Sunday, August 9, 2009

On the River: Spring Creek, Bellefonte, Central PA

July 31 - August 3, 2009

Ah, Central PA is the non-humanoid love of my life. If at any point up until now you were to ask me where I learned to fly fish the answer would have always come back - Central PA. I suppose I did a fair amount of learning on the White and Norfork rivers of Arkansas, but really, I've always considered Spring Creek, Penn's Creek and Big Fishing Creek my "school of hard knocks". These are the rivers that have taught Jay and I so many things about fly fishing along the journey.

So, after many years since I have made a dedicated trip back east to fish Central PA, I finally got to break away for a long weekend and remember the joy!

After fishing in the west for 13 years now, there was nothing I was looking forward to more than standing in Spring Creek, with absolutely no wind, the warm sun on my back, and sight nymphing to 18"+ browns that are holding alongside veronica americana in gentle riffles and flats. But, mother nature had some other ideas about our weekend, and so, midday Friday we found ourselves fishing to a hatchery outlet pipe (the only clear water for miles) in a steady downpour, praying that it would let up and the rivers might have a chance of being fishable the next day.

You see, all Thursday night the Central PA had gotten pounded with rain, so by the time we showed up on Friday the rivers were high a muddy. We knew that as soon as the rain stopped we'd only have to wait 6-8 hours for the clarity to come back a bit, but things were looking grim. Fortune, however, has a funny way of shinning upon us sometimes.

The rain did finally let up and the river, by the next morning, was a milky brown but definitely fishable. We didn't know what to expect, except for the fact that we knew we weren't "sight nymphing" to any fish. So, Jay and I did what we do best and began thinking about how to approach the situation and find fish.

It was about 15 casts, and 6 fish later, that we decided "off color" water wasn't so bad. All in all, we learned some really important things about Spring Creek that weekend. So often, when you can see the fish, you give up trying any blind nymphing. I mean, why would you blind nymph when you can spot tanks left and right. But the twist is that for every fish you spot, there is 4 that you don't.

I can honestly say that being limited by the murky water showed me the true colors of that river. In the past we had always assumed there were not massive numbers of fish in Spring Creek, but a good number of very large fish instead (and who would be sad about that). But with the water being high and off color, not to mention a lot of extra food getting washed down the river, the fish were not as spooky and OUT IN FORCE, slamming our flies on a well placed drift.

I learned some other things that weekend too. I had good confidence in the AB sow bug, but I now have the utmost confidence that it is a sweet pattern. By the end of the weekend there were really on two choices, the AB sow bug or the Gammarus Scud. Sure, you could catch fish on a midge or a hare's ear, but why? The fish were CRUSHING those two crustaceans and didn't leave much desire for changing up patterns.

One of the other amazing things was the holding locations of most of the fish. With the water being "greenish" you could get a feel for depth by looking for the darker green/brown patches (by midday Saturday we had about 8" of visibility). Making a drift over a seem with a little more depth would inevitably produce a fish. In fact, my biggest brown of the trip came out of what was little more than shin deep pocket-water.

We were on the river every morning at about 6 AM, looking desperately for the Trico spinner fall, but none of the days were a heavy enough fall to budge the trout off the bottom of the river. It didn't seem to matter though, the nymphing was good in the morning too. Really the only slow part of the day was the "heat", from about 2 PM to 5 PM, but even then, we were still picking up fish.

We primarily fished the Benner Spring stretch, but did break away for a half day to hit the Fisherman's Paradise. Not to impressed by that ... I know there are some big fish right near the hatchery, but headed upstream into the "Canyon" immediately and regretted it. This fish were plenty, but the size range was about 4" smaller, on average, than at Benner.

All in all, irony played its final twist on us ... As Jay and I were heading back to the car Monday morning, we realized that the true clarity of the river was finally restored. Being that I was so nostalgic for sight nymphing out east, we decided to walk the river, instead of the trail, for the last 100 yards. I immediately spotted this Brown, but he spooked. I thought I saw where he went so I made three drifts and hooked him ... still not a true "sight nymph"

Then it was "batter up" for Jay, but we were 30 minutes behind schedule to get back for dinner with the ladies. Sadly, Jay got a few sweet takes, but never got to seal the deal and we were out of time.

I guess if you fulfilled all your fantasies you wouldn't have a reason to go back ... yeah right! Of course you would, to fulfill them a second time.

I love this sport!


1 comment:

  1. That looks incredible out there, Jeff. I've heard a lot of stories about fishing in old friend, Renee (and her hubby are from there), and they speak about fishing the water with the same reverence and emotion.

    A completely different experience than out here in the West, isn't it? Unique, I would imagine...

    Those are some really nice fish, Jeff...and the scenery is beautiful.