New Water: Saw Creek

Personally, my favorite type of fishing is going off the beaten path and exploring small

1779
Checking the map after I led us astray

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.

1774Saw 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.

1769
Steve showing off the creek chubs

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.

IMAG0171

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.IMAG0167 (2)

 

 

Advertisements

True Religion

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.  0207161417Within 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?

0618161909
A young bull elk checking me out in Elk state forest.

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.

thCAX4SC3T

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

IMAG0131

 

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 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.

brook-trout-map

  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

fall-bow-1

 

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!

Be sure to follow along on Instagram @parodandreel or click here.

imag0010

 

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.

24108-1

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.

img_20161005_115102

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.

penns-creek-mountain-shot

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

 

Be sure to follow along on Instagram @parodandreel or click here.