The biggest obstacle I had to overcome when I first started fly fishing was being able to successfully “read the water” – i.e. being able to predict the areas where trout hold in streams. Years… More
Personally, my favorite type of fishing is going off the beaten path and exploring small
brook trout streams. This past weekend, my good friend Steve and I spent two days doing just that. Steve and I met up in East Stroudsburg early Saturday morning, where we discussed a general game plan before heading north to the Thunder Swamp trailhead in Delaware State Forest. Our plan was to hike the Thunder Swamp trail until it crossed Saw creek. From that point we would blaze our own trail along the creek, find a suitable place to set up camp for the night, and explore as much water as we could. We arrived at the trailhead around 9:15 a.m. After loading our packs, and doing some last minute gear checks we were on the trail by 9:30 a.m. Following some missed turns and quite a few map checks, we arrived at the creek around 12:45 p.m. and shortly thereafter we found a suitable place to set up camp.
Saw creek is a small, high quality-cold water stream in Pike County, Pennsylvania. It rarely exceeds ten feet across in its upper reaches, where meanders its way through the dense forests, swamps and bogs scattered across this part of the Allegheny Plateau. When we arrived on Saturday, the creek had flooded its banks and the water had a deep brown color due to the recent heavy rainfall in the area.
After setting up camp, we rigged our fly rods with short leaders paired with bushy dry flies and started up stream. Most of the water was slow moving and shallow, which only resulted in some creek chubs. We spent four hours fishing a mile upstream, which may not seem like a lot, but when you’re constantly walking through chest high grass and three inches of water, you tend to walk a little slower (especially since you can’t see what you’re stepping on). By 6:00 p.m. we still had not caught any trout.
At this point we were both worn out, with soaked and sore feet. We decided to head back to camp, cook up some food, relax by the fire and put down our fly rods until the morning. Side note, velveeta + can of chili, paired with single malt scotch = phenomenal camp dinner.
The next morning, I was up early at 5:45 a.m. as the constant yapping of the coyotes behind our camp made for a relatively restless night. After coffee and breakfast, we were on the water by 7:00. However, on this day, we decided to explore downstream from camp since the water upstream was not all that promising. It was not long before we found some nice water and were finally able to see some nice brook trout. Just after 9:00 a.m. I was finally able to land a solid small brookie on a size 14 prince nymph drifted through a slow moving pool below a long set of rapids. The no-hitter was broken.
As we made our steep hike out of the forest later that day, with sore legs and covered in ticks, we both gleaned with a sense of accomplishment – knowing that we achieved our weekend goals…and had a great time doing so.
The mystic and aura that exists deep in the forest is impossible to replicate anywhere else in life; the sensation of knowing that you are miles from the nearest human yet being fully aware that you are surrounded by life. Within the reaches of the wilderness, man has the potential to be both predator and prey, a fact that constantly runs through your mind during your stay. Yet for some reason, a small number of us frequently return to these wild places time and time again.
Throughout my years of fly fishing, one thing has always remained of the highest importance for me: the experience. My passionate pursuit of wild trout has led me to some astonishingly beautiful places and provided me with some of the most memorable moments of my life. I can still vividly remember the first time I heard a coyote’s howl pierce the night air, echoing off the mountain walls in the valley below my camp, sending shivers down my spine. Or the first time I heard the heart stopping vibrations of an agitated timber rattlesnake that froze me in my tracks, miles from my vehicle in the forests of north central Pennsylvania. And of course, who can forget their first bear encounter or elk sighting?
Aside from the personal impacts of loved ones, these are the moments that will remain etched in my memory until my last breath. Truly remarkable days, days which mold our memories, are becoming difficult to find in a society entrenched by the never ending rat race for wealth. But I have every intention of amassing a different type of wealth…a wealth of remarkable memories.
I’m not much of a religious man. But I do believe in a greater force that only exists deep in the mountains, among the miles of untamed trout streams and wildlife free from human intervention. This is a place designed to rejuvenate and enrich the human soul, with each new heart racing experience marking a wilderness baptism. This is my temple, and the unexplained desire to return is my true religion – with fly fishing being the path that lead me to my faith.
Find your next adventure.
Lately I’ve fallen into a predictable routine of fishing the same few limestone creeks that are the closest to me. These streams only have a limited amount of public water, so I end up fishing the same runs and pools time and time again. Sure my methods might change from time to time depending on hatches (or lack thereof), water clarity, water level, etc. But overall, my fishing had become stagnant. I wasn’t advancing as a fly fisherman. I wasn’t reading new water, identifying unfamiliar aquatic insects, placing myself in new/uncomfortable casting positions or simply enjoying some new scenery. Hence the birth of my “New Water” series. The New Water series is designed to push me to explore unfamiliar streams in unfamiliar parts of the state, outside of my home stream comfort zones.
