Has the opening day of Pennsylvania’s trout season lost its magic?

I still look forward to Pennsylvania’s opening day of trout season, but I’ll have to admit, it has lost some of its “magic” appeal. Why, you might ask?

Pennsylvania’s opening day trout fishing has changed in several ways. Those changes individually might be good ones, but they have unintended negative consequences on the “opening day” experience. I will highlight three of those changes.

First, a number of special regulation stocked trout waters, such as Keystone Select and Delayed Harvest — Artificial Lures Only streams — are open to fishing year-round. While this adds more fishing time and makes better use of stocked trout, it does subtract from the opening day. If your traditional opening day used to be on Blair County’s Canoe Lake, for example (or other waters now open to year-round trout fishing), then that choice for an “opening day” experience is no longer available. People have been fishing there every day since trout were stocked. Many of those same anglers now select another water for opening day. This adds more angling pressure to other streams.

Second, 18 southeastern counties now have a regional opening day two weeks before the opening day for the other 49 counties. This is good, because in a typical year, it takes better advantage of climate differences in southeastern Pennsylvania. I could travel to fish in one of the counties with an earlier opening day, but I don’t. (If I did, that would lessen someone else’s open day experience.)

However, some of the southeastern anglers now travel to other counties to fish on what is their second “regional” opening day. This further crowds the streams in the other 49 counties — particularly in the border counties — and subtracts from the local angling experience. It only takes two or three new anglers on the small stream that I fish on the opening day to really change the fishing dynamics in a negative way.

Third, mentored youth fishing. All non-special-reg stocked trout waters now have a Mentored Youth Day on the Saturday one week before the official opening day. This is a good thing in some ways, because it gets more kids out fishing, but I think the concept still needs work. Nothing kills opening day excitement like driving past your favorite opening-day starting spot on that “mentored” Saturday and seeing the banks lined with youths and parents and other mentors also fishing. The youths are even allowed to kill two trout each. There are a few waters around the state that aren’t stocked until after Mentored Youth Day. However, guess what happens to the opening-day angling pressure on those streams?

Before you conclude that this Nale guy is just a whiner, that is not my purpose. If weather and stream conditions are good, I fish for wild trout in March and early April, as well as throughout the summer and fall. However, I still look forward to what is now my “regional opening day” of trout season — April 15, this year. In my mind, I just consider it the opening day of stocked trout season.

I’m not saying that the Fish & Boat Commission’s decisions were wrong. They may very well be the best decisions overall for trout fishing in general. But stocked streams opening early, two opening days and the Mentored Youth Fishing Days detract from what used to be a more special opening day for me.

Please consider this food for thought. It is possible that by making positive changes to increase angling and sell more licenses, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission just might have an opposite effect by lessening interest in the opening day.

Make no mistake — I’ll be out there, and I’ll have a good time, even if the “magic shine” of the opening day of trout season is a little tarnished.

Tight lines, and throw a couple of trout back for me.

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