Penns Creek – 06/03/2016

Time: 9:30AM – 8:30PM

Location: Section downstream from the no kill area.

Penns Creek 06/03/2016 Photo Album

I was unaccustomed to sleeping in luxurious accommodations such as the cottage we enjoyed on Wednesday and Thursday night in Aaronsburg, Pa. Normally I am camping and need to take down a wet tent before proceeding to my stream of choice. But here I was at the Schafer Cottages with a bed, a toilet and a shower. What more could a fisherman ask for? In addition to the plush lodging, we had several options for breakfast on Friday morning, so we drove a short distance to downtown Millheim and entered the Inglebean Coffee House. This stop proved to be a nice discovery, and the menu featured breakfast pastries and sandwiches in addition to quality tea and coffee. Jeff sampled a sandwich, while I devoured a yogurt parfait, black tea and a delicious scone. Scones and tea were made for each other.

After breakfast we traveled south and east to the section of Penns Creek below the no kill area. Earlier forecasts predicted heavy rain most of Friday, so we were uncertain we could complete our planned full day of fishing. Jeff checked his radar app in the morning, while we had a strong signal, and he concluded that a large mass of moisture would slide by us to the south. I listened and hoped that his meteorological skills matched his fishing ability. The air did feel humid and quite a few large clouds rolled across the sky causing cool temperatures. Before we settled into our parking space near Penns Creek, Jeff took me on a brief tour to a section of river quite a bit downstream. This location received numerous feeder creeks, and consequently the clarity of the water was somewhat compromised as a result of the heavy rain on Thursday, although Jeff was confident that it was easily within the range where fish would respond to flies and natural insects.

We assembled our rods in the stretch below the No Kill and walked a short distance to the stream, and I was surprised to notice that the water clarity was much improved compared to the downstream segment, although there was slightly more brown color than Thursday. Jeff wanted to introduce me to some water farther upstream than the section that we fished on Wednesday evening, so we walked up a lane a good distance and then cut down to the creek. We met a long slow pool behind a yellow cabin. I asked Jeff if there was faster water, and he directed me upstream. I followed his wave and found an area with numerous deep runs and slots and exposed boulders.

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Jeff in the Mist on Friday Morning

On the previous two days I did not experience much luck with dry flies or the dry/dropper approach in the morning, so I decided to experiment with a nymphing rig. I deployed a strike indicator and tied a weighted slumpbuster to my line. As an added enticement, I knotted a section of leader through the eye of the slumpbuster and then tied a prince nymph to the end. I began at the top of the bumpy water and began casting three quarters upstream and then allowed the two flies to tumble through deep slots on a dead drift. When the flies reached the end of their natural drift, I introduced short rapid strips, as I hoped to activate the slumpbuster into a bait fish imitation.

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First Brown Came from This Area on a Leadwing Coachman

After a half hour of fishing in this manner with two bumps but no landed fish, I decided to substitute the leadwing coachman that Jeff loaned me for the prince nymph. It was longer and probably yielded a better match to the locally present isonychia nymphs. This change proved successful, and at the head of the long deep pool behind the cabin, I felt a bump and then a grab, and then I was attached to a fish. I battled the thrashing weight on my line for a bit, and then lifted it over the edge of my net and celebrated the landing of a fourteen inch brown trout that snatched the leadwing coachman on the strip. I finally cracked the code and landed a fish in the morning on Penns Creek.

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Gorgeous Markings on This Brown Trout

I released the brown trout and continued working downstream using the same technique. After another half hour the indicator paused along a deep current seam, and I once again set the hook. I was pleased to feel a throbbing weight and fought another fourteen inch brown trout for a few minutes, until I once again guided it into my net. This brown was slightly longer and heavier than my first catch, and it also displayed the leadwing coachman in its lip.

My enthusiasm for stripping a slumpbuster and leadwing coachman accelerated, but unfortunately the euphoria was short lived, as I continued fishing some attractive water downstream with no reward for my focused efforts. Meanwhile the sky grew darker, so I decided to seek Jeff. Earlier I saw him as he walked above me toward what he described as butter hole, so I climbed to the path on the bank and began walking upstream. I passed behind the last set of cabins in the area and continued until I was forced to clamber up some rocks and through rhododendrons to a narrow path. It was about this time when rain began to descend, so I paused to pull on my raincoat. After another five minutes on the path, I did not spot Jeff, so I concluded that he somehow passed downstream of the area I was fishing.

I retreated and stayed on the upper path until it connected with a lane comprised of two tire tracks. Fortunately I followed this, and it led me to Jeff’s minivan, and he was there when I arrived. We debated our next move, and Jeff suggested that we sample the water near where we were parked for an hour, and then we planned to return to the No Kill. The rain slowed down, and we proceeded to follow Jeff’s plan. As we walked along the road in the morning, Jeff pointed to a fifty yard stretch of the creek that he called “the canyon”. According to Jeff one of the residents of the surrounding cabins caught fish after fish in this fast narrow area using nymphs. This was all I needed to hear to attract me to the canyon, so I crossed at the top and walked down the opposite bank until I was nearly at the bottom of the faster water.

This segment of the creek was more open than the morning stretch, so I decided to return to the dry/dropper technique, but after fifteen minutes or so of fruitless casting and wading, I observed a few sporadic rises. The fish showed no interest in my fat Albert or trailing nymphs, so I decided to switch to a single dry approach. Explosive sporadic rises indicated isonychia to me, so I knotted an iso comparadun to my line. I was unable to provoke additional rises from the area where I spotted fish earlier, but I did manage to hook and land a twelve inch brown that was along a short run near the bank.

I moved up the stream a bit, and once again I was excited to see a couple rises, but they were toward the middle, and on the opposite side of a strong center current. I attempted to counter the drag caused by the intervening run, but I was unsuccessful. It was at this time that the sun reappeared, and I was quite warm in my raincoat, so I removed it and stuffed it in my backpack. Unfortunately the visor on the hood of the raincoat was my only tool to block the suddenly bright sunlight, so I had to hold my left hand above my eyebrows while I cast and drifted my comparadun. This was not an ideal situation, so I hiked back to my initial crossing point and found Jeff, who flipped me a spare key. I returned to the minivan and promptly snugged my hat on my head. I quickly chomped a sandwich and minimal lunch and grabbed a water for Jeff and returned to him with the keys and the bottle of water.