Over the holiday, I was able to get out and wet a line in some new water: the Little Schuylkill River. The Little Schuylkill is a picturesque stream located in Schuylkill County, that averages about 30-40 feet in width (at least in the DHALO Section). It begins in the lower Pocono mountains around the town of Tamaqua and flows for about 25 miles before joining the Schuylkill River below Port Clinton. This region of the state was once an epicenter for coal mining. And like many streams in the area, the Little Schuylkill suffered tremendously from the ill effects of the mining industry. Silt, and acid runoff polluted its waters and decimated the stream. In the 1960’s, a stream survey showed that the Little Schuylkill was completely devoid of aquatic life. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists and concerned citizens, sixty years later the Little Schuylkill is once again full of life. The stream boast a healthy population of both wild and stocked trout, a steady supply of caddis flies, otters, minks, blue herons and supposedly harbors some bald eagles as well.
Early in the morning on July 4th, I loaded up my waders, fly rods, and chest pack, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed up to Schuylkill County. I originally planned on fishing just above Port Clinton, as I had driven by the parking lot for this area dozens of times before. However, when I got there, the parking lot was full. So, I decided to continue to drive upstream until I found an access that was less crowded. Eventually I reached the Delayed Harvest section of the water around 8:45 a.m. To my surprise there was not another soul in the parking lot, despite it being a holiday.
Apparently, that area had gotten a fair of amount of recent rain because the ruts and holes in the gravel parking lot were full of off colored rain water. Before putting on my waders and rigging up, I took a walk down the water’s edge just to take a look. The water level was slightly above normal, with just a hint of murkiness. Clear enough to see the bottom in three feet of water, but skewed enough to make the finer details invisible. There was a small island to the right of where I was standing, blocking my view of the upstream landscape. After putting on my waders and rigging my 9 ft. 5 wt. St. Croix Rio Santo, I made my way around the island via the near bank. When I rounded the tip of the island, I found a long, deep, fast moving run that extended upstream for about 40 yards where it met a set of shallow rapids. On the far side of the rapids, was another long, deep, fast moving, picture perfect run that had my mind racing about the number of trout contained therein. Initially, I had a size 16 tan deer hair caddis tied on, but upon seeing the deep runs, I decided to tight line my way upstream and switched to a tandem nymph set-up with a size 14 hare’s ear on top and a size 16 caddis larva dropped off the bend.
The fast moving, broken water combined with the tinged water clarity allowed me to stand fairly close to the runs without spooking the fish. On the second cast, I brought a 12 inch rainbow to net. As I slowly worked my way through the first run, the fishing got better. By the time I got to the end of the first run I had already netted 10 trout, about half of which were wild browns, and I probably lost just as many. The second run provide to be almost as fruitful as I netted more browns, all between 10 and 15 inches.
By 11:45 a.m. I was getting ready to call it a day. While I would have loved to stay and fish till dark, I unfortunately did not have that luxury. As I was walking back downstream, I decided to make a few more casts into the tail end of the first run. At that point the Little Schuylkill offered up her finest treasure of the day, a stunning wild brown with some spectacular coloration.
With this royal farewell, I made my way back to the truck, whistling Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and wondering what new piece of water I’ll explore next.
Happy Birthday America.
When it comes to fly tying, I am about as organized as a toddler. In the (not so distant past) I had my vice set on top of a desk, surrounded by stacks of papers (which are unrelated to fly tying), and my tying materials were spread across multiple rooms usually encased in some sort of paper or plastic bags. So as you may have guessed, when I sat down to crank out a dozen flies at night, I wasted a lot of time searching for my materials. Simply put, it was a mess. One night a while ago, while trying to tie some flies for an upcoming weekend trip to fish Slate Run and Little Pine Creek, I decided I was fed up with my lack of organization. I needed change. I was going to make fly tying great again!
In the past I have seen Instagram posts of beautifully crafted table-top fly tying tables. Unfortunately for me, those beautiful pieces also came with a hefty price tag. So I decided I would fashion my own, out of scrap wood laying around the garage. My material list was such:
- One 2×6
- One 2×3
- One 1×4
- One section of a 2×4 that was previously ripped down the middle
- One 12 inch piece of a dowel rod, that happened to be the perfect diameter for my tying spools
- All pieces were secured using a nail gun and 1 ½ inch nails
Once I had a rough idea of the dimensions I wanted (I made it roughly 21 x 24), I constructed the outer frame using the 1×4. I also angled off the front corners of the two sides pieces, simply for aesthetic purposes. Once the outer frame was done, I measured, cut and secured the five storage spaces. Next was the base. For this I used four 2×6 pieces and one 2×3. Once I had the boards arranged to my liking (I put the 2×3 in the middle to keep the piece symmetrical), I nailed them all in place. Afterwards, I secured the ripped 2×4 to the front, to contain the tying area.
