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Fishing in Suburban Pittsburgh: A Spectacle

By: Randy Tucker

It’s an annual tradition with many Wyoming fishermen. On the morning of the last day of the year, many sportsmen renew their license for another 365 days of uninterrupted fishing.

That wasn’t the case in Western Pennsylvania in the spring of 2018 as I set out with my son-in-law Adam for my first “Opening Day Experience” in Keystone State angling.

April 14, at 8:00 am opened the Pennsylvania fishing season.

I won’t say it was without fanfare, because the entire process was nothing but pomp and fluff.

On the Friday night before the season opened, Adam and I set out to get an annual out-of-state license for me. We’re in suburban Pittsburgh a lot these days, and there are fishable waters everywhere, so why not try them?

We entered a big box store in a less than desirable adjacent suburb to find 35 people waiting in line at the only counter selling licenses. Another couple of disabled guys sat across the island in motorized wheelchairs waiting for their turn. We didn’t stay long, deciding to try a sporting goods store a few blocks away.

As we walked to the fishing and hunting section, a clerk barely looked up as we approached and said, “We don’t sell licenses, try K-Mart.” I guess he’s witnessed our ilk before.

K-Mart was a breeze, one kid, a failing computer system, and after a couple of reboots, I had a license, complete with lake and trout stamps.

Saturday morning, Adam’s dad, “Big Dave,” Orbell and Adam’s nephew, Frankie, arrived at 5:15 a.m., and we drove to the Barronvale Covered Bridge on Laurel Hill Creek. Dave fished this with his dad and grandpa back in the 1950s, and it was a family tradition.

We were the only anglers on the stream for about 45 minutes, then at 7:30, as if conjured out of the morning mist, another 30 fishermen showed up to hit a spot on the river about the size of a small basketball court.

Music, beer, laughter, and the smell of grilling meat wafting down from nearby cabins gave the scene a festive feel more reminiscent of a party than a fishing outing.

One guy crawled out to a central rock just above where three orange hybrid Palomino trout were lazily swimming against the current. He began tossing salmon eggs into the water.

At 7:55 a.m., someone yelled "Five minutes!", and the old fellow on the rock pulled up his fly rod, hooked a salmon egg to it, and waited for the countdown. At the crack of 8 a.m., he dropped his line in the water and pulled a trout out just a few seconds later. Yes, chumming is legal in Pennsylvania, as is corn as bait. Welcome to suburban fishing.

Later we traveled to the Laurel Hill Dam, where 55 boats and about 120 fishermen lined an area less than two football fields wide.

The day wasn’t lost, though, since we were able to finish it on Loyalhanna Creek at the cabin of one of Adam’s high school friends. Frankie reeled in a dozen or so trout and released them as we enjoyed a few adult beverages prepared by Adam’s friend Drew.

As a Wyoming outdoorsman, I feel crowded when I see another human on the water. The Pennsylvania crowds were festive, yes, but not quite my style of fishing.

The attitude towards fishing is different with the general public in both states as well. Sure, the die-hard anglers share a kinship no matter where they live, but the average Joe isn’t the same in Pennsylvania and out here in the west.

Once opening day is over, many, perhaps the majority, of Pennsylvania fishermen don’t go out again until the next season.

Here, we fish between hunting seasons, year-round. The prime months are from June when the runoff stops to September when deer, elk, and antelope season open. But you can find anglers on the water, or the ice, all 12 months of the year. Perhaps that’s why we don’t have seasons, opening day, or any other manmade alterations to the simple act of loading up your pole and tackle box and heading out to the water.

I’ll take the simpler approach.

Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at ratucker@wyoming.com.

 
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