April marked the full swing of spring sports and opening day of trout season, which is a huge deal around Western Pennsylvania. I made a photo page (three photos of my series are shown below) and wrote a short story about the unofficial holiday, "Fishmas Eve."
Here it is:
The further the sun set, the brighter the bonfires glowed along the soggy banks of the babbling stream. Grease dripped from kielbasa sticks as the comforting smell wafted over the water. And bedtime prayers to the “fish gods” were anxiously lifted.
‘Twas the night before "Fishmas" as New Kensington native Mike Patton Jr. of Connecticut toasted his reunion with his two brothers and father near Sleepy Hollow along Loyalhanna Creek.
Fittingly, Patton’s Pennsylvania homecoming from five military tours of duty as a pilot was greeted with a fat cigar and a cooler loaded five cans deep with Rolling Rock, the only beer the four drink on opening weekend of trout season a few miles from the famed country club.
For most of the last 45 years, Patton’s father Mike Patton Sr. has been camping the night before opening day in an annual tradition that locals refer to as "Fishmas Eve."
Foggy fishers and skies welcomed the 8 a.m. Saturday start as lures plunged and tempted rainbow, brown, brook and golden trout.
“Woohoo!” A hefty cheer belted upstream from Mike Kozain of Manor as a 22-inch rainbow flapped on his line.
Kozain and his family, including uncle John Fry of Irwin, a 34-year veteran of opening day, gather to their familiar hideaway for the annual event. Their ritual is rooted in three generations of uncles introducing their nephews to the unofficial holiday.
“We only live 8 miles apart, but this is the only time we see each other,” said John ‘Rocky’ Picciano of Jeannette, Fry's uncle, who first came to the creek with family as a 16-year-old. “This creek just brings us all back,” he smiled while slicing chunks of his homemade salami with a pocketknife as he passed it to his great-nephew Kozain.
For the Frys, it is a rite of passage for the nephews to sleep on dewy brush to reserve the fishing hole for the older uncles the next morning. Then, an angler’s wonderland awaits, of stocked deep pools, constant currents and wooded cover.
Next year, the men plan to bring a fourth-generation nephew. The same is true for Mike Patton’s now 2-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.
“That’s why I do what I do -- to protect our families and liberties,” Patton said of his service. “It’s freedom to be with family in the outdoors.”