The Tragic Tale of Pennsylvania’s Eastern Brook Trout

Few animals resonate with Pennsylvanians the way the brook trout does.  It is our state fish.  It is also an iconic image of the mountain streams of central and northern Pennsylvania that exemplifies the wild spirit of Appalachia.  However, Pennsylvania’s once vibrant population of America’s southernmost Artic Char species is rapidly declining.

Once upon a time, brook trout were abundant in streams throughout the Commonwealth.  Brook trout are only able to survive in the coldest and cleanest of streams and rivers, and as such their presence is used as an indicator of a watershed’s quality.  Nowadays their population range has largely been reduced to small pockets within the state’s most remote and rugged areas.  The reasons for this decline are plentiful.

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  1. Acid Mine Drainage

Acid Mine Drainage or AMD, is defined as the overflow of acidic waters from abandoned mines (Websters Dictionary).  AMD can originate from many mining practices, but in Pennsylvania AMD primarily comes from coal mining practices.  AMD is Pennsylvania’s largest non-point water source pollutant.  AMD from abandoned mines has negatively impacted over 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams, and is thus taking an enormous toll on the brook trout population.[1]  The remaining side-effects of over 100 years of rampant coal mining are the leading cause of brook trout decline.

  1. Habitat loss and land development

Just like any other animal species, habitat loss due to land development significantly impacts brook trout population.  Unlike hardier warm-water species like smallmouth bass, trout need clean, cold water to survive.  When the land along a trout stream is cleared for development or turned into a grazing pasture, the riparian buffer (a vegetative area along a stream that keeps the stream shaded and protects it from adjacent uses) is destroyed.  Without the riparian buffer, the water warms much quicker in the summer months resulting in higher trout mortality rate.  Additionally, without the riparian buffer in rural areas, grazing farm animals are allowed to roam through the stream thus creating further pollution and bacteria.

  1. Stocking of hatchery in streams where a wild brook population exists.

Many Pennsylvania anglers have become accustom to fishing for stocked trout during spring (and sometimes during the fall as well).  Pennsylvania’s yearly trout opener is a time honored tradition for many keystone families, and a day that many people look forward to every year.  I, for one, have been out fishing for stocked fish on opening day on many occasions with my father.  Preserving the tradition and sport of trout fishing in Pennsylvania is very important, and I believe that the PFBC stocking program does a good job keeping those traditions alive.  However, when streams that have a population of wild brook trout are stocked with their non-native cousins, the brook trout population gets hammered.  The main reason is because more trout in the stream equals increased competition for food.  And with the stocked fish typically being larger than the native brook trout, they will win that competition majority of the time.

For me, the thrill of finding and catching a native Pennsylvania brookie on a fly is something that I greatly enjoy and something that I hope future generations will enjoy as well.  However, I fear that without significant change in the future, this iconic Pennsylvania species will be rendered to a fond memory of distant times past.

 

-Robert Fravel

[1] https://www.bucknell.edu/Documents/EnvironmentalStudies/Acid_Mine_Drainage%5B.pdf

Tips and Tactics for Fall Trout

By Robert Fravel

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Once the mild weather of September passes, many Keystone anglers will exchange their fly rod for a bow or shotgun, and stash the fly rod in the basement where it will collect dust until next year’s trout opener.  But just because the weather has cooled off, and the hatches have died down does not mean that the trout fishing has slowed.  In fact, quite the opposite is true. Fall is my favorite time of year to pursue trout.  It is the time of year where you have the opportunity to land some big fish, and most of the time you will have the stream to yourself!  However, fly fishing for trout in the fall is much different than the spring/summer and anglers must adjust accordingly if they want to have success in the cooler fall months.

