On April 8th, old man winter showed up at my doorstep with inches of snow and temperatures barely reaching double digits. One week earlier on Easter Sunday it was 75 degrees. Only in Cleveland, Ohio.
With freezing temps and rain causing our Lake Erie tributaries to become virtually unfishable with muddy and high water, I made an impromptu trip for myself to fish Central Pennsylvania, home of my favorite trout streams in possibly the entire country.
Saturday I spent whipping up some bugs for the trip including some Blue Winged Olives, Pheasant Tails, Walt’s Worms and Grannom Caddis flies while waiting out the cold weather to pass.
I am not much of a dry fly fisherman let alone tying them. In Ohio, we don’t have a trout population and we don’t have hatches other than a Lake Erie midge or two. My experience with dry flies is limited to trout clubs and the West Branch of the Delaware River, which happens to be one of the most technical and difficult fisheries in the world. Needless to say, I’m not seasoned with fishing a hatch more the less having success.
Getting into Central PA around 10:00 led me to the Little Juniata River where I spent more time with gear malfunctions than I did fishing. Icy guides (Cooking Spray and Ice Off Paste doesn’t work I found out) and a wet spool that froze and ended up causing me a ton of problems led to me losing a nice Brown Trout on my second cast and putting a gash in my line. The weather started warming up so I figured I’d head up to State College and get some bugs I didn’t have for the afternoon hatch from TCO Fly Shop and hit Spring Creek, a place I’m very familiar with.
With the low water on Spring Creek, I went down to 6x fluorocarbon on the tippet. Flows were barely hitting 80 cfs making the fish super spooky with the water clear as gin. Fishing Spring Creek last summer, I encountered flows around 120 cfs which were perfect, normally numbers only seen in the spring.
After casting a 500 grain head with 10 feet of T-11 as a sink tip all winter, light tippets with my 4-weight rod was a bit different than what I’ve been doing for the last six months or so. The first hour or so was getting back into the groove of high stick Czech Nymphing and with short drifts and quick strikes from these wild Brown Trout.
Ending up frustrated more often than not on “Steelhead Alley” swinging a fly, I must admit my confidence wasn’t glowing but after a few grabs on some nymphs I landed a few brown beauties and all of a sudden, my posture, my casting and my attitude all got better. Getting the skunk out of the boat or out of your waders is always a good feeling especially with a Brown Trout.
The grabs gradually slowed down, maybe due to the low water and all the hook sets spooking the fish, but after looking over my shoulder and inhaling a few BWO’s I saw the fish beginning to rise.
It was time to try my hand at being a dry fly fisherman, which sounds way more intimidating than it actually is. I mean, dry fly guys fish western rivers wearing tweed and are all over 70 is the stereotype right?
After several eats along the far bank with no hook sets I knew I was at least getting the presentation right.
It’s amazing, how quickly they’ll change their food source and even be picky enough to distinguish the difference between a size 18 or 20 BWO. Dialing down on the size and tippet allowed me to hook up, picking up a small but nice trout on a dry to end day one.
Monday’s forecast called for rain. But after a four-hour trek to Centre County, PA, I wasn’t going to go home after just one day of fishing, especially with the success rate I had.
When I hit Spring Creek, the water was low and clear just like the day before, but the overcast skies gave the fish enough cover to feel protected. I was able to nymph a few out of Spring Creek in the AM before heading back to the Little Juniata, this time with better conditions.
Hitting the Little J, I started with a nymph rig only to find Grannoms and BWO’s flying off the top of the water. Rising fish galore in the seams and deep pools began to follow and start sipping the bugs hatching.
The most frustrating thing to me with dries, especially in the middle of a feeding frenzy, is you just can’t cast and continue to take shots without watching the fish and the feeding habits. But I held my patience and watched a few 16 and 18 inchers come to the top and sip right on a seam with some good Grannoms coming off.
I began taking a few shots and hooked up on the first eat by this fish which was an accomplishment itself seeing I’ve struggled getting hook sets on dries since I began fly fishing. A good fight on my 4 wt, I brought a nice fish to the net. A 16-17 incher fell victim to my Grannom.
Not to be “that guy” who spoils all the good spots and tips off the good holes, there’s not doubt the water on the Little J downstream of the Grier School on first sight is some of the best trout water on the east coast.
I loved exploring some new water and seeing how awesome Central PA limestone streams can be during a spring hatch. Braving off the cold weather was very rewarding because the weather got nice in a hurry and stayed nice a majority of the weekend, which eliminated crowds and led me to some nice fish.
A great weekend get away while the gear guys and center pinners lined up shoulder to shoulder for a crack at Ohio Steelhead.
I’ll be back in May for a few days to try out the Sulphur hatch. Until then, off to Michigan to strip streamers for Brown Trout.