Tough May Fishing
This month has been very difficult for me in terms of fishing success. Normally, I catch more trout in May than any other month. I think there are many variables. I think the much cooler than normal weather is a factor, as well as last year’s drought. But there’s also no doubt in my mind that the biggest reason is me. Several others in this forum have had exceptional fishing lately. My stream choices, casting, and hooking proficiency aren’t as good this year. Hopefully, things will improve soon.
Summaries of seven recent outings follow.
Tuesday was the type of fishing day that I really can’t stand. I spent a good part of the day, walking in or out of streams that I fished for a short time due to poor action. I fished five different limestone streams, hoping to hit at least one of them right.
The first stream is one I know well. The first section I fished used to produce regularly, but my fishing in that section has been poor the last couple of years. I can tell that it gets fished hard now. I fished two different sections. The second section flows through a dairy farm. A few years ago, about this time of the year, there was a large, very vocal bull in the pasture who didn’t like me being there one bit. I’d never heard a bull roar like that. This time, a different bull was there. Most farmers don’t bother having bulls anymore because they’re not worth the trouble.
I caught 13 wild browns in the first stream on a mixture of spinners and plugs. The biggest trout was only 10 ½ inches. The second stream produced only two small browns before I left. Stream #3 was high and cloudy. I caught 7 small browns there before moving to another stream. I only caught one small brown there but had a large brown follow my spinner back to me and rocket past me. I saw three people fishing upstream of me so I waded out and ended the day on the main tributary. I caught a 5 ½ inch wild brown before closing the day with a nice 12 ½ inch brown.
12 ½ inch wild brown trout
Overall, I caught 25 trout on a mixture of spinners and plugs. The biggest was the end of the day brown in the above picture.
With a high level of anticipation, I drove to a freestone stream where I’ve had many great outings. The problem is that it gets a lot of pressure from people exercising their dogs, taking nature hikes, and fishermen.
The flow was excellent, but the trout not cooperating. Only three wild browns came to hand, the largest being a 12 ½ incher. I noticed a lot of boot tracks along the stream, so I walked back to my car.
I decided to try a large freestone stream that I hadn’t fished in years. I walked into the lower part of the stream where I had never fished before. A huge brown followed my plug but wouldn’t hit. If I’d managed to hook and land that fish, it would have been a day maker. It had to be close to two feet long.
A short time later, I had a heavy strike. I set the hook and saw a bright silver flash. At first I thought I had hooked a huge rainbow, but it turned out to be a shad, which I had never caught before. It was a big, heavy fish.
I caught a surprise stocked brookie and a small bass before walking out.
I ended the day on a small, class A freestone stream. The fishing was better there. I landed ten wild browns up to 15 inches long.
I only caught 14 trout, 1 shad, and 1 bass on the day.
High Water Thursday
I returned to a larger freestone stream that I did well fishing last month. The stream was quite a bit higher than it was on my last trip there. I hoped that with the warmer stream temperatures that the action would be faster.
Soon after starting, I hooked and lost a heavy trout in the 15-16-inch range. A few minutes later, I hooked another nice brown but this time I landed it. My first trout of the day was a 16 ¼ inch wild brown. My next two trout were 6 ½ inch browns. I caught only three more trout that hour; browns of 11, 14 ½, and 13 ½ inches.
16 ¼ inch brown
Hour number two started with an 8 incher, followed by another lost trout in the 15-inch range. I reached a familiar spot that doesn’t look like a big trout holding spot, but I know from experience that there’s a small depression where a trout can lay and roll out and grab potential prey. As my spinner passed by, I saw a large shape following my spinner. I pulled the rod away from me on my left side to extend the retrieve. As my arms reached maximum extension, the trout closed its mouth on the spinner and I set the hook. The trout rocketed downstream and cleared the water, but I managed to land him. At 16 inches, it was my second hog of the day. Several trout flashed at my spinner without hitting before I connected on a 13-inch wild brown. After a 20-minute break in the action, a trout violently hit my spinner. While fighting the big trout my line got caught in the chain of my wading staff. I landed the trout, quickly measured it against my wading staff before unhooking it and letting it go. I didn’t want to fumble with my camera while the line was caught in the chain in my wading staff and risk the spinner breaking off in the trout’s jaw. I wish I had brought a net with me to the stream. The brown was 17-inches, my third big trout of the day.