  1. Use streamers – In the fall, hatches will substantially decline (with the exception of midges – they will come off all year long).  Additionally, after the first solid frost of the season, most of the terrestrial fishing will taper off.  As a result you will not see a lot of fish actively rising to take bugs off the surface.  That means if you do not spot a fish, you will have to fish blind – and the best way to effectively cover a lot of water is with a streamer.  The most popular way to fish a streamer is to cast across stream, let the line swing downstream like a wet fly and strip it back upstream, periodically jigging the tip of your fly rod to give the streamer some action.  A lesser utilized, but effective method of streamer fishing is to dead drift a streamer with a midge pattern (or other small nymph) dropped underneath.  With streamers, there is no need to repeatedly cast to one specific area.  If a trout does not take the streamer on the first or second retrieve, work a different area.  Once you’ve covered the surrounding area, take a couple steps downstream and repeat.
  2. Use big streamers – Remember, streamers are designed to imitate bait fish, other trout, crayfish, leeches, etc.  All of which are large meals for trout.  So if you tie your own flies, use big hooks.  Don’t be afraid to create an ugly monstrosity on the vice.  Big streamers = big trout.  Popular streamer patterns include the clouser minnow, muddler minnow and wooly bugger, but there are literally thousands of proven patterns to choose from.  I always carry wooly buggers in black, olive and white. I use the olive and black when the water is high and stained, and I use the white when the water is low and clear.
  3. Wear camouflage – I know this sounds a bit over the top, but it works.  Fall streams are usually low and clear, making it easier for the trout to spot an approaching angler.  Wearing camouflage or drab/natural colored clothing could mean the difference between spooking a 20 incher from 50 feet away or getting in position to make a good cast and hooking a hog. 0620160712c
  4. Wear polarized sunglasses – A good pair of polarized sunglasses are an important tool in any serious angler’s toolbox.  In fall fly fishing, being able to spot a trout that isn’t actively feeding is crucial.  Polarized sunglasses, are essential for this.
  5. Stay out of the water when possible – Just because you are wearing waders does not mean that you have to get in the water.  Trout detect movement and vibration in the water through their lateral line, and if you are stomping through the water like a drunk hippo you will spook every fish within casting range.  You want the fish to use their lateral line to detect your streamers, not your feet.
  6. Dress in layers – Fall temperatures in Pennsylvania, or anywhere in the northeast for that matter, can fluctuate.  It might be 30 degrees in the morning, but 65 degrees by mid-afternoon.  There is nothing more uncomfortable than being cold on the stream.  Wear multiple layers, including a base layer that keeps the sweat off, and layers of fleece.  Wear a couple pairs of socks under the waders (I prefer wool), a hat or hood and fingerless gloves.
  7. Pick your fishing time wisely – Remember, fall is different than summer.  Trout will not be active during the same time frame as they were during the summer months.  If you arrive at the crack of dawn you might be in for a disappointing morning.  I find the best time to fish for trout in the fall is between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.  If you can hit the stream between those times, you should give yourself the best opportunity to hook into some fish.  As an added safeguard, be sure to check your local stream report before heading out.
  8. Stay off the redds – If you are not sure what a redd is or what one looks like, google it.  Wild trout are a valuable resource here in Pennsylvania, and as anglers we need to make sure we protect that resource.  If you see a pair of spawning trout, leave them alone.  And if you see a redd, do not walk through it and trample the eggs.

 

Now go head out to your local trout stream and catch that 25 inch slab!

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A Life Lesson Learned On Penns Creek

A Life Lesson Learned on Penns Creek

By Robert Fravel

There are few streams east of the Mississippi that compare to Penns Creek in central Pennsylvania.  Penns Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River is a large limestone stream with many free stone characteristics…and an insane amount of wild trout per mile.  Recent studies have indicated that parts of Penns Creek hold upwards of 2,500 stream bred trout per mile!  In addition to the physical characteristics, “the Penns” is also a stream steeped in mystery, tradition and local lore.  Penns Creek runs through the “seven mountains” region of the keystone state, a remote and rugged mountainous area teeming with local legends of old Indian burial sites and hidden treasures stashed in secret caves by outlaws from the early 1800’s.  If that isn’t enough to draw you to the banks of Penns Creek, then rumors of monster 28 inch wild brown trout should do the trick.  It certainly did for me, however Penns Creek made sure to put me in my place during my time there.

This past weekend, a good friend and I decided to head out to the mountains of Centre County for three days of October fly fishing on Penns Creek.  We camped at Poe Paddy State Park, which is a small state park located on the banks of Penns Creek and surrounded by 193,000 acres of uninhabited wilderness known as Bald Eagle State Forest.

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We arrived on a rainy Saturday afternoon and were staying until Monday afternoon.  The plan was to fish as much as we could, and every once in a while try to squeeze in some food and a little shut-eye.  After arriving, we quickly set up camp, hoped into our waders and hit the stream.  We had about 2 hours of light left.  After pulling up a few suckers from a pool near the camp, we worked our way around to a pool about a ¼ mile below our campsite where some fish were rising.  Both of us tied on a #16 green caddis pattern and that seemed to be the right choice.  We each had a number of hits and brief hook-ups and eventually we netted a couple trout – one small brown and a decent brook.

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Once the last bits of light began fading from the evening sky we made our way back to camp, reliving the exciting night of fishing we just experienced and dreaming about all the trout we will surely catch tomorrow with a full day’s worth of fishing…..we could not have been more wrong.

By 5:45 a.m. the next morning, breakfast was on and coffee was brewing over the fire.  Following a few cups of coffee, hot dogs and tippet changes, we headed upstream at first light.  There were plenty of fish rising in the first pool, but nothing taking our flies.  After each fly change, our spirits once again filled with hope – but that hope was shortly squandered by the fickle nature of Penns Creek.  We fished upstream for miles with nothing to show for it.  We switched from dry flies to nymphs to streamers and back to dry flies with no luck.

