Three for One, Fly Fishing the Tunkhannock, Pohopoco & Little Schuylkill

On Friday, the AccuWeather app on my iPhone was sending me flash flood notifications for southeastern Pennsylvania. I knew this was going to eliminate any chance of fishing for smallmouth bass anywhere in the Susquehanna Valley on Saturday. I looked at the weather map and all the precipitation was moving south of Rt. 80. I started thinking about fishing options for Saturday and Friday night decided in the morning I’d continue my Keystone Select video series on the South Branch Tunkhannock Creek in Wyoming County.

I had intended to stay up late Friday night to tie some flies but instead fell asleep on my couch. I woke up at 3:30AM and rather than try to get another hour of sleep I decided to get on the road early. It was pouring down rain as I drove out of Lancaster County. The rain didn’t stop until I was as far north as Hazelton. By the time first light was breaking across the sky, I was driving on dry pavement. The temperatures on Saturday morning were much cooler than normal for the month of July. If I didn’t know any better I’d say it was the first taste of autumn.

The South Branch Tunkhannock Creek is one of the original eight streams that became part of the Keystone Select Stocking Program in 2016. The creek is a tributary of the Tunkhannock Creek which eventually flows into the Susquehanna River. The stream received its name from the Lenape Indians who once inhabited the northeastern portion of Pennsylvania, as well as what is now the state of New Jersey. The Keystone Select section of the creek is located just south of the town of Factoryville and runs from Rt. 11 down to the footpath bridge that crosses the creek behind the Keystone College campus. There is adequate parking to access this section of the creek at the Keystone College baseball field just off of South Overbrook Road.

The view on the Tunkhannock Creek in late July.

The view on the Tunkhannock Creek in late July.

When I arrived at the baseball field at 7:00AM, there was no one else in the lot. I rigged up my Winston 9’-5wt with a 9’-6X leader and 6X tippet. I decided to start out fishing with a #18 Copper John Nymph with a pink color Squirmy Wormy that I’d salvaged from a previous fishing trip. When I got to the water, I was surprised by how good the flows were. The water was stained but the color was great for summer fly fishing. I took a temperature at 7:30 of 67°. Where you walk into the creek off the baseball field lot, there is a large riffle and pool. It looked deep enough to hold fish so I waded across the creek and began fishing there. As I made my second cast, I heard a voice and look up to see a gentleman walking through the woods shouting “Mike.” It turns out it was someone who recognized me from the Wooly Bugged YouTube Channel. I can’t remember the gentlemen’s name, but if you’re reading this, thank you for saying hello and I apologize that I was in your Saturday morning fishing spot! Not long after this gentleman headed upstream to fish, I hooked into a trout in the riffle I was fishing.

A small rainbow from the Tunkhannock, a very hardy fish!

A small rainbow from the Tunkhannock, a very hardy fish!

I started heading downstream toward the lower Keystone Select boundary, looking for deeper water that might hold summer trout. I caught a couple of small rainbow trout that were hiding in runs that flowed underneath low handing bushes on the bank. Eventually the stream made an almost 90° turn and at this bend, there was a deep fishing hole. I spent a good amount of time drifting my nymphs through the riffle and into the deep tailout. I had three hook-ups that didn’t end with landed fish. One of these fish felt like a really good one. It ripped off fifteen yards of fly line before it broke my 6X tippet. I could feel the headshakes and it felt like a solid trout.

One of the rainbow trout I caught underneath cover on the creek bank.

One of the rainbow trout I caught underneath cover on the creek bank.

I continued downstream and landed two more feisty rainbows, both fell to a pink San Juan Worm pattern. Eventually the stream became shallow as it ran under the footpath bridge that crosses the creek from Keystone College. After reaching the bottom boundary, I decided I’d hike back upstream to fish to the top boundary. I expected a lot more from the stream in the upper section, but unfortunately this part of the stream didn’t seem to hold many fish. The water was definitely deep enough in two or three spots, but I was unable to even get a hit.

