Pennsylvania anglers have long considered the opening day of trout season as an unofficial state holiday.
In recent years, with more and more people recognizing the importance of introducing and retaining youngsters to the joy of fishing, it is also the ideal time for bounding with family members and friends.
This year, the Southeast Region trout opener is Saturday, April 2, at 8 a.m., and the statewide season opens two weeks later, Saturday, 16, at 8 a.m. Many anglers now celebrate both opening days by planning trips as carefully as they do between Christmas and New Year's Day.
Locally, anglers will be able to participate in the April 2 opening day in Berks, Lehigh and Schuylkill county waters. Other counties open for the early opener are Adams, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadelphia and York.
"Opening day is a time-honored tradition that families and kids look forward to every year," Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway said. "It's a huge event for so many families and their children.
"I remember fishing with my parents on opening day and the excitement we all felt.
Now I'm able to spend this day with my grandkids and they just love it.
"It is truly a special time in so many families' lives. Opening day is special because it signals the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It's great if you catch trout, but the day is really about getting out of the house, enjoying the outdoors and spending quality time with family and friends."
According to PFBC statistics, opening day is one of the biggest fishing days of the year, with the agency's "great white fleet" of stocking trucks being busy since mid-February replenishing Pennsylvania's waterways with a fresh supply of brook, brown and rainbow trout. Every year the PFBC stocks about 3.2 million trout in waterways across the state.
Based on firsthand experience, for youngsters – other than toddlers – to get the most enjoyment out of fishing, supply them with an ultra-light spinning or spin casting rod-and-reel combo.
Using "real" tackle is easier for kids to use, as it is more efficient in hooking and landing fish that those cartoon-character rods designed to "catch" kids through brand association.
Kids also like fishing with tackle that looks just like the "grownups" are using and usually holds their interest longer.
These downsized rod-and-reel combos are also easier to deal with streamside when it comes to changing baits or lures and dealing with tangled line.
Another thing to remember when outfitting kids is smaller is almost always better when selecting terminal tackle such as hooks. Rigging with a No. 12 hook is an almost certain guarantee of landing even small panfish, but if larger fish are present, moving up to a No. 10 hook may be a better choice.
Be prepared to snip plenty of leaders when using small hooks because very often fish will swallow the bait – especially if a young angler is not familiar with setting the hook. Changing hooks, especially those on leaders, however, requires little time or effort and the payoff is a youngster catching more fish.
In addition to downsizing the tackle for kids, another rule of thumb is to lighten up.
That includes everything from the drag setting, to line weight, to bobbers and the amount of bait used.
By backing off on the drag line as light as 4-pound test and never heavier than 6-pound test can be used as the mainline. This allows a young angler to feel like they are battling a salmon, even if the fish is an 8-inch trout.
Live bait and scented pre-prepared commercial products such as Berkley Power Bait is the best choice for kids.
An advantage of using live bait is that a bobber can be used on the line to indicate a strike, make sure the bobber is small so a fish can easily pull in beneath the water when it strikes.
If bottom fishing, avoid using a single sinker, as this tends to create hang-ups. A better way to go is using several small split shot to get just enough, but not too much, weight to put the bait on the bottom.
As for the bait, a single meal worm, a piece of earthworm or a single Power Nugget is better than using a glob of bait.
Too much bait can result in a fish feasting on the presentation without a young angler knowing the fish is there.
So, enjoy the special holiday that is opening day. And for the most enjoyment, take a youngster.