Prior to the trip two days ago it had been a few weeks since I was last on the water. Things have finally settled down weather-wise a little bit. I know rain is a good thing for the most part, but the rain has made spring fishing a bit difficult here in PA (a small inconvenience in the grand scheme of things). Streams have been flowing high – while spirits may have been sagging. Nature has a way of doing her own thing, in spite of our wishes. Most likely With the perspective afforded by time and space, in the late summer, we will look back longingly at this weather and then fold our hands and pray for rain. I have been reminded this spring that if you are a person who stakes his happiness on the whims of weather and bugs and of fish then you are indeed bound to be disappointed a great deal of the time. For these things take no notice of men and if they do occasionally consent to align themselves just so, and provide a sublime day of perfect fishing, do not confuse this with obeisance or even acknowledgement.
The weather was beautiful however, and the stream, Yellow Creek in Bedford County, Pennsylvania was in good shape. Perhaps it was flowing higher and faster than I would have it, but eminently fishable. I’m reminded of a story that I heard. A man was in a diner eating breakfast and he liked to have ample sugar in his morning coffee. Glancing at the sugar shaker he saw that level was getting low. So rather than risk running out he waved the waitress over and asked for more sugar. The waitress looked at the sugar and then said “Honey, before I bring you more sugar you got to stir the sugar that you got.” And so looking at the stream, which was not perfect, I decided to stir the sugar that I had.
I was going tenkara for this trip – which is now my go to small stream mode these days. The rod of choice was the new Iwana Series II 11-ft from Tenkara USA. This is a sweet rod, light and easy to cast. I miss the reach of a 12-ft rod a little, but when fishing under overhanging trees, the 11-ft rod is a little easier to keep out of the branches. Speaking of which, I started fishing tenkara with furled lines but have since switched to level lines. I couldn’t stand the way the furled lines became all hinky after being pulled from an over hanging branch. The line that I had on during this trip was Tenkara USA #3.5 level line. According the T-USA website the #3.5 line is a fluorocarbon line approximately equivalent to 12-lb line. I will say that the clear line can be difficult to get used to. There are two problems with the clear line: 1) it’s hard to see where the line ends and the tippet begins. Therefore it’s hard to know exactly how much tippet is subsurface; 2) it’s just plain hard to see the line. This leads to problems with casting accuracy (if you can’t see your line very well then you don’t know where your cast is hitting the water) and strike detection. I like to watch the portion of my leader where it enters the water for any hesitation that indicates a strike, if I can’t see it i can’t do that. The solution that I used on this trip was to attach an 18″ section of hi-vis yellow mono to the end of my line before the tippet. This solution worked out pretty well. I could see my casts a little better and when I cast I could lift the rod until I saw the yellow and I knew exactly where the tippet began and I could also watch the yellow section for strikes. Well enough of the technical detail…
Bugs were fluttering around the stream – little black stones, black caddis, orange craneflies – but the fish were not in evidence. There were only a few surface rises that I saw. So I went subsurface with a tandem of a soft-hackle dropper and size 16 shop-vac point fly. The shop-vac was the winner. I began picking up fish on the shop-vac right away. I don’t prefer the tenkara set-up for dredging the bottoms of deep pools and runs so I concentrated on the heads of the pools and on the pocket water above. Nice fish came to hand from water that many folks walk past or walk through or stand in to cast to the pools.
I am a pocket water addict. Fishing pocket water is what heaven might be like. The rushing sound of it creates a cozy nest of white noise to compete with the static and rush of the world. Moving along step by step, each step a challenge in the current and the ankle breaking rocks, each step a tactical decision and a small victory. Pocket water is full of possibilities, the fish can be anywhere. The water is so full of soft-spots where a fish can sit and wait and then tilt a fin, move a few inches and suck a bug in. And the depth is nice too – not too deep, not too shallow. A well-fished size 16 bead head sinks nicely and doesn’t snag up too often, but gets deep enough to matter. Add to the pocket water a tenkara rod and now you’ve got it made.
The shop-vac has been a good producer for me this spring. I’ve used it here on Yellow Creek and on Spring Creek with good results. It makes a nice tenkara fly in my opinion. It is not too heavy, but just heavy enough and the slim profile sinks quickly (especially when powered in with a nice tuck cast). The white antron tuft is, I believe, a great attraction to the fish. I like to tie them both with and without tails. I believe the shop-vac was created by the folks at Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone.
