Sunday, February 5th, 2023
Sunday, February 5th, 2023

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Catch odd fish for an offbeat good time

By Freddie McKnight
Southcentral Correspondent


There exists in many Pennsylvania streams and lakes a fish, actually a member of the minnow family, that is considered troublesome by most anglers who catch it – the fallfish.  


Most often caught by anglers targeting other species, especially trout, the fallfish is considered a trash fish by most, despite its qualities of being easily hooked and putting up a good fight. 


Fallfish prefer clear waters with gravel bottoms. They always seem eager to bite, are not shy of most offerings, and can be caught year-round both day and night. Why they are not given higher regard probably has to do a lot with their reputation as poor table fare.


But the fallfish offers anglers a great chance of success wherever they are targeted. Feeding much in the same manner as trout, they provide a learning target for those learning to fly-fish. 


I know this firsthand as it was a stream close to my home where I took advantage of this similarity to trout to figure out how to approach this new found passion in angling. 


Catching multiple fish from the same run at the tail end of the pool, I quickly learned how and where to cast, and how to maneuver the fly to bring it to the correct spot by sripping and mending the line.


If I had been targeting trout, even recently stocked hatchery trout, during my initial trips, I doubt I would have caught or learned such valuable lessons in such a short amount of time.


Fallfish are often found in schools and when feeding, you can catch multiple fish from the same general area. They tend to gang up at the heads and tails of pools in a slightly faster current than you might find other, more desirable species. 


This is perhaps why many anglers targeting trout catch fallfish instead of browns or bookies, as the fallfish are first in line as the offering is swept through the current.


If you can locate a school in clear water, you can use this sight advantage to learn how to present other offerings to them and see how they react.


I can remember many a day in my early years of solo angling along a certain Huntingdon County stream where fallfish presented me with the opportunity to learn how to fish jigs. 


I would toss the lure out and watch it wash downstream in the current and wait for one of the fallfish I had sighted to pick the offering up. 


Most times I would never feel the bite, but learned to watch the line move ever so slightly signaling the strike I had seen take place. That lesson has transferred over to pursuits of many other fish species over the years.


When I was a youth, the fallfish was one of the first catches of spring. As they spawn when the water temperature reaches around 58 degrees, they are quite active soon after ice out, feeding heavily prior to this period of high stress. 


Those who fish bait for suckers soon after the streams become fishable can attest to their hunger, as fallfish have an uncanny ability to seek out bait among the bottom debris.


Some other bait fishermen have been known to curse them, as this species has a reputation as a bait stealer. This probably comes from anglers fishing a location with smaller sized fallfish, as the average and larger specimens tend to gulp the offering down without hesitation. 


This quality of this species makes it a great one to target if you are taking first time anglers. Much like the bluegill, the fallfish doesn’t show much hesitation to most offerings and will readily bite.


While fallfish have value as a teaching aid, and can serve to save the day when other species refuse to cooperate, it may be their quality as bait that they are best known for. The average fallfish runs about 8-10 inches in length, but come in all sizes. 


Their coloration can allow these fish to be used for a wide variety of gamefish species. They are hardy and can remain lively on a hook for hours while in pursuit of muskies, walleyes, bass and stripers. They are easily caught, both on hook and seined in smaller streams, and are plentiful across most waterways of the state.


If you choose to target this fish species, match your gear in accordance with the size of the fish you think you will catch. While no official state record exists for this species, they have been known to grow in excess of 20 inches in our state, with a weight perhaps pushing 4 to 5 pounds. 


The next time you are struggling on a stream, try switching gears and target fallfish. You will catch many and have a great time, and that is what fishing is all about in the first place.

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