Trout Education: Learning How to Read Water

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 of bait fishing for catfish and largemouth, and tossing Texas-rigged watermelon Yamasenko worms into deep creek holes for smallmouth had created a pattern of mind-numbing repetition that left me clueless when it came to trout fishing.  My previous experience told me that fish held in deep pools (which is only partly true).  So for a long time, I would hop from one deep pool to the next, skipping all the water in between.  Needless to say, I passed up on a lot of fish in those early days.  It wasn’t until I ran into another fly fisherman nymphing a riffle, that I started to learn more about trout holding areas.

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Riffles are shallow, rocky sections of streams with fast/broken water.  This riffle on Tohickon Creek holds good numbers of trout during spring and early summer.  

As most trout bums know, trout behavior and survival is largely dependent on water temperature.  In water temps below 45 degrees, the trout become lethargic and don’t feed very often and usually hold in slow, deep pools.  As water temps rise in the spring, the metabolism of the trout increase.  In water temperature between 68 and 70 degrees, the fish will still actively feed, but they will generally hold in broken/fast water because of the higher oxygen content.  If the water stays between 50 and 65 degrees, and there is adequate food, trout can be found in all types of stream environments – pools, riffles, runs, and pocket water.  Water above 70 degrees is dangerous for trout, and trout struggling in these water temps should probably be left alone.  If the trout have any hope of surviving the high temps, they need all of their energy reserves and the added stress of being caught by a fisherman will likely be fatal.

In faster water, objects like large rocks or trees obstruct the current and slow it down via friction.  Where the current meets the object, an area of slow, slack water will form on all sides of the object, allowing a place for aquatic insects to gather without being knocked downstream by the current.  It also provides a place for a trout to rest out of the current, and close to a food source.  Pocket water, which is fast water with a lot of obstructions creating heavily broken surface water, can be extremely difficult to fish, but it can also hold a boat load of trout.

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Many small mountain streams, contain lots of pocket water.  They can be tricky to fish, but they are also usually full of brook trout.  

On the flip side, areas that appear to lack adequate cover, such as long, flat pools, can be very productive during a heavy hatch because it is easier for the fish to spot and intercept insects on the surface in slower water.

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Slow flats like this one, can be very productive during heavy hatches.  But sections like this will usually require long leaders, thin tippet, a stealthy approach and good presentation.  In flats like the one above, it is easier for trout to spot food on the surface, but it is also easier for them to spot an imperfection in your fly or presentation.

Don’t make the same mistake I did when I first transitioned to fly fishing for trout – don’t be a one dimensional fly fisherman.  Use your knowledge of trout survival (water temps), trout food sources (hatches/aquatic insects), and stream characteristics to make educated guesses on where you should target.  I think you will find an increase in the number of trout brought to net (coming from a guy who spent years throwing casts to the wrong areas!).  And remember, there is no substitute for time spent on the water.  Get out on your favorite stream and experiment!

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Deep runs like this can be fished effectively by tight-lining with a tandem nymph rig.  

fall-bow-1Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

 

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The Snobby Fly Fisherman

Not too long ago, while perusing my local fly shop, I came across an individual who preached to the lovely lady working the register about how the only type of fishing he does is “on the fly” and the only fish he thinks are worthy of pursuit are “Trout, Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon”.  I listened from a distance for a couple minutes before I eventually got sick of listening to his dissertation on the “sporting qualities of fish”.

I have heard and read many folks classify fly fishing as snobby, elitist and describe it as an “old boys club”.  However, I have to say that throughout my years as a fly fisherman, this was the first time I ever experienced someone who represented this stereotype.  Before I go any further, I would like to say, that I do not know this gentleman and I do not wish to pass judgment on his character.  However, I felt that these statements were worthy of a soapbox stance on my end.