Since I was now on the side of the creek next to the road, I walked down to a place directly across from where I saw the risers. I waded in a bit, and on the fifth drift over the spot of the closest riser, a strong gulp made the comparadun disappear! This brown trout put up a strong fight, and when I examined it nestled in my net, I could see that it was a fine fifteen inch fish. Based on the appearance of the rise, I would never have guessed the trout was that large.

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This Beauty Came from The Canyon

Despite Jeff’s suggestion that we give the area an hour, we continued fishing the canyon until four o’clock. I adopted the approach that yielded the fourteen inch brown on the iso comparadun for the remainder of the afternoon, and added one more brown trout in the 14-15 inch range. I scanned the water for the occasional rise, and once a fish revealed its position, I moved within casting range. Four times during this period I hooked a substantial fish on the isonychia comparadun, but the last two slipped free with strong downstream runs and relentless head shaking. After a gang of beer drinking tubers passed through the area, Jeff joined me, and he had some success with his leadwing coachman.

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Jeff Works the Leadwing Coachman

By 4PM the action subsided, so Jeff and I returned to the car to discuss plans for the evening. Apparently his weather forecast was accurate, as the skies cleared, and the lack of clouds suggested a pleasant evening. We decided to move downstream a short distance to the scene of the blue winged olive spinner fall on Wednesday. Jeff bought some new spinners at the Feathered Hook, so we were prepared for another feeding frenzy.

The plan partially succeeded as we fished from 5PM until 8:30 in the area around the long island behind the cabins. I landed an eleven inch brown trout on a hare nation nymph from the small eddy at the downstream tip of the island, before I crossed to the far bank along the left channel. Unlike Wednesday evening the creek was now swarming with weekend fly fishermen, and a tall young man occupied the shallow riffle that provided me with abundant surface action two nights earlier. I was forced to station myself in a nice moderate riffle and short pool two thirds of the way down the island. The section was nice water, but it did not appeal to me as much as the upper area.

Sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 I spotted three or four rises along some rose bushes on the island at the downstream portion of the pool. I seined the water and confirmed that blue winged olive spinners were once again floating along with their outstretched flat wings. I quickly knotted one of my old trusty poly wing spinners to my line, and I waded across the tail of the pool so I was below the risers. I executed a huge number of casts to the area, but I was unsuccessful. Because the fish were within a foot or two of the bank, I was careful not to overshoot and hook a rose bush. This caution, however, prevented me from making my usual pile cast with a lot of slack to avoid instant drag. Consequently the flies were probably dragging over the spot of the rises more than half the time. The low light and low riding spinner also made it difficult for me to follow the fly to determine if was dragging or not.

I finally surrendered to the fish and waded back to the bank and then walked upstream looking for more rises. I invited Jeff to cast to the rises I abandoned, since he possesses much better casting skills. He obliged, and while he moved into position at the low end of the pool, I spotted two rises in the center downstream from a large branch that arced over the stream. I began making downstream drifts to the two time riser, and on the fifth attempt saw a slurp in the vicinity of my fly. I quickly set the hook and brought chubby eleven inch brown trout to my net.

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Finally Cooperative

The spinner fall on Friday night only lasted for thirty minutes maximum. The short duration and the large population of fishermen constrained my spinner fall fishing experience. By 8:30 the surface of the river was dead, twilight was upon us, and we faced a two hour and fifteen minute drive to Whitehall, Pa. We decided to end our day and carefully waded back to the bank behind the cabins and walked along the road to the car. My 2016 Pennsylvania fishing adventure reached its final chapter.

Friday proved to be my best day from a numbers perspective, as I landed seven fine Pennsylvania brown trout. The afternoon time period when I spotted sporadic rises and followed up with targeted presentations of my isonychia comparadun were the highlight of the day, although landing two nice fish on the leadwing coachman technique was also fun. I am not certain when I will revisit central Pennsylvania, but after listening to Jeff’s description of trips earlier in the season, I get excited over the prospect of fishing to hendricksons and March browns. These hatches overlap during early May, so perhaps that will be my next Pennsylvania field trip.

Fish Landed: 7

Penns Creek – 06/02/2016

Time: 1:00PM – 8:30PM

Location: No kill area.

Penns Creek 06/02/2016 Photo Album

After a leisurely lunch at the rod and gun club, while we waited for the rainstorm to pass, we moved on to the No Kill parking lot. The Penns Creek No Kill area is the holy water of Pennsylvania fly fishing, and up until this time, we devoted only a few hours to it on Wednesday morning. On Thursday Jeff intended to cover a significant segment of the famous 3.9 mile special regulation water. After all, the stream conditions were near ideal, and I traveled all the way from Colorado to hook up with a fabled wild Pennsylvania brown trout from the Penns Creek no kill.

After we parked and retrieved our gear from the rear of the minivan, we carefully side-stepped our way down the hill and began fishing the lower water similar to Wednesday morning. Jeff once again ceded his favorite hot spots to me, but I was unworthy of his generosity in the first location, as I once again failed to interest any fish. Our plan was to hit three or four prime areas that Jeff knew held large healthy fish, and then we would quickly head upstream to attractive spots above the cabin and the adjacent long pool.

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Isonychia Comparadun

After I struck out at the first trout lair, I waded across the stream to a nice deep run and pool below a fallen tree. I circled around by land and positioned myself a safe distance below the target area. On Wednesday morning Jeff coached me on the best strategy for covering the riffles, run and pool; and I now applied all of his teachings. The large isonychia duns served as productive searching patterns during a previous early June trip to Penns Creek, so I pulled a comparadun from my box and knotted it to my tippet. I cautiously sprayed casts from left to right with no results, but I saved the juicy deep top half of the run for last.

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Out of the Net to Show Off

My confidence received a necessary boost when a sudden slurp materialized near the downstream portion of the riffle. My comparadun was no more than eight feet above my position, when I reacted with a swift hook set, and this action initiated a panicked head shaking response from what appeared to be a decent brown trout. The finned foe made several short bursts around the pool, but fortunately it never attempted to reach the faster water below me. After several minutes of diving, sprinting and head shaking; I slid my net beneath a fifteen inch wild Penns Creek brown trout. It was a moment of gratification, as I snapped some photos and gently released my friend back into his watery lair.