Lastly, I cut the dowel rod into eight even pieces and pre-drilled eight evenly spaced holes into the cross piece just below the storage areas (see feature image). I applied some wood glue to the dowel rods and secured them in the pre-drilled holes (for added spool storage, use longer dowel pieces that can accommodate more than one spool of tying thread).
Once the build was done, I gave the whole piece a thorough sanding and vacuuming, then added two coats of oak stain. Now I have a designated tying space with material storage incorporated into the design, and the piece is small enough to take on a weekend fly fishing trip for some stream side tying. I don’t think this piece is going to revolutionize the fly tying furniture industry or sell for hundreds of dollars, but it certainly has helped increase my tying productivity. So when all said and done, it has served its purpose.
In my eyes, I consider the majority of outdoorsmen and women as conservationists by default. Regardless of whether you are an avid hunter, angler, hiker or camper, you have a genuine interest in making sure that the resources necessary to pursue your passion (whether that be fish, game or large tracts of forest or water) are protected and preserved so that you and others may enjoy them for years to come. Pretty simple logic.
Accordingly, many anglers, including myself, frequently practice catch and release. However, there is a proper way to catch and release a fish (trout in particular). When not practiced properly, the mortality rate of caught trout increases dramatically. A day of poorly practiced catch and release can do more harm to a stream’s fish population than a day of catch and keep fishing. Hopefully this article will provide some useful information on C & R fishing.
Use barbless hooks. Using barbless hooks or pinching your barb decreases the harm done to the fish and makes the hook easier to remove, thus causing less stress to the fish.
Know how to properly play a fish. If you play a fish for too long, you will subject that fish to a dangerous level of stress. Land the fish as quickly as possible. If you can control the fish’s head, you are in control of the fight.
When landing the fish, don’t drag the fish up onto the bank. Use a landing net. Fish (especially trout) have very fragile skeletal structures and can severely damage themselves when flopping on rocks or a hard bank. Using a landing net prevents this.
Wet your hands before touching the fish. Fish have a protective film (slime) that covers their body. While it may seem strange, this slime aids their immune system. By not wetting your hands before handling the fish, you are removing large amounts of this slime and making the fish more susceptible to harmful disease and infection.
Don’t keep the fish out of the water for very long. We all like to take pictures of the fish we catch. But make sure you don’t keep the fish out of the water for more than 10 to 15 seconds when taking the photos. If you don’t get the right shot in those 10 to 15 seconds, simply place the fish back in your landing net and let the fish relax in the water for a while before the next photo shoot. And when taking the photos, make sure you hold the fish over the water, so in the event that the fish wriggles out of your hands, it will fall into the water rather than onto the bank.
Revive the fish before releasing it. Don’t just dump the fish back into the water. Gently grab the fish by the tail and point it upstream so that water is running over and through its gills. This may take anywhere from 20 seconds to a few minutes. My method is to give the tail a gentle squeeze. If the fish is sufficiently revived, it will swim off when it feels the squeeze. If not, I know the fish needs to be further revived.
Nobody practices perfect catch and release 100% of the time. I certainly include myself in this. However, as anglers who enjoy the sport of catching fish, we can all benefit by making a conscious effort to implement these procedures into our release routine so that we can increase the survival rate of released fish and return to catch them time and time again.
The Fly Fisherman’s Winter Trout Survival Guide
By Robert Fravel
Here in the northeast, winters can be downright brutal. With blizzards and sub-freezing temperatures lasting well into April. Once the calendar changes from November to December, a lot of fly fisherman begin what they call “tying season” and don’t hit the water again until spring. But for those of us willing (or crazy enough) to brave the cold, the rewards of winter fishing can be immensely satisfying. Fly fishing in the winter presents a unique set of challenges, but following this advice will help you overcome those challenges.
Narrow your fly selection.
In winter, there really are no prolific hatches, so it is unnecessary to bring fly boxes containing 50-75 different patterns. Keep it simple. Do your homework on the waters you plan to fish. Find out what trout feed on during the colder months and limit your fly selection to those food sources. Here in eastern Pennsylvania, I will typically use some combination of five different patterns during the winter.
- Zebra midge, size 18-22
- BH pheasant tail, size 14-18
- Scuds, size 12-18
- Griffith’s gnat, size 16-22
- Parachute adams, size 14-20
Use fine tippet and keep a low profile.
During the winter, my initial setup on my home waters is typically a tandem nymph rig fished under an indicator. Since water levels are generally low and the water clear, I will use 6x or 7x tippet on my setup. I absolutely hate big bulky, football-looking indicators. Sure you can adjust the depth of your flies with ease, but they also spook 90% of the trout in the stream. I prefer to take a foam, pinch-on indicator, cut it in half with my pocket knife and then take that half and fold it around my tippet. I find that this method spooks far less fish and is still buoyant enough to support my flies.
