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