It was a beautiful day in April. I had traveled to my father’s place in southwestern Pennsylvania for an overdue visit. Visions of fish were swimming in both of our heads.
Earlier in the year we had crossed the border into West Virginia, a state with a rigorous trout stocking program and no closed season. Since first discovering some trout waters a year earlier, we had spent a considerable amount of time exploring the portions of the state closest to us, with varying results. Still, we almost always came home with fish for the frying pan and lasting memories.
This time trout season in Pennsylvania was in full swing. Many of the numerous anglers who lined the streams and lakes on the opening weekend had already got their annual trout fishing trip out of their systems and were nowhere near the water. But many of the nearly four million fish stocked for their enjoyment remained, joining the large but dwindling numbers of wild trout throughout the state.
For weeks I had searched maps for good waters in the hills and mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Stuck behind my desk, far from any fishable waters, it was the closest I could come to wetting a line. I mapped out a course that would take us to a lake and two streams just over the West Virginia border before swinging back into Pennsylvania’s Fayette County.
Finally the morning had arrived. We ate breakfast, loaded up the vehicle and headed down the road with the robotic voice of the GPS leading the way.
After some initial trouble, we found what we were looking for. A small pond nestled on the side of a major thoroughfare, with deep clear waters surrounded in pines. A few hours of fishing turned up nothing, so we loaded up and set out in search of some moving water as the temperature began to rise. Though the natural beauty of one in particular stays in my mind, we fared no better in the streams we fished that morning in West Virginia. Eventually, we decided to head back to Pennsylvania to continue our journey.
Maps and windy back roads do not always line up. That’s a lesson I’ve learned time and time again when searching out new waters. We never did find the first stream we were looking for in Fayette County, but that turned out to be just fine. Because, as we sought out after the second stream on the list, we came across a fantastic little gem in the heart of Fayette County.
After nearly ripping the tires off my small hatchback while venturing down a mud-and-stone road, we crossed a small wooden bridge over a rippling mountain brook. A sign in the pull off on the side of the tiny road gave the name of the stream. I remembered from my research that it was listed on the website of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as supporting natural trout reproduction. After a bit of talking, we decided to pull over and try it out.
We walked along the small stream to a bend, where the pines and tall grasses gave way to a clearing. Another angler was already there, with a stringer full of average-sized brook trout at his side. One glance revealed that the stream was clearly stocked. A fire ring and a bit of litter lined the bank. A handful of brookies lingering in the clear waters below.
We hooked a few fish immediately, returning about half to the water and keeping some others. The other angler informed us that the stream was indeed stocked once prior to trout season before announcing his intention to depart. He offered us some live bait he was carrying, and announced the existence of “a large rainbow trout” under a log that “just wouldn’t bite,” then disappeared down the same trail we had come in on.
I had already noticed the tail of a large trout under a fallen tree near my feet long before the announcement, and had been thinking of the best way to present my bait to the fish. Unfortunately my equipment got in the way.
As I was flying in late the night before, I had asked my father to pick up a spool of 2 lb test Berkley Trilene XL so that I could fill my reel for the early morning trip. Unfortunately, the only nearby store was out of my line of choice. In its place he picked up a spool of 2lb Berkley Fireline Crystal.
The line can best be described as dental floss, since it is surely of no use to anglers. All morning I had been wrestling with it, loosing yards to unceasing knots and tangles. To make things worse, it was impairing my casting as well.
Just as I had worked out a plan to get my presentation in front of the large fish, which I now saw to be a good sized brown trout, a tangle appeared in my line that would have made any nest-building bird jealous.
As I dealt with the mess, I suggested to my father that he try at the fish. He walked to the head of the log and crawled out on a stump, dropping his redworm in the water and allowing the current to take it under the log.
Almost immediately he hooked into a large brownie that jumped once before throwing the hook. Thinking we may had lost our chance, he tried again. This time he set his small gold hook solidly into the fish’s jaw. After a great fight in the swift current, he brought the fish close enough to shore for me to net.
The beautiful 20 inch female brown trout sparkled in the sunlight. My dad, a through and through bass fisherman, was impressed with his accomplishment. It was his first trophy trout.
We snapped a few photos of the big fish for memory and went on fishing the rest of the day, with little success. But that didn’t matter much to us. The time on the water made the trip worthwhile, regardless of what we caught.
Still, it was great to see dad catch his trophy that day. It was one time I was happy to have a tangle get in the way.
Although he was the one who first taught me to fish many years ago, I am sure my father would have no problem agreeing that my skills have developed quite a bit since then. It’s funny though that the underlying method he used to catch the trophy fish was one of the first he had taught me: weightless, natural presentation.
We wouldn’t find out until later that the PFBC only stocked brook trout into the stream in question. So we’re not quite sure how that fish found its way under that log. The most likely scenario seems to be that it swam up from a larger creek a few miles downstream, where brown trout are stocked.
We also weren’t aware that there were two separate trophy brown trout under that log. We wouldn’t find that out until I returned a month later, catching an even larger male in that same exact spot. But that’s another story.