How I Learned to Catch Trout – the story of how it began
Trout fishing is something that I have done ever since I was a little kid. Let me tell you, you learn how to catch trout through the love of being on a creek, with the help of many friends and family, who, along the way shared their time, conversations, laughter, advise and tricks.
The first “thanks” goes to my grandfather, who loved deep-sea fishing, spending as much time as he could bouncing bottom for flounder and sea trout. “Freight trains” he called ’em. That was his nickname for sea trout. They got their name cause, they hit so hard and fast that the strike would pull the rod down and slap it on the side of the boat with a bang usually, making you jump from being startled. Well, at least it did me. My boat fishing days were to come a little later in my early fishing “career”. When it did, I’d spend many an adventure with “Pop” on the “high seas” off the Jersey and Delaware coasts. Those stories are for a different time and place.
You see the old man’s love for fishing is how I ended up on the creek. It was where I learned to catch trout, but not right away. We lived a bunch of hours away from the ocean and his getting down there wasn’t so easy back in those days, so to make up for his inability to get to the shore, he would gather me up and run me down to the nearby stream where we would drown worms and usually catch nothing. In fact, I can’t remember us ever catching a single trout on those journeys, yet I remember having a great time fishing with my grandfather.
Pop was a Good Seafaring Fisherman
Pop was a good seafaring fisherman and knew his way around a boat, squid, 3oz sinkers, flounder rigs and the like, but he didn’t know squat about how to catch trout out of a trout stream, so we ended up most of the time, if not all the time, skunked. But the fact that he put me on the creek, that was the important thing. We would spend the time “playing” in the water, talking about nothing important, and for some reason, we’d go home and tell everybody about the “great trout fishing”.
Yeah, growing up with a creek right down the road was a precious thing. Something I now realize but hadn’t a clue of back then. I spent endless hours on that creek over the course of my childhood and early teen years drowning worms with Richard. He lived up and across the road in a family of five brothers of which he was the youngest.
Richard and I met in our single-digit years and spent a lot of time being and doing everything outdoors. Richard’s next older brother and I used the name, Richard, for Richard, but most of the time everybody else referred to him as Ricky. Especially when his last name was used. Funny how that stuff happens when you’re a kid. Mike who lived on the other road was always called “Mike” until you added his last name in, and then he became “Mikey”. Must be some kind of rule or something, you know, the unsaid kind, that certain first names have to end in “y” or “ie” if you use the last name with them. I would bet you have one of those in your group too, well anyway.
So what does all of this have to do with how to catch trout?
To learn how to catch trout you need to understand the story. It was Richard that put the fly rod into our lives. His grandfather lived up the hill a little farther up the road. He had a cool big old house and next to the living room he had a library full of reading materials. Books and magazines, seemingly endlessly lining the room on shelves from the floor to the ceiling. Lots of books on fishing and hunting and a whole bunch of other stuff. That reading material would play an important role later in our lives.
But the real treasure was out in the barn in a room upstairs. I noticed that when we went into that room, Richard would get nervous and our stay was always short. He never said we shouldn’t be there but it seemed all the time like we shouldn’t be in there. In here grandpop kept his fishing stuff.
Rods of all sizes laid on the collar ties that crossed the room above our heads. Big fish looking lures hung down from their hooks which hung on nails sticking out of the barn wood walls. Old wooden cabinets on shelves, drawers full of stuff, along with stuff everywhere. Just stuff, boxes full of stuff, stuff piled or stacked, and I don’t know, just a lot of stuff.
But it was in here that “the rod” was kept. Of all the rods and reels and lures and boxes and you name it, there was that “fly rod”, which shined out to Richard like a beckon of light and grabbed his attention like nothing else. And so it came to pass Richard had discovered his grandfather had a fly rod.
Learning how to catch trout on a fly rod
Needless to say, because Richard was so fascinated by that fly rod, it stands to reason, he ended up with one. I don’t know the story of where his fly rod came from, it just showed up one day (probably from one of the older brothers), but who knows. What I do know is, Richard got a fly rod. That, in turn, meant, I had to try fishing the fly rod too.
So down to the creek went a fly rod and a spinning rod of which the fly rod got passed back and forth as we were trying to figure out how to use the thing. Well at this point you guessed it, here we were, each of us taking turns with that fly rod and no clue, no idea what we were doing or how it should be done. So, of course, we resorted to what we knew how to do. We drowned some more worms. How else would we learn how to catch trout on a fly rod.
By the time I was ten or so, my sister’s boyfriend, who would eventually become a bother-and-law, started taking me to the mountains to his cabin. He was a member of a deer camp up in northern Pennsylvania consisting of 10 members, a mix of older guys his dad’s age and guys he hung out with. He started taking me along to the cabin for weekend work details or other events, and in the end, there was always time to cast a rod or shoot a rifle.