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And About to Be Released

Next Jeff and I hiked upstream beyond the cabin quite a ways until we approached a section that he referred to as the splits. Again Jeff graciously gifted me the large right channel that received flows from four separate braids. I was feeling quite confident, as he described several visits when he and his friend landed four to six fish from this area. My adrenaline spiked, as I observed several sporadic rises, while I methodically cast my way upstream along some log jams that paralleled the stream for ten yards or more. Unfortunately my focus and intensity were all in vain, as I failed to add to my fish count despite some fairly regular rises. I switched iso patterns several times, but the fish were having none of them.

Finally I despaired of landing a single fish from the prime run, and I waded to one of the middle braids in the splits. Another fisherman had covered the lower portion of the section I targeted, but that was fifteen or twenty minutes prior. Jeff was positioned in the next channel, so I laid claim to the middle area. Later Jeff referred to the place I fished as rose bush run, since the current rushed toward the opposite bank and then flowed at a rapid pace along some roses. The deepest and enticing portion was the slow pool on the inside of the fast run, but Jeff suggested that I should not ignore the narrow six inch strip of slow water between the rose bushes and the fast current.

I covered the entire stretch very thoroughly with an isonychia dun, but once again the fish did not cooperate. I was weary of fruitless casting of a dry fly, so I decided to make a radical change and converted to a dry/dropper configuration. I returned the pool toy to my line, and beneath it I tied a hares ear nymph and a hare nation. The hare nation is a fly I invented two winters ago that combines the best qualities of a hares ear nymph and salvation nymph. I drifted the three fly offering through the main pool several times and then heeded Jeff’s advice and allowed the trio to glide along the fast current toward the tail. Wham! The pool toy dipped, and I set the hook and battled another gorgeous Penns Creek wild brown trout to my net. My catch rate was below my expectations, but when I was fortunate enough to land a fish, the quality and size of the fish was impressive.

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And a Smile

Jeff appeared from below and congratulated me on my success, and then we advanced above the splits to Aumiller pool. Aumiller is a monster long slow moving pool, and rising fish are a constant occurrence. I made a few casts to the stagnant bottom section but quickly realized this was not my game. Jeff and I skipped the bottom two-thirds and moved immediately to the upper portion, where moderate riffles and glides predominated. I mentioned a desire to fish an isonychia nymph, so Jeff offered me one of his size twelve versions that display a light hackle stem along the top. I added this to my three fly arrangement by replacing the prince, so that I now showed the trout a pool toy, hare nation and iso nymph.

I began making casts toward two o’clock from my position along the bank, and then I mended several times to allow a dead drift. For some reason, however, on one of my three step moves toward the head of the pool, I flicked the flies directly upstream ten feet above a large exposed rock. I was astonished when I noticed a gorgeous trout that materialized from the cushion in front of the rock, but I retained the presence of mind to react with a hook set. Instantly the creek resident streaked toward the middle of the current, but I held tight and raised my rod to maintain tension. When the trout turned near the surface, I was astounded to see a vibrantly colored fish. In fact the color was so vivid that I thought I hooked a rare rainbow trout.

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Close Up of a Model Penns Creek Brown Trout

The trout fought valiantly below me, but eventually it tired enough so that I could leverage its head above the water, and I lifted it into my net. It was a brown trout, but the deep body color was so intense that it projected a shade of orange. I was dazzled by the beauty of this wild Penns Creek brown trout, and Jeff assisted by snapping several clear photographs with his camera. By the time I released the fish, dusk began to descend on the valley. I continued fishing for another thirty minutes, but neither Jeff nor I observed rises. In a ridiculous bonehead move, I neglected to pack my headlamp and regular glasses, so we decided to begin our long return hike by 8:30PM.

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So Vivid

Thursday was a tough day when measured by fish count, but I was thankful to land three absolute jewels from the hallowed no kill section of Penns Creek. These fish justified my hours of casting and wading, and I felt quite satisfied and fortunate to hold the beauties in my hands. One more day remained, but I proclaimed the trip a success regardless of what Friday might deliver.

 

Penns Creek – 06/02/2016

Time: 8:00AM – 9:30AM

Location:.5 mile downstream from the Coburn humped parking lot.

Penns Creek 06/02/2016 Photo Album

Wednesday’s fishing adventure ended with a flurry, as I landed four nice brown trout during a dense blue winged olive spinner fall. Unfortunately I endured a significant amount of dead time during the daytime hours despite beginning our quest for fish at 8AM. Jeff and I were hopeful that Thursday would be a different story.

Since we slept at the Schafer Cottages in Millheim, we were conveniently positioned near the upper section of Penns Creek below Coburn, Pa., so we made that our starting point. We were encouraged by the cool 65 degree temperature and cloudy skies, as we parked in a gravel lot below Coburn, and then we crossed a narrow bridge and hiked a worn path on the north side of the stream for .5 mile. After moving away from the creek, the path eventually returned, and we took the first decent worn trail to the edge of the water.

Penns Creek in this area consisted of long smooth pools with short faster glides and long pockets in between. I elected to test my dry/dropper technique, and I began my day with a yellow pool toy, emerald caddis pupa, and prince nymph. In 2003 Jeff and I visited this same segment of Penns Creek on a Saturday morning of Bucknell reunion weekend, and I enjoyed a bit of success on the emerald caddis pupa. I attempted to repeat my success, and added the prince nymph to cover the possibility of active isonychia nymphs in the area.

Jeff and I enthusiastically covered the attractive water for 1.5 hours, but once again the central Pennsylvania limestone creek did not reward us for our efforts. I did manage a momentary connection with a medium sized brown trout, but that was the extent of our action. Our best catch was a bundle of five interlocking tippet spools that Jeff spotted on the bank as we moved downstream near the end of our morning venture. I inherited the windfall since Jeff favors brown tinted Maxima tippet for his leader sections.

The temperature rose into the upper seventies, and neither of us were satisfied with our fishing prospects, so we decided to once again shift our focus to another central Pennsylvania stream at 9:30. Could we tolerate another fishless day with no reward for our persistent efforts? I was beginning to have doubts.

