Trout season in Pennsylvania has officially begun

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Two rainbow trout swimming.
Rainbow trout swimming. (USDA photo by Ken Hammond.)

It is not unusual for me to make an early morning trip to Pennsylvania. After all, we live a couple of miles from the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. However, on the first Saturday in April, I knew something was different.

My normal route through the countryside had a little bit more traffic. I started to notice a lot of pickup trucks pulled off on the side of the road. There were lines of parked vehicles near overpasses and small streams.

I came around a bend in the road, near a curve in the creek, and was surprised to see at least 20 vehicles parked nearby.

Suddenly, I realized what was going on … opening day of trout season. The day seems to deserve the status of a statewide holiday.

Opening day

This year marked a change in opening day designation. In previous years, there was an early season in southeastern Pennsylvania, followed by a statewide opening day in mid-April.

In 2022, the opening day of trout season for the entire state began at 8 a.m. on the first Saturday in April. It’s a simpler way to remember opening day as the first Saturday in April every year, and actually extends the season.

Pennsylvania has an extensive trout stocking program administered by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. It’s like PFBC is Santa Claus, the trout are the presents and opening day is Christmas morning. About 3.2 million adult trout are added to 128 lakes and 696 streams across the state. Public anglers 16 years and over are required to have a fishing license and a trout permit to fish in Pennsylvania.

The largest amount of species that are stocked are rainbow trout with 2.2 million added to Pennsylvania waters by the PFBC. On average, the fish released will be about 11 inches long and weigh close to .58 pounds. For reference, the record for the largest rainbow trout is held by Dennis L. Clouse, who caught a 15-pound 6-ounce monster in Lehigh County in 1986.

While a state record-breaker is unlikely, the PFBC restocking does include some trophy-sized trout. Brood fish are hatchery-raised until 2.5 to 3.5 years old. They grow to somewhere between 14”-20” before being released. About 70,0000 brood fish of the Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout and Brook trout varieties will be released across the state.

Golden

There’s a unique species swimming in Pennsylvania’s waters that is like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket to many anglers. The golden rainbow trout is a color variation of a rainbow trout that results in a fish that is completely gold or sparkling yellow. They still have the signature pink stripe running horizontally on the lateral line.

Golden rainbow trout were originally bred in West Virginia in the 1950s. It is a genetically derived fish developed by DNR fisheries biologists after they observed a fish with yellow spots in one of the hatcheries.

The fish was separated and the biologists continued to observe its development. To the amazement of the biologists, the golden spots grew into a band of golden scales.

The biologists at the hatchery fertilized 900 of the golden fish’s eggs with milt from a typical male rainbow trout. When the eggs hatched, the fish didn’t have the same spectacular coloration as the mother.

The experiment was abandoned by the disappointed biologists and the young fingerlings were added back in with the typical fish in the rearing ponds.

Surprise

To the surprise of the scientists, as the hatchlings continued to grow, their coloration began to change. Of the 900 fertilized eggs, 300 of the fish developed a golden color. The 300 golden fish were separated again and under the discretion of the West Virginia DNR Chief, experiments continued. The result was the radiant color now visible in golden rainbow trout.

The statewide rainbow trout stocking by the PFBC in 2022, will include about 13,000 golden rainbow trout. The majority of golden rainbow trout will be released preseason, while 20% will be stroked during the season.

The coveted fish at the time of release weigh on average about 1.5 pounds. The state record for golden rainbow trout is currently held by Eli Borger. His record-setting fish was caught in Schuylkill County in 2008 and weighed 13 pounds 8 ounces.

Fishing is a family sport, enjoyed by generations standing side by side along the water. A new streamlined opening day and a variety of species make the effort more like an adventure.

Did any of the anglers I saw on opening day catch a golden rainbow trout? I will never know, but I have a hunch they will keep trying all season long.

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Julie Geiss lives with her husband and four children in Unity Township, Ohio. Faith and family are first in her life, but she also loves hiking, biking and camping. You can contact Julie at juliegeiss1414@gmail.com.

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