Be persistent and thorough.
Trout are sluggish during the colder months. They are less likely to chase flies this time of year. As a result, you literally have to put your fly on top of their nose. In order to increase your chances of this, you need to thoroughly cover every area that looks like it holds fish. This could mean making 15 to 20 drifts through an area. Make the effort and you will be rewarded.
Apply cooking spray.
Yes, you read that correctly. If you are fishing in below freezing temps, ice will start to clog up the eyes on your fly rod. In order to combat this, spray your rod eyes with cooking spray before rigging up. This will prevent the ice from forming for at least an hour or two. If you do not have any cooking spray handy, you can also try using WD-40.
Bring a thermos full of hot liquid and something to start a fire with.
Obviously, any time you are wading into a body of water there is some degree of risk involved. That degree of risk is exacerbated when you are in a remote location and/or in low temperatures. In my opinion, fishing in the winter time is more dangerous than any other time of year due to the risk of hypothermia. If you slip and fall into the water, you are in serious trouble. During the winter months here in Pennsylvania, temperatures can frequently fall into the teens and occasionally even single digits. If I took a spill and managed to get the clothing underneath my waders wet, I could become hypothermic within minutes. Carrying a thermos full of hot coffee or tea is a great way to help raise your core temp and having a lighter, matches or another way to start a fire could potentially save your life.
Lower your expectations.
As I mentioned earlier, trout are sluggish during the winter months and there are no dazzling hatches like the spring and summer. Don’t expect to see dozens of trout rising to pick bugs off the surface. Set your expectations accordingly. In the colder months, I approach a day of fly fishing with the expectation of catching one fish. That way, if I manage to net three or four trout, I feel like a fly fishing guru.
Enjoy the serenity.
In my opinion, the best part about winter fly fishing is the lack of other people. Fishing a mountain stream surrounded by a valley blanketed in freshly fallen snow, without another soul in sight is something that cannot be replicated through pictures or words. Go out and experience what the great outdoors has to offer. And while you are out there, take some time to absorb your surroundings and cherish the moment. You just might find yourself searching for that wild sense of unbridled adventure, rather than fish.
Every fisherman has their favorite waters. For some it’s a lake, for others it is a river and for people like me it is usually a small countryside or mountain stream. Those waters become favorites for varying reasons, but typically there is a correlation to the amount of fish caught in those waters. On the flip side, most anglers also have a list of places where they have had little or no success and as a result rarely fish those locations. I am no different. Up until recently I considered Saucon creek to be my arch nemesis.
Saucon creek is a small limestone stream with a thriving wild brown trout population that runs through Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley before dumping into the Lehigh River. Saucon creek is also one of the few wild trout streams within a half hour drive for me. So when I was first getting really serious about fly fishing a number of years ago, I naturally spent a lot of time trying to cut my teeth on Saucon creek. However, Saucon creek seemed unwilling to share her trout-bounty with me.
I cannot tell you how many days I spent on that creek without catching a single trout. Sure, I hooked up on a few, but as soon as a trickle of hope entered my thoughts, the trout would spit the hook and leave me in a state of disbelief. Eventually, I gave up on Saucon creek entirely and searched for trout in other area streams. I reasoned to believe that the fish in Saucon creek were simply took picky. But if I’m being honest, the truth was my fly fishing skillset was subpar and I was humbly outmatched. Back then (in the “not so” good o’le days), I had no idea what a dry dropper or tandem rig was. Didn’t know how to match the hatch. Had no idea what the difference between a caddis and a midge was. And I thought a terrestrial was a character from the movie Alien. About the only thing I knew was that dry flies float on the surface and nymphs are fished under the surface (I was also convinced that streamers were party favors and every used fly was a wet fly). Looking back, it’s really not surprising that my constant efforts of throwing a pheasant tail 16 inches underneath a pinch on indicator with no regard for the water depth didn’t produce fish.
Fast forward three years (or maybe four), my fly fishing IQ and skillset have improved. How much they improved is up for debate, but nonetheless, there has been a least a scintilla of improvement. As such, I recently decided to once again square off against my old rival Saucon creek on a cool, windy November afternoon. The first 30 minutes started off the same – no fish. But after making some on stream adjustments to get my flies down to the right depth, I finally broke the curse!
It definitely wasn’t a wall-hanger, but to me it was a trophy. I finally cracked the curse of Saucon creek. All in all it turned out to be a very pleasant day of fall fishing. I managed five small browns that day.
What a relief. With all that said, the moral of the story is this: If at first you don’t succeed….fish a bunch of stocked trout streams until you figure out what the hell you are doing!
Enjoy the day,
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.
- 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. The remaining side-effects of over 100 years of rampant coal mining are the leading cause of brook trout decline.
- 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.
- 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.
By Robert Fravel
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
~ Henry David Thoreau