Pennsylvania Hunting Cabins
The cabin walls were decorated with pictures depicting fishing and hunting related scenes. The fishing pictures were of fly fisherman in various situations, some humorous, while others captured the action of a big rainbow mid-jump. Mounts of fish and whitetail also were hanging on the walls and I found myself mystified by the stories of how they came to end up there.
Those old guys could tell some stories and it was listening to those stories that my educational years began. Old guys have experience and are the best teachers if you pay attention to them. They filled my imagination with trout streams and big whitetail and everything big woods. I relived all of their adventures through the tales being told in front of the fireplace and sitting around the kitchen table. The cabin and nearby streams became the enchanted forest of my young wondering mind and replaced the storybook fairytales read to me just a few years before.
For the next handful of years, trips to the cabin became the norm and so did learning how to catch trout on the bigger waters of the north. Creeks of crystal clear and churning whitewater pouring into blue-green deep holes as the water made its way down the valleys of the mountains. Walking along these creeks you’d see trout that were lying deep below the surface rise to sip a morsel and disappear back into the aqua shading of the creek waters.
The start of the learning curve of trout fishing.
For the crew of the cabin, “bait” was the name of the game at that time and worms, salmon eggs and corn seemed to be the table fare to be offered to the trout. I fished a spinning rod like everybody else did and didn’t understand why I did, just did. Cause when everybody is doing something, well, it’s natural to think that’s the way it is. So like the rest, I cast my worm out across the stream and waited. It sunk out of sight and I stood there till the line went taught and then I sat.
The idle conversation would fill the air around me and it was fun sitting on the creek bank with the guys waiting for a trout to pull their line which sometimes they did. I would reel in and cast again and it wasn’t long before I would do the same thing, again and again, and the day would past by. You see I was fishing and that’s how you do it, you know…….Except, no it ain’t! It’s one way to spend your time fishing, sure, and fun. But just sitting I wasn’t good at and as you’ll see, it’s a good thing to get restless.
I’d get restless, so I’d ventured off
As I was saying, “I got tired of sitting”. I remember as the trips to creek continued, I started moving around a little. I’d get restless, so I’d ventured off just a wee bit from the crowd. I eased upstream or downstream a few yards and set up there. Over time, I ventured out a lot a little farther away from everybody to have my own little spot to fish. As I sat there in my new found spot, I imagined what it must be like around the next bend. Each time I imagine myself walking a little farther along the stream.
Then this one time I went for it. I looked back and realized, I was out of sight of my brother-in-law to be and the men from the cabin. Man, I was way out there, unchartered territory. I was breaking new ground like Lewis and Clarke or Columbus, I mean I had to be at least 200 yards away from them, on my own. That was far and I was out of sight too, wow!
It’s funny when you’re alone, out of sight.
It’s funny when you’re alone, out of sight. You feel free to start casting everywhere, anywhere. Reel’n and cast’n with nobody watching me, awesome. How far can I throw this one? Can I hit that rock out there? I was in fishing heaven. (And little did I know at the time, playing around like that was the start of developing pinpoint accurate casting, for later down the road). Well after that it came to be, when we went fishing I would eventually walked off and explored new water and fished around the next bend. But I had this knack for getting back on time. Suddenly something in my head would tell me it’s time and I’d make my way back to meet up with my brother-in-law to be and we’d head back to the cabin for a warm meal, a fireside sit and cozy covers. Life on a creek was good.
The Fly Fisherman
We started out this one morning from the cabin to fish and parked the truck on a dirt pull-off near the stream. It was a beautiful day and I remember that because my brother-and-law to be pointed out how cool the mountains looked as we walked down to the creek. He loved those mountains and often made those kinds of remarks, but that day has always stuck with me and I still can see those mountain’s dark greens mixed with yellowy lime colors towering up above me against a blue cloudless morning sky. And the smell, I can’t really describe that smell. It was fresh, crisp and clean and full of fragrance. You could almost taste the air that day it smelled so good.
And the stream held its own magic. Each cast seemed to create a splash that rose up from the casted split shot hitting the water in what looked like little diamonds bubbling over the rim of a glass, all shiny and glimmering. The morning dew glistened and sparkled in the rays of the new coming sun as it lay on the grass and budding trees. Every so often a dewdrop would let go of its grip and fall to the ground below it. Yeah, it was just one of those days and we settled in on a good spot and began to test our luck.
Time to explore again
After a good while of fishing together, I said to my brother-in-law-to-be I was going to move down a bit and I’ll meet you back here in a while. He nodded his approval and off I went. I fished my way along lost in the moment of sun and breeze slowly strolling along the creek’s running water casually flipping a worm in front of protruding rocks. I was pleasantly lost in a kid’s world, not a care, with nothing but visions of trout in my head.
