By Mark Nale
I never thought that I would see a disease affecting the opening day of trout season, but last month it did. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission surprised everyone by opening all stocked trout streams to fishing at 8 a.m., on April 7-11 days early. The move by the commission caused a wave of negative complaints on social media.
The opening day has been a social event for many people for as long as I can remember. Complainers rightfully noted that it ruined their friends-and-family plans for April 18. There were also complaints about the surprise opening giving an advantage to the “losers” (not my word) who do not have jobs. I could go on and on, but honestly, I got tired reading all of the whining and rubbish.
Here is my take on the situation. I could not fish on April 7, so the surprise opening day ruined my plans, too. Am I complaining? No. If one steps back, and I did, almost all of the complaints and moaning can be summed up in one word – selfishness. As another indicator of greed, the commission listed one of the reasons for the surprise opener as the opportunity “to reduce the threat of illegal poaching.” The complainers and the poachers were mainly thinking of one thing – themselves – rather than the bigger picture.
The bigger picture is, at that time, the positive cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania had been jumping up at the rate of 1,500 to 2,000 a day, with deaths rising, too. Pennsylvania did a good job with the closings, travel controls and recommendations. One only has to look to Italy or Spain to see that, without those controls, cases could easily be mushrooming to 10,000 a day and higher. Considering this, would it have made sense to bring people from all over the state together to fish on the April 18 for their traditional social gatherings? Of course not.
I was appalled to read comments referring to people out of work as “losers.” So many people are out of work through no fault of their own because of the coronavirus. Trust me, most would rather be working instead of fishing.
The Fish and Boat Commission made the right call by opening the season early. In addition, I know that the agency did an excellent job under trying situations to get all of the streams stocked, with employees working weekends and some laid-off employees volunteering just to help get the job done. They could have quickly dumped all of the trout off at the nearest bridge and say, “we stocked it.” However, based on first-hand reports, they did a commendable job of spreading out the trout where I live in Centre County and elsewhere.
Here is a positive Facebook post from Tim Sandstrom: “This is my shout out to the Fish and Boat Commission workers stocking trout. I was fishing a stream in Fayette County this morning (April 9). They showed up in a tanker and pickup truck. I watched three guys working in rain and sleet. They put some in from the road, but I watched two guys carry at least 10 buckets up and down the stream to disperse them. One guy even fell in and carried at least two buckets afterwards.”
How did I react to the “surprise?” I will admit that it bothered me a little, even though I know that the agency made the right call. I fished a little bit on the 8th and 9th – and I did quite well. I fished parts of three local streams, catching and releasing several limits of stocked and wild trout. My biggest trout was an 18-inch stocked rainbow and my largest wild trout was a brown measuring 14 inches. I fished by myself on the 8th and with my son-in-law, John, on the 9th. I only saw other anglers at a distance and very few of them.
The sudden announcement caused some anglers to rush to licensing agents to purchase fishing licenses. Dwight Kline, assistant manager at Valley Ace Hardware in Milesburg, reported that April 7 was the store’s biggest single day for fishing license sales ever.
“It was just unreal,” said Kline. “People just flocked in to buy a license as soon as they heard the news.”
Now, six weeks later, everything seems normal. Some anglers are trying their luck at the usual stocking points and fly-anglers are flocking to their favorite May hotspots. Me? I’m visiting sections of stocked streams that have no anglers and mostly fishing the smaller streams for wild trout – just like I usually do at this time of year.
I will likely be on the stream again tomorrow – practicing social distancing and catching wild trout. I think that a couple of years from now we will all look back on this as a tiny “blip” on the graph of our fishing lives.