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post #1 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-02-2017, 12:59 PM Thread Starter
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Trout Tales and Buck Tails

Trout Tales and Buck Tails

In the early morning darkness I slowly eased my SUV in along two pickup trucks and turned off the motor. Normally another vehicle in the parking lot would have sent me packing, but today I was swapping my fishing rod for my Remington. It was 4:30 a.m. on Monday, November 27, 2017, the opening day of buck season. I figured at least two other hunters must have had even longer hikes to their spots than me.

Despite having had an anxious, restless night of sleep, I was reluctant to open the door to a cold, chilly wind. Funny how that works, I thought. But within a minute I got out and opened up the hatchback, one that I often bump my head into if I’m not careful. Quickly I took off my sneakers and pulled on my Cabela’s 1,000-gram Thinsulate hunting boots. This struck me as kind of odd after having routinely pulled on my LaCrosse hip boots in the darkness to go trout fishing on more than one hundred mornings this year.

I wore my hunting coat unzipped with only a thin flannel shirt on underneath. I knew I’d be chilly at first, but the hike ahead was all uphill. I’d quickly work up a sweat, particularly when carrying not only my heavy rifle but also a sealed garbage bag with most of the clothes that I’d be wearing for the day.

Frost sparkled on the leaves in my flashlight beam as I began the two-mile-plus trek to the top of the mountain on an old logging road. The stars were out bright but the near-half waxing moon had already sunk below the horizon.

My mind quickly drifted to the 9-point buck I had downed on Opening Day in 2015, the biggest buck I had ever shot in forty-four years of chasing whitetails. That year there was a huge buck rub not far from my blind. This year two scouting trips in the prior weeks had revealed a pair of buck rubs on trees close to a foot in diameter not far from my spot. Would this be the year I’d connect on another trophy, I wondered?

DSC_5574 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

I hunt on one State Game Lands that adjoins another State Game Lands. Together they make up an impressive 60-plus square mile block of land that I am free to roam on. This ground was purchased mostly with hunting license dollars, Pittman-Robertson Act taxes - mostly on sporting arms and ammunition, and money from partnerships with other organizations having goals similar to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. No general fund tax dollars were used.

These particular SGL’s are intensely managed. There are many cultivated fields on reclaimed strip mines flourishing with clover, turnips, seasonal grasses, and other crops, as well as timbered areas, controlled burns, deer exclosures, acid mine drainage remediation ponds, and some habitat improvements that I don’t even understand the purpose. In one area you can see pheasant and rabbit tracks in the snow, while another area has deer and bear tracks. All in all they create a lot of diverse habitat for wildlife, including many non-game animals and birds.

Not only do I hunt here, but I often use this land for winter hikes to keep myself in shape. One of my favorite bike rides in the summer winds through nearly ten miles of this land. Not only that, but there are several streams holding beautiful wild trout here. For me it’s like having an outdoor paradise not far from my front door. Many of my most cherished outdoor memories were made here in the last thirty years. I don’t think I’ll be complaining about the price of a hunting license anytime soon.

Shortly into the hike I crossed a gurgling stream that no doubt would still be audible from the top of the mountain. My mind drifted to the many trout that I have caught and released here, the tales of which I’ve told from time to time. I also realized that many of my favorite photographs over the years were taken here.

The main stream is gorgeous.

DSC_3471 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

One feeder stream isn’t too shabby either.

DSC_1540 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

Some of the most gorgeous wild brown trout live here.

DSC_1530 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

Some of them get pretty big too, like this 18.5”er.

DSC_1552 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

Some of the prettiest native brookies that I’ve ever caught came from the creeks flowing through these State Game Lands.

DSC_6816 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

I’ve never consistently caught native brookies anywhere that had more orange on them than the ones I catch here.

DSC_8373 (2) by Frank Nale, on Flickr

Several of my largest native brook trout were caught here, too, including a 15.5”er prior to the digital camera era.