As I made my way up a slight embankment I caught movement on the stream ahead. There in the patchwork of tree shadows and sunlight, I could see this older grey-haired guy, with a kind of neatly dressed look to his waders and vest. A puff of smoke surrounded his head he let go from a pipe in his mouth, as he was pulling and pushing a fly line back and forth effortlessly. The line eased through the air, first in front of him, then looped back behind him, and out front again, unrolling full length and gently landing on the water.
After a bit, he would lift the line up off the water and put it in motion back and forth ever so gently as sprays of watery dew dusted off the line, and gently again he would settle it back down onto the water surface. I stood there halfway up the bank mostly hidden from his view and watched that old guy for a long time mesmerized by what I saw. Until now, I had never seen a fly fisherman before and I have never forgotten what I saw that day. His image I can still see in my mind.
Learning how to catch trout takes a new twist.
Freedom to really explore streams arrived in the form of a driver’s license. This allowed Richard and me an ability to travel beyond the stream we could walk to and drive to more distant locations. It wasn’t long before we would expand our reach to different creeks. Throughout our state, we were in search of new and exciting waters.
Combining camping and fishing, was a natural fit for us and offered an inexpensive way to spend the weekends. In those days we could camp just about anywhere, so after a day on the stream finding a place to set up for the night was easy. We didn’t need much, a tent, sleeping bags, and food, and didn’t need much of that either. Seemed we had just enough to get by for a couple of days and no one ever complained about anything. We were fishing and that was all that really mattered.
Our fishing had changed too because now we had a little better understanding of trout fishing. We were still combining spinning rods and fly rods but we were starting to develop a much better grasp of how to use each of the tools effectively. Our spinning rods were still casting worms, but the days of drowning worms were long gone.
We had learned how to drift bait and spent much of the spring catching trout using that technique. The fly fishing concept took on a whole new approach too, after my encounter with the old fly guy I spoke of earlier. He unknowingly showed me how to cast a fly rod. Richard and I used that lesson, practicing in the backyard.
Our summer days
Our summer days were spent casting dry flies onto the water and letting them drift down to a waiting trout. Little did we know at that time, but the skill set needed to drift a worm so it flowed with the current in a natural way was, in general, the same skill set that would be needed to drift a dry fly and eventually a nymph. But that would have to wait a bit as another chapter of how to catch trout was about to unfold. But before we move on we need to go back and visit something that happened earlier.
I can’t say we had regular visits to Grand pop’s barn room, but we had a few over the kid years and many things in that room during that time were strange to us. Lots of objects were held up and the question would be heard, “what the heck is this?” only to get the same response from Richard, “Hey, put that back”.
This one day though was different.
This one day though was different. We were up in the barn and discovered these weird looking things. They were laying in a drawer we had opened that was partitioned in half. Each compartment contained slightly different objects that pretty much looked the same to me. They were basically 3 fish hooks glued together around a wire that was long enough to feed through three brass beads, and a small hole drilled through in a flat metal thing. The wire then forms into an eye like is on a hook. The flat metal thing would spin when you flicked it. One of these objects was called a “CP Swing and the other a “Swiss Swing”.
Richard’s old brother explained that they were called spinners and claimed they catch trout. He had never tried using one and never saw anybody actually catch fish with one. In fact, we never saw anyone actually fishing with them. Seeing trout caught on a spinner to us was a fairy tale or a joke of some kind. We didn’t know, so, we laughed them off, of course. But seeing them got stored in the memory banks of my mind and who was to know someday I’d give one a try.
Learning how to catch trout on spinners was about to unfold.
So here we are now years later from the spinner discovery in the barn. It was upon a creek in Lycoming county one afternoon that I discovered spinners really do catch trout. It was one of those freak moments in time, as fate would have it, you might say. I was digging through my vest of goodies looking for something, that as of now I can’t remember what it was I was looking for, and came across a spinner a guy named, Ed, gave me one day.
Ed worked with me for a brief time and one day we were swapping trout fishing stories. I learned after telling him about the spinners we found in the barn, that he was a guy who swore by spinners. He got all excited after I told him and explain to me he uses spinners all the time. When he came into work the next day he gave me one, a Roostertail it was called.
So, here I am, standing on that creek, spinner in hand and realizing I had forgotten all about being given that till that moment. I stood there for a minute or so looking at that Roostertail and thought, “you got to be kidding me. Why would a trout eat this?” and with that thought in my head, I tied it on. I threw a long cast up and across that creek and started to reel.
The line arched a loop downstream as I reeled in the spinner and suddenly, BAM! Fish on! I couldn’t believe what had just happened. That stupid looking hunk of metal flashing in the water had caught a trout. That can’t be. Why would a trout grab something like that? I was dumbfounded.
