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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 02:24 PM Thread Starter
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Frank Nale's 2018 Trout Season Summary

Frank Nale's 2018 Trout Season Summary

Introduction


In the years leading up to my retirement in June 2016, I had always dreamed of having a year where rainfall was sufficient enough all summer that I would be able to spend my extra free time fishing old haunts and exploring new streams in the north-central region of Pennsylvania. As luck would have it, 2016 turned out to be a drought year, particularly in the north-central counties, and I made no trips northward from my residence in northern Blair County after the end of May. In 2017 we had decent rainfall and I was able to spend many days casting spinners in “God’s Country,” but the results of my fishing indicated that wild trout populations in the smaller streams had taken a major hit 2016, which limited my enjoyment.


In 2018 the rains came and they never stopped throughout the summer and autumn. Blair County, which averages about 40 inches of rain per year, received over 60 inches. In Centre County the aquifers that feed Spring Creek reached their highest levels in recorded history. Virtually the entire state received record precipitation.

Streams flowed beautifully. Instead of struggling to find streams that had good water levels like I usually do in the summer and autumn, I spent time researching and avoiding streams that were too high and muddy. Some anglers took the high flows as an excuse to sleep in and not go fishing, while I looked at it as an opportunity.


Not until early November did the high water have a negative effect on me. Normally each autumn I concentrate on some of the larger streams for the enhanced possibility of catching big trout, but they were so high, and often muddy, that I did not feel I would enjoy fishing them. Going to Penns Creek or the Little Juniata River when they are flowing at 500 to 600 cubic feet per second does not appeal to me. Couple this with cold weather that arrived in early November and super-chilled the mountain streams, I ended my season much earlier than anticipated.

Despite the high-water challenges presented in my fortieth year of fishing spinners, 2018 turned out to be an incredible year. Highlights include some fantastic outings in north-central Pennsylvania, catching some large native brook trout, and tangling with one mighty fine wild brown trout on a small mountain stream.


In addition to catching thousands of gorgeous wild trout on spinners, I enjoyed taking over 3,500 digital photographs of the trout, streams, fauna, and flora that caught my eye while fishing in the mountains and valleys of our beautiful state.

Yellow Lady’s-slipper:


The tail of a rattlesnake:


Closed Gentian:


Painted Trillium:



Disclaimer


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 and releasing 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 that 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.


Trout of the Year


This year there were three, almost four, candidates for my “Trout of the Year” honor that I bestow on my most memorable trout each year. The first candidate was caught on Friday, August 10th, from a small stream in Clinton County. Because of its uniqueness I thought for sure it would not be eclipsed, but a couple months later I caught two, nearly three, very memorable trout on three consecutive outings. I will elaborate on this first candidate later in this summary in my “Most Productive Outing of the Year” section.

On Friday, October 5th, after fishing over a mile of a valley stream under perfect conditions for two hours and catching only fourteen trout, I felt defeated. I decided to roll the dice and head for the mountain stream where I had caught my most memorable trout last year, a thick 24.5” wild brown. I also had tangled with what was probably the same trout in the autumn of 2016 on this creek, so big trout were on my mind even though it was still a little early in the autumn for large trout to show themselves.

I eased my SUV into a parking spot on the ridge above the stream. When I got out I could hear the stream roaring in the hollow below me. I could not help but laugh a little to myself at my misfortune after driving for forty-five minutes and passing many other creeks. Figuring that sometimes you have to get your boots in the water to gauge the stream level, I descended the hillside and walked about a mile to the stream. When I stepped into the rushing water I determined that yes, it was high, but fishable. (See photo above.)


Much to my surprise, I began picking up wild browns readily in the 56-degree water on my White Bead Gold spinner. The key was casting to the limited number of spots where a boulder or woody debris blocked the raging current.

Nearly two hours after I began casting I came to a pool that is usually about as big as a parking space for a small car, with an overhanging tree and roots along the left bank. Today the pool was a good thirty-five feet wide and thirty yards long with a riffle chopping across the top.

I made a long cast to the right of where the strong riffle entered the pool. I could not see through the glare with my polarized sunglasses, but I immediately felt the light tap of a large trout. Instinctively I set the hook, sinking the hook into his jaw. Luckily I had time to loosen the drag on my reel before he made his first strong run. I knew he was hooked well because I could see my spinner in his jaw. I also had been cutting off my spinner and re-tying it to fresh monofilament about every ten minutes or so during the outing in case a large trout hit, so I was pretty sure the line would not snap like it did two years earlier when I tangled with a hawg brown on this creek that turned out to be my one and only “Trout of the Year” that I did not catch. Last year’s 24.5”er had taught me not to underestimate the potential size of the trout in this creek. I was confident I could land the behemoth unless there was an unseen branch in the water that he could rap my 4-pound test line around.