DSC_4380 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

And of course, since there are both wild brown trout and native brook trout, I’ve caught a couple wild tiger trout here as well, coincidentally within a few yards of one another in separate years.

DSC_2391 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

The area has a lot of history, too.

DSC_0255 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

Heck, I even enjoy seeing the simple things here.

DSC_8203 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

But I digress. I continued up the path in the darkness, stopping once in a while to slow my pounding heart. Once when I looked directly overhead at the Big Dipper I saw a shooting star. I recalled walking in to my spot on the top of another mountain many years ago on a still, frosty morning when a meteorite streaked low across the sky, covering the distance between the top of Loysburg Mountain in northern Bedford County and Altoona’s Brush Mountain in an instant. It was rather large and made a hissing sound as it passed, leaving a path of smoke. I don’t recall if I got a buck that day but wondered if today’s shooting star would be a good omen. Would any new memories be made today?

I arrived at my spot at 5:56 a.m. and immediately changed clothes right down to my skivvies before I cooled off. I’ve learned over the years that to stay warm I have to shed all wet clothing, and there’s really no way to walk up to the top of the mountain without getting soaked from perspiration. It takes a little intestinal fortitude to strip down when it’s ten degrees and windy, but it pays off as the morning progresses. Luckily, today the air temperature hovered around 30-degrees, though the wind was rocking the trees from time to time. By 6:20 a.m. I was seated warm and toasty, nestled against a double birch tree with trunks over a foot in diameter, waiting for the curtain to go up and the show to begin.

The tree trunks block some of my view of the wide flat in front of me, but it is good cover and breaks up my outline. The slope that I sit on is about forty yards wide and leads to another flat behind me, one that is covered with dense mountain laurel. I had about a half hour to wait before legal shooting hours. This gave the area a little time to settle down, though I had circled in slowly to my lookout on mostly wet leaves and hadn’t caused a ruckus.

Gradually the stars faded and the sky brightened. Gray shapes began to take on detail. I moved as little as possible, often moving only my eyes to scan the area in front of me. All was quiet except for a mouse that must have thought my unwrapped Almond Joy candy bars in a plastic bag positioned on the rock in front of me were his. I chased him away only to find out later that he had found one of my Yellow Delicious apples. Last year I had fed a mouse quite a few apple cores while waiting for a large buck that never showed.

I concentrated on hunting and didn’t let my mind wander too much to trout fishing. There’d be time later to reminisce about the big brown trout that I had caught recently...

DSC_2426 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

…and the colorful stocked rainbow trout that I often catch in the autumn.

DSC_2583 (2) by Frank Nale, on Flickr

For a better view and because my legs kept falling asleep I stood on my rock seat beginning around 7:30 a.m. or so. From that viewpoint it feels almost like I’m in a treestand. All was quiet except for quite a bit of shooting in the distance and a few somewhat closer shots to my left and more behind me and to my right. As I often do, I began to wonder why everyone else seemed to be getting all of the shooting while I was left there not even seeing a chickadee. But I also knew that I had a proven spot and a buck could appear at any second and my season could be over in less than a minute.

At 7:59 a.m. I heard the leaves rustle and looked directly to my left about fifty yards away along the rise. One deer, then two, were coming my way in the half-dead mountain laurel. They both looked like fawns but quickly I reached up and put an ear plug in my right ear to prepare just in case. Then a third deer appeared. It was walking fast directly behind the other two. I saw dark antlers – nice antlers - and immediately made the decision not to pass him up. Last year I had passed on a small buck twice in the opening hours, though I consider any legal buck to be a trophy on State Game Lands.

Here’s what it looks like directly to my left. Initially the deer were behind the mountain laurel on the far left of the photo. Had they stayed on course they would have passed less than ten yards in front of me.