The upper boundary to the stream is marked by a wire and sign below the Rt. 11 bridge. I finished fishing around 10:45AM. I’d had no intention of finishing early so I decided I’d expand the day and head south to fish another body of water. While fishing I used up the last of my Squirmy Wormy patterns so I decide that as I headed south I’d stop at the Evening Hatch Fly Shop which sits on Rt. 940, just east of White Haven. While I was there I chatted with the store attendant and asked him about local streams. He suggested the Pohopoco Creek and said that the Pohopoco Rod & Gun Club had stocked the stream about a month ago. After buying a handful of flies I took his suggestion and headed further south towards Lehighton. Just east of Lehighton is the Beltzville Lake. The Pohopoco Creek flows out of the lake and travels almost 28 miles before it runs into the Lehigh River. The state stocks the Pohopoco with rainbow trout in the early spring. The Pohopoco Rod & Gun Club stocks in the late spring and early summer. When I arrived, I parked in the lot just below the dam spillway. This bottom release dam is enormous and is neat to see. When I walked down to the stream I was surprised at how low and clear the water was, almost to the point where I considered leaving. I remembered the fellow at the Evening Hatch Fly Shop mentioning good fishing near the stream gauge station. I got back in my truck and drove a few hundred yards downstream to the station. It turns out there is small low-head dam here, and the water is a bit deeper. I started fishing using an olive Hare’s Ear and a red Squirmy Wormy. After ten minutes of drifting my flies, I finally hooked up with my first Pohopoco trout. It turned out to be a moderately sized rainbow and looked very healthy. I walked downstream a distance and found some nice stretches of deeper water. I’d been warned to look out for private property. When I saw a dock with a no trespassing sign, even though there were fish rising in front of it, I decided to stay where I was. I left the Pohopoco after having only fished for an hour. I did see a few fish rising, so I’m sure the stream fishes well before sundown.

The beautiful rainbow trout I caught on the Pohopoco Creek.

The beautiful rainbow trout I caught on the Pohopoco Creek.

I decided to make it a three-stream day and headed south again toward the town of New Ringgold, Pennyslvania to fish the Little Schuylkill River. Unfortunately, the further south I drove the more water I saw in the streams. The same was true for the Little Schuylkill when I arrived. The water flows were up around 100CFS. The water was off color and much swifter than the last time I’d visited. I fished some of the water off of Mill Mountain Road. While attempting to wade and drift nymphs, I was able to hook up with a rainbow trout that I eventually lost while attempting to get him to hand. After fifteen minutes of this, I decided wading was not safe. I ended up on the large rocks along the road, casting upstream and letting my nymphs drift down. To my surprise this technique netted me two rainbows, one being the largest I’d caught all day.

The Little Schuylkill River flowing well for late July.

The Little Schuylkill River flowing well for late July.

I’d estimate that throughout the day I hooked up with about a dozen trout, only netting seven or eight of them. But it was the last weekend in July and although it is hard to believe, September is only one month away. I can’t complain about catching that number of trout in the middle of the summer. I’d rather be standing in the warm waters of the Susquehanna or Juniata Rivers stripping buggers for smallmouth, but before I can do that, we need a week or two without a major rain event. That hasn’t happened since June. Ironically, it is almost a 180-degree difference from last summer, when we couldn’t buy a drop of rain. I’m not complaining.

The rainbow trout I caught in the stained water of the Little Schuylkill River.

The rainbow trout I caught in the stained water of the Little Schuylkill River.

Spawning Keystone Select Trout

It has been a tough summer for fishing. The entire month of July has been a daily routine of hot sun and high humidity, followed by heavy thunderstorms. Earlier this week parts of eastern Pennsylvania received over 4” of rain in one hour. Each week the rivers and streams go up and just as they are coming back down, here comes another storm. That’s just how some summers go. But on the positive side, I’m looking forward to plenty of water come September and October as salmon and steelhead start making their way towards the tributaries off of the eastern shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Although no one can predict it, I’d be willing to bet there will be some good runs of fish this autumn.

With all this high water, I decided to take a break from fly fishing and accept the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s offer to tour their Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery near Carlisle. I developed an interest in touring this facility when I started filming my Keystone Select video series on my YouTube channel. The Huntsdale Hatchery is responsible for supplying many of the trout that are stocked in Pennsylvania’s Keystone Select designated waters. I’ve had plenty of experience reaping the benefits of the program on the water but have been curious about the behind the scenes processes that make it happen.

Last week my girlfriend Janelle and I got up early and drove to Carlisle to the Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery, which sits on the Yellow Breeches Creek off of Lebo Road in Cumberland County. We arrived at the hatchery at 8:00AM, just in time to meet Andrew Wagner, the Station Foreman. Andrew spent thirty minutes answering questions I had and giving me a background on the Keystone Select Trout Program. He explained that the Keystone Select Program was started in 2016 with the goal of stocking more fish and larger fish, in concentrated areas in 8 streams across Pennsylvania. A majority of these fish are 2-1/2 year old excess brood fish that have reached a length of 14-20”. The program results in up to 250 trout per square mile in the select Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only waters (read more about the Keystone Select Program here). Prior to being stocked in Pennsylvania waters, the excess brood trout go through a spawning process at the hatchery each summer.

