Ten-year-old Maximis Claflin woke early Saturday, jazzed by the prospect of catching a fish.
Max had fished plenty of times before, even cooked and eaten a big mouth bass he’d caught with his dad on the Youghiogheny River. But Saturday would be the first time that he and his brother, Declan, 7, would be out for the opening day of trout season. The boys zipped tackle boxes into back packs and their dad, Craig Claflin, drove them to Peters Creek, just off Route 51 near Jefferson Hills, Penn.
The Elizabeth Township family arrived as the sun was still rising and the temperature was below freezing, the three of them trudging through brush flecked with green buds as the conk-la-ree screech of red-wing blackbirds marked the return of spring. The stream was being reborn as well — years of restoration work had turned a one-time industrial sewer into Pennsylvania’s newest state-stocked trout waters.
Word of the stream’s transformation had gotten around. By early morning, the banks were lined with anglers — grandfathers, children, grandchildren — all with visions of hungry trout.
But catching a fish wasn’t the boys’ only concern. There was the business of baiting hooks with pieces of earthworms and untangling lines.
“Snagged up, Max?” Mr. Claflin asked after his son had tried to cast to the far side of the stream.
“I’m in a tree,” the boy answered, “on the bobber.”
“Work the problem snag,” the father said. “Go slower.”
A few minutes later, Max was jubilant. “I did it, Daddy,” he said. “I untangled it!”
At a spot farther upstream, it was Declan’s turn to get his line caught.
“I’ll help you,” Max called out, before taking the rod from Declan. Slowly he coaxed the hook from beneath a rock.
Fishing teaches kids patience and problem-solving skills, but the real magic happens when they start to get the hang of casting a line to just that spot where the fish are feeding. Trout prefer deeper pools in colder temperatures, but they move to shallow water as the sun warms things up, Mr. Claflin told the boys.
And casting — it’s all about timing, getting the knack of pulling back, then snapping the rod with just the right flick so as not to overshoot the target.
“As a dad, when you seem them cast, it’s just like, wow,” said Mr. Claflin, a Pittsburgh police officer.
It was mid-morning, about two hours after they arrived, when Declan slipped on a steep bank, his right foot sinking into the icy creek, soaking his leg up to his knee. “Time to go back,” Mr. Claflin announced.
“It’s not that cold,” Declan said. He pulled back his rod to cast again.
Max said he got a bite, “but it didn’t stay on.”
“How’s your foot, bud,” Mr. Claflin asked Declan.
“It’s getting little warmer,” the boy said. “It feels a little bit better.”
But it wasn’t long before he grew quiet and said, “I’m done. I want to go back.”
The three of them climbed the bank to the Montour Trail, the shortest route back. A “leaf fish” was the only catch of the day, which Max had reeled in.
Both boys laughed about the catch as they walked away with their dad.©2021 PG Publishing Co. Visit at post-gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.