Trout will take lures, flies and bait this month. All you have to do is head for these biologist-recommended hotspots and drop them a line!
By Mike Bleech
Wanna hear a "secret?" Trout do not mind cold water one bit. If you can find a place with open water, the fishing is just fine even in the dead of winter, which actually is not so dead. And Pennsylvania has the places to go.
While this is not the traditional time of year for trout fishing in Pennsylvania, the extended trout season on all approved trout waters is open from the day after Labor Day until the last day of the following February. Several special regulations areas also provide midwinter trout fishing opportunities.
Trout certainly are not as aggressive during February as they are in spring or fall, but they can be caught, and fishing this month has its charms, not the least of which is the lack of competition from other anglers. Even on some of the best streams, you might not see another trout angler. Then there is the beauty of the winter backdrop, rich green pines and hemlock trees silhouetted against snowy hillsides, perhaps snowflakes in the air.
Spin-fishers will generally do best with live bait. Shiners are a good choice, especially in streams that hold brown trout or brook trout. In rainbow trout waters, try grubs or salmon eggs. Where bait is not allowed, try small spinners or spoons. Gold and red seems to be the best color choices in cold weather.
Fly-fishers are not left out of the game. Caddis nymphs are often the best choice at the end of a leader. Some of the brightly colored attractor wet fly patterns work well. And, if you watch very carefully on the warmest February afternoons, you might even observe an insect hatch that can be matched.
Every region of the state has a few places to get a bend in your rod this month. With suggestions from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists, here is a look at some of the best:
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
NORTHWEST REGION How could anyone think of trout fishing during February in the cold and snowy Northwest Region?
Well, one reason is that the Allegheny River might be the best winter trout stream in the state and certainly one of the best in the eastern U.S., depending on your viewpoint.
For 8.75 miles from the outflow of the Allegheny Reservoir downstream to the confluence of Conewango Creek is a Miscellaneous Special Regulations area. From 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season through Labor Day, the minimum size for trout is 14 inches and the daily limit is two (combined species). From Sept. 2 until 8 a.m. of the opening day of the trout season of the following year, no trout may be killed or kept in possession. These regulations, and the food-rich river, have produced a superb trophy trout fishery.
Trout in the Allegheny River are about evenly mixed between browns and rainbows with the odd brook trout now and then. Either browns or rainbows sometimes exceed 10 pounds. Although you cannot expect as many hits during February as during spring or fall, this is an excellent time to find the bigger trout. Bring a camera to prove your prowess because all fish must be released.
Water discharging from the lower gates of the dam moderate the stream temperature and keep it a few degrees warmer. Perhaps "less cold" is a better description. As a result, the river does not freeze. Only during the most severe and prolonged frigid spells does shore ice become a problem, although rocks above the water line can be icy.
Some of the biggest trout are caught in the turbulent discharge from the dam. Other hotspots are along Dixon Island, the first large island about three fourths of a mile below the dam, and just above the upriver bridge at Warren. Riffles around the islands hold most of the trout, but the deep pools often give up the biggest trout.
The river can usually be floated from the Big Bend Recreation Area off state Route 59 to Point Park in Warren. Route 59 follows the river from U.S. Route 6 at Warren to the dam, providing access at several other places, although it is separated from the river by a steep, high bank. Check river conditions first, though, and do not attempt it in extremely cold weather. Phone (814) 726-0164 for water conditions and a fishing report.
SOUTHWEST REGION The Youghiogheny River at the tailwaters of the Youghiogheny Dam is one of the few streams in Pennsylvania that is stocked with trout through the winter. It is scheduled to be stocked again on Feb. 2 this winter.
This is one of the most popular winter trout fishing areas in the state. Miscellaneous Special Regulations apply to the Youghiogheny Dam tailwaters for one mile from the lake downstream to the river's confluence with the Casselman River. From the day after Labor Day through March 31 of the following year, the daily creel limit is three trout. For all other species, inland regulations apply.
From the confluence with the Casselman River downstream to the confluence with Ramcat Run and from the state Route 381 bridge at Ohiopyle downstream to the mouth of the river, there is no closed season on trout. From the day after Labor Day through the opening day of the trout season of the following year, the daily limit is three trout. For all other species, inland regulations apply.
All Tackle Trophy Trout rules apply for the nine miles of river from the confluence with Ramcat Run downstream to the Route 381 bridge at Ohiopyle. Fishing may be done with artificial lures, flies or streamers, natural bait, baitfish and prepared fish bait. Spinning or fly-fishing gear may be used in these areas.
These regulations apply to trout only. For all other species, inland regulations apply.
The river is open to fishing year 'round. The minimum size limit for trout, caught or in possession, is 14 inches. During the period from the day after Labor Day to 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season of the following year, no trout may be killed or in possession on waters under these regulations. A current trout-salmon permit is required.
Got all that? The best advice is to stay in the tailwater areas and avoid most of the legal confusion.
The tail end of a riffle about one mile below the dam and above the bridge at Confluence is a winter hotspot. Anglers also fish off a wall by the power plant or from a pier on the opposite side of the river. The water is turbulent below the power plant. Most of the trout caught here will be rainbows about 10 to 12 inches in length. D
rift maggots and spawn bags in the current. Use a small float to suspend the bait just off the bottom.
The Youghiogheny's tailwaters are accessible by turning north off U.S. Route 40 onto Pennsylvania Route 523 when approaching from the east, or onto Pennsylvania Route 281 when approaching from the west. These roads converge at Confluence, where the Casselman and Youghiogheny rivers join. A parking area for anglers is available near the bridge in Confluence.