Back and forth he went, making long runs up and down the pool, his tail sometimes breaking the surface. When he turned the water surface churned, like as if a beaver was twisting under the water, making me feel helpless with my ultralight rod. After three or four minutes I was finally able to subdue the beast and ease him into the shallows.


He measured 20” long but probably weighed half again what most of the 20”ers I catch weigh.


After catching that colorful 20” wild brown, I did not have much time to think about whether or not it would surpass the unique trout that I caught in August as my “Trout of the Year.” On my very next outing, on Monday, October 8th, I hooked into a native brook trout on a mountain trickle that is only about three feet wide on average. I probably played it for less than five seconds because the pool that it was in was so small it had nowhere to go. When I picked up the fish to measure it my jaw dropped.


At 14.5”, this slab-sided male was the second largest native brook trout of my life, just one inch shorter than the 15.5”er that I caught way back on September 30, 1997. I knew instantly that it would be crowned my “Trout of the Year.”


Interestingly, on the very next day, Tuesday, October 9th, while fishing a medium-sized mountain stream, I hooked into another large native brook trout. This one measured 14”. I believe it deserves honorable mention. I could not help but wonder what the odds were of me catching my second and third largest native brook trout of my life on back to back outings in my fortieth year of casting spinners.

I can be contacted at [email protected].

Last edited by FrankTroutAngler; 01-16-2019 at 03:03 PM.
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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 02:25 PM Thread Starter
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Multiple Trips to “God’s Country”


Technically speaking, Potter County, located in north-central Pennsylvania, is nicknamed “God’s County” due to its vast undisturbed wilderness. I tend to broaden the definition to include the entire north-central region since it is all sparsely populated and contains many freestone mountain streams. I typically wait until after spring gobbler season is over in late May to head north to “God’s Country” so that I am less likely to run into other anglers after making such a large time commitment to drive there. This year was no different. Luckily, with all of the rainfall repeatedly recharging the mountain streams, I was able to make multiple trips throughout the summer.


On Thursday, May 31st, my brother Mark joined me for my first outing of the year in the northwoods. Mark is a well-known and highly respected outdoor writer and photographer. I took him to a stream he had never fished before that I had just discovered the prior year. The water was quite high but we managed to dupe 160 trout. During the hike out we saw bear tracks in the mud on the trail and shortly thereafter saw a nice bear cross the path ahead of us.


On Sunday, June 3rd, I fished the tiny headwaters of a well-known stream. I was able to catch 101 trout before I ran out of fishable water. On the way home I stopped at a stream that I had never fished before just to see what it was like and I caught 32 trout in 1.75 hours. I never made it back to that stream in 2018 but it is on my short list for 2019.


On Thursday, August 16th, I got reacquainted with a non-stocked creek that I had not fished in probably twenty-five years.


I caught 127 trout that day in 7.25 hours, including a 20” stocked rainbow.


That day I also caught a 13” wild brown that had a partially digested 8” wild brownie down its throat. I usually catch a few trout with dinner still in their mouths each year but usually the size difference between predator and prey is greater.


I fished four streams that were new to me. This one (see above photo), fished on Wednesday, June 20th, required a four-and-a-half mile hike to get to my starting point. The habitat was sparse in places and the fishing was good but not great considering the effort. I eked out 101 trout in 7.25 hours before the stream split into two rivulets. My largest trout was a 15” wild brown. Oddly, I spotted a large snapping turtle in one of the pools. I thought this was very unusual in a cool mountain stream.


Twice I fished the nicest section of one of my favorite streams in the north region (see above photo). Both trips yielded over 200 wild trout, a mixture of browns and brookies.


I caught over one hundred trout on every solo visit.


On one of the days in the northwoods I had my most productive outing of the entire year. A story about that day is told below in the “Most Productive Outing of the Year” section. That day included catching a special trout, too.


Overall I caught 1,834 trout in 100.75 hours during twelve fishing trips in God’s Country. I steered clear of three of my favorite small streams due to my lack of success there in 2017. I felt it was wise to give these streams another year to recover from 2016’s drought. I look forward to fishing them and many more of these mountain streams in 2019.


Most Productive Outing of the Year


There is something exciting about picking out a blue line on a map and just going there to explore without doing much additional research. If the creek turns out to be not much good, well, at least it was fun investigating. If it turns out to be a great stream it just makes it all that much more special.

Last year on Tuesday, June 13th, on my way home from a productive day on a Potter County stream in the Susquehannock State Forest, I made a brief stop to explore a little stream that I had seen on a map but had never fished. With limited time I caught 34 trout in 1.50 hours, mostly native brookies but with a few little wild browns mixed in. I was quite impressed, particularly since the stream did not seem to have many nice pools where the trout could have survived the extreme drought of 2016.

Obviously, I was pleased and quickly planned a return visit to probe more of the stream. On Thursday, June 29th, 2017, I returned. Unfortunately, the water was kind of on the low side that day. I fished nearly three miles of stream and caught only 61 trout in 5.25 hours. I was disappointed but still wondered what it would be like if the water was flowing well.