Fish Landed: 0

Penns Creek – 06/01/2016

Time and Location: 8:00AM – 12:00PM No Kill area; 1:00PM – 2:00PM Spring Mills; 5:00PM – 9:00PM Water below No Kill

Penns Creek 06/01/2016 Photo Album

Spring creeks in central Pennsylvania are characterized by placid flows with smooth glides over moss covered rounded boulders. Semi-clear deep milky green pools beckon an observant fisherman to execute long fluttering casts, if he or she can manage to avoid the dense canopy of green leaves that cast dark shadows over much of the stream. The wily brown trout reveal their presence with subtle sipping rises in out of the way corners of the limestone creek environment. In the absence of surface clues, fly fishing becomes a waiting game. A sudden appearance of an abundance of one or several aquatic insects shatters the calm, and frantic casting and hatch matching follow, and these are the electric moments that eastern fly fishermen savor and anticipate.

Western fly fishing approaches follow the lead of the streams and rivers that begin in the high Rocky Mountains. These waterways typically rush toward their journey through the large agricultural valleys, and along the way they crash and churn over rocks and logs in a high speed race to the ocean. Whitewater, rapids and plunge pools frequent these rivers and creeks, and the fishing approach mirrors the high energy hydraulics of the targeted environment. Rather than calmly wait and observe in a manner similar to eastern counterparts, the western fly fisherman wades aggressively and casts often in an effort to present a variety of imitations to opportunistic fish. The western trout does not have the luxury of waiting for a dense hatch or to closely inspect its prey. The conveyor belt of food is set on high speed, and anything that looks alive and tasty is fair game. I was about to face the transition from the contrasting styles, as I anticipated my trip from Colorado to Pennsylvania.

In preparation for my trip to Pennsylvania from May 27 through June 4 I reviewed my MFC fly box. My Pennsylvania fishing friend Jeff informed me that the the green drakes and sulfurs were likely over, so I could probably look forward to isonychia, blue winged olives and golden stoneflies. I removed all my western green drakes to create space, and filled the vacant row with six isonychia comparaduns that I tied for a trip five years ago. I also added three isonychia spinners. Jeff promised to lend me some of his expertly constructed flies, but I felt an obligation to transport flies I tied myself to match the relevant insects projected to be present during my stay.

Next I examined my fly box thoroughly, and I was surprised to discover a row that contained six size 14 dark olive comparaduns and another six size 14 medium olive spinners. Why was I carrying these large blue winged olives designed for Pennsylvania mayflies on my Colorado ventures? I could not answer that question, but I was pleased to have them for the pending trip. Finally I checked for size 16 and 18 sulfur imitations in case we encountered stragglers, and I added a few more sulfur comparaduns from my boat box.

On Tuesday evening after dinner at my sister’s house, Jane drove me to Whitehall, Pa. and dropped my off at my friend’s house. Jeff, being the perfect fishing buddy, had the minivan packed with food and fishing gear. We discussed a departure time for Wednesday morning, and given the forecast for hot and muggy conditions, we committed to a 4:30 start.

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A Flash Lights Up the Minivan

Despite having a body clock that remained on mountain time, my excitement caused me to wake up before 4:30, and we were on the road by 4:45. This very early departure enabled us to be in the No Kill parking lot by 7:30, and subsequently we were on the water at 8AM. As Jeff texted me earlier in the week, Penns Creek was nearly ideal with flows of 270 cfs and a tinge of color that gave the cautious fisherman a bit of cover upon approaching attractive trout holding locations.

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Concentration

Jeff is a veteran of Penns Creek and on a first name basis with many of the large denizens of the premier central Pennsylvania stream, so he stationed me in some prime spots and gave me first shot. I cannot overemphasize the generosity of my long term fishing buddy. We tossed isonychia and golden stoneflies at Linden Tree, Willow Hole and Red Cabin Run; but the educated brown trout of Penns Creek were having none of our fake offerings. The air temperature warmed quickly, and the sky was mainly bright blue with only an occasional white cloud. Simply stated, the conditions were quite challenging, and two veteran fishermen were skunked despite a long morning of focused fishing. In one nice run of moderate depth I experimented with a dry/dropper approach. I tied a fat Albert to my line and trailed an ultra zug bug and beadhead hares ear, and this combination yielded two small creek chubs. I finally felt the tug of something on my line, but chubs were not what I was seeking in Pennsylvania.

With the thermometer rapidly rising, Jeff and I decided to switch venues at noon. We drove to Millheim where we checked out the cottage that was reserved for Wednesday and Thursday night. From there we continued west and eventually headed south until we reached the upper stretches of Penns Creek at Spring Mills, where we crossed a bridge and parked in a vacant lot under some trees. The creek in this locale was a classic limestone spring creek with slightly milky flows and  an abundance of thick aquatic vegetation. Jeff gave me first choice, so I elected the thirty yards of prime water below the bridge. Jeff jumped into the stream farther down at the end of a long deep pool where long branches displayed wide leaves and arched over the small stream. I was actually somewhat intimidated by the prospect of casting in these difficult conditions.

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Spring Mill

As I studied the water, I spotted several sporadic rises, but when I gently cast a splash beetle, parachute ant, and Jake’s gulp beetle to the open lanes between the subsurface weeds, I received no response. I plopped my way along the edge until I was positioned at the downstream border of the bridge. I noticed three rising fish at the upstream section in the shadows, but these fish also ignored my presentation. I switched to a size 16 deer hair caddis for a bit, but it too was simply debris to be ignored to these smart Penns Creek trout.

Jeff appeared on the bank below me, and he described a similar lack of success with extremely skittish fish in the warm humid afternoon conditions. Once again we packed our gear and made a move, and this time we transitioned to the section of water behind some cabins below the No Kill area. We were careful to stash our dinner in our backpacks, and I also remembered to carry a headlamp and my regular glasses in case we fished into darkness. We were hoping for an evening hatch, but we had no insight that such an event was probable.

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A Nice Loop

When we met the stream, we made a left and continued until we were beyond the last cabin, and here we began our quest to prevent a Penns Creek skunking. Since it was early, and I was not patient enough to wait for a rise or visible sign of a fish, I found some nice fast water that contained long pockets and deep narrow slots. I reverted to the dry/dropper approach with a fat Albert that contained a tan ice dub body. In addition I tied on a prince nymph to represent isonychia nymphs and the much favored beadhead hares ear nymph.