Information on local services is available from the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 120 East Main Street, Ligonier, PA 15658; or call (800) 333-5661.
NORTHCENTRAL REGION The highlands of the Northcentral Region tend to be bitterly cold during February, with streams often locked in ice. Look toward the southern part of the region, in Centre County, to the Heritage Angling section of Spring Creek. This one-mile stretch starts at the lower boundary of the Spring Creek Fish Culture Station and extends to a point adjacent to the Stackhouse School Pistol Range. No species of fish may be killed or had in possession in this stretch.
Fishing may be done with artificial flies and streamers constructed of natural or synthetic materials so long as all flies are constructed in a normal fashion on a single barbless hook with components wound on or about the hook. Specifically prohibited is the use of molded facsimiles or replicas of insects, earthworms, fish eggs, fish or any invertebrate or vertebrate either singly or in combination with the other materials. Also prohibited are other lures commonly described as spinners, spoons or plugs made of metal, plastic, wood, rubber or like substances or a combination thereof.
Fishing must be done with tackle limited to fly rods, fly reels and fly line with a maximum of 18 feet in leader material or monofilament line attached. Spinning, spincast and casting rods and reels are prohibited. The use or possession of any natural bait, baitfish or fish bait and the use of barbed hooks or any other fishing device other than barbless hooks, artificial flies or streamers is prohibited. Fishing hours are one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. No trout may be killed or had in possession.
This stretch is open to fishing year 'round. Wading is permitted unless otherwise posted. Taking baitfish or fish bait is prohibited. A current trout-salmon permit is required.
For information about local services, contact the Centre County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800 East Park Avenue, State College, PA 16803; or call (800) 358-5466.
SOUTHCENTRAL REGION Michael Kaufmann, area fisheries manager, suggests Codorus Creek in York County as a good choice for winter trout fishing. Bottom discharges from the dam at Lake Marburg moderates the water temperature. The first mile below the dam, which is West Branch Codorus Creek, should provide the best fishing, Kaufmann said.
Long pools and runs, generally 3 to 4 feet deep, are separated by short riffles. Undercut banks are good lies. Typical trout caught here are 9 to 14 inches, but there are some in the 20-inch class.
Selective Harvest rules apply to Codorus Creek for 3.1 miles from the confluence of West Branch Codorus Creek downstream to a cable 0.5 miles downstream of township Route 374 (Hayrick Road).
Fishing may be done with artificial lures only, constructed of metal, plastic, rubber, wood or flies or streamers constructed of natural or synthetic materials. Lures may be used with spinning or fly-fishing gear. Any other bait or lure is prohibited, including molded facsimiles or replicas of insects, earthworms, fish eggs, fish or any invertebrate or vertebrate either singly or in combination with the other materials. The use or possession of fish bait, natural bait or baitfish or the use of any device, natural or synthetic, capable of catching fish other than artificial lures, is prohibited.
This special regulations section is open to fishing year 'round. The minimum size limit is 12 inches for brown trout and 9 inches for other salmonids caught or held in possession on the waters under the Selective Harvest regulations from 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season through Labor Day. The daily limit is two trout, combined species, from 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season through Labor Day, except during the period from the day after Labor Day to 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season of the following year, when no trout may be killed or had in possession on the waters under these regulations. A current trout-salmon permit is required.
For information about services in the area, contact the York County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 1425 Eden Road, York, PA 17402; or call (800) 858-9675.
NORTHEAST REGION Dave Arnold, area fisheries manager, suggested Broadhead Creek in Monroe County as one of the better trout streams in the Northeast Region. It is Approved Trout Water from the first railroad bridge above the mouth at East Stroudsburg upstream to Analomink.
"It's consistently good fishing," Arnold said. "Some of the deeper areas south of Interstate Route 80 hold good fish."
This stream remains cool through summer, which means there is the possibility of taking larger holdover trout, and fly-fishers will appreciate some of the open areas along the creek. There are no special regulations on Broadhead Creek, leaving anglers free to choose their own fishing methods and lures or baits.
Information about local services is available from the Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau Inc., 1004 Main Street, Stroudsburg, PA 18360; or call (800) 762-6667.
SOUTHEAST REGION "Monocacy Creek, below the Trophy Trout area, has a good wild brown trout population," said Michael Kaufmann, area fisheries manager.
Monocacy Creek yielded at least three rainbow trout over 10 pounds last year, including a 12 1/2-pound brute. Expect most trout here to be about a foot in length, but a few are considerably larger.
Those wild browns will be more challenging than typical put-and-take trout. Spool your reel with the lightest line you can use. Outside of the Trophy Trout Section, try grubs or small gold spinners tipped with grubs. In the Trophy Trout Section, start with small gold spoons that can be retrieved very close to the bottom.
The Trophy Trout Section is 1.9 miles in length from Illick's Mill Dam upstream to and including the Gertrude Fox Conservation Area. Fishing may be done with artificial lures only. All lures may be used with spinning or fly-fishing gear. Anything other than these items is prohibited. The use or possession of natural bait, baitfish and fish bait, and the use of any other device natural or synthetic capable of catching fish other than artificial lures, is prohibited.
The stream is open to fishing year' round. The minimum siz
e limit is 14 inches. From the day after Labor Day to 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season of the following year, no trout may be killed or had in possession on the waters under these regulations.
Taking baitfish or fish bait is prohibited. A current trout-salmon permit is required.
Monocacy Creek is in Northampton County, flowing through Bath and into the Lehigh River at Bethlehem. Local information is available through the Lehigh Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 20785, Lehigh Valley, PA 18002; or call (800) 633-8437.
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