Fish are always on the move. Fish move to optimize feeding, to spawn and to evade predators. Too often, fishermen don’t move, going back to favorite fishin’ holes time after time.
What’s primary here is to learn to think like nature or like an animal, appreciating seasonal cycles and the import of erratic weather changes. Rising water typically brings fish upstream. Flooding concentrates fish in deep sheltered places, but they’re hard to get at or entice in extreme conditions. Falling water after a flood has become my favorite, in general. Fish are active as soon as the stream is no longer a mudslide. They can find lures and baits long before you can see them. All of these notes are vast generalizations, but a good starting point for the idea I’m trying to get across.
In contrast to this naturalistic approach, all too many anglers think of fishing in terms of, “When will the state hatchery truck show up?” and “Where are they dumping the most trout?” and “What secret jelly-bean bait will I throw at them to beat all the other fishers?”
And if you’re among those who crave soft-fleshed cultured fish, then so be it. There are just better fish to be had, speaking here specifically about western Pennsylvania, though I think the principle can be more generally applied. Wild fish are moving somewhere near you this spring, creek chub running up all the urban trickles, catfish moving onto the shallows nightly in pursuit of those chubs, and walleye ascending the tributaries of rivers after dark, particularly the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio.
I slid down a long, steep concrete embankment a couple of days ago into a stream that winds between pillars of one of Pittsburgh’s more complex highway interchanges. Water conditions were ideal. I’d always wanted to fish this very urban flow and hadn’t found any way to get into it until then. I was soon waste-deep in the turbid, rushing, post-flood current slinging hopeful casts. I foul-hooked an unfortunate shad (a bony pelagic filter-feeder) and this was enough to tell me that fish were running up from the Allegheny River a mile or so below. It was even more convincing when I pulled in a large, fat walleye half an hour later. This was 1:30 in the afternoon and I’d dragged in one of these nocturnal predators. It was a good sign.
Dad came home from work about 5:00 and I had tackle ready. “Dad, if you’ll follow me, I think I can take you to the walleye tonight,” I persuaded. Now was the time, tonight was a walleye night.
Neither dad nor I have had much success with these fine-eating Pennsylvania predators so it took great confidence to promise such things. I’d never even seen dad catch a walleye before though he said he had once. Due to my earlier scouting, dad was able to ease down the bank at a railroad bridge, his ambush site for the fish that I’d promised would arrive fresh from the river as darkness fell.
And so, for the first time ever, I watched dad land two walleye on a single outing. It couldn’t have happened just any night but the water had remained cold and it was higher than most people would fish and we were at the right place just upstream from the river at just the right time. I got one too, but that was just a bonus (and another walleye sandwich!)
Driving home, my thoughts drifted back and just upstream a little to the opening days of trout season, just a few weeks ago. Fisher-people had crowded the banks up and down this particular suburban flow, lobbing bobbers and crossing lines in pursuit of
their hatchery-reared quarry. Many had had their reward too, stringers of trout product, meat no less pasty than their baits. Though surrounded by rails, freeways, and houses, dad and I had had our fishin’ hole all to ourselves and the wild fish we’d rendezvoused with were the finest!