Enter 2018, the year when the rain thankfully never stopped.

On Friday, August 10th, I rousted myself out of bed at 4:00 a.m. after a one-day rest from a two-day fishing binge in the northwoods. The fishing had been so good on those two days that I could not resist another trip to the big woods despite being a little sore. I knew it could be many years until the streams up north flowed well again in August and I wanted to take full advantage of it so that I would have no regrets.

I arrived shortly after daybreak at my destination. Normally I would have planned to get there earlier, but from what I can tell this stream is off the radar of most anglers. It was the only stream I planned to fish that day anyway. There are no fishermen paths along the stream and no brush broken down by fishermen in spots where one would expect to see this. After booting-up I walked in a little over a mile to the stream, ever vigilant for rattlesnakes. It was flowing well and registered 60-degrees on my stream thermometer. The sky was mostly cloudy but the sun was expected to peek out now and then. Expectations were high.

I began casting my White Bead Gold spinner at 7:13 a.m., and judging from the way the trout were hitting, one would have thought they were imitating Japanese Kamikaze pilots from World War II. Sometimes I would have a trout hit several times on the same cast before hooking it, and other times a trout would get off only to hit again on the follow-up cast. Clearly these trout had not seen spinners in a while. Twenty-six trout, a combination of native brook trout and wild browns, came to hand in the first hour. During the fifth hour I crested the 100-trout mark. I fished slowly, probing each and every lie, knowing that I had all day and over three miles of stream to fish.


At about 1:00 p.m. I entered a narrow section where the stream rubbed against the mountain on the left. The water flowed through nice pocket water between small boulders, a very unique stretch for this creek. I recalled missing a relatively big trout here the prior year. Just about then a dark form charged out from under a rock ledge and nailed my flickering spinner. As I played it I figured it had to be a wild brown trout because of its size, but as I brought it in I saw that it was a native brook trout. Not only was it 12” long, but it was one of the most gorgeous natives that I have ever seen. I knew instantly that it was the top candidate for my “Trout of the Year” award. I took several photos of it in the new Brodin net that I had bought this year to use as a photo prop before gently releasing it.

To make a long story short, I fished until a little after 6:00 p.m. and tallied a total of 235 trout in 10.00 hours of actual fishing time (I always deduct time spent taking photos). I quit fishing when the stream split into several small branches within a short distance and the remaining trickle did not appear to hold any trout.

As I walked down the hollow back to my SUV I could not help but smile about my good fortune of exploring a blue line on a map and having it pay off. I cherish those hikes in solitude back to my vehicle after a successful outing, similar to how I used to feel while walking back to my apartment in the dark after acing a night exam at Indiana University of Pennsylvania back in the late 1970’s.

This day turned out to be my sixth of seven “Signature Days” this year – days where I catch 200 or more trout. Fittingly, as I pulled out to drive home, rain from a hard thunderstorm pounded on my windshield, a reminder of what had given me this opportunity on this August day.


Wildlife Event of the Year


Each year while fishing I typically have several memorable wildlife sightings. The one that stands out above all others I crown as my “Wildlife Event of the Year.” This year I saw a rattlesnake, a black bear, and many bald eagles, but none of them were super-special because, well, I have seen many of these before. For a while I thought I would not have an extraordinary wildlife event, but then on my 102nd day of fishing I finally had a notable sighting.

On Wednesday, November 7th, around 2:30 p.m., while fishing a narrow limestone stream that flows through a woodlot in Centre County, I flushed a bird close on my left that flew upstream and around the bend ahead of me. It had something in its talons. I was making a cast at the time, so I did not have time to get a good look, but my thought was that it was a screech owl carrying a gray squirrel.

I continued fishing upstream, not giving the bird any further thought, when I was startled by a snapping sound coming from along the right bank just a few feet away. I stopped and peered through the bushes and saw a great horned owl sitting on a log with a 13” wild brown trout. After it quit “popping” its beak I got my camera out of my pocket and took some photos of it through a convenient, narrow opening in the shrubs. It never moved so I circled below it to the only other break in the bushes and took some more photos. I ended up taking nearly one hundred photos of it and it never moved.

Since there were many trout spawning on this day, I surmised that the owl got his dinner by swooping down and grabbing the trout off of a shallow redd at the tail of a pool. This was truly a unique sighting and easily earned the award for my “Wildlife Event of the Year.”

I can be contacted at [email protected].

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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 02:26 PM Thread Starter
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Statistical Summary and Analysis


I ended the year with 12,073 trout caught and released during 870.75 hours of fishing spread over 103 days. This was my second best year and the twelfth time that I have topped 10,000 trout in a year. I averaged 13.87 trout per hour (TPH) and 117.21 trout per day (TPD).


The 870.75 hours that I spent fishing were the third most hours that I have ever spent in one year, just twenty-two fewer hours than my highest year of 892.75 hours in 2004 when I had my best year, catching 14,688 trout. My average day of actual fishing time was about eight-and-a-half hours this year.