DSC_2474 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

Within seconds the three deer crossed an opening and turned to angle slightly away from me on the flat in front of me. They stopped behind the green leaves of a rhododendron bush that is about ten yards to the left and down off of the rise from my perch.

DSC_2477 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

I took this as an opportunity to put in my other ear plug and get my rifle ready for when the deer would hopefully step out on the right side of the rhododendron bush in the above photo at maybe thirty yards away.

First a small deer stepped out, walking at a good pace and quartering away from me. My scope had a big fog mark in the center but luckily it evaporated almost instantly. I noted that the small deer was actually a spike buck with chocolate colored tines about four inches long.

Next the big boy stepped out. I knew it was now or never so I centered the crosshairs on his chest and without hesitation pulled the trigger. He stumbled at the shot and ran down through the woods. The other deer scattered. I chambered another round in my .270 Gamemaster just in case, but he ran less than fifty yards before he fell to the ground.

DSC_2478 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

You can see his white belly above the smaller rhododendron bush in the above photo.

I waited about two minutes to make sure he didn’t get up before walking slowly down to him. I was anxious to see how many points he had since everything had happened so quickly that there was no way to know how big he really was.

As always, as I approached him I began questioning myself about whether he was a legal buck. I don’t know why I do this to myself, but I used to do it even before antler restrictions became law even though I was sure the buck I had just shot was clearly legal. Do other hunters get this feeling, I wondered?

When I got close to him I was surprised to see how many points he had.

DSC_2486 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

I initially counted five points on each side and then walked back to my blind to take off most of my clothes so that I wouldn’t get all sweaty while field-dressing the buck.

I took a bunch of photos before tagging the deer. When I moved his head I noticed that he actually had a kicker point on his left-side G3, making him an 11-pointer.

DSC_2532 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

In the photo below you can see all of the points better.

DSC_2537 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

I later measured the inside spread and it was 15.5”. My 9-point two years ago had a 20” inside spread and significantly heavier antlers, but for me this was still a pretty nice buck. Point-wise it is my largest buck ever.

Next I retrieved my deer cart that I had hidden in the rhododendron about 250 yards from my spot. I hadn’t put it closer because even though it is a few years old, the tires still give off a strong rubber odor. While retrieving my cart I talked to a guy walking on the logging road that had shot a huge 8-point nearby in archery season.

Later, while pulling my loaded cart down through the woods to the logging road another guy came along and helped me. He too had gotten a really nice buck near there in archery season. He helped me take the deer out and assisted me in loading it into the back of my SUV. To be honest, I had been looking forward to carting my buck out by myself, much like how I look forward to a long hike back to my SUV after a day of trout fishing, but it sure made the chore much easier. We saw four deer during the hike out.

With deer season out of the way I can now watch the weather and hopefully get in a few days of trout fishing in December.

DSC_2551 (2) by Frank Nale, on Flickr

One incidental statistic that I have going this year is that I have at least one 100-trout day and one trout 16” or longer in every month of the year except December. I would really like to complete the year with another month like this but it will all depend on the weather. December is forecast to be the coldest month of the winter here in south-central Pennsylvania so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

DSC_2429 by Frank Nale, on Flickr

- Frank Nale -

I can be contacted at [email protected].

Last edited by FrankTroutAngler; 12-08-2017 at 11:29 AM.
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post #2 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-02-2017, 02:05 PM
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DUUUUUDE, I was saying WOW at every picture!
My dream is to catch some wild brookies in PA
I've been fishing trout for over half a decade, which isn't long, but I've never caught a true brookie yet.
One day!
Your post definitely rekindled that trout bug

GREAT POST!
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post #3 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-02-2017, 04:08 PM
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Thanks for posting Frank. I had seen some of those pictures in prior posts but some were new. That is a really nice buck you got; congratulations!

