As the weather begins to warm up and snow starts to melt in Western Pennsylvania, anglers from around the state are beginning their yearly trek to fly-fish in the Laurel Highlands.
With the second most cold-water streams in the nation, behind Alaska, the Commonwealth is home to the most trout anglers in the U.S., besides California.
Monty Murty, president of the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a cold-water conservation organization, said people can fly-fish year round in Pennsylvania, but most start in the early spring and go through June.
He said some people wrongly believe the sport is named after the flying motion made as anglers cast their line, but really it’s due to the fake insects used as bait.
“When there aren’t little kids throwing them corn and McDonald's hotdogs or the fishermen aren’t out there with worms, the trout eat mostly these insects,” Murty said. “And those insects are actually more sensitive to pollution than the trout.”
He said while many streams still suffer from acid rain pollution or pollution from development, they’re getting much cleaner.
Murty said the state often tracks the number of insects in trout streams. Fewer bugs means more pollution.
The number of fly fishermen in the region is also on the rise.
Murty said most people can afford to drive to the Highlands for fly-fishing as opposed to flying to Colorado or Vermont.
“There are more famous streams out West for sure, but interestingly the streams that I fished in myself out West tend to get really started fishing in mid- to late-summer," he said, "and our streams start early, so you can get an early start here.”
The cost to begin fly-fishing isn’t much compared to other hobbies, according to Murty, who said a “couple hundred dollars” pays for a fly rod, outfit and a few flies.
He said Trout Unlimited hosts programs that teach fly-fishing for free, and there are many inexpensive guides that teach the sport and provide equipment.
Murty said he’s found there are many expert fly rod craftsmen in Western Pennsylvania and just networking can solve a lot of equipment questions beginners might have.
The Laurel Highlands Trout Trail also hosts events that teach beginners how to fly-fish as well as providing maps of their top ten streams to fish in the region.