I fished a total of 54 different streams this year, 30 of which gave up 100 or more salmonids. Only one stream yielded no trout, and it was a tiny tributary to a well-known stream that I sampled for fifteen minutes. The top stream yielded 2,852 trout in 223.75 hours during 35 days (12.75 TPH; 81.49 TPD). The ten best creeks surrendered 8,038 trout in 580.25 hours during 97 visits (13.85 TPH; 82.87 trout per visit), while the ten worst streams produced just 28 trout in 3.50 hours (8.00 TPH). Of the top ten streams, three were limestone or limestone-influenced streams and seven were freestone creeks. On a lifetime basis my best stream, a limestoner, has yielded 95,418 trout, which is slightly less than one third of my lifetime total of 291,320 trout.


I caught 100 trout or more on 81 of the 103 days that I fished, which is just five fewer than the record 86 triple-figure outings that I had in 2004 out of 106 days fished. These 81 days yielded 10,451 trout. On a lifetime basis I now have 1,553 “Century Club” days. My permanent fishing logs show that I have caught 203,375 trout during these 1,553 days.


A breakdown of the 12,073 trout by species reveals 8,061 browns (5,138 were 7” or longer; 2,923 were under 7”), 3,772 brookies (1,544 were 7” or longer; 2,228 were under 7”), and 240 rainbows (236 were legal-size; 4 were sub-legal). Overall, 6,918 trout were 7” or longer (57.30%); 5,155 were sub-legal (42.70%). The percentage of sub-legal trout was unusually high due to spending more time than usual on mountain streams. I did not catch any golden rainbow trout or wild tiger trout this year. My lifetime total of bona fide wild tiger trout stands at 21.


Big Trout Analysis


I caught 26 trout that were 16” or longer, which is much lower than my average of 48.55 hawgs per year during the prior twenty years. The only worse year in the twenty years leading up to this year was 2008 when I caught only 24 hawgs. The most hawgs that I have ever caught in one year is 101 in 2005. The most hawgs that I have ever caught in one day is 15 on October 13, 2005, while my best month is 35 in October of 2005.


My big-trout analysis shows nineteen browns and seven rainbows. These trout were all caught and released from eleven different streams. Twelve came from three limestone or limestone-influenced streams, while fourteen were caught in purely freestone creeks. The best stream, a limestoner, yielded eight. The top freestoner gave up four. This is the first time that I have caught more hawgs in freestone streams than in limestone waterways. I attribute this to the superb water levels we had during the summer and early fall, which motivated me to fish mountain freestoners much more where there are fewer big trout, while the high water kept me off of my treasured large limestone streams in the autumn when statistically I catch a large portion of my big trout each year.


I broke the 20” barrier six times, with two 20” wild browns, and rainbows of 20”, 22”, 23”, and 24”. The most unexpected of these six was the 20” stocked rainbow that I caught in a narrow, non-stocked freestone run in Potter County. (See above photo.)


In addition, I also caught 35 trout that were in the 15”-to-under-16” category, so overall I caught 61 trout that were 15” or better. Although 61 trout of this size is a small percentage out of 12,073 trout, it averages out to better than one sizeable trout on more than half of my 103 outings. I believe most Pennsylvania anglers who do not target large trout and fish only streams that are open to free, general-public angling, would be quite satisfied with the number of mature trout that I catch.


I often take criticism from anonymous people on websites for catching “all small trout,” but the reality is that I catch a representative sample of the trout that are in the streams that I fish, similar to the results from PFBC electroshocking surveys. Granted, when flows are good during warm weather I do spend much of my time fishing small mountain creeks that likely have few, if any, truly large trout, and yes, I often do catch many small trout there. This was especially evident this year with the record rainfall that we experienced. However, when I fish larger water like the Little Juniata River, Penns Creek, or Centre County’s Spring Creek, I catch trout across the whole spectrum of sizes, too, including trout most anglers would consider to be big. Each year large streams are ranked at the top of my list of streams. In 2018 I fished only one large stream more than a time or two due to high water and I caught 2,852 there.


It is also worth noting that “small” is a relative term. For me, catching a 9” or 10” native brook trout on ultra-light tackle from a mountain-laurel-lined rivulet is easily the equivalent of duping a 15” to 16” wild brown trout from a larger stream. And what would be a more difficult goal for the year – catching one 12” native brook trout or one 20” wild brown trout?


Besides attempting to avoid other anglers, since fishing over trout that have been disturbed is not productive for a spinner angler, one of the reasons I target small mountain streams when flows are good is because I enjoy the challenge of tucking my spinner into tight spots from long distances, not to mention the difficulty of hooking little trout in skinny water. Take a beginner spinner fishing and you will quickly see that it is far easier for the newbie to catch a 12” wild brown from a large limestoner than an 8” native brookie from a rhododendron-shrouded trickle.