The shop-vac was my magic fly. The problem with magic flies is that they always run out, especially if they’re nymphs. Magic is fleeting and hard to contain. Sometimes we are the aerial that attracts the magic and for a brief time we are the king of the stream, catching fish when nobody else is (no that that matters to us high-brow fly anglers), but then we lose the last magic fly…and then what? The problem for me when a fly is working so well is that when I have run out of that fly I can’t decide what to put on next. I put on this then that then another thing, then panic sets in and I lose all confidence and just go through the motions casting with no heart and no conviction, telling myself that I need to go home and tie more size 16 shop-vacs! And then…finally a fish takes pity and eats another fly, in this case it’s a fly I call the big-fat caddis. I tied them up to match a hideously fat and juicy looking caddis larva that I found on the Yampa at Stagecoach.
I think it looks pretty realistic when wet and a couple of fish thought so too. It’s basically just bunny fur with gold ribbing and a head of dark brown dyed bunny with some hares mask mixed in for legginess. After ribbing with the tinsel rough it up a little.
I don’t really like snakes all that much. This little fellow can swimming down the current in a hair-raising way that snakes have. He hit the bank and immediately climbed a tree. Creepy. So now I need to watch out for snakes, on the bank, in the water and in the trees. Great. It was just a black rat snake – so, not dangerous. But if that thing had come down the stream toward me while I was in the water…well it wouldn’t have been pretty.
I ended the day in the same spot that I started and picked up another on a size 18 black midge pupa. All in all a fun day on the stream. Conditions were not good for traditional tenkara flies – but the western flies stepped in and saved the day. East and west working together.
A note of explanation: For anybody just checking in for the first time, I am in the middle of a project to write a fly fishing poem everyday, during the month of September. I just figured you might be wondering what is going on. After this little project is complete- we’ll probably return to our regularly scheduled programming.
The Release by Anthony Naples
Poem #12: Elegy
the house was tucked into a bend of the creek,
white, small, nothing special
sixty feet or so from the bank and from
the weed beds where trout hid from the full shine of the sun
and where fish would come up as dusk broke
the back of the sky, exposing the scarlet sun
where fish came up to chase the caddis
that struggled through the silver ceiling of water
an overpass now soars above and across that place,
a highway now cuts across the broken scarlet sky and casts its shadows on
the weed beds where trout hid from the full shine of the sun
I knew a person that lived in that house for a while,
and I fished there once on an evening
when fish came up to chase the caddis
that struggled through the silver ceiling of water
Spring Creek, Centre County, PA: September 18 & 19, 2009
Got a chance to fish my “Home Water” recently. I say Home Water in quotes, because although, I live 3-hrs away I consider Spring Creek to be just that. I know it better than any other stream and I find myself testing my skills on it’s wild browns more than any where else. I guess I should consider myself lucky – I’m sure there are those whose Home Waters are across the country or across the oceans. It is a wonderful feeling to ease into my waders next to a familiar run or riffle and know that I’ll probably have some success. Hey maybe I’ll even skip the nymphing and just look for some risers. I’ve caught enough fish here over the years that I have a familiar comfort with no anxiousness about fish catching – It’s just good to be here on the banks of Spring Creek.
Me and My Shadow
It’s like Bob Dylan says in Maggie’s Farm, “I wake up in the morning fold my hands and pray for rain…” And so I did – but alas it was no to be. The whether was beautiful – and I was cursing this. The fly fisherman can be a contrary sort. While everyone else is singing the praises of a beautiful fall day, the fly fisherman looks to the cloudless clear blue sky, squinting like Clint Eastwood and looking about as ornery. It was great for a country drive or a hike in the mountains, but not exactly what I was hoping for. Gray skies, cool temps and a little rain would have made me much happier. With those conditions – maybe our little friend the Blue Winged Olive would have come out to play. But it was bright skies and looming shadows as we fished Spring Creek below Bellefonte. Bank-feeders scattered in fear as my shadow announced my presence. The shadow of the fly-line and the glint of the sun off of the fly-rod didn’t help to make for stealthy approaches either.
All of these conditions, contributed to the surprise of what we saw – surface feeding trout. It was one of those mystery hatches. Maybe a better angler would have figure it out, but I was at a loss. There were fish rising pretty consistently and no bugs that we could see. If I were a more prepared fly fisher I would have taken my bug-seine, waded to the tail of the pool and found whatever it was that was drifting in the current – but I’m not. So it remains a mystery, which is okay by me. After all, the mystery of fish and bugs, is a big part of what makes the game interesting.
What to Tie On?
I opened my fly boxes and looked over the selection. Sometimes I think that I read about fly fishing too much – and I tie too many flies. This can result in analysis paralysis. The question of which one of these things is the “right” one can cause me to open and close box after box, and then go through them again. I should probably tie on some sort of tiny emerger and fish it in the film – yeah that’s the smart thing to do. But which one?
