With fishing rods at his feet, Jordan Henson stood Saturday morning on the banks of Big Beaver Creek, anxiously looking at his phone and announcing the minutes as they ticked by — 7:58, 7:59 and finally, 8 a.m.
Without hesitation, the 16-year-old picked up a rod and cast his first line, wasting no time as Pennsylvania's waterways opened that exact minute for the 2021 trout fishing season.
Henson, one among a group of local teens, had staked out his spot hours earlier, arriving about 6:15 a.m. to ensure he'd have first dibs on the waterway, where it passes along Refton Road near the border of Providence and Strasburg townships.
"Usually there are a lot of people here," said Henson, of Conestoga, who described the area as a local favorite that he's been visiting for years.
Despite temperatures in the 40s, parked vehicles lined the shoulders of nearby roads, catching the attention of southern Lancaster County Waterways Conservation Officer Jeff Schmidt as he patrolled the area.
"I'm pleased to see the number of people out here," Schmidt said
Among them, was 72-year-old Bob Floyd, a local angler, who said he's been fishing Lancaster County waters since the 1950s. He spoke about his long-lasting interest in the pastime in the minutes before the season opened, laying it out in simple terms.
"I just enjoy being out," he said.
Natasha McCartney, of Strasburg Township, said nearly the same while standing along a separate portion of the Big Beaver off of Krantz Mill Road.
"We're just glad to be able to get out here," she said, standing a few feet from her husband and son and a pair of his friends.
For them, opening day has long been a family affair, and by about 8:20 a.m., one among the group had already pulled a trout from the waterway, McCartney said.
Their outdoor, streamside fun hadn't been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic nor a slight change in the state's trout season opening schedule, she said.
This year, the season opened on the same time and date statewide — a deviation from the traditional staggered starts, which previously allowed for earlier openings in some counties, including Lancaster County.
It's a change that was made by leaders at the state Fish and Boat Commission to discourage travel, with officials still fearful about furthering the spread of COVID-19.
"The move to an earlier statewide schedule for trout season ensures that we can preserve our cherished fishing traditions while reducing the amount of travel across multiple opening days," commission Executive Director Tim Schaeffer said in an earlier statement.
Evan Pilcicki, 32, of neighboring Chester County, said he actually preferred the single-day opener because the staggered start often led to his favorite Lancaster County spots being crowded with out-of-towners.
Clad in hip waders, Pilcicki headed shortly after 9 a.m. toward a stretch of the West Branch of Octoraro Creek near the border of Colerain and Little Britain townships.
"This is a great hole," he said.
Like many other avid anglers, Pilcicki said he tries to get out to cast his rod as often as possible during the season, which runs through Labor Day. But to him, nothing beats the opener.
"This is like a holiday," Pilcicki said, explaining he sees it as a true start to spring.
Saturday's sunny skies helped with that mood, though brisk morning temperatures left grass frosty near some streambanks. That's OK, Pilcicki said, just grateful the opener was a dry one.
"The rain is absolutely the worst," he said, remembering past soggy seasons.
In Lancaster County, 29,000 trout were stocked ahead of Saturday in 22 local streams, as well as Muddy Run Recreation Lake. Another 21,800 are set to be stocked during the season, according to commission officials.
By 10:30 a.m., Shawn Maxwell and his 26-year-old son Dylan Maxwell, both natives of the Mount Joy area, said they already pulled at least a half dozen fish from the Little Chiques Creek in Mount Joy. They were practicing catch-and-release.
"We barely even take them out of the water," said Shawn Maxwell, 55, who boasted that a palomino was among his haul.
The locals said their first-day fishing trips have been a tradition for nearly as long as they can remember. But this year Shawn Maxwell said he noticed more anglers than usual, guessing the crowds have grown because outdoor recreation is considered safer than indoor options during the pandemic.
"I think people just want to get outside," he said.
The motivation to participate in the trout opener was much simpler for Zach Clare, 17, of Conestoga, who was among the group of teens gathered early at Big Beaver Creek.
"It's fun," he said.