16 inch brown
Although that trout struck violently, it is my experience that most big trout don’t strike spinners or sub-surface plugs that way. Very often, the strike is very subtle. I think trout are more likely to hit hard in fast water. Though it doesn’t happen often, it’s thrilling when trout hit a lure hard. I don’t often use floating plugs and usually when I’ve caught trout on them, the strike occurred after the plug had been pulled under the surface. In the rare instances where the trout hit when the lure was on the surface, the strike was hard and explosive, which makes sense. As a side note, all the trout I’ve caught on plugs this year, have been on countdown or suspending plugs.
In the next two hours, I repeatedly had nice trout hit and get off in the heavy current. Only six trout came to hand, one of which was 15 ½ inches.
15 ½ inch brown trout
The action remained slow. I picked up two small browns before a heavy brown rolled out and grabbed my spinner. It cleared the water several times before I brought it to my feet. My fourth hog of the day measured 16 ½ inches. A few minutes later another big trout zoomed in and hit on a short line. I had it within about two feet of me when I carelessly lost it. I should have landed that fish, which would have made it a five-hog day. I landed one more trout in that section. I tried one other section, but it only resulted in 1 sub-legal brown.
16 ½ inch brown
The last time I fished that stream, I didn’t catch any sub-legal browns. This time I caught several of them. I was glad to see more small trout, though I still didn’t catch as many small trout as I normally do there. I was afraid that most had fallen victim to other predators. We all like to catch bigger trout, but we need sub-legals. They’re tomorrow’s legals.
Overall, I caught 24 wild browns, all on spinners. Four were 16 inches or more, two were 15 ½ inches, three more were between 14 and 15 inches.
On Monday I returned to a favorite large freestone stream known for producing big trout. It was my second trip there this year. I fished it with Tim Risser, a former work colleague. Tim had never fished there before and was very anxious to give it a try.
We caught a lot more trout than I expected. Normally, a day over 20 trout for one person is rare. We caught a lot of brook trout that must have migrated in from stocked tributary streams. I thought we would catch more big trout than we did, but late in the morning, a drift boat passed, followed by an angler in a Fishing Cat, and three kayaks. That stream is too small for a drift boat. For the most part, the boat must go right down the middle of the stream and it kills the action, at least for big trout. It has been my experience on that stream that boats definitely put the fish down. It also didn’t help that the sun came out, which is also detrimental to catching big trout there. We ended up catching five trout over 16 inches combined and each lost two big trout. Of the big trout we caught/lost all but one took place before the boats passed us.
We fished two different sections and were going to fish a third when we spotted a car which I knew meant fishermen were already there so we decided to call it a day. Tim caught 22 trout and 2 smallmouth bass, all on spinners. He caught 11 browns and 11 brookies. Included in his catch were three hogs, browns of 18 ½, 18 ¾, and 17 inches. He also had two big trout hit and get off.
Tim with 18 ½ inch brown
I caught 30 trout and 1 bass on the day. I caught one brook trout and one bass on a plug; all other trout hit spinners. 19 of my trout were brook trout and 11 were browns. I caught two trout over 16 inches, browns of 20 ½ and 17 ½ inches. Like Tim, I had two trout hit and get off. One hit when I only had a few feet of line out and slipped the hook about a minute later. The other was free after only a few seconds. I caught two “near hogs”, browns of 15 and 15 ½ inches.
20 ½ inch brown trout with tag on dorsal fin
17 ½ inch brown
I had hoped to catch more big trout, but it was a fun introducing a friend to a new stream. He told me he couldn’t remember ever catching two 18-inch trout on a stream in PA.
I went to a familiar stream on Friday. When I arrived, the stream was muddied from overnight rain. I started in its main tributary, which had cleared. I fished it for 1.75 hours and caught 12 wild browns. The biggest was 12 inches. I left there and returned to the main stream. Unfortunately, there was a car parked where I intended to fish so I drove downstream to another spot. The action was very slow at first as the stream was still very cloudy. The action picked up as the stream cleared. I caught 46 wild browns in 5.75 hours to finish the day with 58. Normally I catch a lot more trout there. The biggest trout of the day was 15 ¾ inches. I caught one other 15-inch brown. I had a trout of similar size throw the hook. My next to last trout was my 1,000th trout of the year.
I was surprised to see a coyote run across the road in the daytime.
15 ¾ inch wild brown trout
I went to a favorite large stream in search of large trout. I knew it was a risk as that stream rarely fishes well before June. Shortly after arriving, I flipped a cast between the branches of a willow tree. After one crank of the reel the spinner stopped. I set the hook and knew immediately that I had a big trout on the line. After a couple of minutes, the heavy trout lay at my feet.