But then I thought that it would be much more fun to put on a big dry fly and see if there were any takers. Make it simple. Fish are eating at the surface – give them something on the surface to eat. And preferably something that I can actually see at 30-ft.
Who Would Have Thought?
I tied on a tan and green, elk-hair caddis. And surprise, surprise – It worked! I tie this fly a little differently than the traditional style. I like to tie it with a twisted antron body (I like the segmented look that gives you). Also rather than palmering the hackle on the body, I use hackle only in front of the wing and trim the bottom, so that the fly floats a little lower.
The fish took this fly without hesitation. They came up out of the depths and sucked it in without a second look. I was completely surprised. Usually I only fish dries on Spring Creek when there are hatching bugs to match. I have never had much luck on Spring Creek with attractor dry flies. So why did this fly work so well? Maybe there had been recent caddis activity and the fish “remembered” this. I guess I’ll never know for sure. I’m sure the next time I try it – there will be no takers.
The Next Day
There’s not too much to report. We fished the morning in an area upstream of Fisherman’s Paradise (I don’t want to be too specific). There were a lot of big fish. I didn’t catch any of the big fish. I don’t know when the browns start spawning in Spring Creek, but there were a lot of fish gathered together. I didn’t see any activity that I’d call spawning activity and I didn’t notice any redds. The fish that I watched were not feeding at all though – they were very inactive. Of course it was bright and sunny and there was no bug activity at all – at least while we were there in the morning.
Well, it has taken me a little while to get this trip report posted. Sorry folks – but I have a good reason. My camera took a little swim in the Little Juniata. I guess I should call it my ex-camera. I let it dry out for several days – no luck. I tried the alcohol soak trick – no luck. It is dead. I was able to get the pics off of the card – but I had to get a card reader, which I finally got around to.
It was a warm and sunny day (too sunny for me). We started off the day above the town of Spruce Creek, fishing several different areas. For hours we pounded the deep runs along the shady bank – no fish, no bites, no flashes, nothing. I was beginning to think that I missed the news of a massive fish kill. Surely it wasn’t my lack of skill.
There were very small light gray mayflies (size 20-ish), hatching sporadically all day, never in large numbers, but fairly consistently. I didn’t get a picture, but I did get a good look: Light gray body, light gray wing (no veins or speckles). I could not identify these bugs. If anybody has any guess as to the identification please leave a comment.
Little Juniata Riffle
We fished this nice riffle, deep run combo for a bit. It just looks fishy doesn’t it? This riffle, led into the deep run along the rocky, shady, bank. I couldn’t have designed a nicer looking section of stream.
Deep Run on the Little Juniata
More of the Deep Run
It looked perfect but I couldn’t find the fish. I carefully fished stealthily up through the run and into the riffle, casting on a grid – covering the water systematically. Surely I’d come up with some fish. After a fishless 45-minutes or so, I grew a little impatient and waded across the riffle just to investigate and FISH! I finally found the fish. The fish were up in a shallow side-riffle ranging from about 5-inches to 18-inches deep. They were going crazy! Zipping around, backs out of the water – how did I miss them? I assume they were feeding on emergers of the little gray mayflies (I can’t say for sure).
I managed to hook up with a nice rainbow (18″ or so), but then managed to loose it. It hit a size 18, rusty compara-emerger. I never did manage another fish hook-up out of that riffle. But it left me wondering how many times I’ve passed fish by like this. I could have very easily missed these rising fish all together.
I finally found the fish
After managing to put these fish down for good – we moved on. This time we decided to head into the “gorge” section between Spruce Creek and Barree. We hiked into the gorge about 1.5 miles or so. What a beautiful setting! The river sits at the bottom of a dramatic canyon – with steep ridges rising about 1200 feet above the valley floor. It feels very remote – and if it weren’t for all the fly-fishers it would be very lonely in there. Aside from the train tracks and bridges – you don’t see any sign of civilization.
The Gorge on the Little J
Another view of the Gorge
For a sense of perspective – look at those little black dots in that picture above, those are fisherman. That hill rises up about 1200-ft almost straight up. Maybe not much much by western standards, but it still feels impressive (and looming) when you’re in there. The topo-map from GoogleMaps illustrates the terrain nicely. The picture of the gorge, just above, was taken looking upstream from just below that wide spot in the river (near the 800′ elevation mark).