Had to Share the News
I naturally shared the news with Richard and suddenly we had found a new toy. That quick, our fishing had changed and the era of the spinner was born. Drifting live bait with a spinning rod was a thing of the past. I started catching trout pretty regularly now on spinners. I tested a variety of spinners until I settled in on the ones I believe worked the best. Well, because they work so well on a spinning rod, doesn’t it stand to reason (you knew this was coming), yes I tried a spinner on a fly rod. That was an experience to have experienced, let me tell you!
Fast-paced fishing – the use of spinners
The college years started, what I refer to as “fast-paced fishing”. I had learned to use spinners effectively by the time my freshman year had rolled in. The biggest asset to spinner fishing at that time was speed. Throughout the college years and soon into my working years, time became precious and finding the time to get on the creek was tough. In college because of the academic load and playing sports there seemed to be almost no time to fish. Although the challenge of finding the time was tough, the drive to keep fishing stayed strong. I could still be found on a stream every free minute I could get. These windows of opportunity meant I had to have my game plan down if I wanted to catch trout.
The use of a spinning rod and spinners helped me utilize what little time I had. Simply because it was fast to set up the rod and to get fishing quickly once on the stream. Much of the time you could leave the rod rigged in your truck, where it was a quick grab, down to the creek and splash, you’re underway. Another thing spinners provide is the ability to cover a lot of water. You fish a pool, catch a few and move on. Typically after a few caught trout, the hole shuts down and you move on to the next stretch of water. A lot of my springtime fishing was done this way, covering a lot of water quickly. But when late May and June came along, the bugs were out, and school was done for the summer, so too came out the fly rod.
School Days Are Over, Life Begins
After college, the rest of my life set in. I spent a lot of those years working both sets of tools, that is, a fly rod and spinning rod. I used them interchangeably throughout the season. It always depended on conditions, streams, time and sometimes who I was fishing with.
One technique of mine that encompassed the use of both rods was when I investigated a new stream. My first time on a stream usually consisted of its exploration. I would set out covering as much of the creek as I could. Next was learning about it and memorizing as much of the creek as the brain would hold. How it was laid out was usually a fireside ponder or conversation point at the end of a day on that creek.
Covering water, was a spinning rod natural for me. Exploration lends itself to covering a lot of water as well. As I said earlier, the spinning rod was a faster way to find fish. A byproduct of a spinner or crankbait is, even if a trout doesn’t strike, they many times will give chase. Naturally revealing themselves and their hiding place. Once I knew where they were I would go back to the spot with a fly rod. I’d take my time and usually fool them on something.
Why use both types of fishing
The bottom line for me was catching trout. I had found two ways to be successful at that. Getting up hung up on technique or style didn’t happen. I just wanted to catch trout, a lot of trout. Catching trout is fun and rewarding whatever tackle one chooses to use. Each of the varying tackle options uses specific techniques for catching trout. Each has its challenges, advantages, and disadvantages.
But in the long run, for me, the fly rod eventually won out. I discovered its versatility, endless combinations of presentation and the pure fun of fishing a fly rod. Ultimately, I developed a better understanding of nature. The interworking of the life forms on and around streams and creeks became more clear. Not to mention trout behavior too. I realized a fly and fly rod is the perfect match for trout fishing.
What it all comes down to
From my beginnings as a small boy, I have learned a great deal throughout my life about trout fishing. I have traveled around Pennsylvania and many parts of the US fishing trout streams. My countless hours on the water has allowed me to gather a huge amount of knowledge. It has taught me much, not only about trout fishing but of life itself. I have been lucky enough to have met some great trout fisherman and great people too, along the way.
This blog/website will often have information, articles or commentary which will probably cover, the two forms of fishing. That is, using a spinning rod and using a fly rod. I’m sure there will be more on fly fishing than any other form because that is my focus. But, my hope is to be able to offer past experience, advice, and opinions on what I know and to share that with new and old anglers alike in a fun and enjoyable form.
The Fly Rod
Sure I’m biased towards a fly rod as mentioned, but there is nothing wrong with fishing a spinning rod. Spinning rods are fun, easy to use and cast, and have their own challenges and rewards. But I would bet, if a young angler when starting out trout fishing, begins his or her career using a spinning rod, they’ll end their careers casting flies. When that time comes they will be welcomed by the fly fishing community with open arms as well.
My effort with this blog/website is to get you out on a stream. To have you explore nature and experience her beauty first hand. Share it with your children, family, and friends and hopefully, you’ll discover the marvelous workings of life all around you. My goal is to share with you the many discoveries and lessons I’ve learned. They have provided for me an ability to be extremely successful at catching trout. My hope, by sharing my lifetime of experience and knowledge, is to help you become a highly successful trout fisherman or fisherwoman. Please enjoy my blog and I welcome all of your comments, opinions, and insights.
The Creek Creature.