Frank Nale's 2019 Trout Season Summary
Each year has a different personality. This year was characterized by a late spring, great water levels in the mountain streams in May and June, and decent flows in July and August. Unlike last year, when record rains essentially wiped out the fishing in the larger creeks in the autumn, this fall turned out to be just about perfect.
I do virtually all of my trout fishing in the central corridor of Pennsylvania, from Bedford County in the south to Potter County in the north, an area I consider the mecca of wild trout fishing in this state. This was my forty-first year to cast spinners for trout here.
I retired in June 2016. This gives me the freedom to fish mostly on weekdays when fewer anglers are out and about. The importance of being able to fish spinners over undisturbed populations of trout cannot be overstated. I believe this is the key reason why I had my second best year ever in 2019. I was able to fish an average of nearly once every three days for the entire year and ended up fishing more days and hours than I ever had in the prior forty years.
Highlights for the year included many wonderful trips to the remote north-central region, catching more big trout than usual, and reaching a personal milestone. A special little trout was also noteworthy. In addition, one spectacular junket to a little mountain creek in north-central Pennsylvania will never be forgotten.
In addition to catching thousands of gorgeous wild trout on spinners, I enjoyed taking over 4,000 digital photographs of the trout, streams, fauna, and flora that caught my eye while fishing in the mountains and valleys of our beautiful state.
Four of my favorite non-fishing shots are next:
Crimson-Eyed Rose-Mallow – growing in a swamp along the back road that parallels the Little Juniata River between Barree and Petersburg in Huntingdon County.
Columbine – clinging to a boulder over a brooklet in the mountains of Huntingdon County.
Maidenhair Fern – gracing the forest floor with its beauty and elegance.
Eastern Hemlock – with hemlock woolly adelgids decimating our state tree, it is always nice to find a healthy specimen shading a mountain brook.
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 that 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. I do not count time spent taking photographs or chatting with other anglers as fishing time. All of my fishing is done in streams that are open to free public angling.
Trout of the Year
Each year I bestow the title “Trout of the Year” on my most memorable trout. This year on May 8th, after having a slow morning on a nearly unfishable, tree-trunk-laden freestoner in Huntingdon County, I pretty much resolved myself to the fact that it was just not going to be a high-numbers day. Sure, I have had many slow starts only to salvage outings with a few spectacular hours on a second creek – that’s one of the hallmarks of spinner fishing, but this day just did not have that feel to it. So, for nostalgia purposes, I decided to drive to a nearby stream that I had not fished in many years.
My hope was to just catch enough trout to give me a reason to stay and see the place again since I knew it was possible that this rivulet could have gone completely dry during the drought of 2016. In the past it had produced both native brook and wild brown trout. In fact, I even caught a wild tiger trout here over thirty years ago. Since they are so rare that most trout anglers never catch even one in their entire lives, I had no expectation along those lines, though the thought did enter my mind.
It took about fifteen long minutes to hook my first trout, a 6” native brookie. Eight minutes and many tiny pools later a 9” wild brown grabbed my White Bead Gold spinner. Then I came to a wheelbarrow-sized pool where water entered by bubbling through some tree branches. As I retrieved my spinner a little trout darted out and nailed it. I set the hook and knew instantly by the lime-green color that I had my Trout of the Year -- a 5” wild tiger trout!
Most Productive Outing of the Year
Tucked in the wilds of north-central Pennsylvania, water gradually collects in a web of intersecting hollows to form this small mountain brook. As this water cascades down the mountain over logs and along boulders, it carves out habitat for native brook trout and wild brown trout. Suddenly it has my attention.
My first visit to this stream occurred in June 2017. I was on my way home from a successful day of fishing in the Susquehannock State Forest and on a whim just thought I would sample it. I had not done any prior research and did not even know if it held trout. Heck, I did not even know the name of the creek.
But the thirty-four native brookies and wild browns that I caught late that afternoon in 1.50 hours certainly got my attention, despite the general lack of good habitat.