View Larger Map
Not only is the setting beautiful but I finally caught a few fish. I caught two browns, one about 8″ and one maybe 13″ or so. They were both caught on a size 10, green caddis larva (with an orange “hot-spot”). We couldn’t stay long in the gorge though – we had a long walk out of there and the Diner 22 hot roast-beef sandwich with fries (and pie for desert) was calling. Diner 22 is located on Rt. 22 neat Alexandria PA. The Little J. did not give up her fish easily on this day – but the stream and the setting (especially in the gorge) are just beautiful.
A nice brownie from the Little J.
Fished on Friday May 1st, 2009
Well the weather report looked bad – possible rain in the morning, probably thunderstorms in the afternoon. So we went fishing anyway. Thankfully we didn’t let the weatherman dissuade us from our trip. He had it right about rain in the morning, but the afternoon turned out to be beautiful – it was sunny but cool. And the fish were cooperative. It was one of those days when everything comes together.
As soon as we got out of the truck, at the Yellow Creek Fly Fishing Only Project Area, the sun came out and the rain stopped – but the water was pretty high and discolored. The site of the discolored water did not make me happy – I never seem to have much success when the water is off color. But these misgivings proved unwarranted as we looked upon our favorite fishing hole. The fish were rising. A lot of fish were rising. It was a nice little caddis hatch – not a blizzard type hatch, but a consistent parade of fluttering caddis popped off the water, and fish continued to hungrily rise to them, all afternoon and into the evening.
There were several different caddis coming off - most were generally light colored and maybe a size 14; a smaller number were dark gray or black and more of a 16 or 18. I was never able to catch any of these bugs though, so I can’t give a better description. I’d love to know what color and size they really were – I think we could have had one of those truly stellar days if we’d had a good match. As it was we did okay, catching fish on a variety of different patterns.
A typical fish for the day - notice the nice blue color on the gill-plate
Caught on a Yellow Sally
On the surface I caught fish on size 12 and 14 Elk Hair Caddis with tan and gray bodies, size 18 black caddis, and a size 14 Elk-hair Yellow Sally was good for a few too. Due to the rising fish I didn’t fish underneath much – but a size 12 Peacock and Partridge Soft Hackle, fished on a rising swing, was good for some hookups. Every change of fly would bring a few lookers – and usually a taker.
E.E. and the Old Ranger fish the rise. The Old Ranger is casting his vintage late 40s Glass
I have a hard time just fishing – I’m always trying to learn something. This trip drove home a few good lessons (I seem to continually learn, forget and then re-learn the same things).
Lesson Number 1: Don’t let the weatherman tell you what to do.
If we had heeded the weather man’s warnings we would have missed a memorable day on the stream. Whatever the weatherman says – just fish!
Lesson Number 2: Always have plenty of caddis in the most common sizes and colors
Of course, I know that a caddis hatch is always a good possibilty – so there’s no excuse in not having the right color or size. Do yourself a favor sit down tonight and tie some caddis dries in assorted colors (Tan, gray, olive) and sizes (12 – 18). Most caddis I see are best imitated using a light colored wing – but occasionaly I’ll also see some fairly dark brown or gray caddis, so be prepared for both.
Lesson Number 3: Don’t be afraid to improvise
One of our crew – after losing his best hatch-matching caddis imitation – in a trout’s lip – got out the scissors and improvised. He trimmed down what I think was a size 12 Gray Wulff and made an awesome caddis emerger. This fly worked well. It not only caught rising fish – it brought some fish out of the depths as an attractor fly. The modifications consisted of cutting off the tail, trimming off most of hair-wings, and trimming the hackle. What was left of the deer-hair wings floated flush on the surface and the body of the fly hung suspended beneath the water. The result was a decent caddis emerger not unlike the Vermont Caddis:
Vermont Caddis Recipe:
Hook: Standard Dry Fly Hook 12-20
Body: Hare’s Mask Dubbing to match natural (tan, olive, black, etc.)
Hackle: Brown and Grizzly mixed (one size smaller than normal for hook)
Fish this fly without floatant – so that the hackle lies flush and the body is suspended vertically under the surface.
Lesson Number 4: Don’t forget to enjoy the surroundings! With a blog post in mind – I made sure to look around me and notice things, so that I would have some pictures. Well – I should remember to always do this. Here’s a few bits of nature that we enjoyed.,
Fungus Amoung Us: What the heck is this thing?
Oh and don’t forget to stop at The New Frontier Restaurant after your day of fishing. The Restaurant is located on Rt. 36 about 100 ft from Yellow Creek. It has good homestyle cooking at good prices. I’m a sucker for the Hot Roast Beef Sandwich with fries and Gravy. If you’re there on Friday try the all you can eat fish dinner.