Opening Day Of Trout Season - CHUCK'S CHEVY TRUCK PAGES.COM
Opening Day 2000
Well, it was 3:45 AM, and I had overslept by 15 minutes. Luckily, Angel woke me up, saving me as usual. If it weren't for her, I would have missed today completely. Much like every other day, when she gets me up. I hate alarm clocks. I guess this is about the 20th year of getting an early start for the big day. When I was younger, Opening Day didn't mean as much. Back then, the weather played the biggest part in our deciding when to begin fishing, we had no set date. Usually, it was in early May. When I was about 13, I began going to our local lake on opening day, usually getting there around 10 or 11 AM. The signs the state posted said you could start fishing at 8 AM, but there was no way I was getting up that early! Opening day was always the second Saturday in April.
I began taking opening day seriously, at 14. That's the age that required residents of my state to get a fishing license. The Wardens used to joke, saying "everyone's 13 today", when checking for licenses on opening day. Regardless, when I turned 14, I got my license, and so did my pal Fred. Fred lived 2 blocks from the lake, so I usually slept over the night before opening day. We left his house around 7:30. After a few years of leaving around then, we started having a hard time finding a good spot. We decided the next year, we would leave at 6 am. Bring food and coffee, and wait to fish. At least we'd get a good spot. We usually did. Then, one year, we didn't. The following year, we got there at 4AM. We got our spot.
I think it was the following year, we both got our drivers license. We wanted to go to a lake that had bigger fish. So we went to other lakes. Fred went with new friends, and I went on my own. I'd still leave about 4 am, to get a good spot wherever I was going. Then Fred stopped going, and I went on alone. After a few years, we got together again, and decided we'd meet up on opening day. We decided to once again meet up at 4 am. We got a good spot. After that, 4 am became the standard time.
So, by the time I loaded my truck, made coffee, and got my butt in gear, I ended up leaving my house at 4:30 AM. I got to the bait shop at 4:55 AM. I got the usual, two dozen medium shiners, a container of meal worms, and a container of baby nightcrawlers. I was on my way in no time, and arrived at my favorite spot at 5:10. I'd have to wait until 8 AM to fish, but this was worth getting up early for. When I turned onto the dirt road, there was one truck parked near the entrance. I drove back, going upstream, about 1/2 mile. There were a few places to park along the way, and there was no one here yet. My spot was at the very end of the dirt road. I kept my fingers crossed, hoping no one was in my spot. After all, I was an hour behind schedule. Great! No one was there yet. I backed up the road, and parked streamside. It was still dark out, and there was a mist in the air. I placed a thermometer on the tailgate of my truck, and poured a cup of coffee from my thermos. I reached for the mini chocolate donuts, and surveyed what I could see of the river. The water level was a little low for opening day. There was no snow melt this year, unlike in the past. It should be a good day. The forecasted high was 71 degrees. I checked the thermometer on my tailgate. It said 40 degrees, although the digital one in front of the bank on the highway said 51 degrees. I believe my mercury. I then checked the temperature of the river water. I was a little surprised, it was 48 degrees. In the last 3 or 4 years, the temp was between 36 and 40 degrees. Warm, good. With the lack of rain, I anticipated clear water.
As the dawn began, I could see the mist rising off the river under the tiny train trestle. Conrail commuter trains travel over it now, but it's old, dated 1902, and this river was part of the Erie Canal. One can only imagine what traveled those tracks in years gone by. There's a sad story associated with that trestle. Years ago, two boys in their young teens were spending an afternoon fishing the river. At some point they decided to fish off the trestle. Sadly, a train came, and they heard it when it was too late. They scrambled to get off the trestle, but one of the boys fell, and got his leg caught in the rail road ties. His pal ran back to help him. The train struck both of them, killing them instantly. The tracks were posted "no trespassing", but the boys wanted to fish off the trestle anyway. They paid dearly, with their lives. They are buried at a cemetery not far from where the accident happened, atop a hill. Both of their tombstones have an inscription of two boys with fishing poles on them.