A view of the outdoor fish raceways at the Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery.

A view of the outdoor fish raceways at the Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery.

After explaining the inner workings of the hatchery and the Keystone Select Program, Andrew led us up to the fish raceways where several fish culturists were preparing for the trout spawning process. Andrew introduced me to Joe Tusing, one of the fish culturists at the Huntsdale Hatchery. Joe walked Janelle and I through the process that the culturists go through to spawn the trout. Rainbow, brown, and brook trout are all spawned as part of the process. The larger male and female brood trout are netted separately and seven or eight at a time are placed into large holding containers that are filled with water and a sedative. Within a couple of minutes the fish come under the influence of the sedative and go to sleep. Once they reach this state, the fish culturists take the males and females, one at a time, and squeeze the eggs and milt simultaneously into a bucket. The female trout contain approximately 1,000 eggs for each pound of their weight. The hatchery crew let me jump into the raceway with them and push eggs from several large females into a bucket. The eggs easily flow out of the fish and once empty the fish appears skinny, like a pregnant mother that’s just given birth. After the eggs and milt are taken, the fish are placed in a separate raceway and given time to recover from the sedative. In this state the fish will lay on the bottom of the raceway upside down, almost appearing dead except for the movement of their gills.

One of the large 2-1/2 year old brood trout that will eventually be stocked in a Keystone Select water.

One of the large 2-1/2 year old brood trout that will eventually be stocked in a Keystone Select water.

After the eggs and milt are gathered, they are taken to the back of a truck where iodine is added to clean the eggs. The iodine aids in prepping the eggs to allow the sperm in the milt to more easily penetrate the eggs allowing for fertilization to occur. As the eggs sit, water is run over them and the eggs go from soft to hard. Once they’ve had a chance to fertilize, the eggs are moved indoors to an incubation area where they are monitored until they are hatched.  Once hatched the fry are raised to a point to which they can be moved to the outdoor raceways to be fed and moved through the different sections of the hatchery until they are ready for stocking.

A lot of time and effort goes into that nice size trout that fishermen pull out of Keystone Select Waters, but the guys at the hatchery love every minute of it. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned that knowing that a young boy or girl is going to get a chance to catch a fish of a lifetime is what motivated them to do what they do. There will always be debates about how Fish & Game Commissions spend their money. There will always be debates about what’s better for the state of Pennsylvania, wild trout or stocked trout efforts. But one thing that cannot be argued is that the current stocking program and the Keystone Select Program is creating memories for a new generation of fishermen during a time when most children would rather stare at an iPad than wet a line. I truly believe the state’s trout stocking program is key in developing our next generation of sportsmen.

Taking a picture with Station Foreman, Andrew Wagner.

Taking a picture with Station Foreman, Andrew Wagner.

I want to personally thank Dee Fisher, Andrew Wagner, Joe Tusing, and the rest of the guys at the hatchery. Thanks for allowing Janelle and I to visit and thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with me. I have a new appreciation for the state program and I hope that everyone that watches the YouTube video I’ve produced gains some insight as well.

The state fish hatcheries are open to the public Monday through Friday. Moms and dads, take your kids out to a local hatchery and teach them about the fish life cycle.

Creeped Out & July Trout on East Branch Codorus Creek

On Saturday I had a short window of time to fish so I decided to stay close to home. I used the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s iPhone app to look at their list of the best-stocked trout fishing waters in the southeastern part of the state. I found a small creek located in York County called the East Branch Codorus Creek. I’d heard of this creek’s parent body of water, the Codorus Creek located just below Codorus State Park, but I was not aware that there were other branches. I did some research on Google Maps and was able to determine an access point at the start of the state stocked portion of the creek. This access point was located in the Spring Valley County Park off of Potosi Road. As I was searching Google I found that Spring Valley Park was previously known as Rehmeyer Hollow. This was the site of the infamous Hex Murder from the late 1920’s. After reading the back story it kind of creeped me out to think about fishing here alone. The “Hex House,” which was the site of the cult murder of Nelson Rehmeyer, still stands today and if you decide to fly fish the East Branch Codorus Creek, you’ll drive right by it. You can read more about the history of the murder here.

When I arrived at Spring Valley County Park on Saturday morning, I followed Potosi Road to a large parking lot at the intersection of Blymire Hollow and Sunlight Drive Roads. When I pulled in the only other vehicles in the lot were large trucks with horse trailers attached to them. I would come to find out that this park is a very popular area for horseback riding. The air temperatures were already close to 75° as I was gearing up. I had decided to bring my 9’-5wt Scott G2 thinking that the stream would have sufficient room to work the rod length. Unfortunately, after walking over to the creek for my first look, I realized that the East Branch Codorus Creek is not a very wide body of water. The creek also has a good overhead tree canopy as well as a lot of vegetation on the banks. I took the water temperature while I looked at the creek and my first reading came in at 66°, not a bad temperature for trout in early July.