24150           Finally, around 1:00 p.m. my fishing partner Tim, landed a small brown trout on a caddis larvae nymph.  That brown would be the only trout caught that day…and the remainder of the trip.

On the final day I desperately fished terrestrials hoping that ants and beetles were still hanging on to the final shreds of warm weather.  The terrestrial patterns certainly interested the trout, as I had numerous last second refusals, but the story was still the same – no trout.

As we packed up camp Monday afternoon, I couldn’t help feeling rather disappointed.  After three days of fishing what many anglers consider to be the best trout stream in the eastern United States, we only managed 3 trout?!  How is that possible!?  But as we made the drive back home, both of us exhausted from long days on the water, I began to reflect on the past few days and realized that there was really nothing to be disappointed about.  I just spent the last three days camping and fishing with a life-long friend in one of the most scenic parts of the state.  I didn’t have to worry about work, money, deadlines or bills – the only thing that I had to worry about was choosing my next fly.  I lived the dream for those 3 days.  Did we catch as many trout as we would have liked?  Certainly not.  But that simply means we will have to come back and try to unlock the secrets of Penns Creek another time.  While the mighty Penns Creek did not provide us with large quantities of trout, she did provide us with something else – a life experience that neither one of us will soon forget.  And that is more valuable than any fish.

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 “Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

 

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Chasing Brookies

In late July I found myself having something which I very rarely have in large quantities these days – free time.  In fact I had almost three full days of it.  So, like every other fishing obsessed individual, I packed up my camping and fly fishing gear and headed 4 hours northwest to the wild and rugged mountains of Potter County, PA to chase some native Pennsylvania brook trout.

While brook trout are abundant throughout most of Pennsylvania (there is a reason why the brook trout is our state fish), they are almost non-existent in the southeastern region where I reside.  I have to drive at least an hour to find water with a native brook trout population, and even then, those populations fluctuate year to year.  For me, an opportunity to fish the mountain streams of Potter County where healthy, hungry brook trout occupy just about every stream, was something I could not pass up.

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I set up my base camp at Lyman Run State Park, which is located outside of Galeton, PA.  This is a small state park, comprised of a two campground areas and a small lake.  However, it is surrounded by 265,000 acres of beautiful untouched wilderness, known as Susquehannock state forest.

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The first day I fished the lower end of Lyman Run (the stream from which the park derives its name).  The water was low and clear, which made it difficult to move into position without spooking the fish.  I only managed a few chubs that day.  That evening it rained for a solid five hours.  While the rain forced me to hunker down in the tent for the entire evening, it seemed to rejuvenate the wildlife in the surrounding forest.  That night, the coyotes were going absolutely insane.  Between the fighting and the constant howling, I did not sleep well to say the least.

The following day I decided to expand my search for mountain brookies into the state forest.  I followed Lyman Run north into the state forest and fished upstream for a few miles.  I had numerous hits, but only managed to land one 4 inch brookie.  As I ventured deeper into the forest, the environment seemed to turn wilder with every step I took.  Eventually I found a tributary that looked promising and decided to follow that upstream.  After 15 minutes of following this trib upstream, I was nearly frightened half to death when I flushed two ruffed grouse from a streamside pine.  It took quite a while for my heartrate to return to normal after that!  As I stood there recovering from the minor heart-attack I just suffered, I took a minute to look around and really take in my surroundings.  There was not another person to be found.  There were no sounds of cars moving up and down a roadway.  The only dominating sound was the sound of a babbling mountain stream.  There was no human trash on the forest floor, and the only other footprints to be seen besides mine were those left by minks, white-tails and black bears.  For someone who loves the outdoors, this was as about as close to heaven as you can get.

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After a few more minutes of exploring the trib, I came across a nice plunge pool.  I sat down on a nearby log (after meticulously searching the area underneath the log to ensure there wasn’t a timber rattler nestled underneath my seat) and watched the pool.  Sure enough, after a couple minutes, a small mouth appeared to sip something off the surface…and 30 seconds later it appeared again.  With my quarry in sight, I tied on a size 16 griffith’s gnat and slowly moved into position downstream of my target.  I made three casts into the plunge pool to no avail.  On the fourth cast, I finally convinced my quarry to strike the fly.  After a short fight consisting of two acrobatic aerial leaps, I had the brook trout in my landing net.

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It was in my opinion, the most beautiful fish I had ever caught.  After a few quick photos I released the brookie back into the plunge pool.  Mission accomplished.  I returned back to camp that evening in the best of moods.  Needless to say, I slept like a baby that night.