I really like the picture of the big hook-jawed brown trout too!
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post #4 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-02-2017, 09:00 PM
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I was just wondering how much time you put in scouting for deer. You have done very well in recent years. Obviously you had your spot selected and your deer cart placed. You mention that you hike, and I'm assuming those are multi purpose trips into the woods. I'm sure its not as much time as you put into trouting...
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post #5 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-03-2017, 09:56 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by illadelphia215 View Post
DUUUUUDE, I was saying WOW at every picture!
My dream is to catch some wild brookies in PA
I've been fishing trout for over half a decade, which isn't long, but I've never caught a true brookie yet.
One day!
Your post definitely rekindled that trout bug

GREAT POST!
Thanks for the compliment about the photos. When I thought back on it I was surprised how many of my favorite photos were taken all in the same area.

I'm not familiar with SE PA so I can't comment on your chances of catching native brook trout there, but I suspect many streams down that way have them. If you made a trip to NC PA and fished one of the little mountain streams you'd be almost guaranteed to catch some of them. If you go to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission's website they have a map showing all of the Class A wild trout streams and streams with natural reproduction in the state that they have surveyed. If the stream is in the mountains and has natural reproduction it's likely some of them are native brookies.

Maybe someone who fishes in SE PA could send you a PM telling you about a stream that holds native brookies?

I can be contacted at [email protected].
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post #6 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-03-2017, 10:00 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Trout Traveler View Post
Thanks for posting Frank. I had seen some of those pictures in prior posts but some were new. That is a really nice buck you got; congratulations!

I really like the picture of the big hook-jawed brown trout too!
Thanks.

The hook-jawed wild brown was 19.5" long and was caught on 11/13/17. About fifteen minutes later I lucked into the 22.5" stocked rainbow shown in the final photo of my story. Otherwise the fishing was pretty slow that day.

I can be contacted at [email protected].
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post #7 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-03-2017, 10:25 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by troutdoorsmen View Post
I was just wondering how much time you put in scouting for deer. You have done very well in recent years. Obviously you had your spot selected and your deer cart placed. You mention that you hike, and I'm assuming those are multi purpose trips into the woods. I'm sure its not as much time as you put into trouting...
To be honest I really don't put any time into scouting for deer. Sure, I usually take a couple hikes before the season into the area where I plan to hunt, but if I didn't see any deer sign I'd still go to the same spot anyway. Deer can easily come to the spot I hunt from a mile or more away, and the ones that live close to there could easily be a mile or more away on any given day, too. Really, the key to whether I'm going to get a buck is whether or not one just happens to walk by while I'm there and I actually see it (i.e., luck). The number of bucks that are shot in archery season also plays a huge role but I can't control that. I was surprised there was still at least one nice buck left this year after learning that at least two big bucks that were much bigger than mine were taken close to my spot in archery season.

I believe this was my sixth year to hunt from this spot. In that time I've shot two bucks. One bad thing about the spot is that it is on the top of a mountain and the weather is almost never good. It is almost always windy to the point where a hunter can't hear much. I've also spent days sitting in the fog. On one opening day there was ice frozen on everything and I didn't see a thing.
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I can be contacted at [email protected].
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post #8 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-04-2017, 09:41 AM
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Boy, ---- of a write up there. It sounds to me like you have a great spot for the opener of Rifle Frank. Congrats on another fine PA whitetail right there. That is an impressive deer from PA private lands let alone public lands!!


I'm pulling for you in the hunt for a December 100 day - 16" trout. From the looks of the weather I'm thinking you better get it done within the next couple of days. The long range forecast looks like ole' man winter will set a death grip on us in the next few days here. Best of luck!!!!
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post #9 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-04-2017, 11:13 AM
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Nice! I hunt private land and oft wonder why I don't (while I still can) head back into the mountains. I'm not sure many large bucks are shot on Roundtop but I bet/know they must be there. Great buck!
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post #10 of 21 (permalink) Old 12-04-2017, 05:57 PM
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You have my vote for The Best Post Of The Year. Great pis and story. Congrats.
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