It did not take long before I hooked a medium size fish on the hares ear, but it quickly wiggled free, and I uttered some unkind words while my skunking continued. Shortly after this frustration, I cast to the top of a relatively fast run, and I was shocked when a sizable Penns Creek brown trout utterly smashed the fat Albert. This fly was supposed to be my indicator, so what was going on? Unfortunately I played the brute for a couple minutes before it made a mad dash to the fast water. I was not in a good position to follow the fish downstream, and once again I must report on a long distance release. Unlike the previous incident, however, the larger brown broke off the fat Albert and the other two flies.

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Huge Eastern Stonefly

Jeff observed my futile attempt to land the fat Albert eater, and he concluded that the trout took my attractor for a golden stonefly. My size 8 yellow foam imitation was larger than his creations, but he suggested that perhaps his were a bit undersized. I actually saw two golden stoneflies on the creek, and one was much larger, so perhaps the big boys were in egg laying mode earlier than the smaller species. At any rate I did not have any more fat Alberts with a yellow body, so I switched to a size 8 pool toy with a light yellow dubbed body. Boom. It was not long before I endured another momentary hook up to the pool toy. This only confirmed that my hopper imitations seemed to be reasonable approximations of egg laying stoneflies. Unfortunately I was now zero for three, and my scorecard was blank.

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First Penns Creek Brown of the Trip

I moved farther upstream to the stair step area behind the cabins, and finally I connected with a twelve inch brown that gobbled the hares ear nymph. This fish was not a trophy, but I was appreciative of landing at least one shrewd Penns Creek brown trout. Next I approached a small eddy that Jeff recently abandoned. The location was just below the point of the long narrow island that separated the stream into two juicy channels. I flipped the pool toy into the nexus of the whirlpool, and in a matter of seconds a large mouth engulfed the buoyant hopper imitation. A tough fight ensued, but in this situation, I held the upper hand, as a strong fourteen inch brown trout nestled in my net. Another fish attacked one of my size eight hopper imitations perhaps mistaking it for an egg laying stonefly.

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Fourteen Inch Brown Crushed the Pool Toy

I now crossed the left braid and walked along the bank to the upper faster section, where I prospected with the pool toy and dropper nymphs. I was brimming with a bit of confidence since the large foam hopper flies with yellow bodies yielded three hook ups with solid fish. As I worked a narrow deep slot next to an exposed boulder near the bank, I spotted several barely discernible rises in some fairly fast water. I made numerous drifts without success, so I went to the trouble of removing my dry/dropper flies and switched to a single isonychia comparadun. This fly also failed to generate interest, so I surrendered and moved to the next attractive space.

The creek created a very wide gentle riffle in the area just above the left channel that flowed around the island. Surely the last hour of the day would cause hungry brown trout to spread out in these flats in search of easy meals. Just as this thought crossed my mind, several riseforms appeared fifteen feet above my position. I made some long casts with the isonychia with high expectations, but once again I was sorely disappointed. What should I do? I always carry a seine in an elastic pocket at the base of my net opening and rarely use it, but here was an obvious application. I stretched the seine over the net opening and held it in the creek in front of me for thirty seconds. When I extracted it from the water and peered closely, I discovered five or six crumpled olive-bodied spinners. It was now obvious what the feeding fish were tuned into.

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Result of Seine

I went to my MFC fly box and extracted one of the six poly wing spinners that consumed space in my Colorado box for no obvious reason. I tied these six years ago in preparation for a similar trip to Penns Creek, but they never made it to the end of my line, since I did not encounter the elusive blue winged olive spinner fall. On this evening of June 1, however, I was very thankful for the presence of these archived flies.

The fly possessed a deep olive body, dun hackle fiber tails, and white poly wings. The wings were kinked and splayed to each side in a curved style. The naturals in the water matched quite well except for the smooth flat wings that stretched at a ninety degree angle from the body. I was very concerned that my S shaped wings would be a deal breaker for the smart Penns Creek browns.

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Gorgeous Spots on This Twilight Fish

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Cornuta Spinner

Fortunately this was not the case. In the dwindling light between eight and nine o’clock I managed to hook and land four additional brown trout. All were quite nice specimens that measured in the thirteen to fifteen inch range. Two additional fish were hooked momentarily but managed to shed my heirloom tie. The magical spinner fall hour was the highlight of my trip, and I experienced the dense feeding frenzy that I hoped would commence. It was especially gratifying to pull an old fly out of my box that performed exactly as I hoped. By 9 o’clock the spinner fall ended and the feeding trout returned to their safe harbor holding spots. Jeff and I met above the island and carefully waded to the shore near the cabins and then walked back to his minivan. A night of rest beckoned us to our cottage, and I dreamed about two more days of eastern fishing.

Fish Landed: 6

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Better View

 

Penns Creek – 05/31/2013

Time: 8:00AM – 4:00PM

Location: No Kill Area

Fish Landed: 2

Penns Creek 05/31/2013 Photo Album

Would Friday repeat the exciting green drake day that we experienced on Thursday? The weather forecast called for another day of heat wave with highs of 92 and humidity. That certainly didn’t bode well nor did the fact that I was leaving at 4PM to return to Lewisburg for a cookout with some fraternity brothers.

Jeff and I awoke at 6AM and hustled our belongings to the car and departed without showers (no hot water) to the no kill area of Penns Creek. The drive from Lewisburg to Weikert cost us 45 minutes, and with the hot conditions this was valuable time early in the day before the air and water heated up. We munched down some muffins in the parking lot, prepared to fish and hit the water by 8AM. We decided to circle downstream a bit and prospect some hot spots and then work our way upstream.

Jeff was kind and let me have first casts on three quality spots. Inept casting in the first location caused me to hook a tree limb and then disturb the water. The second location was also a proven winner from past experience, and here I coaxed a rise to the green drake dun and set the hook. I was attached to a large fish that began to dive and shake its head. By applying side pressure I worked it back and forth and saw enough of it to know it was in the 15 – 20 inch range. Unfortunately after fighting the fish for a minute or so and just as I reached for my net, the fish made a quick turn and swam toward my legs. What was I to do? Should I put my legs together to block the fish and get bowled over at the start of the day? I allowed the big guy to swim between my legs and that was game over. The fly caught in my wader cuff and Mr. Brown escaped to fight another day. Knowing the sun and heat would probably produce difficult conditions only served to enhance my frustration and embarrassment at this turn of events.

