Jim Gronaw: What to expect in the early portion of trout season

By now, there are many options for early season trout around the Maryland/Pennsylvania region including catch-and-release, fly-fishing only and put-and-take options. Known as a traditional “kickoff” for the season to many anglers, opening day trout fishing signals the start of a new angling year for many. True, it’s not the pristine, storied adventures we often read about in western waters of Montana, Colorado or the Great Lakes Region, but it is a taste of trout fishing as many thousands of rainbow, brown and golden trout are stocked throughout our region by the states’ DNRs and other fishery agencies.

Maryland’s traditional opening day was set for March 26, and there were three “closure” regulations for various stocked waters leading up to opening day. In Pennsylvania, the state has gone back to one opening day date, April 2, for the entire state. In both states, there are many and varied regulations regarding size, creel and methods for catching trout. It is necessary to check the trout regulations on the Maryland DNR website and likewise with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to determine which waters, and regulations, you are interested in.

For most of us, opening day trout fishing usually means hitting any one of several small lakes, ponds or streams that are listed as approved trout waters that receive hatchery fish. Most hatchery fish are going to run from 8- to 11-inches long and a 14- to 16-inch trout maybe your biggest of the day, if not the year. Some years Maryland implants a number of much larger “brood” trout that exceeded the 20-inch mark and would be deemed as a “hatchery trophy.” In Quaker State waters, larger trout are more prevalent and, in some venues, you may encounter true giants that measure from 25 to 30 inches that were stocked by independent groups and outdoors clubs that can provide exciting, memorable fishing.

In the nearby Catoctin Mountain region, we often enjoy a later stocking of trout that occurs in May and features predominantly brown trout along with a few rainbows. In western Maryland there are numerous flows that are designated as wild trout habitats and are often under stricter regulations than the put-and-take variety you might encounter closer to home. Some of the local lakes and creeks that are routinely stocked are the Farm Museum Pond, Westminster Community Pond, Roberts Mill Pond, Woodsboro Community Pond, Piney Run Park, South Branch of the Patapsco, Rainbow Lake and Cunningham Falls Lake.

Most of the streams in the Emmitsburg/Thurmont area receive stockings as well. For the adventurer/hiker, you might want to pursue native brook trout that are found in greater numbers in extreme western Maryland where “licks” and creeks of the Upper Potomac and Savage River systems boast fishable, reproducing populations.

Both Maryland and Pennsylvania stock a variety of trout species to include rainbow, golden and brown trout, like this specimen.

Throughout much of central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania naturalized populations of brown trout have evolved over time either as a result of long-ago, experimental stockings or Johnny Appleseed efforts and transplants. Many of these waters are on private land but others are in public domain. It takes hard work and diligent efforts to hike and find wild trout populations and most of the anglers who are on top of this game remain quiet about their prime locations — I don’t blame them.

One of my fondest memories of opening day was many years ago on a southern Pennsylvania creek where my son caught a gorgeous 19-inch brown trout that was perfectly marked and rocketed out from under an overhanging tree to smash his small Mepps spinner. Although it was public water, the creek was lightly fished and we did not have to deal with traditional opening day issues of tangled lines and lost fish due to the “elbow-to-elbow” crowds that can characterize some waters. We caught several more nice rainbow trout and ignored the cool, rainy weather that can often accompany the early trout gig.

Many methods work for the early trout. Much of the techniques will be governed by each waters’ regulations. Some are fly-fishing/barbless hooks only, others are artificial lures only with single hooks. Still, others are “any method” waters where lures, live bait or commercially made dough baits are permitted. Truly, like it or not, the time-honored Berkley Power Bait, in a variety of flavors, has indeed caught its share of trout over the years. Personally, I’d rather catch and release fish on barbless micro-jigs fished below a bobber or cast small spoons and spinners for aggressive, leaping fish. It’s all fun.

One cool thing is that you don’t have to be on the water at dawn’s early light to catch fish. Actually, you can even go the next day and score early season trout. In some areas, anglers literally stake out an area by parking and staying in their vehicles overnight to beat the crowd. Sounds a little crazy for a half-dozen 11-inch fish, but to each their own.

Yes, opening day trout, and the continued efforts for these fish, are a true harbinger of spring and often the initial angling of the season for many of us. Enjoy your outing and your pan-fried trout, if you are so inclined. Good luck.