The summertime view on East Branch Codorus Creek.

The summertime view on East Branch Codorus Creek.

I set up my fly rod with a 9’-5X leader and 5X tippet tied to a #18 Hare’s Ear pattern with a Gold Bead Head Red Squirmy Wormy pattern dropped off the back. I started working my way downstream from the parking lot. In areas the stream was very narrow and shallow. There were several times within the first 100 yards that I considered turning around, walking back to my truck, not wanting to waste my time fishing water that wouldn’t produce. Fortunately for me, I gave the next 50 yards a chance and around the bend I found a long riffle with some water that averaged a 1.5-foot depth. I finally hooked up with my first east Branch Codorus Creek trout in this stretch. It was a small fish and appeared to possibly be wild. I’ve read online that this section of the creek does support wild brown trout, so it is a possibility.

My first East Branch Codorus Creek brown trout.

My first East Branch Codorus Creek brown trout.

After a quick release I continued by walk downstream. Eventually I came upon a classic trout spot where the creek got deep as it cut under a large tree that provided shade and a hiding spot for fish. Within ten minutes I was able to land three trout out of this spot. The first two were brown trout that took the Squirmy Wormy pattern. Both may have been wild brown trout. I also caught a small rainbow trout. All of these fish had very subtle takes that were difficult to detect.

I walked a lot of water that did not appear hold many leftover spring trout. This entire Section 2 of East Branch Codorus Creek stocked water is about 2 miles long. When I got about a mile downstream I found a spot that held deep water for such a small stream. There was a beautiful riffle and run that spilled into a deep pocket and it said, “cast to me.” I worked my nymph rig through this water and on my second drift I hooked into a good sized rainbow trout.

After a great fight on the Scott I was able to land this fish and shortly thereafter landed another that was similar in size. Both measured in the 12-14” range. It was a lot of fun to catch fish like that in the middle of the summer.

I spent the rest of the morning walking the creek along Line Road until I had reached the bridge at Park Road. I didn’t run into many more trout. The trout were primarily concentrated in any available deep water. I caught more than my fair share of Bluntnose Minnows who wanted to eat my Squirmy Wormy, which was more than half their body size. I also saw quite a few water snakes hanging from tree branches, which was enough to give any one with a snake phobia a nightmare. As it got close to lunch time it was getting close to 90 degrees and it was simply too hot to be out fishing even under a tree canopy. I made the long hike back Line Road to the lot where I parked. It was nice to get out, even if for a half day. I’d like to begin wade fishing for smallmouth on the local rivers shortly but every time I make plans, another couple of days of thunderstorms and heavy rain push river levels and clarity to a place that makes it impossible. It was fun exploring the East Brach Codorus Creek and it really was a bit creepy walking all that water by myself knowing all the urban legends about Rehemyer Hollow. Visit and wet a line at your own risk!

A thunderstorm brewing over York County on the way home.

A thunderstorm brewing over York County on the way home.

Quality Not Quantity on Harveys Creek

This was the first week this year that it felt like summer. Last weekend I was on my annual fly fishing trip to Pine Creek with college friends and the air temperatures hit 95 degrees on Sunday afternoon. That heat continued throughout the first few days of this week and the water temperatures in Pennsylvania continue to steadily rise. It wont’ be long before I’ll start venturing out to warm water locations with my 9’-7wt looking for smallmouth bass on streamers. However, today I continued my quest for trout on Keystone Select stream. I headed north to fish Harveys Creek.

I had a late Friday night and slept in this morning. I had my truck packed by 7:00AM. I headed north towards Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Harveys Creek is a freestone tributary that is located to the west of the city of Wilkes-Barre. The stream originates at Harveys Lake and travels 15 miles south where it joins with the Susquehanna River. Using the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s iPhone app I was able to find a good access point to Harveys Creek. Off of Rt. 29, I was able to access Fedor Road, and then make a right onto Jackson Road. The bridge that crosses Harveys Creek on Jackson Road has ample parking to the left just before you cross it. When I arrived I discovered they are currently refinishing the bridge. There are Road Closed signs everywhere but you are still able to drive to the bridge and park. The Keystone Select waters start at this bridge and go all the way to the Rt. 29 Bridge.

Looking downstream on Harveys Creek from the Jackson Road access point.

Looking downstream on Harveys Creek from the Jackson Road access point.