As the sun began to rise, I stood staring at the tree, thinking back about all the huge fish I had caught from under that tree. Just a few years earlier, I had what I thought was the biggest trout I ever saw on my line. It swam downstream like a freight train, wrapping around a downed tree in the water, and shaking my hook. I was using a medium shiner for bait. Later that same day, I had the monster trout on my line again, this time, he took a meal worm. Again, he went downstream, and wrapped around the same tree. Just my luck, missed him twice. The next morning, I was at the bait shop at 6:30AM. It was closed. I sat in the parking lot waiting for Phil. He had to open soon, it was trout season after all. A car pulled in while I was waiting. I recognized the guy, but didn't know his name. He stepped out, and went back to the trunk of the car. He opened it, and held up the biggest trout I ever saw first hand. I jumped out of my truck and ran over there. "Holy smokes!" was all I could say, as my jaw hung open. "Where'd you get him"? The reply was, "up in Dover". It turns out the guy had some time to kill before dinner, so his wife told him to go fishing, and he did. His first cast, using a salted minnow, the monster hit. It put up a great fight he said. He had it weighed on a scale at a delicatessen, since all the bait shops were closed. It weighed over 7 pounds, clearly a new state record Brook Trout. When Phil arrived, we weighed the fish, and it was 7lbs, 3 oz. A new state record for sure, beating the old record of 6.5 lbs.
As I was daydreaming, and time kept ticking away, I saw another truck coming in. As it got lighter out, I decided to put my waders on. It was getting late, and I was still the only one near my spot. That other truck parked 100 yards down the road. Just as I finished, the first truck came back and parked behind me. Three guys piled out. "You're not going to catch another big one this year are you?" they said. These guys were here the past three years, and saw the fish I've caught on opening day in my spot. "I hope I am", I told them. They kept to themselves, and got all their gear on. I grabbed the newspaper section with the crossword puzzle in it. I drank one last cup of coffee, grabbed my wading can full of shiners, and waded out to the rock protruding from the water that I stand in front of when I fish. I sat down, placing the wading can on the rock next to me. I pulled out the crossword puzzle. It was now 7AM.
I finished the crossword puzzle, and looked at the time. It was 7:11, it didn't take me long to do. So much for keeping me occupied. I saw one of my friends approaching. He climbed down the bank on the opposite shore, about 15 feet from me. The river was narrow at this point, making the water faster. There was a deep hole under a tree here, and anyone that knew about it, wanted to fish in it opening day. They'd have to get there before 5AM, to beat me to it! This was my friend Rich though, so I let him fish that close to me. About 15 minutes after Rich got there, Jack showed up. Last year, Jack went to the SB of the Raritan River. It was now 7:40. Rich told us about his recent trip to Ireland, to go Salmon fishing, and Jack spoke of his trip to Florida, and the great Snook fishing there.
We were hoping for the best. The water was gin clear. Not the best for fishing here in New Jersey. We've always done better when there was a rain in the days prior to the opener. Even when it rained on opening day, we did ok. This year, it rained the week before. It was now warming up as the sun rose higher. It looked promising. The water was 48 degrees, so the trout should be very active. Only the clear water could be a problem now. It was sunny out, so lures should work well too. It's not often the fish hit "metal", but you need sun for them to work best.
It was now 7:55 AM, and everyone was baiting their hooks. Rich put on a worm rig, with a spinner on it, and a nightcrawler. Jack baited up with a meal worm. I put on the biggest shiner I had. Soon we all took our first cast. I instantly felt a hit, and set the hook. I reeled in the fish, a small Brook Trout, and I had hooked him in the side, behind the gill. He must have hit my shiner with such force, that he missed, and I snagged him. Jack also pulled in a small Brookie on his first cast. My next cast, I somehow crossed Rich's line, or he crossed mine. He reeled it in, and untangled our lines. I had to retie my hook, and so did Rich. He took a few more casts, and left. Within 10 minutes, Jack moved to another spot as well. I caught 2 more Brookies there, then no bites. I had fished the tree for over an hour. I too decided to try moving to another spot. Usually, if there was a big fish under the tree, you'd see him "roll" at least, on someone's bait. Not today.