Jeff and I moved on to hotspot number three while I continued to mourn the loss of a nice fish. Number three did not yield any fish despite numerous drag free drifts cautiously lofted from a reasonable distance. Next we prospected some nice slicks and flats in a faster flowing stretch to no avail. Meanwhile there were remnant spinners from the night before as well as an occasional dun, but the surface did not contain the density of food that was present the previous evening or even what was witnessed in the morning.

A Slightly Closer View

A Slightly Closer View

After some fruitless casting and observation we approached a nice deep pool from the left bank and Jeff spotted a rise within several feet of the high grass along the bank. He suggested that I cautiously work my way closer to the water and cast to the fish that showed its wherabouts. As I manuevered into position several additional fish rose and sipped an unidentifiable food from the surface. I began casting the green drake foam body dun to a fish that had risen several times, but my offering was being ignored. I switched to the positions of the other risers hoping they wouldn’t be as selective, but this didn’t improve my success. Meanwhile a fish rose higher in the pool and toward the right center, so Jeff positioned himself to fish to this new prospect. Periodic gusts of wind disturbed the tall grasses and leaves on the trees, and I observed numerous black ants on the wood logs that I was standing on. Could the fish be sipping these terrestrials in the slow moving pool?

I brought in my green drake dun and added an eighteen inch length of tippet and then attached a parachute fur ant with an orange wing post. These two flies were quite visible as they drifted back toward me while I made multiple casts ten to fifteen feet across and above my position on the bank. I was covering the lane of the fish that had risen the most frequently. On perhaps the tenth drift a fish slid to the surface and sucked in the ant. I set the hook and battled a decent brown that appeared to be around 14 inches and quite husky. I was quite pleased to have coaxed a fish from this deep slow moving pool in the morning heat, and even more proud that I’d duped it with a trailing ant. Observation and adaptation did pay dividends in this instance.

Jeff and I moved on and attempted to focus on the less obvious lies where fish might hide and try to sneak food on a hot clear day. Shade, cover and depth were the three key ingredients that seemed to yield opportunities. One such spot soon presented itself and Jeff once again gave me the pleasure of making the first attempt. As I prepared to cast I actually spotted a rise in a tight nook along the bank. I believe I still had the green drake dun and the trailing ant on my line at this point as I began methodically working my flies from the tail of the pool to the small eddy at the head. Near the lower end where the current ran along the bank a fish swirled at the green drake but did not take, so I had a refusal on my record. Eventually I delivered some nice casts to the edge of the current seam just above a bush that was hanging over the water, and on one of these drifts a fish assaulted the green drake. Again the battle was on, but this time I managed to overcome the valiant efforts of a sixteen inch brown. I photographed the silver warrior and returned it to the cold lair to fight another day.

16" Fat Brown

16″ Fat Brown

I caught up to Jeff and we continued on our way through several attractive areas as the sun reached its peak and beat down on us relentlessly. When we reached a long stretch of riffles and pocket water above a long pool I decided to add a beadhead prince dropper and prospect some juicy pockets and slots of ideal depth, but this yielded no takers so we moved on again.

Just beyond this point we reached another nice pool and Jeff suggested that I climb a high bank and then descend back to the creek and cast downstream. Normally this approach is very difficult as the fish will see the fishermen above them, but this location was a small eddy and the fish faced downstream as insects drifted backwards along the bank. I was very stealthy and when I got in position above the eddy I noticed several nice gulping rises tight to a log against the bank. The sound had that hollow large fish ring that causes ones heartbeat to ratchet up a notch or two. I placed several casts in the vicinity but not tight to the log as I wished, but on the third or forth cast my leader sank and as I lifted to recast, the sunken leader sucked my fly under the water and into a subsurface tangle of sticks.

Six Foot Black Snake

Six Foot Black Snake

I uttered a few choice words and stealthily tip toed along the edge of the bank to a point where I could dislodge my fly. I backed up slowly and retreated 5 – 10 feet and watched the water carefully. Much to my amazement a fish rose again but slightly further downstream and away from the log and bank. I made a few downstream casts with plenty of slack and allowed the green drake to drift over the point of the rise with no results, but on the third or fourth drift I saw a movement and sip and set the hook. Unfortunately the weight on my rod tip only lasted for a split second and the fish escaped.

I surrendered to the cagy fish in the eddy and climbed back up the steep bank to a point slightly upstream and then crossed to meet Jeff on the other bank. We continued working upstream in the afternoon heat but the action was extremely slow. By three o’clock we were in a nice stretch of water with numerous shadows and the sun disappeared behind some small clouds occasionally. In one of these places Jeff made some precise long distance presentations and managed to coax a fish to the surface. He set the hook and found himself attached to an active brown that charged up and down the pool. After a live demonstration of expert fish fighting techniques, Jeff scooped the brown into his net and sure enough he held another 17″ specimen.

We moved on a bit further but it was now approaching 4PM and I did some mental arithmetic to determine I needed to begin the return hike so I could drive back to Lewisburg and perform my official registration and then shower and meet my friends by 6PM or shortly thereafter. We made the 45 minute hike down the railroad bed to the parking lot where I packed everything in the trunk of my rental car and said my goodbye to Jeff who planned to stay for the evening spinner fall again.

I was totally fatigued from the hiking and heat and humidity, but I felt the satisfying glow of catching a few beautiful central Pennsylvania wild brown trout in one of the more challenging environments I’ve ever fished. My friend Jeff is truly an amazing fisherman who combines keen observation skills, ridiculously expert casting skills, and the patience and stealth to approach these educated trout. Added to these already advanced skills are his ability to examine insects and tie his own effective imitations that take fish under the most difficult selective conditions. My hat is off to the person who displays a Penzzz license plate.

Healthy Penns Creek Brown

Healthy Penns Creek Brown

Penns Creek – 05/30/2013

Time: 8:00AM – 10:00PM

Location: Little Mountain, Buick Boulevard, Aimeti Lane, No Kill Area

Fish Landed: 14

Penns Creek 05/30/2013 Photo Album

I’ve read numerous articles about the fabled green drake hatch on Penns Creek as well as heard stories from my friend Jeff Shafer. Frankly I was a bit intimidated by the whole experience; huge mayflies everywhere and difficult to imitate with crowds of other fishermen bordered on a circus rather than a fly fishing experience. Eastern green drakes have bodies over an inch in length and huge light green wings and are imitated by size eight flies. They begin to emerge near the junction with the Susquehanna River and move upstream over a weeks’ period of time and attract a posse of fly fishermen that attempt to migrate upstream along with the hatch. This annual one week event typically coincides with Memorial Day weekend, but can occur earlier or later depending on the spring weather in central Pennsylvania.

