Springtime anglers may reap the rewards of this past winter's record-setting snowfall.
With opening day of trout season slated for Saturday in the southeast counties and April 17 elsewhere in the state, snow melt should keep most streams recharged and cold at least through early May.
"There's a lot of water in the ground and streams should stay in good shape through the early part of the season," said Accuweather senior meteorologist Bob Smerbeck, who is an avid angler. "The spring-fed streams, the limestoners that get water from deep inside the water table, and streams in places like the Laurel Highlands and Pocono Mountains, will flow better, longer."
Freestone streams such as Allegheny County's Deer and Pine creeks should be in decent shape, too, Smerbeck said, but are more dependent on rain events to keep water levels boosted as the season wears on.
In the run up to trout season, Smerbeck fishes Spring Creek's Catch and Release All Tackle section in Centre County. Hundreds of streams statewide have special regulations and are stocked and open to fishing year-round.
"I'll fish Spring Creek with red worms or crawlers, or I'll look at what's under rocks. A lot of the time, I'll fish hellgrammites," Smerbeck said. "Once water warms up, I'll mash my barbs down and use black Rooster Tails. In-season, I fish Bald Eagle Creek, and a feeder stream, Wallace Run, which has native brook trout. Depending on how much rain we get, Black Moshannon Creek can stay fishable into June because it tends to run colder, but I'll go there on cloudy days so the fish can't see me."
Streams in forested areas, such as state game lands, tend to run clearer even after rain events, according to Bryan Swistock, a Penn State University water resources manager.
"The mass of tree roots helps prevent sediment runoff," he said. "Streams near populated areas, where there's a lot of impervious surfaces, can turn high and muddy quickly."
Swistock said lack of precipitation has been the more common springtime scenario in Pennsylvania for the past decade, making above-average groundwater recharge from snow melt so welcome this year.
Anglers are enjoying the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only section of Neshannock Creek now, said Bob Shuey of Neshannock Creek Fly Shop.
"We're one of the busiest streams in western Pennsylvania," he said. "We get a lot of guys from Ohio, because there's so little trout-fishing over there."
Last Sunday, his shop float stocked the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lure Only section at Volant with lunker-size trout, adding to what the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission put in earlier in March and prompting anglers to break out their hardware.
"A lot of guys will fish spinning tackle on newly-stocked trout until they see fly guys smacking fish, then they'll bring their fly rods out, too." Shuey said.
While small spinners, spoons, and crankbaits are effective, he urges anglers to pinch back the barbs or switch to single hooks, so as to minimize damage to trout.
"CP Swings, Joe's Flies, Panther Martens ... they'll all catch fish. But a lot of guys will cut two [of three hooks from a treble] or replace them with a single hook," he said. "A small jig fished under a float works just as well as a Rapala, but it doesn't have a gang of hooks on it."
Fish and Boat Commission language describing the kind of artificial lures allowed on special regulations streams can be confusing, but the bottom line is to avoid those made with even a tiny amount of any natural food product. Dousing lures with anise extract or other natural scents also is unlawful.
Wayne Lykens of Island Firearms said split-tail grubs with red, white or chartreuse bodies and black, silver or gold jig heads are his customers' first choice, while Lee Murray of Lock Three Bait and Tackle said Rooster Tails and "yarn flies," such as Glo-bugs and sucker spawn with split shot, are popular with his clientele. His best-selling rods are 5- to 6-foot ultralights with 4 pound monofilament line, with or without a fluorocarbon leader.
When fishing streams at this time of year, target eddies and deep pools of slow-moving water. Trout tend to gather behind current seams and rocks and anywhere there's slack water. Cast upstream and slowly reel as your lure drifts down with the current. Reel fast enough not to get snagged, but keep your retrieve slow because the water is still cold.