April 02, 2021

What is combat fishing you might ask? When you’re waking up “duck season early” to stake out a fishing hole, you might be combat fishing. When you’re more worried about boxing out the other guys than making the perfect cast, you might be combat fishing. When you bring your 6’5 buddy to intimidate other people on the river, you might be combat fishing. When you witness two guys wrestling in the water over a bad cast or a “stolen fish,” you’re definitely combat fishing.

Every region has their opportunities for this fast paced, overly competitive sport. New York has the Salmon River, Southern Oregon has the Rouge, and the Chesapeake Bay turns into a parking lot when birds start working a school of bait fish. That’s right, combat fishing can take place in boats too. In Pennsylvania, our shot at combat fishing comes on the opening day of trout season.

The lure of stocked trout draws out anglers of all skill sets who are awakened by the warm weather and are in search of an easy target. People line the banks of skinny creeks, elbow to elbow, casting over and through one another in hopes of catching their limit of pen raised stockies, and maybe, just maybe, taking home a “monster palomino” (*editor’s note-these are just a golden, mutated strain of rainbow trout from West Virginia). Marshmallows, night crawlers, trout magnets, you name it, are all top secret baits used on opening day to outwit the angler standing two feet to your left. If you’re lucky, you avoid getting a hook to the arm and even take home some dinner.

For some, this combat fishing ritual is about much more than those five freshly stocked trout you pluck out of the water. People travel to camps to meet up with friends, catch up after a cold winter, and finally get outside and enjoy a long awaited spring. To these anglers, opening day is about the memories made around the campfire that weekend -  not about elbowing your way into a few fish.

For me, I enjoy waking up before the sun, hiking a mile or two into the woods away from the crowds, and cooking breakfast by the stream as I wait for the 8am official start. Typically I hook into my limit in an hour or so, and get to enjoy the shocked faces of the combat fisherman who wish they would have wandered more than 100 yards from the truck.

Whatever your preferred method, best of luck this season, and don’t forget the shoulder pads.

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