Green Drake on Dave's Finger

Green Drake on Dave’s Finger

I received my reunion package in the mail from Bucknell University in February and decided in April to make the trip in May. I emailed my Bucknell friends and checked to see who would be joining me for number 40. Bucknell is located in Lewisburg, Pa. approximately 45 minutes east of Penns Creek, and can serve as a convenient jumping off point for fishing ventures. I discovered that several of my friends, Jeff Yingling and Bill Hicks, would be joining me for reunion weekend, so I made my online reservations for the weekend activities and reserved a dorm room for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. At the same time I emailed my fishing friend Jeff Shafer who lives in Whitehall, Pa. and let him know that I would be in central Pa. at the end of May and the beginning of June. Jeff quickly replied that he would block out the days that I would be there and join me for some fishing.

In addition to attending the reunion and fishing, I also planned to visit my good friend Don Batchelor in State College, Pa. and also spend time with my brother Jim in Lititz, Pa. and my sister Marcia near Topton, Pa. This trip unlike the 2012 trip was primarily focused on visiting friends and family with the secondary benefit of a few days of fishing. In the end my itinerary worked out like this. Fly to Philadelphia on May 28, the day after Memorial Day and drive to Lititz to spend the night at my brother’s house. On Wednesday morning I would drive to State College and spend the day with my friend Don Batchelor and while there purchase a submarine sandwich and food for lunch and dinner the next day. Thursday morning I would travel on route 45 from State College to Penns Creek and meet Jeff Shafer who was traveling from Whitehall, Pa.

We planned to fish from morning until after dark and then drive to Lewisburg where we would stay in the dorm room I reserved. Friday featured a return to Penns Creek for a day of fishing; however, I would depart the stream by 4-5PM to join some fraternity brothers at a cookout at a friend’s house just south of Lewisburg. Saturday’s schedule was filled with reunion activiities and then after brunch on Sunday on campus, I planned to travel south to Lititz and spend a day with my brother and sister-in-law. Monday entailed a drive to Topton where I would spend the day and evening with my sister Marcia and brother-in-law Greg before driving to Philadelphia on Tuesday for a return flight to Denver.

With these plans etched in stone, it was a matter of waiting for the time to arrive. Could all the variables line up so that I’d experience the fabled green drake hatch and spinner fall on Penns Creek? Would it be early or late in 2013? Would there be hordes of fishermen to contend with? Would the weather create good conditions or dump ridiculous amounts of rain on the area causing the stream to rise and become the color of chocolate milk?

A week before my trip my friend Jeff sent me an email announcing that green drakes were cited near the mouth and they had begun their upstream movement. Jeff suggested that the green drakes might be in the no kill area near Weikert by the end of the following week when we planned to fish. Some storms passed through the area on Memorial Day Weekend, but the stream levels were largely unaffected. Memorial Day Weekend occured early in 2013 and we planned to be on the stream during weekdays after the big holiday.

In the day or two before departure Jeff and I worked out a system for connecting on the stream on Thursday despite the fact that we were departing from separate points east and west of our destination. Jeff would bring his walkie talkies along and place one on the driver’s seat. I would find the hidden key to the minivan and then contact him via walkie talkie to find his position.

Everything went according to plan as I purchased my food items in State College and had a nice visit with Don on Wednesday, and I had my fishing bag packed with all the essentials on Wednesday eveing. The only disturbance to our plan was a weather forecast calling for a four day heat wave from Wednesday through Saturday with high temperatures in the 90’s and high humidity and little cloud cover. I woke up at six AM on Thursday morning and grabbed a quick breakfast while Don slept. I arrived at the parking pullout near Little Mountain lane by 7:30 and immediately jumped into my waders and assembled my rod. Jeff being the perfect fishing companion that he is, had the hidden key where he told me it would be. I unlocked the minivan and found the 2-way radio on the driver’s seat along with a box of seasonal flies that were guaranteed to produce at the end of May on Penns Creek. The broomstick wading staff was available to me in the rear of the van. I was off in an instant and walked down Little Mountain Lane to find Jeff.

My Friend Jeff's License Plate

My Friend Jeff’s License Plate

Sure enough in the long pool at the end of the lane, Jeff was waded half way across the creek and casting green drake spinners to rising fish. I took a position fifty feet below him and spotted some nice rising fish. As I watched the water closely I observed some huge mayflies riding the surface currents and slowly lifting into the air. I’d succeeded in meeting the green drake hatch!

I tied on one of the foam body green drake adults that Jeff included in his fly box for me and waded one third of the way into the pool. I began seeing sporadic rises downstream and a bit across from me, so I made quite a few casts but eventually hooked and landed a small brown. This scenario repeated itself three more times in the tail of the nice pool at the base of Little Mountain, and then Jeff suggested we cross and move downstream. We did this and bypassed a nice riffle stretch and then cut back to the stream where there were some small islands and some cabins on the far bank. Another fisherman was on our side so we circled around him and moved into the stream below. As I continued to fish Jeff shouted out that he was noticing some sporadic isonychia emerging, and I was observing far fewer green drakes on the water.

I decided to add a size 12 prince nymph dropper eighteen inches below the foam green drake to imitate the isonychia nymph. This proved to be effective and I landed two feisty stocked rainbow trout and then moved upstream to some nice water that Jeff suggested I cover. Here in a small pool I landed three more small browns on the prince nymph dropper. Meanwhile a group of six or seven fishermen appeared above me and blocked further advancement, so Jeff and I circled above them. We fished for the remainder of the morning until approximately 12:15 when I persuaded Jeff to return with me to the car for lunch. We decided that we would take our lunches to the sportsman’s club and eat there while waiting for Bob to arrive.

Fraternity Brothers Forty Years Later

Fraternity Brothers Forty Years Later

As luck would have it, Bob was pulling into the parking lot in his Jeep Wrangler just as we arrived, and I introduced Jeff to Bob, and we finished our lunches then followed Bob to the end of Aimeti Lane where we parked next to a cabin. Bob did not bring his waders or hip boots and planned to only toss spinners from shore. We followed a path through the trees and met the stream behind a neighboring cabin. I waded in a few feet at the riffle section at the top of the pool while Jeff circled around the bottom and came up the opposite side under some overhanging tree limbs. Bob meanwhile positioned himself at the midpoint of the pool and began lofting long casts across the middle current toward the opposite bank.