There is also something special to me about the ambience of remote mountain streams. After driving to God’s Country in the wee hours of the morning and easing my SUV in along a bubbling brook just as dawn breaks, it is pretty hard to describe the excitement I feel for what lies ahead for the day. The crisp clean air wafts into my nostrils when I get out of my vehicle to stretch. It may have that woodsy aroma at first, but later in the day after the sun breaks through the forest canopy and heats the forest floor it may smell like hay-scented ferns or white pines. Couple this with the likelihood that I have miles and miles of scenic water ahead teeming with undisturbed wild trout and I am about as close to heaven as I can be.


Overall, considering where I spent the majority of my angling hours, I was actually surprised that I caught as many big trout as I did this year. I never target individual sizeable trout from visit to visit, though I do sometimes target specific streams where large trout are common, particularly in the autumn when hawg trout seem to make themselves more available.


Of course, since many anglers other than me consider outwitting big trout to be nearly their sole objective while fishing, it raises the question, “What is my objective when I go trout fishing?” Well, it is pretty simple, and catching large trout is not it, though I certainly enjoy tangling with one now and then. If catching large fish was my objective I would probably switch to fishing for another species, such as carp or white suckers.

My objective while trout fishing is to attain and maintain an Anticipation Factor of 10. The Anticipation Factor scale runs from 0 to 10 and encompasses the entire experience where I estimate how much fun I am having. I factor many things into the equation, such as expectations, stream conditions, season of the year, number of trout caught, size of trout, etc. If my score is at the lower end of the scale, I usually figure it is time to quit and go to another stream. If my score is in the higher range, I am experiencing a feeling that I really cannot put well into words, though it includes the mindset that I am going to catch a trout on every cast. Attaining this feeling is what motivates me to go trout fishing. If I had to define when my Anticipation Factor would have the chance to be at its highest, I would say that it would be when exploring a scenic, remote stream for the first time while catching colorful wild brown and native brook trout at will with some larger individuals thrown in. And if a large buck or black bear walks by, I discover a patch of nice wildflowers, or I see or hear an unusual bird, that is just icing on the cake.


Spinner Analysis


I am a firm believer that the color of the spinner I am using has little, if any, effect on the number of trout that I catch, though I prefer there to be some white coloration on the lure so that I can see the spinner easier and visibly detect strikes better. This year I caught 10,146 trout on my homemade White Bead Gold spinners, 1,027 on Pink Tread Silver spinners, and 900 on my vintage Green Diamond Silver spinners (see photo).

On a lifetime basis, of the 291,320 trout that I have caught during the last forty years on spinners, not surprisingly, White Bead Gold, which I designed in 1982, has produced the most with 161,503 trout. Coming in second is Copper BladeD Copper with 57,002 (see photo). Pink Tread Silver is next with 37,569, and Green Diamond Silver rounds out the top four with 22,574 trout. I have caught 278,648 trout (95.65%) on just these four homemade spinner designs. I believe the reason I have caught the most trout on these four models is because I used them the most.


Best Statistics


When I do my “Spin Fishing for Trout” seminars I state that I believe spinner 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 26 consecutive years. My records show that since May 3, 1992 (through December 31, 2018), I have gone fishing on 2,559 days and have caught 255,933 trout in 19,625.50 hours. This averages out to 100.01 TPD and 13.04 TPH, or one trout about every 4 minutes and 36 seconds.


Also, on a lifetime basis I have now caught 291,320 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, which is over thirty-one years ago, but I fished just 1.25 hours that day due to high, cold cloudy water on three streams. I have now gone fishing on 3,008 days since the last time I got skunked. I believe these statistics support my statement.

By the way, I will be doing my “Spin Fishing for Trout” seminar for Penn’s Woods West Trout Unlimited (Pittsburgh) on May 13, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. I currently have no further details.


10,000 Trout Average for Twenty-Three Years


While compiling my statistics I noticed that I have now averaged 10,000 trout per year over the last twenty-three years. I thought it would be interesting to see how these years would look when combined in a composite monthly tally.

There were no surprises here, but this analysis clearly shows that I have the best opportunity to catch 100 or more trout in a day in May and June. It also shows that I have the highest probability of consistently catching large trout in October and November.
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I can be contacted at [email protected].

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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 02:27 PM Thread Starter
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Buck Season 2018


Many years ago, while fishing a little stream on a State Game Land (SGL), I had a large-racked buck in velvet cross the creek ahead of me and bound up over the side of the steep mountain. At the time I already had a traditional spot to hunt on another SGL, so finding a new place to hunt was not really a priority. However, I always kept this sighting in the back of my mind. A few years ago I decided to find a new spot to hunt and ended up not far from where I had seen this big buck. Here is the story of my 2018 buck season.

Thanksgiving morning, November 22, 2018, dawned clear and cold. With snow on the ground and no family obligations to attend to, I decided to take a hike up the mountain on a local SGL to the spot where I have hunted deer with a rifle for the past several years. My main reason for going was to take my deer cart and hide it in the rhododendron near my on-the-ground stand, but I was also interested in how much deer sign I would see in the snow, particularly buck rubs.

The cart makes it much easier to haul a deer out of the woods since it would be about a 2.2-mile drag with a rope. This would be doable with snow on the ground since it is almost all downhill, but on dry leaves I do not think it would be feasible for me at my age. It has been a long time since, as a teenager, I worked on a vegetable farm and could toss around a bushel of cucumbers with ease. Of course, it was a little embarrassing back then when the one woman I worked with, who was just a couple years older than me and as thin as a rail, always carried two bushels of cucumbers at one time out of the field to the wagon.

The walk up the mountain on an old logging road was uneventful. There was about 3” of snow on the ground at the bottom of the mountain, but it deepened the farther I trekked. A few deer tracks crossed the path in places.

I was excited with anticipation for Monday’s season opener and could not help but daydream about the fine 9-point buck I got at 4:00 p.m. on 2015’s Opening Day. (See above photo.)


My mind also drifted back to Opening Day 2017 and how fortunate I was to harvest this 11-point buck in mid-morning.


After hiding my cart in the rhododendron about two-tenths of a mile from my “blind,” I went to my hideout and kicked the 6” or so of snow away from the rock I sit on and the two-trunked yellow birch tree that I hide behind. From there I overlook a wide flat area at the top of a hollow. There were so many deer tracks in the snow that it almost looked like a cow pasture around me. However, ominously, there were no buck rubs on any of the small striped maple trees that are usually scratched-up pretty well.

After getting this annual ritual done I decided to walk a circle on top of the mountain in the 25-degree air and bright sunshine to look for buck rubs and scrapes. I was pleased to see grouse tracks in the snow in several places.


It is believed that West Nile Virus has decimated the ruffed grouse population in Pennsylvania. It was a pleasant sound when one flushed nearby, unseen.


There was a good 10” of snow on the ground on top of the mountain, the top two inches of which formed a crust hard enough for coyotes to walk on but not nearly thick enough to support my weight.


Several times I found bear tracks. I was pretty sure they were not Sasquatch tracks due to the claw marks.


In total my hike lasted about four and a half hours and I covered nearly seven miles per my GPS unit. Only two small buck rubs were seen during the entire walk, and both of them were side-by-side about a mile from where I post. I found no buck scrapes, old or new, which was not surprising considering the snow. I jumped one deer. I thought back to last season’s opening morning when I heard more gunfire on the mountain than I had in several past years combined. Since this is a vast wilderness with no cultivated fields for miles, food for deer can be quite scarce. I believe in most cases it takes a buck at least two and a half years before its antlers are of legal size based on the number of small-bodied, small-antlered bucks that I have spotted over the years in this area. I wondered if the buck population could be low, either from last year’s apparent banner year or perhaps an unusually high archery season harvest this year.

Of course, one thing I had going for me was that the snow would likely linger until Monday. Spotting deer with a snow background is much easier than when the woods are brown and the deer blend into the surroundings like wild trout in streams. Of course, the snow also makes it easier for deer to bust me, too.


Like a little kid anticipating Christmas morning, I did not sleep too well on Sunday night. It was a relief when my alarm finally sounded at 3:30 a.m. By 4:25 a.m. I had my SUV parked at the SGL parking lot at the base of the mountain. Unlike prior years, I had arrived first, probably because the other guys had scored in archery season, I thought. Before I got out the first rain drops of the morning pitter-pattered on my vehicle’s roof. The air temperature was 34-degrees. I hoped that I would make it to my spot before the forecasted, heavier rain arrived.

Knowing that I always work up a drenching sweat while walking up the mountain, I dressed lightly but wore my waterproof pants and jacket that I usually reserve for trout fishing. My heavier clothing and a fresh set of undies, plus all of the gadgets that I carry for an all-day sit, were carried in a large scent-free garbage bag.

Even though the snow lit my way, I still used a flashlight during my journey. I recalled one year, I believe it was on the first Saturday of the season, when a twig knocked my contact lens out of my right eye while walking to my stand in the dark. I did not want a repeat of that. In fact, since then I usually wear clear goggles while walking in the woods in the dark, but I had forgotten them on this morning.

I arrived at my spot at 5:50 a.m., fifty-five minutes before legal shooting hours. I had circled in to my hunting location to avoid disturbing the area I watch. It took about a half hour to change clothes in the dark while a light rain fell. And yes, it does take some intestinal fortitude to strip down in the cold air to put on dry underwear, but it is a necessary evil; otherwise I would be shivering all day in wet clothes.

By 6:20 a.m. I was quietly seated waiting for the curtain to go up and the festivities to begin. This is a special moment for a hunter. I usually like to watch the stars fade away, but today the sky was cloudy. It was now time to reap the reward of all of the planning necessary to put me here.

