older and the significance of the day lessened, similar to Christmas morning, Easter morning, and even the First Day of Buck Season. Like most people, we moved away from the area after college, some farther than others. I returned a few times, but it just wasn’t the same without the familiar faces around.
For many years after this I developed a new tradition by fishing Vanscoyoc Run in Blair County on The First Day. I’d sit at a pool beginning about 6:30 a.m. hoping to have it to myself, and then crank out a bunch of trout on spinners when the magic hour arrived. Gradually though, I realized that casting spinners in a pool packed with other anglers was dangerous, plus there were a lot of kids fishing there and it seemed selfish to me to catch trout that they may have caught, especially when I now fished year-round and the significance of the day had greatly diminished.
For the past ten years or so I’ve pursued wild trout on Opening Day to avoid the crowds, but often fished a stocked stream in the afternoon after the crowds had thinned if the wild trout fishing wasn’t particularly good. I enjoyed doing this because I felt it was good to remind myself each year of how much more I enjoy fishing for wild trout than stocked trout, though there is certainly nothing wrong with fishing for stocked trout. They have their place and present a different challenge than wild trout.
This year I chose a popular non-stocked limestoner for Opening Day, figuring most of the regulars would be fishing stocked creeks and I’d have the place to myself. As followers of my ramblings on this website know, I much prefer catching wild trout, like this brown,
or this native brookie.
Well, I did have the stream to myself, but the trout must have thought Opening Day was the next day because they weren’t hitting very well. Two stops and only 23 small wild brown trout in 3.25 hours was my signal to pack it in and head to a stocked stream. Luckily, the day was still young since I had started fishing at daybreak rather than 8:00 a.m. About the only thing special on this morning so far was finding the rich, streamside forest floor covered with a pretty wildflower, lesser celandine.
At a little after 11:00 a.m. I stepped into the 51-degree water of a rather large stocked stream. The sun was shining brightly.
I caught just one trout, a 12.5” rainbow, in the first half hour. Two guys fishing downstream stopped to chat. The guy who talked the most complained about not catching even one trout all morning though he usually caught many on opening morning. He questioned if many trout had even been stocked. Based on my observation to this point, I was wondering the same thing and had even contemplated bagging it for the day, knowing that much better fishing was just a week or two away.
I advanced up to the pool the two guys had just vacated, which was really the first pool I had seen. All of the other water I had fished was just riffles with an occasional deeper spot. I promptly cranked out seven stockies from the pool, including a 13” golden rainbow. I smiled some.
From that point forward the fishing varied depending on the habitat and whether another angler was already at a pool. But the fishing was pretty good.
Three 15” rainbows were duped, and a golden rainbow of equal size shook my White Bead Gold spinner loose before I could land him.
A 15.5” rainbow was also fooled.
I was amazed at the number of large stockies, including this 14.5” brown.
I continued upstream, passing just an occasional angler. I was surprised how few anglers were fishing. After several hours I had passed less than ten people.
Cut-leaved toothwort grew in the fertile soil along the creek.
I fished at a leisurely pace, not knowing that the biggest event of the day was yet to come.
I was already satisfied with my day, particularly after the dismal beginning on the wild trout stream, but topping 100 trout was now within easy reach, something I never thought would happen after my slow start.
I came to a long pool, perhaps well over 100 yards long. The upper end was a deep riffle. No one was there. I made a long cast and let my spinner sink a little before retrieving. Instantly I felt a subtle take, similar to the other stockies that I had caught. But this one was different after I set the hook hard. The water boiled, like as if a beaver was swimming under the water and had suddenly turned. I saw a long white flash and knew I had a big trout on.
Quickly I loosened my drag since I keep it as tight as it will go to give me more hook-setting power. Luckily I had just retied my spinner to un-nicked line moments before. The trout stayed down deep but came downstream. For over fifteen minutes I worked the trout downstream, or maybe he worked me. Both sides of the stream had high banks with nowhere for a guy with no net to land a large trout. When I reached the tail of the pool, some 75 yards or more downstream from where I hooked the beast, another angler came along and volunteered to help me land the now tired-out hawg.
He grabbed it in front of the tail for a good grip and allowed me to take some photos of him with my trout.
It had just started to rain so taking a lot of photos with my digital camera was not an option, but I got this closer shot of the 25” rainbow, the biggest rainbow trout of my life. My old record was 24.5” set on October 11th, 2014.
After releasing the trout and thanking the angler from Oregon I proceeded upstream and caught an additional thirteen trout, giving me 79 on this stocked stream in 6.25 hours. My total for the day was 102 trout in 9.50 hours.
Overall it was a fun day, but I’ll tell you what, I’d give it up in an instant for just one more First Day as a kid on Beaverdam Creek and Smoky Run with my dad and brothers.
- Frank Nale -