Monday, April 10, 2017

The Opener

The trout openers of my youth are a lot different than the most recent first days of fishing I've experienced. When I was little, my father, brother, and I would stop by the local bait shop to pick up some mealy worms, night crawlers, and two dozen minnows in eager anticipation of the first or second Saturday in April. We'd often arrive early, but not early enough, to compete with hordes of other anglers intent on taking home their limits of freshly stocked rainbows, browns, and brook trout. I can state for a fact that I had no idea what a "wild" trout was. All I knew was that there was fish in the water and I could take them home with me in a bucket or on a stringer. Most often, I felt guilty about keeping a trout and we kept the fish alive in a bucket until it slowly asphyxiated to death. I look back on those moments of childhood horror as one of the main reasons why I have caught and released almost every fish I've caught since. Anyway, as I transitioned into the sport of fly fishing in my early teenage years, opening day was just another day of trout fishing. I came to seemingly look down upon stocked fish (although I catch them all the time) and now anticipate wild places and the stream born fish that reside in them. Over the past few years, I have looked forward to the NY opener and it has officially replaced those eves of my childhood with something similar yet different at the same time.

New York is a lot more progressive in their fishing regulations compared to my home state of Pennsylvania. While most trout water in PA is open to year round fishing, NY shuts down its water from October 15-April 1 to enable its wild populations to successfully navigate the spawn and the sensitive post spawn winter months. Since NY has a ton of amazing water that I've grown fond of over the years, I look forward to revisiting a few haunts every Spring. The openers become special moments to share with friends and family just like they were in my early years.

This year, it rained cats and dogs all Friday before the opener. Large sections of NY got freezing rain, sleet, and snow. Nonetheless, I made the trek north after work and arrived to the campsite around ten. As the lone tenants that evening, the campground manager let us set up our tents under his wedding pavilion that was complete with hangar sized spacing for our vehicles, a soft rubberized floor, and bright lights for our special evening. With an eye on flows, we didn't know what to expect the following morning or if we even would be able to fish. We set our alarms for five o'clock anyway...

As we descended into the gorge, the roar of rushing water became deafening. The tributaries were blown and the remnants of March's late blizzard added to the flows. The main river was basically blown out with inches of visibility. With nothing else to do we rigged up streamer and nymph rods and started working the edges.

Eventually, we found the fish hiding in deep pockets behind the boulders along the banks. Heavily weighted streamers and jigs contact nymphed through these slots produced a good amount of brown trout for the five of us. They were a mixed bag of stocked fish, holdovers, and wild ones.

Mid-day siesta...

In the end, we managed to salvage what otherwise could have been a poor opening day and made it one for the memory books...

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