SANDY LAKE, PA - Down into the aged gorge that heaves with weathered boulders runs Sandy Creek.
Were it not for the fact that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission twice annually stocks trout here I doubt that the little creek would draw much interest. Certainly not from me...
Same is true for an Ashtabula County farm pond of some acquaintance. This pond was visited the afternoon before the trout-fishing trip and yielded a treasure trove of panfish, from sunfish to crappie and even yellow perch.
Had I not obtained permission from the pond’s owner to wet a line there years ago I never would be giving it the smallest knot of thought now.
Funny how things intersect in one’s life, changing the texture of what one does and when...
For Sandy Creek this marked maybe the twentieth time I’ve visited it for Pennsylvania’s trout-season opener. Good, bad and indifferent successes have come and gone, along with days that were either sunny, cloudy, rainy, warm, cold or even snowy.
All were worth it, though...
One could second that thought in favor of the most recent visit to the farm pond, though heaven’s keeper is the only one who has an accurate tally on the number of times I’ve visited the small lake.
As often as not I have enjoyed company at each location, more so for Sandy Creek than for the farm pond. If that statement actually makes any sense to anyone else other than me...
On Saturday’s trout-season opener I once again joined Tommy Oehlenschlager and Steve Myers, both of the Ashtabula County’s Roaming Shores area, more or less.
The creek is only a 90-minute drive from Tommy’s house and we made it an hour before the season’s legal starting time of 8 a.m.
However, someone else was occupying at least part of the beach where our trio usually stakes a claim. Concerned at first we soon found that the angler had trudged his way across the creek to take a hold on our location. He did so due in large measure to the successes he had seen Tommy, Steve and me had enjoyed on previous openers.
Tommy remarked that were I not been late arriving at his house (in truth it was less than 10 minutes) we’d have had first dibs on the place. And I told Tommy that had he not stopped at the Sheetz mini-mart in Conneaut Lake we’d have docked on time as well. Checkmate.
There was only one thing to do and that was to ask the angler for permission to squeeze in beside him. The young angler was downright neighborly. He not only said “yes” but he even went so far as to trim back some of the willow quills that had grown up from the streambank’s soft earth...
Of course no such challenge/solution was necessary the day before at the farm pond. With permission at hand and no angling pressure expected, my two older brothers - Terry and Rich - and I could arrive at any time and know we’d find all the elbow room we could ever ask for. No waiting was required, which suited us just fine, thank you...
The hour’s wait for the trout season opener passed quickly enough. Time could be spent examining which tiny jig to use with how many maggots and how large a foam plastic float to employ. Careful thought was projected as to how large the gap should be between the bobber and the bait.
With Sandy Creek running well below its seasonal average we figured this space ought to be more than 15 inches, tops...
At the farm pond this important-to-know gap was already fixed, seeing as how this was the third fishing trip to its waters. All I had to do was tow the foam plastic float to an imaginary point on the fishing line and I’d be all set.
That, plus the bonus of not worrying about any starting time. And yet every now and then a little anxiety over what is in store never hurt an angler. It helps make the experience memorable.
Tommy checked and rechecked his cell phone’s chronograph while I did the same with my Casio “G-Shock” wrist watch.
At a second or two past 8 a.m. (the extra flashes of time given just for insurance should a fish warden be watching) the bails of a dozen spinning reels were opened and their respective baits tossed into Sandy Creek’s current.
Almost immediately Tommy’s float and my float both disappeared, drowned by the tug of stocked rainbow trout. While Tommy’s fish escaped, mine was slid out of the water and onto the bank. There it was unhooked and I was free to make another cast.
“One fish down and one to go,” I said to our new fishing neighbor.
I explained to him that for each trout opener I keep two fish - one for my wife, Bev, and one for me. These fish are cooked up in an annual trout dinner ritual...
Not so for all or part of the panfish haul Terry, Rich and I were catching from the farm pond. All of those fish were reeled in and steered away from the property owner’s retriever; a dog who argues that all such wiggly things belong to her. The fish were given their pardon and freed back into the pond.
I’m not sure why I almost universally release the fish that I catch from the farm pond except for perhaps the fact that I don’t enjoy cleaning bluegills.
I was, though, disappointed for failing to bring along a cord stringer to hold the perch we were catching. None of which, by the way, were under 10 inches...
The morning along Sandy Creek began to ebb and along with it the sunshine that overlaid the gorge, hills and stream. In its place was a thickening brew of ever-darkening clouds, expectant with the threat of rain.
Even though I was still two fish shy of a five-fish limit of trout in my mind’s eye the day was a bully success. A limit wasn’t needed, especially since my self-made pledge was to keep two trout only, anyway.
Whatever else came was going to enter the ledger under the “bonus” trout heading. Which was exactly what happened.
Trying out Tommy’s highly successful (read: “limit”) rig of a bead-headed stonefly nymph fly with three maggots for lunch meat it was no problem at all snatching my final two trout.
In all, Tommy, Steve and I had caught 18 trout and kept 12. More than sufficient if you ask me and which helped to make this particular trout season opener was one of our more successful ones...
It was time for Terry, Rich and me to finish up our farm pond bank foot patrol. Happy for the abundant sunshine that followed us we were becoming a mite frustrated with the uptick in the cool wind. That made the angling more difficult, given that we were using small jigs and appropriately sized floats.
Since everything that we caught was still swimming in the farm pond there was no stringer nor fish bucket to haul up to our awaiting vehicles.
There would be no fish fry; no annual opening day dining ritual to observe...
And yet each of these back-to-back outings - so different in their locations, legal entanglements and expectations - were so much alike in their ultimate objective.
They were charms, to be worn as unseen signals that the simplest of days spent afield are best measured by their own blessings rather then by some unpaid debit resulting from a full plate of unresolved worries.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn