217 N. Spring Street Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
Innkeepers Connie and Steve McCulley
By Serge Bielanko
Every year in mid-April, they come to the edge of the water. Usually it's cold. Sometimes it snows. Every once in a blue moon, against all odds, the weather is pleasant: the sun shines, the air isn't bone-chilling, you can still see your breath but it doesn't freeze and fall out of the sky right in front of you like a falling cloud. Either way though, it doesn't make much difference in the end. Every year come mid-April, the fishermen and fisherwomen and fisher-kids, they come out by the car load for the opening day of Pennsylvania's trout season.
If you grew up fishing on 'opening day' as it's simply known, then you already understand exactly what I'm getting at here. You may even recall with much surprise, how you can still smell the fishy swirl of the stream or feel the cold grit of the nightcrawler dirt as if it was just yesterday. Sometimes people fall away from opening day. They outgrow it in their own minds, instead preferring to fish for trout in more refined styles maybe. Fly rods replace old spinning ones. More remote stretches of wild trout water replace the waters where most of the trout were dumped out of a bucket in the very recent past. Opening Day fades away. It begins to mean less and less to you on the calendar until one day you forget about it altogether.
That's what happened to me for a while. For years, or decades actually. My earliest fishing memories, the very ones that I can fully admit turned me on to fishing when I was only 5 years old and have remained intact some 40 years later, were all made on opening day of trout. My dad took me first. Then, when he disappeared from my life, my Pop-Pop took me. We never missed, he made sure of that. My love of fishing grew out of those early April mornings with him. The two of us in his clunker Dodge Hornet excited in the predawn Saturday morning dark. The two of us stopping in the 7-11 for snacks. The two of us nervous as we tried to find a spot among the throngs of earlier birds along the banks of the stream. The two of us never catching much on that first day of the season, but never letting that get in the way of the magic we were sharing together.
I still fish. I fly fish. I love it. But having kids of my own has taken me back to an earlier version of fishing and I am really happy about that. Last year, for the first time ever, I took my daughter and the older of my two sons (my other guy was a toddler… NEVER take a toddler to opening day!!!) out for the first day of trout. It was one of the coolest days of my life. As someone who has fished Pennsylvania waters all of his life, sharing this tradition with my own kids did something to me. I felt as if I had come a long way in life. And crazy as it seems, I felt like Ihad done something right. That's not a bad feeling to have. But it sure isn't one I feel all that often.
We fished and we caught nothing but creek chubs. But we didn't care. We had snacks and hot chocolate and by the end of a few hours out on the edge of the stream, both my kids were casting like they were born with fishing gear in their hands. And best of all?
We kept fishing all last spring. And summer. And fall. Last Christmas Day my son, Henry, 7, asked me if we could go fishing later. That's how much fishing has become a part of our lives together.
It all starts with opening day of trout for so many of us. Here in Bellefonte and Centre County we are luckier than we likely realize. We live in a land where trout are king. And queen. People travel here where we live to fish the streams we drive past everyday on the way to work or the supermarket. For families who want fishing in their lives, there is no better place on Earth. There just isn't. The Pennsylvania Fish Commission stocks over 4 million trout into the state's waterways each year. So most kids have a really good chance at catching a fish or two if they venture out on opening day.
Then, later on, even if they move away from us eventually, chances are they'll come back to fish here over and over again.
"We have guests that return every year to fish Spring Creek. One of our guests travels from California to meet up with his father each year for a father/son weekend, " says Connie McCulley, who runs Riffles and Runs Bed and Breakfast in Bellefonte. "Another returning guest is from England. He loves to fish our beautiful streams." She ought to know too since the B&B she runs with her husband, Steve, is wildly popular with trout fishers. And even though many of the guests who come to these parts looking for nirvana on a cool, clean stream are fly fishermen or women now, most of them didn't start out that way long ago.
Including Steve. Born and raised in Bellefonte, he's now an avid fly angler himself. But he'll be the first to tell you that the memories he made as a young boy fishing on opening day changed his life once upon a time.
"As a kid growing up in Bellefonte the first day was right up there with Christmas and the last day of school. Getting prepared was a big thing. Digging for worms, organizing your gear, talking to your buddies about what you were going to use and where you were going to fish were all part of the exciting and necessary preparation."
As a Centre County parent, I want that same excitement for my own kids.
"I remember when I was around 10 years old," Steve continues. "My parents gave me the OK to camp out with some friends along the stream where we were fishing. Sleeping by the camp fire and cooking beans and bacon at 5 AM while waiting to throw the first cast is a great memory."
Those were the days.
But maybe they're not gone from us at all, huh? I mean, times change, but trout really don't.
Happy fishing. Take a kid.
Modern people connecting with their ancestral past is both inspiring and beneficial.
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