Donna Rae Trout

Donna Rae displays a wild brook trout caught on “opening day.”

This year's spring trout season followed a twisted path for myself and others. Opening Day, the second most exciting date on the PA sportsman’s calendar (after the buck season opener) was scheduled for Saturday, April 18th, and my crew from Camp F-Troop prepped and planned all winter to attend and participate as usual. Then came the coronavirus and everything changed.

The Fish Commission’s surprise response was to open trout season eleven days early, on Tuesday, April 7, without telling anyone. I woke up that morning, went out and purchased a newspaper, and there it was: Surprise! Trout season is open. Right now! I can only guess that the PFC tried to avoid opening-day overcrowding at prime stocked fishing holes by pulling the surprise and catching people off guard before they had time to prepare their gear and show up at the fishing hole at 8 a.m. And I appreciate what they did. They kept it a secret and perhaps achieved a little unexpected Social Distancing around the prime fishing spots. I kind of admire their nervy move, but I hope they don’t do it again next year.

Our gang of fishermen were unprepared to drop everything and drive up to the mountains on a Tuesday for a mid-week trout-fishing trip. So, we preserved the April 18th weekend as our personal opener and planned to go up as usual on April 17-19. We always honor the season opener as an outdoors tradition, but we are not dependent on hatchery trout for fishing success. For years, we have pursued only wild native brook trout on wild streams in uninhabited places, so the stocked-trout opener didn’t matter much to our group.

Except for me. I didn’t make it up to the mountains for the trout-fishing trip of April 17-19. I woke up on Thursday the 16th experiencing pain and swelling in my lower legs and ankles. So, I went to an Urgent Care facility for medical help, and they sent me to the hospital immediately, citing low heart rate concerns. I remained in the hospital for 4 days, and then was discharged with a drastic new diet (hey, I’ve lost twenty pounds so far) and a clear new vision of my personal vulnerability.

Donna Rae nursed me back to health and cooked delicious meals while subscribing to my new rules (no salt, no carbs, no fat, no red meat, very little alcohol (!!??!), lots of fish, veggies and fruit), and I improved over the next 2 weeks. On Tuesday, May 6th, one day short of a full month since the season opened, we traveled up to camp for our personal first day of trout.

We dropped off our food and gear at camp and drove immediately to a little wild trout stream that didn’t require a long hike back in. On her first cast, Donna Rae hooked an 8-inch wild brook trout and brought him to hand. He was a beautiful trout, and we were both beaming as we unhooked and released the fish. We fished a couple more hours that afternoon and a few hours the next morning, and, as usual, Donna Rae caught not only the first trout but the most trout, so all was right with the world.

We also built 2 big campfires on consecutive nights out behind camp, cooked our healthy meals in the camp kitchen, took a 2-mile hike at Heart’s Content Natural Area in the Allegheny National Forest, and a shorter hike up a trout-stream trail at SGL 86, went deer-spotting and sighted 57 deer in one hour that night, went to bed early every evening, and read books from the camp library (she, Marguerite Duras, me F. Scott Fitzgerald) , and entertained our old cat Poo Kitty every morning and evening. It was a good trip that fulfilled the trout opener for us both and made me feel stronger again.

DON FEIGERT is the outdoors writer for The Herald and The Allied News. His latest book, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, and his earlier books are available by contacting Don at 724-931-1699 or dfeigert@verizon.net. Browse his web site at www.donfeigert.com. Or visit Leana’s Books at the mall or in the Grove City Outlets.