The wind was strong as trees crashed into each other now and then, but luckily there was no fog which can seal a hunter’s fate. The rain picked up as it got light. I wear Cabela’s MT050 coveralls and coat to stay warm and dry. This year I wore a new pair of rubber boots with 1000 grams of Thinsulate rather than my leather Gore-Tex hunting boots that seem to always let in a little moisture.

I sit on a rise between two benches, sort of like being in the bleachers at a high school football game but also having another football field behind the top of the bleachers. The “football field” behind me is a jungle of mountain laurel and rhododendron and I do not turn around to watch the edge of it, unless I hear something back there. This area was logged in the early 1980’s so there is little browse for the deer. But something draws the deer to this area.

The way my seat is situated against a double-trunked yellow birch tree I need to commit to watching for deer on my left or to my right. The two trunks block my straight-ahead view, but I feel it is a good compromise in my attempt to remain hidden from the deer. Believe me, it is possible for unseen deer to spot my movement from two hundred yards away and vacate the area without me even knowing they were there. Seeing deer tracks on top of my boot prints in the snow years ago confirm this to be true. The best-case scenario is for there to be dry crisp leaves and no wind so that I can hear the deer coming from any direction and quickly adjust to it, but on top of the mountain where the weather can be brutal I can count the days I have had like this on one hand.

All was quiet except for two quick shots that possibly came from the bottom of the hollow about a half mile away around 8:00 a.m. At 9:40, after turning my attention from my right side to my left, the first deer of the day busted me on my left. (See the “1” in the photo.) This is the view I see on my left (no deer in the photo).

The deer was to the right of the rhododendron bush on the left and ambled down to the right at the edge of my field of view until it vanished. (See the “2” in the photo for the direction the deer traveled.) I could not tell whether it had any antlers. I was kind of bummed at having possibly blown my only opportunity of the day since I pride myself in remaining undetected by the deer.


I know it is ironic, but in the days leading up to buck season I am often daydreaming about buck hunting, but then to pass the time while watching for deer my mind often drifts off to trout fishing. I recalled this 22” rainbow I caught in October.


And this 20” wild brown trout I caught on Spring Creek in early November.


Although no deer were spotted for hours, time passed quickly. Around 1:00 p.m. the rain quit for a brief spell, so keeping my scope clear was easier, at least for a short time.

Occasionally the woods grew darker as a light fog drifted through the area. As time passed I watched the area to my right more since there is a trail there dropping down off the flat behind me where the buck in my first photo made the fatal mistake of using late in the day three years earlier. (See the “3” in the photo.)

At 3:15 p.m. I spotted the legs of a deer moving against a background of snow right at the edge of my field of vision perhaps two hundred yards away. (See the “1” in the photo.)

I quickly put in my ear plugs and settled in against the two yellow birch trees for a solid rest for my rifle. With my scope set at 4-power and the deer standing broadside facing left, I could see quite a few tines sticking up as he rubbed his face and antlers on a hemlock limb that hung down at head-height.

My heart started to pound. I had always dreamed about having a big buck coming my way where I could watch it for a while. This tends to really amplify the excitement. The two bucks shown in the photos above were both shot within seconds of seeing them so there was not much time for buck fever to set in. My fear here, however, was that the buck would continue in the direction it was facing and quickly disappear in the mountain laurel, rhododendron and hemlocks. The thought of taking a shot at this range never occurred to me.

Luckily, he continued my way. I could count six points on his left antler. The right antler did not seem to have as many points but I was not sure. Amazingly, he continued walking toward me. I thought this was going to be one of the easiest shots I have ever had at a buck.

At the spot where the “2” is in the photo, he stepped out from behind a tree and stopped, offering me a near-broadside shot of his right side at about sixty yards. Knowing that it is wise to take the first good shot offered by a deer, since you never know what is going to happen next, I squeezed off a shot with my .270 Remington Gamemaster.

He bolted, seemingly not hit, and stopped where the “3” is in the photo, staring at me broadside from about thirty yards away. Quickly, perhaps too quickly, I centered in on his chest and shot again. He never moved so I ejected the spent shell, concentrated on his vital area, and fired again. He never flinched and ran up over the rise to the right, still seemingly unscathed.

I waited about a minute to see if I could spot him for another shot in the laurel. Not seeing any movement, I then walked over to where I had shot the final two rounds. No blood. No hair. No sign of a hit. Just fresh tracks in the snow. Had I just totally blown some of the easiest shots that I have ever had? Did my bullets hit twigs before reaching their target? Was my gun not calibrated properly? I felt sure my gun was hitting well since I had gone to Scotia Range a couple weeks prior to the season and shot two shots, both hitting two inches high at fifty yards. Doubt crept in. I began to worry.


I slowly moved through the dense mountain laurel for about fifteen yards, scanning the snow. Then I saw blood on the snow. Lots of blood. I took a couple steps higher on the rise and looked up on the flat and saw him lying dead facing me on an unusually clear area in the laurel.