With high expectations I returned a couple weeks later only to find low water and difficult angling. I caught just 61 trout in 5.25 hours while fishing nearly three miles of water. Although the fishing was disappointing, a memory was made that day when I caught one of the most attractive native brookies that I have ever seen.
A return visit during better flows did not materialize until the following year in early August during a historically wet summer. On that day I got to see just how impressive the creek can truly be, or so I thought at the time. I fished ten straight hours and quit only because I reached the point upstream where those hollows that I talked about earlier were still flowing over leaves and had not yet formed a trout stream. My notepad showed 235 trout were landed and released on my White Bead Gold spinner, mostly native brookies but with a sprinkling of wild browns thrown in for good measure.
The memory made that day was catching this colorful 12” native brookie. Luckily, the sun was shining through the forest canopy in one spot where I could pose the trout inside my new Brodin net which I was carrying to use strictly as a photo prop.
As you might expect, I was really looking forward to fishing this stream again in 2019. Sunday morning, May 26th, could not have come sooner as I tossed and turned all night. It was a relief when my alarm clock finally sounded. After quickly woofing down a bowl of Fruit Loops I pointed my SUV northward and headed to this stream once again, wondering if any new memories would be made this year.
I arrived early enough that I had time to walk over a mile to the stream before the dense forest canopy allowed enough light in to commence casting. I began fishing at 6:12 a.m. The air temperature was 60-degrees and the water temperature checked in at 54-degrees. The sky was a mix of clouds and sun; thunderstorms were forecasted for later in the day. The flow looked ideal.
As hoped I began picking up native brook trout immediately and with regularity. The first hour gave up sixteen trout, including two 9”ers and an 11”er. The second hour yielded an additional twenty-five. Clearly these trout rarely see an angler. I could tell something special was imminent but tried to keep my delight in check, knowing that there was always the chance of another angler starting ahead of me despite my SUV being parked in an obvious fishing spot with a “Catch & Release – WILD TROUT” license plate frame which would deter most educated anglers. A heavy thunderstorm could wipe out the day, too.
By 11:00 a.m. I already had 100 trout recorded in my small notepad.
A token wild brown trout was occasionally caught. A little before 3:00 p.m. I landed my 200th trout of the day.
The stream holds both native brook and wild brown trout so there is always the remote chance of catching a wild tiger trout. Most of my wild tiger trout have been caught in streams where native brook trout predominate and the population of wild browns is minimal. This little gem was my 199th trout of the day, my second wild tiger trout of the year, and 23rd of my life. Catching one of these rare fish is the thing that memories are made of.
Since I did not plan on fishing the next day (Memorial Day) and did not care what time I got home that night, and especially because the trout were still hitting like crazy, I continued fishing. How can you stop fishing when you are getting a strike on what seems like virtually every cast? But there comes a point where you have to quit – like when it gets too dark to see your spinner dangling on your line and you are so far into the headwaters that fishable water is becoming scarce.
At 8:00 p.m., after 13.00 hours of fishing (I deducted forty-eight minutes for taking photos -- I keep track of this in my notepad), I hooked my spinner to the biggest guide on my homemade spinning rod and reluctantly called it a day, surely my longest fishing marathon of all time. My notepad showed 321 trout had been caught, which is my best outing since a 333-trout day in 2004. The air temperature was a humid 64-degrees at this time and the water was 56-degrees.
For me one of the great pleasures after a satisfying day of fishing is the peaceful walk back to my SUV, particularly if it is warm and a light rain is falling. As I walked down the hollow – good thing I had a 200-lumen flashlight filled with fresh batteries with me – a loud chorus of wood frogs serenaded me from a nearby bog. A light rain began to fall which reminded me of how lucky I was that a major thunderstorm had not ended my day prematurely. I reflected on the new memories that I had made today and hoped those new raindrops would collect in the hollows and keep the stream flowing well enough for a return visit later this year.