Admittedly, I am primarily a fly fisherman and I primarily pursue trout.  Hands down my favorite type of fishing is chasing native brook trout in the mountains on dry flies, short rods and light tackle.  But, with that being said, I could not disagree more with the statements of the man in the fly shop.  I now choose to spend most of my time on the water fly fishing.  But I wasn’t always that way and that may change in the future as I evolve as an angler and person.  Some of my fondest fishing memories were created using spinning gear and/or live bait.  Chasing smallmouths on small creeks with texas-rigged worms is a blast.  bass 2Night fishing for channel cats on warm summer nights with a friend is something that I dearly miss.  And it doesn’t end there.  Drifting for fluke, tossing top water for largemouth or musky, trolling for walleye, searching for schooling bait during striper season, wade fishing for blues off the surf…the list goes on and on.  All of which were cherished experiences essential in my fishing career, and essential to the angler growth I’ve experienced thus far.  In the early stages of fishing, it is incredibly important for the angler to stay interested in the sport and to have fun while engaged in it.  Otherwise, fishing will not be a priority for long.  And on a semi-unrelated topic, I also believe that the more fun one has while fishing, the more passionate one becomes about fish and fishing.  Once the passion arrives, the concern for conservation follows shortly thereafter.

I didn’t start fly fishing until I was in my late teens, and even then it took me years to catch my first trout on a fly.  Had I not developed a previous passion for fishing through non-fly fishing methods, I would not have had the patience to stick it out.  In a sense I owe my transition to fly fishing to those methods frowned upon by a small number of “snobby fly fisherman.”

My point is this, all fishing is worthwhile so long as you enjoy it. rob and fluke Try as many different types of tackle set ups as you like – fly, spin casting, bait casting, hand-lining, noodling, whatever.  And pursue as many different species as your area and budget allow.  Once you have put in enough time on the water and gained enough experience, you will start to narrow your search and find your fishing niche.  But until then, don’t worry about it.  And certainly don’t let someone else tell you what kind of fishing you should be doing, because clearly that person has forgotten the reason why we picked up a fishing pole in the first place.

Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

 

Q & A with Shawn Washinger of Susquehanna Rod Company

Many anglers (including myself) dream of one day being able to earn a living working in the outdoor industry, either as a guide, pro staffer, or making products associated with our passion.  Shawn Washinger, is following that dream through his new business – Susquehanna Rod Company.  Recently, I caught up with Shawn and spent some time chatting about his custom rod building company, fly fishing, Pennsylvania trout and beer.

What follows is my interview with Shawn.  To learn more about Shawn and his company, check out SRC’s website www.susquehannarodcompany.com.

  1.  Can you give me a brief bio of yourself?  

My name is Shawn Washinger and I am 35 years old.  I have been fishing for the last 30 years.  I have loved fishing since the first time I picked up a rod and reel.  I have been fly fishing for the last 10 years and almost only fly fish now.  Whether it is for trout, sunfish, smallmouth bass, or anything else I am able to cast to.

  1.  Tell me a little about your company, Susquehanna Rod Company.

I have always wanted to work in the outdoor industry in some facet.  Custom rod building has always been something that I enjoyed so I thought, what better way than to build great custom rods for other people.  Because I am solely a custom builder I have not come up with any product lines or models.  I am currently working on creating an inventory of rods that I will have for sale. However, each rod will still be different and unique in some way.

I not only build fly rods, I also build: spinning rods, casting rods, and I am working on some deep sea rods.  I try to use the best materials I can in rod building and can customize to a specific length, brand, or action.

Something else that I am trying to do at Susquehanna Rod Company is to give children and veterans the opportunity to get out and fish by offering casting lessons, mentoring programs, and information of upcoming events sent out through our Facebook page.  I am actually working with Valley Streams Fly Fishing and we are going to try and bring our two companies together to provide more of these opportunities.  So keep an eye out on both of our social media pages for more news, events, and give-a-ways.

  1.  How did you get into custom rod building?

When I started building rods it was because I was tired of going to stores and always seeing the same rods just by different brands.  Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of good rods available but none with the unique look that I was looking for along with being a great rod.  So I started by building my own rods and loved it. I wanted to bring the joy and uniqueness to other people so I started my business, Susquehanna Rod Company.

  1.  Pennsylvania has a lot of famous trout waters.  What is your favorite water to target trout?  

You’re right there are so many amazing trout waters in Pennsylvania it is very hard to pick just one.  But I would have to say that one of my favorite waters to fish is LeTort Spring Run.  I love the LeTort because it is a small stream that is tough to fish and has some amazing fish. I love fishing small streams for native trout.

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Be sure to follow Susquehanna Rod Company on Insta @susquehannarodcompany
  1.  If you had to choose, what would be your go-to tackle setup in terms of rod, reel, line and flies to chasing PA trout in the summer?  