He did indeed have six points on his left antler, including an odd tine near the brow point. The right antler had four points, missing the G4. The ten points made him the second largest buck of my life after 47 buck seasons. Coincidentally, this year was my second best year for trout fishing, too, after 40 years of spinner fishing.

Upon examining the buck I saw that my first shot hit him low behind the front leg, and what was likely my third shot hit him squarely in the chest.

I took a few photos and then began the arduous chore of getting him out of the woods. Luckily it was not raining any more. After properly tagging and field dressing the buck I dragged him by the antlers about 300 yards to the old logging road. From there I retrieved my deer cart, loaded him, and began the two-mile journey to my SUV. My headlight revealed snow flurries during the trip down the mountain in the dark. I took it slow, savoring the day’s events, much like I do after a successful day of trout fishing.

By the time I reached my SUV at 7:20 p.m. my biceps were like jelly from holding the cart back from going too fast down the mountain. I could not help but think that someone should design a deer cart with disc brakes, since holding the cart back was more difficult than pushing it, even up hill. With the back seats down, I covered the back of the SUV with some old vinyl ponchos and newspapers. After backing up close to the bank, I slid him into the vehicle on some boards that I carried in my SUV for that purpose. From there I made a brief stop at my residence and then continued onward to the butcher shop. Later I got out of my wet clothes and took a long hot bath to thaw out.

Overall it was a long but rewarding day. I was glad I stayed out in the cold rain. Now I can begin to dream about next year’s Opening Day.


Some Nostalgia Moments

Last year while upgrading my “Spin Fishing for Trout” slideshow to a PowerPoint presentation I had some of my 35mm slides made into digital photos. I thought I would share a few of them here.


This is my brother Paul with a 19” wild brown trout that he caught on a spinner on August 4th, 1984, from what is now a small Class A limestone stream in Bedford County. I credit Paul with teaching me about wild brown trout and the streams they live in.


Here is the pool where Paul’s 19”er was hiding. (Photo taken on August 6th, 1983.)


This is my brother John retrieving a spinner on Spring Creek on June 15th, 1987.


This is my father Eugene holding a 16” wild brown trout on Spring Creek on July 29th, 1988.


And last but not least, my brother Mark with a 16.5” rainbow trout on Spring Creek on September 20th, 1992.

I can be contacted at [email protected].

Last edited by FrankTroutAngler; 01-17-2019 at 12:20 PM.
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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 02:27 PM Thread Starter
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Conclusion


Trout fishing is my number-one hobby and passion in life. Offshoot hobbies include constructing spinners, rod building, doing spinner fishing seminars, photography, and enjoying nature – especially wildflowers. Spinner fishing also requires a lot of walking and I believe this has helped me remain relatively thin and reasonably physically fit for my age. I also like to ride my mountain bike to keep my legs relatively strong so that I can slip and slide on wet creek stones all day, and then do it again the next day. I rode my bike just 493 miles in 2018, mostly on the Lower Trail between Water Street and Flowing Spring, plus one 50-mile ride on the Pine Creek Rail Trail in the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania in September.


Taking digital photographs for the sixth year again added a very enjoyable dimension to my trout fishing. It motivated me to seek out wild places and gorgeous trout since I was often thinking about getting that one really nice photo and sharing my adventures with other anglers on the internet.


I find it almost hard to believe, but 2019 will be my 41st year to cast spinners. It is nice to be retired so that I can take better advantage of the weather and water conditions during the week, as well as avoid the crowds on the weekends. There is no doubt this is a major reason for my success nowadays when more streams are posted each year and anglers are getting even more concentrated on the streams open to public angling.


Interestingly, in 2018 I fished just fifteen times on weekend days (only five Saturdays) and 88 times on weekdays. I am a little more relaxed now since I do not have to concern myself as much about other anglers jumping in front of me and disturbing the trout, though it still happens regularly on the popular streams. On some streams it seems that common mergansers have taken the place of other anglers disturbing the water, but there is not much I can do to plan around this issue.


As always, I hope to remain in good health in 2019 so that I can do more exploring and continue to pan for gold in Pennsylvania’s picturesque trout streams.

- Frank Nale –
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I can be contacted at [email protected].

Last edited by FrankTroutAngler; 01-16-2019 at 05:04 PM.
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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 05:17 PM
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Very cool.... great pictures... not done reading it yet, but I will be tomorrow.
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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 06:01 PM
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Great stories and sounds like an outstanding year! Congratulations and thank you for sharing.
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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 06:10 PM
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Frank, I don’t know how else to better compliment your success and opportunity to fish the serenity of lonely mountain streams as saying I’m jealous and wish I were you!
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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 06:20 PM
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Outstanding post Frank!! Thanks for sharing this with us all!!

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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-16-2019, 08:15 PM
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Very well done sir, enjoyable read. Best of luck going forward.
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