I moved upstream, catching 3 more small Brookies on a gold Phoebe spoon. As it got later, more anglers left, and the river was becoming much less crowded. The sun was shining bright, and it was actually hot out. Usually, on Opening Day, I'd wear my electric socks, because the water was so cold. Not this year, and my toes were never cold. Since more guys left, I figured I'd try my luck downstream. I caught 2 more Brookies on a Phoebe, while working my way downstream to the next deep hole. Earlier, Rich had said there was about 30 guys fishing that hole. Now, there were 2 guys fishing it, one of them was Rich, and it was now 11 AM. Rich said he caught 2 Creek Chubs, and no trout. I asked if he saw anyone carrying a big Trout, and he said no. I told him I didn't see any either. Usually, we at least see a big one on a stringer, or hear that one was caught, but not today. He said it was time to go to his car and grab a beer, and lunch. He was hoping as it got later, that the fish would bite again. I started working my way further downstream, with no luck. I decided to go back upstream to my tree, and see if there was a hungry big one there now.
I tried using the Phoebe first, and caught two more small Brookies. No sign of the big one yet. I put on the biggest shiner I had, and tried again. No bites by the tree, but I got another small Brookie. About 10 yards downstream from it, as my bait drifted in the swift current. I released the Brookie, as I did the others. I only keep the big ones. I almost always practice catch and release. I then began the bait "process". I tried a baby nightcrawler, no luck. I tried Berkley Powerbait, no hits. I tried a meal worm, no hits. I tried a Mepps Comet, with minnow trailer, no hits. I was getting discouraged, but shouldn't complain, as I had caught so many already. I'd still rather catch one big one, than 20 little ones. In years past, I got a big one, and that was all.
This Opening Day was wonderful overall. The water was slow compared to normal, it was gin clear, the sun was shining, and it was 70 degrees, but most important, it wasn't that crowded. As others have said, it's more of a reunion, than a "normal" trout fishing day. You get to see friends you haven't seen in a year. It's a ritual. It takes weeks of planning and preparation, and it's all over in a few hours.
Over the years, I've fished many different rivers and lakes on Opening Day. I've fished "elbow to elbow", and hated it. I camped out in Rockaway Town, to have a spot where Phil stocked the 10 pounders, arriving 8 PM the eve before. I fell asleep on a park bench in a sitting position. When I woke up, I had frost on my shoulders! I've fought with 8 year olds, and 80 year olds about what's "my" spot, and where they can fish. I can honestly say I have found the one place I will go to for Opening day, from now on. I have to keep it a secret. You understand. It's that great. All I will say is it's the Rockaway
River, and it's the best stretch I think. In years gone by, I've fished Verona Park Lake, Paulinskill River, Blair Lake, Mount Hope Pond, and the Rockaway River in Rockaway town.
I've fished many places for trout in New Jersey. It's hard to say, as I've been fishing so long, and relatively speaking, I've only gotten good at catching trout in recent years. I'd still have to say this is one of the best places to fish for trout in the whole state. I've fished the Rockaway River in Powerville, Boonton, Dover, Wharton, Jefferson, and Rockaway town. I've fished the lakes I mentioned above, and Diamond Mill Pond, Black River, Tuttles Brook, Stony Brook, Little Flat Brook, Big Flat Brook, Hibernia Brook, and the South Branch of the Raritan River. In the 8 years I've been fishing this stretch, I've caught hundreds of trout. Amazing I know, but it's true. Before I found this spot, I wasn't too hot on the idea of Trout fishing, but that's another story, for another day.
© 2000 Charles D. Smith, all rights reserved.
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