How to Catch More Fish: Trout Fishing in Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania has over 1,000 streams and lakes that are stocked with more than 3.2 million brook, rainbow, and brown trout. There are also over 600 streams designated as Class A Waters that have a natural population of trout and do not get stocked. Pennsylvania is loaded with opportunities to trout fish and I like to take advantage of those opportunities. If I had to pick only one outdoor pursuit to enjoy the rest of my life, stream fishing for trout would be the winner, hands down.

I have fished for trout in many different ways, from dunking a worm, casting a lure, to dry fly fishing. But there are two specific methods I keep coming back to because they consistently produce the most fish.

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Threading a Minnow
Threading a minnow is an effective technique when the stream being fished holds brown trout, and especially effective when emerald shiners are available as bait.

Equipment needed

  • 6’ to 9’ light action spinning rod
  • A small/medium sized spinning reel with a good gear ratio.
  • 4 pound test line
  • Split or Open Shank treble hooks – size 10 to 14. It’s very important to get these types of treble hooks as it will exponentially decrease the time it takes to re-bait
  • BB sized split shot sinkers
  • Threading/Bait needle
  • Bait: minnows, preferably live emerald shiners, but salted minnows or fat heads can be used as well.

Rigging Up

  • At the end of the line make a loop, and put in knots in two different places
  • Put the loop of the line in the eye of the needle – the eye has a gap so this can be done easily
  • Now insert the needle into the shiners mouth and pass it through the body, having it exit around the anal fin, make sure the loop of the line is accessible.
  • Slide the loop of the line through the split of the treble hook, and pull on the opposite of the line to seat the hook shank inside of the minnow
  • Place a split shot above the minnow, number of split shot and distance from minnow depends on color and depth of the water

Fishing the Rig

Fishing with a threaded minnow is not all that different from a lure, but having a real minnow provides the look, smell, and feel that will attract more than a traditional lure. Especially when using emerald shiners, the scales of the minnow will fall off and give that flash that a lure just cannot do. Cast into areas that are holding fish and work the minnow like a lure, sometimes making small jerking motions, imitating an injured bait fish.

The downside to this rig is if a fish is caught, or even if one strikes, the minnow will fall off and it will take a few minutes to bait back up.

Float or Drift Fishing

This next technique is what I do primarily, especially in a stream stocked with rainbow trout. I call it float or drift fishing, where I use a noodle rod, with a float, to drift my bait through the current. This has proven to be my most successful method of fishing, it has significantly outperformed any other technique that I have used.

When the conditions are right and I’m on a familiar stream, landing 30 fish is not uncommon. In many cases the fish is hooked on just the lip or the edge of the mouth, and using only hemostats, it can be quickly released, unharmed, with very little handling.

Equipment Needed

  • 9’ to 11’ slow action noodle road.
  • Small to medium sized spinning reel that can use 4 to 8 pound test line, be sure it balances well with the rod.
  • Float – I prefer the Sheffield float with a clear bottom portion and a bright orange top. The size of the float depends on the water being fished. Faster water may need more weight to get bait to the right depth, so a bigger float is needed
  • BB sized removable split shot
  • Size 14 single hook, I like to use nymph hooks that are used for to fly fishing
  • 4 pound test line
  • Bait: single salmon eggs, egg sacks, various worms, nymphs

Rigging Up

  • Slide the silicone sleeve for the float onto the line.
  • Then thread the line through the eye on the bottom of the float
  • Slip the top of the float through the silicone sleeve that is on the line.
  • Place a BB sized split shot 1-2” from the bottom of the float – this helps the float stay upright in the water during the drift
  • Next, tie on the single hook
  • Now, place BB sized split shot between the hook and float. The number of BBs and the distance from the hook depends on the water conditions. And the distance of the float from the hook depends on water depth. These are details that can be easily adjusted to fit with the conditions.
  • Baiting the hook also depends on the water conditions, the type of fish in the stream, and so forth. I typically use single salmon eggs, but I have also used egg sacks, worms, and even a pheasant tail or prince nymph.

Fishing the Rig

The long noodle rod is used to help keep the line off the water, as this technique is most effective when there is no slack in the line and it is kept off the water as much as possible. When there is slack line, or if it lays on the surface of the water, it affects the drift and how the bait is presented in front of the fish. If it doesn’t look natural, the fish is less likely to strike. It is also important to avoid slack line for when a fish does strikes, if there is little to no slack setting the hook is much quicker and easier.

This technique is best fished in moving water, where the bait and the float can drift with the current. I have caught fish in shallower, fast moving ripples, to deep moving water. But it is important that the water be flowing, in stagnant slow moving water this method is much less effective.

Cast upstream and follow the float with the tip of the rod held high to keep line off the water. Pay attention to how the float is sitting in the water, if it is pointing straight up that indicates it is flowing through the current freely and as naturally as possible. If the top of the float is pointing upstream this could mean slack line is laying on the surface of the water and pulling on the bait, causing an unnatural presentation. If the top of the float is pointing downstream, this is an indication the bait is too deep and hitting the bottom and catching on rocks. The depth of the bait can easily be adjusted by sliding the float up or down the line, this is one of the main advantages of using the Sheffield float. As I’m fishing, I’ll periodically adjust the depth of my float to target trout that are in different levels of the water column.

Keeping the line off of the water is important when a fish strikes. As soon as there is a hit or bump on the bait, the hook is set by raising the rod quickly. If there is slack in the line, it will be next to impossible to effectively set the hook.

There is an advantage to this technique for the catch and release angler. 99% of the trout I have caught have been hooked in the lip when using this method. This makes for a quick and easy release, nearly eliminating the need to handle the fish. Many times I am able to reach down while the fish is still in the water and grab the hook with my hemostats, and with a quick tug the hook is out and the fish swims away unharmed.

The type of bait I use largely depends on the time of year and water conditions. Early in the season, single salmon eggs are my go to bait. I’ll use different colors depending on the clarity of the stream, but the standard pale yellow is what has worked best for me. As the season progresses and temperatures rise, I’ll switch to different types of baits. Drifting nymphs has also proved effective for the trout that have smartened up a bit. Don’t be afraid to try something different when the bite turns off of one type of bait.

As it reads this technique appears to be simple, but in practice it takes a lot of feel and time to become proficient. But once mastered it will be an effective and fun way to catch more trout.

Kory Slye

Kory is a lifelong hunter and angler from northwestern Pennsylvania. He enjoys filling his freezer with the wild game and fish that Pennsylvania has to offer. His goal is to show how he has introduced his three young children to the outdoors and fostered their passion for all things wild. Follow him on his journey on Instagram, @outdoorsmandad.

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