Opening Day Strategy by Matt Marusiak
With Pennsylvania’s opening day of trout season soon upon us, I think it is worthwhile to consider what separates the successful anglers from the not-so-successful ones. I normally fish the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning at Sterling Run on opening day, and I’ve seen a lot of different tactics used there. Some folk stand armpit deep for hours in the big hole below the Sterling Run bridge. Others flail up and down the riffles. Nightcrawlers, minnows, salmon eggs, or mill worms are used as bait. Fly fishermen, like me, rely on nymphs and wooly buggers.
Based on years of careful observation and experience, I believe I now know the most effective way to catch trout on opening day. And it’s not your choice of tackle that makes the difference. Instead, the wisest strategy is to get on the water late.
I discovered this tactic more through accident than planning. As usual, I had gone to the camp the evening before the opening day to join the rest of the Marusiak fishermen. We played pinochle and swapped fishing stories until the light of dawn began to brighten the sky. Rolling out of bed for the 8:00 AM start of the season required more discipline than I could muster. When I finally began to move, the sun was high. I felt sure the creek was now shoulder-to-shoulder with fishermen.
I drove down to Sterling Run around eleven. The bright blue sky hurt my eyes, but the air was warming and the slight breeze had a scent of dew and earthworms. Skunk cabbage was greening along the creek bottom. As I stumbled down to the creek, I saw that all the good fishing spots were indeed taken. Ronnie, Tim, and Jamie had staked out their claims in the big hole, while Uncle Rudy and Uncle Donnie were upstream. Other fishermen were working the water around the bridge. The creek was high and rolling, so I put on a weighted sink tip on my fly line, and rigged up a pair of nymphs. I fished half-heartedly, trying to clear the effects of the previous evening from my head. No one, including me, seemed to be catching trout.
Around noon the stream cleared out. I was still working the riffles when I noticed that I was alone, and I wondered if I had missed the lunch bell. Since food didn’t seem appealing to me yet, I waded to some pocket water just below the bridge. I drifted the nymphs, letting them bounce along the stream bottom.
A fish struck, and a few minutes later I had a feisty brown trout in my net. I quickly killed and creeled it. On the next drift I connected with a 15″ rainbow, who leaped several times. By now I was clear-headed; nothing cures a hangover better than catching trout. I continued to work the pocket water, and within 45 minutes I had my limit.
As I cleaned my fish along the creek bank, people started straggling back to the creek. Lunch hour must be over, I thought. I hefted my creel and headed out. For me, it was time to get back to pinochle.