 

Until next time,

-Rob Fravel

PA Rod and Reel

 

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2016 Trout Opener

Early last month (April 2nd) was the regional trout opener for select southeastern Pennsylvania counties.  The State wide opener follows two weeks later.  The reason being is that the water warms a lot faster in the less mountainous southeast portion of the state and since majority of the trout fishing in this area of the state is for hatchery raised fish, the fishing opportunities don’t last that long.  Here in Pennsylvania, opening day for trout (the same applies for opening day for whitetail and small game) is about as crazy as your local mall on Christmas Eve.  There are masses of people out on the water, many competing for the same five or six fish in the obvious holding areas.  As a result, state troopers are usually patrolling the parking lots of the more popular stocked streams to intervene in the one or two inevitable fights that occur over line tangles and spot stealing (yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds).  Unfortunately we don’t have enough Fish and Boat Commission Officers to patrol the parking lots, because the number of people who blatantly keep more than their limit or keep undersized fish it truly astonishing.

In my younger years I used to head out every year on opening day of trout and opening day of small game season, but as I got older I simply did not want to deal with the ignorant masses anymore and typically steered clear of those days (a few years ago I saw a gentleman get shot in the ear by another hunter on the first day of pheasant and in 2012 I saw a young kid take a rooster tail treble hook to the forehead on the trout opener).  Besides not wanting to deal with the opening day crowds, I typically fly fish nowadays and the wild trout streams have become more appealing to me as I grew older and I am always catch and release while on a stream with a wild population.  With that being said, I still do enjoy the wonderfully mild taste of fresh trout, and while I refuse to keep a stream bred fish, I find no moral dilemma in keeping a few stocked fish for dinner.

So this year, I decided once again that I would take my fly rod and venture out into the madness of opening day for a few hours.  I chose one of the less popular stocked stream (although that really isn’t saying much), packed a sandwich and a half dozen scud and pheasant tail patterns and headed streamside.  The stream access was inside a county park, so it was absolutely mobbed.  As suspected there were two state troopers sitting in the parking lot waiting to spring into action and mediate whatever fishing dispute should arise.  There was one deep hole right in front of the parking lot that was housing a large palamino (or PA Gold, as we call them) and there must have been two dozen people casting at that fish.  Insane.  I did everything I could to stay away from other anglers.  I spent the day fishing the tail ends of the park.  I fished for about two hours and only managed two rainbows over the legal limit, but that was plenty enough for dinner.  rainbow stockiesI don’t know that I’ll be out again next year, because the surrounding scenery and environment of opening day doesn’t really appeal to me, but I was happy to get out of there with my two fish and could not wait to get home to cook up some fresh pan fried rainbow trout fillets!  For the recipe check out one of my other articles here.

Have a wonderful night everyone,

-Rob Fravel

PA Rod and Reel

 

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Pan Fried Lemon and Parsley Rainbow Trout

Pan Seared Lemon and Parsley Rainbow Trout

Ingredients:

  • 4 trout fillets
  • Juice from 2 lemons
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon of parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

pan fried trout

  1. Microwave the lemons for about 20 seconds. Roll them on a counter top or cutting board, cut them in half and squeeze into a small bowl.  Mix in the parsley and pepper.
  2. Cut the trout 4 fillets (leave the skin on), rinse and pat dry.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat (I find cast iron pans cook much better and just feel cooler). Stir the garlic in, and then add the fillets, skin side down and cook for about 5 minutes.  After 5 minutes carefully turn the fish, and cook for 2 minutes.  Turn fish once more so the skin side is once again down.  Pour lemon-parsley mixture over the fillets and turn off the heat.

 

Plate and enjoy!

 

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Morning on the Monacacy

Morning Trip to Monacacy Creek: 3/16/16 – Bethlehem, PA

Unfortunately, work has not allowed me to get out and do as much fishing as I would have liked over the last couple months, but last week I was able to spend my morning fishing the special regulations area of Monacacy Creek in Bethlehem.  Monacacy Creek is a limestone, spring creek located in southeast Pennsylvania with a thriving wild brown trout population.  In most places it does not exceed 20-25 feet in width.  Despite the fact that a large portion of the creek is located within a heavily urbanized area, the Monacacy still provides its visitors with a beautiful and serene setting.

I was able to spend about two hours on the Monacacy last week.  That morning the water was slightly off color due to rain the previous night.  I was dragging a Flashback BH pheasant tail along the bottom and in total I hooked up on three fish, but was only able to bring one fish to hand.  Even though I only landed one trout, there were trout feeding all around me and I even caught a glimpse of a monster 20 inch plus brownie!

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This was my very first time on the Monacacy and I was delighted to discover such a great fishery within the city limits of Bethlehem.  I will most certainly be spending some streamside days in Bethlehem this season.

Until next time, tight lines everyone.

-Parodandreel

 

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