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.