In short order I began to notice some rises along the middle current seam, but the fish were showing no interest in my prince nymph. I clipped off the two fly combination and tied on a green drake but again my fly went unmolested while the fish continued to rise before and after my fly floated by. Jeff yelled out that he was seeing cornuta so I found one of my olive body cornuta comparaduns and tied that to my tippet. Once again my fly was ignored as trout sporadically rose to inhale something. Jeff had seen isonychia bit upstream and they emerge sparsely so perhaps that was the answer? I exchanged the cornuta imitation for a dark maroon body isonychia and executed a cast directly across and allowed the fly to drift downstream along the current seam. On the third such drift a trout rose and attacked the iso and I set the hook and battled a hot rainbow. Eventually I landed the hard fighter and took it to the bank to photograph; however, when I tried to remove the fly, I noticed it was quite deep and blood trickled from the rainbow’s gills.

Nice Willow Stringer

Nice Willow Stringer

Rainbows are stocked fish and we were outside the no kill, so I decided to kill this fish as it was apparent that it would not survive if released. Bob joined me and cut a willow branch with his pocket knife and constructed a makeshift stringer. We fished a bit longer until it was approaching 3PM and then decided to adjourn to the no kill area before crowds of fishermen descended after getting out of work. I asked if Bob would take my fish back to Lewisburg and clean and bring along to the cookout at Ken Hafer’s place on Friday night. He graciously agreed and Jeff and I headed back to the no kill area.

Along the way we stopped near Little Mountain so I could pick up my rental car and park in the fish commission parking lot. When we arrived the parking lot was full so we parallel parked next to the trees on the shoulder of the small dirt road leading to the parking lot. As we prepared to fish some kayakers returned from their journey and opened up some parking space, but we kept our vehicles where they were. We munched down our dinners which closely resembled our lunch and then descended to the no kill water. For the next several hours until 8PM we moved around in the area downstream of the parking lot. We encountered two fishermen but were able to find plenty of juicy water and in fact we wondered where all the occupants of the cars in the parking lot were.

No Kill Parking Lot Fills Up on Thursday for Evening Green Drakes

No Kill Parking Lot Fills Up on Thursday for Evening Green Drakes

Jeff picked up several nice fish in excess of 15 inches including a 21 inch beauty from one of his favorite spots, but I was largely blanked and stuck on 12 fish, nearly all stockers. It was a nice fish count for a day on Penns Creek but I had yet to land one of the wild deeply colored well fed browns that I deeply craved.

A Final Close In Shot

A Final Close In Shot

As darkness approached we moved to the top of a large pool and no other fishermen were present. The green drake spinners were now flying at rapid speeds up the stream at a distance of five to six feet above the water, and the grand performance began. A fish rose here and there and then as all daylight disappeared an amazing scenario played out. The stream was filled with loud smacking sounds as trout rose and feasted on the green drake spinners. Initially I could barely see my green drake spinner fly with a light yellow foam body, but this only lasted for ten minutes or so and I was surrounded by complete darkness. This didn’t stop the trout and the rapid fire sound of trout slurping and sucking down green drakes along with some air built to a loud natural drum beat. I noticed a fairly regular riser three feet from my left foot just before daylight disappeared, and I could hear this fish continuing its ravenous feeding ritual so I focused my casts in this vicinity. I simply flicked my fly a few feet out from my right leg and then listened for a slurp and set. Forty nine times I repeated this ritual which resulted in air, but as I began to despair of catching any fish, I set the hook at the sound of a smack and was amazed to feel weight on my line.

Landing a large fish in darkness is a creepy experience. The fish went into a head shaking routine and made numerous short runs up and downstream, while trying to roll the line and free itself. I held tight and allowed the fish to take line several times until I eventually guided it just upstream of my position and finally got a decent look at a 16+ inch hefty brown that thrashed and splashed in a futile attempt to get free. Finally I slid my net under the beautiful wild brown, and it was gratifying to know that I’d succeeded in catching a wild Penns Creek brown on a green drake spinner. I flicked my light on briefly and the stream was blanketed with the large green drake spinners. Jeff and I estimated that there were six spinners for every square foot of surface area. The other amazing thing was the recurring thud that I felt as these behemoth flies flew upstream and crashed into my rod. The entire scene was a unique and entertaining natural experience.

I released my prize catch and heard another fish rising a few feet above me and also quite close so this became my next target. The same repetitive process played out with unproductive cast after unproductive cast executed. It was as if I was thrashing the water with no apparent goal in mind. But eventually on one of my lifts to recast I again felt weight and again a fish began to battle up and down the stream in the total blackness. What was on the end of my line? I patiently held my ground and applied side pressure and once again I was fortunate to slide my net under a fat wild brown after five minutes of fighting. This fish also appeared to be 16+ inches with a large girth apparently acquired through nightly trips to the green drake smorgasbord.

Meanwhile Jeff persisted and finally managed to land a fine Penns Creek brown to go along with his other catches on the evening. He estimated that he landed four browns that summed to 75 inches over the course of the evening. It was a milestone night for even this veteran of Penns Creek fishing.

By 10PM the rising activity waned and we decided to carefully find our way back to the car by the light of our flashlights and headlamp. Tiny gnats were immediately attracted to our lights and covered our faces making it difficult to see where we were going, but once we climbed on to land, the tiny bugs went away and we approached the parking lot. We removed our waders but left our rods set up for Friday and then drove the 45 minutes to the Bucknell campus. I had arranged to pick up the dorm key at the public safety building, so we found that, and a security guard behind the glass window gave me two keys and directed me to Roberts Hall. This is the oldest dorm at Bucknell and we soon discovered it smelled musty, did not have air conditioning and had no hot water. To say the least we were not pleased and regreted making the long drive which cost us sleep and fishing time the next day. I discovered upon registration on Friday that the woman I spoke with forgot to transfer the reunion package to public safety thus causing the frustrating night in Roberts.

Despite the poor ending to our day, it was a great experience. All the variables came together and I experienced a morning green drake emergence and a thick spinner fall as darkness descended. It was truly an amazing evening and something I will never forget.