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Pa. anglers gear up for opening day of trout season

Hundreds of thousands of anglers visit Pennsylvania’s streams and lakes every year to fish for trophy-sized trout.

  • Zoë Read/WHYY
Gavin Scheib of Klingerstown.

 Courtesy Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, from 2021 opening day along the Mahantango Creek, Schuylkill County

Gavin Scheib of Klingerstown.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of anglers visit Pennsylvania’s waterways to fish on opening day of trout season. The 64-year-old tradition kicks off Saturday, and anglers are preparing their fishing gear for the much-anticipated day.

“It’s just a tradition that has been perpetuated for generations,” said Kurt Engstrom of State College, who has attended the event almost every year since he was 4 years old.

Groups of friends and family arrive at their favorite streams and lakes in the early morning to claim their spots. Anglers line up elbow-to-elbow for their chance to catch large, trophy-sized fish.

“The scene is like shopping on Christmas Eve,” Engstrom said.

Each angler has a different goal — whether it’s to catch the largest trout they can find or catch as many fish as possible. Some simply attend opening day to enjoy the outdoors.

Each year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission supplies more than 3 million trout from its hatcheries into hundreds of streams and lakes across the state. The commission will stock  three species of trout, including the eye-catching rainbow trout, noticeable by its pink stripe and black speckles.

Another million trout are stocked by sporting clubs and other cooperative nurseries. In addition to stocked waterways, anglers can fish from miles of streams home to wild trout.

“It really hearkens the beginning of spring. Folks have been thinking about opening day all year long,” said Tim Schaeffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “We do have year-round fishing opportunities in Pennsylvania — but there’s nothing like opening day.”

The Commission recently invested about $100 million to upgrade its hatcheries infrastructure to ensure clean and healthy water for the fish as they travel over a hundred miles during stocking season.

“[The investment] ensures that the fish will be well-aerated and oxygenated on the way to the stream,” Schaeffer said. “We do see that the qualities of the fish that are arriving there helps with their survival rate.”

Anglers can visit the Fish and Boat Commissions website or the FishBoatPA mobile app to learn more about stocking locations and trout species. This year, the commission has changed some of its stocking locations in Bucks County because of restoration work at Delaware Canal State Park.

“By and large, we have more waterways that can be stocked in Pennsylvania than ever,” Schaeffer said. “The water quality continues to improve. You see really vibrant wild trout fisheries. And we’ve got a lot of waters that have been cleaned up to the point where we can stock them and provide a recreational resource for anglers.”

Anglers 16 and older must have a permit and license to participate in opening day. Anglers fishing from boats are required to wear life jackets through April 30, because of dangerous water temperatures.

“Don’t set your expectations too high, as far as catching fish,” he said. “If you could go with someone more experienced than you that would help — [someone who knows] how to tie knots, how to untangle a fishing line, what bait or lure you use in that particular area.”

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