19-inch wild brown trout
I lost several trout trying to bring them across heavy current. I landed three more trout that hour, browns of 13, 11, and 7 ½ inches.
A big trout hit my spinner to open the next hour. I set the hook; the trout rolled, and was off. A short time later I saw a large trout following my spinner. It didn’t hit and surprisingly followed on the next cast. Unfortunately, it didn’t hit. I had several other trout follow without hitting. Two were clear hogs. As the end of the hour approached, I cast into a promising looking section of pocket water and was rewarded with a solid strike. I set the hook hard and a heavy trout came to the surface. He zoomed upstream, then down. I finally brought him in and measured him. He measured 17 ½ inches, which was less than I expected. It was a fat brown as is often the case with thick browns, it wasn’t as long as I first thought. Unfortunately, while holding him up for a picture, he slipped out of my hands before I could take the picture.
The action continued to be slow. Another big trout followed without hitting. Several small trout flashed at my spinner as well. I caught a 7 and a 12 incher before I saw two orange kayaks coming down the stream. I hooked a heavy trout against the bank and netted it as the first kayak passed. The trout was a healthy 17 incher.
The sun came out and that stream fishes terribly when it’s sunny. I moved upstream and as I figured, the action, already slow, was even worse. I caught two 7 ½ inch browns before seeing another angler in front of me. He had just caught a big brown on a Sulphur and was headed upstream to locate his friend. I had a big brown follow in a side channel but saw nothing else before heading back to the car.
I stopped to get something to eat and take a break. I went downstream to a section that usually produces at least one big trout. Unfortunately, all I caught there was a small bass. I did have a hog brown follow my spinner, but it didn’t hit. I climbed the steep bank and walked back to my car.
I drove to a nearby freestoner, but there was a car already parked there so I drove to another section. As I cast along an undercut bank, I felt a sharp strike. I expected a brown trout, but instead was surprised to see a perch on the end of my line. A few minutes later, I hooked and landed a 6 ½ inch wild brown, followed by a nice 9 ½ inch native brookie. A short time later, a good-sized trout followed my spinner back to me, then darted away. Browns of 10 and 11 inches fell to my spinner before I fished through a familiar area which almost always yields a trout or two. This time it didn’t produce even a follow.
I cast under a tree that had fallen across the stream and a trout smashed my spinner. As I brought the brown in I saw a large shadow following it in. I didn’t see how big the fish following it was, but the brown I landed was 12 inches. Unfortunately, I fished through several excellent looking spots, but only managed a 6 ½ inch native brookie.
For the day, I caught only 16 trout, 1 bass, and 1 perch. I didn’t expect a lot of trout as I was after big trout. I landed three but saw 7 or 8 others during the day. It shows how small the margins can be. If I’d hooked and landed 2 or 3 of the trout that followed, it would have been a five-hog day, which are rare.
I drove to the north central part of the state yesterday to try some new streams. The first stream I tried is a scenic, freestone stream, that probably was close to drying up last year. I fished it for 1.75 hours and caught 6 wild browns and 5 native brooks. All the trout came from deeper areas.
I walked back to my car and drove to the confluence with the main stream. I only fished it for 15 minutes and caught one stocked brown. A short distance downstream, another class A freestoner entered the mainstem. I fished up a couple of miles on the beautiful stream. The first 7 trout I caught were stocked browns. I figured that the browns either moved up from the mainstem or were stocked illegally by the people who have the camp in the lower end of the stream. Once I moved above the camp, all the trout were wild browns and native brooks. The largest was only ten inches but I enjoyed fishing new scenic water. I caught 28 brooks and browns in that stream to finish the day with 40, all on spinners. 22 were brook trout and the remainder were browns. The biggest trout of the day was only 11 inches. The third stream was a bigger stream than the first and likely didn’t suffer as much during last year’s drought. I caught a lot fewer sub-legals than I expected and very few in shallow water. Normally when the water level is up on a stream like that, I catch small trout from shallow water.
I drove to another stream which I used to fish a lot, but haven’t fished in several years. As I approached, the sky darkened and lightning flashed, so I walked out. It started to rain heavily seconds after I removed my hip boots and got in the car. It only rained for about 15 minutes. I thought about putting my gear back on, but was tired and had a long drive home ahead, so I called it a day.
Pictures from the day:
11-inch wild brown
A cluster of butterflies on the ground where I parked my car
That closes the book on the month of May. Unlike several others in this forum, my fishing was not particularly good this month. I caught a lot fewer trout than I normally do. I did pretty well catching big trout this month, so I really shouldn’t complain.