Western Pennsylvania, June, 2002. On a Wednesday morning, Brandon and I ditched a three-hour summer college course called “Oceans and Atmospheres” in favor of a more inspiring classroom.
Weather was perfect, cool and cloudy with that late-spring feeling of freedom — a tangible impression engrained from years of anticipating summer vacation as a child. And it was too much temptation to resist. Brandon and I drove twenty miles north, into the hills, knowing that a local freestoner had received a second stocking of trout just a few days before.
Brandon barely cut the engine before I jumped out of the truck and into my waders, stringing up lines and laces in no time at all.
“I’m gonna head upstream past the second flat, into that woodsy section away from the road. When I pick off a few fish up there, I might circle back around to the lower end,” I said to Brandon.
“K. Those are big plans.” he replied flatly.
I waded quickly across a side channel and pushed my way through new-green underbrush.
Walking hurriedly, with planned purpose and high hopes, I turned back to see Brandon casually walking down the dirt bank, into what we called the Road Hole.
I ducked and dodged around a maze of low-hanging limbs and briars, looking all the while for anything like a deer trail but finding none. Within a few minutes, I realized I’d overdressed again. The effort to reach the roadless area surpassed any need for an extra layer of fleece. So I took the time to unravel from my vest, belt and waders. I removed the thick black shirt, stowed it away, and redressed.
Honestly, one less layer left me no cooler.
Two hours later, worn out and frustrated, I walked back to Brandon’s truck, much slower on my return downstream than was my hopeful and hurried journey upstream. I brought with me the tale of just one native brook trout, caught and released because it was too small to keep.
Brandon was still in the Road Hole.
“How’d you do?” I started to ask.
Brandon interrupted me with a tilted head and a high hand, open palm faced toward me and holding me off, demanding my silence and stillness.
I paused on the bank across from Brandon and stared while he finished the drift with his rod high. After another cast, he spoke.
“Caught my limit,” he said. And he motioned to the stringer on the bank.
“What the hell, man?” I protested.
Brandon spoke while staring at the water. “Dom, when fishing for stockies, sometimes it does not pay to be ambitious.”
In the next hour I fished directly across from my friend on the small creek. And I filled my own stringer with stocked rainbow trout.
We had a good fish fry that afternoon.
— — — — —
I’ve kept this gem with me. Brandon’s wisdom went against everything I’d grown into as a trout fisherman, because I’d been taught early on to walk in, spread out and find your own water, to explore and get off the muddy fisherman’s path.
But Brandon was right — sometimes it does not pay to be ambitious. Sometimes, fishing for stocked trout is just different. Maybe all the fish were dumped into the Road Hole because they didn’t have enough volunteers to float stock the creek this year. And even after the fish have had time to spread out, upstream and down, they may still group up in slower water. And freshly stocked fish may not respond to a “proper” dead drift presentation as much as something bright and swung against the current.
My Dad’s buddy ties and fishes an ace-in-the-hole pattern that he calls the Hardy’s Hand Grenade. It’s a grape-sized, fluorescent glow bug, and it kills on his favorite, stocked, Maryland streams.
Does stuff like that always work on stocked trout? Nope. But it’s worth the time to consider the trout. How freshly stocked are they? And what’s their life experience up to this point? Stocked trout can be pretty gullible for a while, so why not take advantage of that?
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N