What is it that draws us to the spring woods? Is it the cacophony of spring peepers, the blanket of vibrant green leaves engulfing the forest around us, or maybe the prospect of a delicious morel just around the next bend? I’m not one to turn down a morel, and the sights and sounds of spring are wonderful, but as the ice begins to melt and the days get longer, my mind turns to Pennsylvania’s beautiful creeks and the trout that call them home. 

For the last six years, our young family has been participating in Pennsylvania’s Mentored Youth Trout Day. During that timeframe, our participation in the event has become a bit of a ritual. In the weeks leading up to the event, our kids enjoy the process of scouting our local streams, and debating who’s going to catch which fish as if they can summon them onto the hook when the time finally comes. 

This year’s Mentored Youth Trout Day, like most, this year started with a far too early alarm clock. I guess when you already have your fish picked out, it’s critical to make sure dad is awake so you can be the first one to the creek. So with the stars still shining bright and a few hours to kill, I began to ponder the question that most likely led you to this blog post. 

What is it that draws us to the spring woods?

There truly is something special about the way the forest comes to life in the spring. If you pay attention, the forest gives us so many telltale signs indicating the coming of spring. Although I’m a passionate fly fisherman who enjoys catch and release fly fishing all year long, as I hear the first spring peepers, it’s like they are calling me to the creek. Alliance Board Member Shawn Kimbro goes into detail on why he thinks fishermen and women are drawn to the water in the spring in Give Me Back That Filet O’ Fish.

Whatever it is, year after year, a few things that seemingly have nothing to do with fishing, completely reinvigorate my drive to get back on the water. It seems to be working on our kids as well, as evidenced by the fact that at this point in the story, we’re still standing on a creek bank in the dark waiting for legal fishing time. As a father, it’s a pleasure to pass the joys of fishing onto our kids. Watching them experience the adrenaline rush of fighting a fish is better than fighting one myself. 

Lucky for me, this Mentored Youth Trout Day would allow plenty of watching and plenty of catching. The kids caught and released trout for nearly two hours, and as their interest faded, mine was only developing. We like to joke that the Fish and Boat Commission plans the event in coordination with my birthday. Although spending the day watching the kids catch fish would be a fine birthday present, I had been given the gift of an afternoon alone on an upstream piece of Class A Wild Trout Water.

Late March on this particular creek meant my fly box was full of Little Black Stonefly and Baetis (Blue-Winged Olive) patterns. As luck would have it, our early morning adventure with the kids put me on the water just in time to settle in and take advantage of a beautiful stonefly hatch. I started with a simple unweighted stonefly nymph drifted under a wonder wing stonefly dry fly. The combination proved to be deadly. The little wild brown trout were literally launching themselves out of the water to pursue the emerging stoneflies. If I didn’t get a take on the upstream dry fly presentation, and I often did, I would let the rig drift downstream, gently raising the now swinging nymph towards the surface. Swinging little black stoneflies is a well-known tactic during this early season hatch that often works wonders. As the hatch slowed, I changed flies and took fish on a parachute Baetis on the surface with scuds, rainbow warriors, and eventually an olive wooly bugger working under the surface.

I lost track of how many beautiful wild brown trout had been brought to net. As I walked back to the parking lot, I contemplated the stark contrast between fishing for stocked trout with two children and delicately presenting dry flies on a wild trout stream. I would have a difficult time choosing a favorite between the two. When it comes to being on the water in the spring, simply being there, remaining present, and experiencing the reawakening of the forest, is more than enough to keep me content.

So, what draws you to the spring woods, and what do you do when you get there?