I currently do not own a fly rod shorter than 9 feet, but if anyone reading this decides to check out Harveys Creek, I’d recommend a shorter rod. I geared up my Scott G2 using a 9’-6X tapered leader with 6X tippet. I tied on a #18 Gold Bead Head Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph and dropped a Squirmy Wormy pattern off the bottom.

You can access the beginning of the stream by either carefully crawling down the rocks along a large waterfall, or there is a grass trail that will take you a bit further downstream and avoids the need to climb down rocks. 

The first couple hundred yards of water below the bridge did not look capable of holding much other than a couple of creek chubs. It wasn’t until I got around the bend that I found some water that was deep enough for a trout to inhabit. I took the water temperature and it read 62 degrees. I was surprised that it was this cool. There were thunderstorms that had passed through the area in the early morning hours so I’m not sure if this contributed to these water temperatures. In the first riffle I fished I was able to see a good sized rainbow trout sitting on the bottom. The first cast of my rig sent this fish scurrying upstream. And then a similar situation happened just a few yards downstream. I found a small riffle with a good sized trout in it, but it had no interest in looking at what I was drifting. And even with 6X fluorocarbon tippet, the fish seemed to be line shy. After realizing these fish weren’t going to fall for my set-up I kept moving downstream. After walking the first 400-500 yards of stream I saw a handful of a good rainbow trout, but I got the impression that these fish have either had so many artificial lures thrown at them that they don’t blink at flies or the oxygen levels in the water are low or something else.

The further I walked down the stream, the fewer fish I saw. After a couple of hours of fishing, I got frustrated and impatient, in fact I was ready to head home. Many of the long stretches of water on the creek were far too shallow to reasonably hold fish. I caught minnows one after the other.

During the early afternoon I reached what I’d call the mid-point of the stream. There is a beautiful riffle that runs into a deep pool where you can just barely make out the bottom even with polarized glasses on. I told myself that there has to be at least one trout in here somewhere. I moved out and around to the lower end of the pool as to not spook any fish and I placed my rig at the top of the pool. It slowly floated to almost a stand still. Then wham! Something grabbed my line and took the indicator with it. I set the hook and could see I had a nice rainbow trout on. I had to be very careful with how I played him on 6X tippet. Eventually the fish became tired and I was able to get him into the net.  What a beautiful trout. This fish measured in the 19-20” range and had perfectly formed pectoral and dorsal fins. After releasing this fish I was envisioning the state worker that float stocked the stream and saw that pool and said, let’s put a trophy in there. I pondered how many times he’d been caught prior to grabbing my Squirmy Wormy.

My first Harveys Creek rainbow trout was a brute.

My first Harveys Creek rainbow trout was a brute.

After landing my first Harveys Creek trout I continued downstream. The middle section was very shallow and rocky and there were very few places trout could hide. I didn’t see a fish for almost 200 yards. My gut told me that the state workers only stocked the fish in the water that fell within the first 100-200 yards of each bridge access point. As I started getting closer to the bottom boundary at Rt. 29 Bridge, I started running into fish again. At one point I came across a deep clear pool that had 8 large trout in it. All were rainbows but one. It was disappointing because they exhibited the same lethargic behavior as the fish I saw up top. And the fishing line and other debris next to the hole told me that they’d been fished to one too many times. I drifted several different nymph combinations over them but with no success. A few yards downstream I walked up on a riffle that had good depth to it. I cast my line into the current and a fish grabbed my Squirmy Wormy and put up a great battle. I was able to land this fish on 6X tippet. It ended up being a 19” rainbow trout. One cast later in the same spot, I hooked into another hard fighting rainbow. Both of these fish had beautiful colors on them, dark reds and pinks and spots for days. Between this area of the creek and the Rt. 29 bridge I saw a handful of other trout that were unwilling to eat.

The 19" rainbow trout that I caught in the afternoon.

The 19" rainbow trout that I caught in the afternoon.

When I reached the Rt. 29 Bridge, I decided to turn around and head back to my truck. Along the way I stopped at every hole that I’d previously fished and took a second shot, but with no success. As it was approaching the 5:00 hour I finally made way back to the bridge that was in disarray.

The incredible summer colors of a Harveys Creek rainbow trout.

The incredible summer colors of a Harveys Creek rainbow trout.

I learned two valuable fly fishing lessons today. The first is that the quality of fish is more important than the overall quantity caught. Second, good things come to those who are patient. Patience is a virtue after all! There were several times during this trip where I wanted to pack it in because I was walking a long way in hot waders and fish were few and far between. Sometimes that first fish is just a little further downstream.