By MIKE BRAUN
VINDICATOR OUTDOORS EDITOR
On the opening day of Pennsylvania's 2002 trout season, the trout may have been drier than the anglers.
Gloomy and wet weather greeted the thousands who took to the Keystone State's streams, lakes, rivers and ponds in search of brookies (the state's official fish), browns, rainbows, palominos, lakers or steelies.
The official opening of the season, 8 a.m. Saturday, came amid a steady rain as thousands of fishermen and women of all ages, sizes, origins and abilities armed with all manner of equipment, lures, flies and bait took to the state's waters.
No matter where you went in Pennsylvania, if you looked around a stream where trout lived, you could find a cadre of anglers thrashing the waters.
The scene: In Pulaski Township, along Deer Creek, a special section had been set aside strictly for children, the disabled and others who needed assistance fishing.
Mostly children and their parents were fishing along the stream, and while the rain made things messy, chilly and irksome, they still seemed to be having a good time.
Caryssa Fiello, 5, of New Castle, was fishing for trout with her parents for the first time.
"It's fun," the shy youngster said, despite having had a couple of the designated fish slip off her line.
Allison Rannard of Pulaski was also having a good time, and had caught fish, too. "I got a trout and a horned chub," she said excitedly. Her father, standing nearby, gave a tired smile as he continued to place kernels of corn on the hooks of the other three Rannard children.
Stocked water: In anticipation of this day, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission had stocked this creek. Evidence of that stocking, palomino and rainbows, were hooked to fishing lines all up and down the side of the creek.
Not too far away, on Neshannock Creek under the covered bridge on Covered Bridge Road, a number of anglers were having fair success.
While a few anglers in the section of the river marked as delayed harvest waters were using mainly caddis fly artificial lures, most of the action was downstream in the live bait areas.
"I've been coming here since I was little," said Mike Grego of Shenango Township. Grego had only a few rainbows to show. "This rain doesn't help. It's making the river muddy," he explained.
While many anglers awaited Saturday's opening date with anticipation and excitement, there were others equally as anxious to avoid the crush of the first few days.
Shopping: Chuck Stipanovich of North Lima was doing a bit of last minute trout shopping Friday at the Books and Hooks fly fishing shop in the old Maple Street Elementary School in Girard. A relatively novice fly angler, Stipanovich said he had been fishing for many years but had recently switched to using a fly rod.
"I got tired of launching a boat and dealing with the crowds on the lake," he said. "There's nothing like being on a river by yourself."
That's precisely why Jens Jergensen of Volant said he would not be out fishing during the first part of the state's trout season.
"I don't care for opening day," the drug company representative said. "I like to go year-round. And if you go year-round, opening day is just another day."
Jergensen particularly liked trying his luck on steelhead in winter and was at Books and Hooks perusing the store's large selection of trout, salmon and fly literature as well as stocking up on fly-tying supplies.
R. Dale May, owner of Books and Hooks, said warmer weather this year may have changed some angler's tactics.
"Midges are popping out all over," he said, referring to a specific insect that some fly anglers try to mimic with the lures they make themselves.
Attracted to water: The area's trout waters were a draw for those outside the region as well.
In Volant, Julia Engelhardt, 13, and her father, Mike, of Pittsburgh, were fishing just below the dam on the Neshannock.
Despite being wet and kind of chilled, Julia seemed thrilled to be there. "I like to fish," she said. So much so, she said, that she takes part in a program at Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh called "Family Ties," which teaches children fly fishing.
After finishing up in Volant, the youngster and her dad were headed toward Lake Erie.
"We're going to go up north and try for some steelhead," he said. "We've fished for them for the past eight or nine months."
For those who still plan to take part in the state's trout fishing, there is a limit of five fish per day (combined species) during the regular season: now through Sept. 2, and three per day (combined species) during the extended season: this Sept. 3 to midnight, Feb. 28, 2003.
For more information visit the www.fish.state.pa.us Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission Web site.