 My go to rod and reel for PA trout is my 7’6” 3/4 weight fly rod which I custom built with a Taylor Enigma reel.  My 7’6” rod is the very first rod I ever built years ago.  I love it and it has never let me down.  I do still have the ability to make these rods with the same blanks.  It is by far the favorite fly rod that I own.

  1.  Besides trout, what other species do you enjoy targeting on a fly rod?

My favorite species other than trout would have to be smallmouth bass.  I love fishing for bass on the Susquehanna River.  Before I even started fly fishing I was always on the River fishing for smallies.  Although the Susquehanna isn’t the river that it once was it is still second to none when it comes to smallies.

  1.  Can you describe your most memorable fishing experience?

Can I describe just one would be the real question.  I have had so many unforgettable fishing trips it is very hard to pick just one.  But the fishing trips that are always in my heart are the ones where my best friend Justin, his dad, and I would float our canoes down the Susquehanna River for a few days.  We would camp on the islands and fish throughout the day.  We never had a bad trip even though there were rainy trips and blazing hot trips.  Talk about fun. Always trying to figure out what lures to use throughout the trip and then just hammering the fish all week long.  I still talk about these trips at length with friends and colleagues.

  1.  If you could fish anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Why?

Right now a realistic trip I would love to take is to Mosquito Lagoon in Florida.  I listen to a podcast called “Fly Fishing After Dark” (It’s awesome, check it out!) and they are from the Mosquito Lagoon area in Florida.  They run charters for redfish out of the Lagoon. But just listening to them talk about the fishing down there has made me want to go down and fish with them.

But a trip to anywhere in the world is a tie between New Zealand for big browns or a trip to Mongolia for big Taimen.  My New Zealand obsession came from a YouTube video called “Once In A Blue Moon”.  It’s an amazing little video about fishing in New Zealand with mouse flies.  I think that would be absolutely amazing.  I know a few areas around here that I would like to try mouse flies also.  Mongolia has been a trip that my buddy, Dusty, from work and I have talked about for a few years now.  We always thought it would be fun to go overseas and catch the world’s largest Salmonid.

  1.  Every angler I know has a story about “the one that got away”.  Tell me about yours.  

I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was more like 28 years ago.  I used to go to summer camp but I hated it.  Lucky for me there were always plenty of grasshoppers around for me to catch for fish bait so that my dad and I could go fishing later that day.  Pinchot Lake was our “go to” back then and we always had a blast.  I had my jar full of grasshoppers after summer camp and dad had the boat ready to go when I got home.  We put in at our usual spot by the ranger station and slowly motored across the lake to our favorite spot right by a little clump of lily pads that always seemed to be there (even to this day I still go to that spot when I fish there).  I knew exactly which grasshopper I was going to use first because it was probably the biggest one that I had ever caught.  So I hooked it and cast it out as far as I could with no weight, no bobber, nothing.  So needless to say it didn’t go very far.  It couldn’t have been on the water for more than a few seconds when POW!  It got slammed by a huge bass. Now I was only seven so I think I was probably so excited I couldn’t contain myself.  I fought the fish for about a minute when it swam under a rock (I saw it do this because the water where we were in was pretty clear) and the line snapped.  I was devastated!  I tried for another hour or so just thinking that the fish still had to be hungry but to no avail.  We left after a little while because we had to get home, but I always remember that fish.

  1.  Favorite brewery in the Mechanicsburg area?  

There are a couple good breweries in the Mechanicsburg area, but we just got a new one on the Carlisle Pike called Ever Grain.  Right now that is probably one of my favorites due to the great atmosphere and eclectic beer choices.  It is a place that my wife and I go to for our date nights.

 

 

fall-bow-1Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

New Water: Little Schuylkill River

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.  schuylkill countyThe 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.  IMAG0094Initially, 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. IMAG0137

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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.

 

The Fly Fisherman’s Winter Trout Survival Guide

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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.

Nymphs:

  • Zebra midge, size 18-22
  • BH pheasant tail, size 14-18
  • Scuds, size 12-18

Dries:

  • 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.

imag0167-1 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.

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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.

 

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

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.

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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!

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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.

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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,

-Robert Fravel

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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