Last updated: April 7, 2020 - 7:37pm
HARRISBURG — In a surprise move, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission opened trout fishing across the state Tuesday morning, more than a week ahead of the expected opening date.
It was an effort to keep crowds to a managable size along rivers and lakes, where anglers could keep spaced out while fishing, commission spokesman Mike Parker said.
Area fishing spots saw small groups of anglers throughout the day. Around noon at Briar Creek Lake, there were about 10 people fishing and two boats on the lake, outdoors columnist Tom Austin said.
At Benton Dam about 3:30 p.m., seven people were casting for fish.
David McCormick of Danville said he had fished there for years, but hadn’t been ready Tuesday morning.
“My buddies called at 9 a.m. and said they opened trout season,” McCormick said. He was still organizing his tackle box as of Wednesday afternoon.
The surprise was kind of the point, the fish commission said.
Traditionally, the first day of trout season draws big crowds to fishing holes across the state — something all officials in the state wanted to avoid, Parker said.
But the decision on an early opening was driven by two other factors as well: warm water that was killing off fish and pre-season poaching in areas that had been stocked, he said.
Faced with those three challenges, the commission had a range of choices, from canceling the season to hoping the traditional crowds wouldn’t form on the opening day of April 18, to doing a surprise start
For the most part, the early open was well received, Parker said.
“People have been highly supportive,” he said.
Some people felt caught off guard, he said. “They weren’t able to get off of work and go out fishing right away.”
“We’re all operating under a different set of rules right now,” Parker said. “Why anyone thought this would be any different, I’m not sure.”
There’s a lot different this year.
First, the Fish and Boat Commission asked anglers to stay close to home to fish, noting in its press release that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources recommended people get their outoor recreation within 15 minutes of home.
Parker said they were hoping people wouldn’t travel two hours to a cabin, then stay overnight before fishing.
The commission said people should only go fishing with members of their family living in the same household, shouldn’t carpool and should never share fishing gear with someone else.
The commission also asked those fishing to remain more than 6 feet apart and wear a mask.
And then there’s stocking of fish.
Parker said that so far, the Fish and Boat Commission has stocked 220,000 fish in the approved trout waters — less than most season’s opening days.
But the state has been stocking for seven days a week since March 17, “so some have more trout than ever before,” he said.
Parker said the commission would continue stocking fish throughout the season. But unlike other years, it wouldn’t publish where it planned to stock, to avoid gathering crowds in those spots.
Austin said that Briar Creek Lake seemed to be one of the stocked spots.
“There were so many fish in there that I even caught one,” Austin said.
People seemed to be maintaining their distance, but Austin said he didn’t see any masks in use.
There weren’t masks in evidence at Benton Dam on near the Twin Bridges near Forks either, but anglers there were also maintaining their distance.
Austin said the only people he saw close to one another were members of the same family.