Newfane Blues & Spring Creek Wild Browns

I thought I had western New York fly fishing out of my system for the year, but I didn’t. After catching a 20+” lake-run brown trout on 18 Mile Creek last weekend, all I wanted to do was go back and catch another. I ignored the lack of posts on the Burt Dam Facebook page and all the other indicators I use to know when it’s a good time to head north. I left early Saturday morning and arrived at the Burt Dam Fishermen’s Park at 6:30am. There weren’t many cars in the lot, maybe a dozen at best. I got dressed with my cold weather gear as the morning temperatures were in the high 30s. I headed down the hill to the water and as I got closer to the creek I could see that the water was lower than the weekend before. There were a couple of guys at the trestle bridge and one or two on the run above it. I stepped into the water. Gone were the post spawn zombie salmon, any salmon I did see were lying dead on the bottom of the river. The previous weekend in the same spot, I’d seen many fish in the deeper pools, but now there were no fish. I drifted nymphs for thirty minutes with no success. I started moving downstream to try and locate fish. As I moved I didn’t see anyone else hooking up either. I did see several steelhead in the 15” range that were spread out in the run above the trestle. They were dark in color as if they’d been in the creek for some time. By the time I worked my way to the bottom of the run, I was disappointed and suffering from the “Newfane blues.” I realized I was going to have to explore every last foot of the fishable stretch of 18 Mile Creek to try and find catchable fish. I headed back up to the middle section where some of the deeper water is. This area is typically crowded, but I figured that with the small number of people on the creek, this was a good oportunity to check it out. When I got up there, four guys were perched on top of the opposite wall casting towards the side I was on. With my poloarized glasses I was able to spot two or three good sized steelhead sitting in the run. One in particular was pushing 30”, but the minute I put a line in the water he was gone. As I walked up through this section, I got to an area where I thought I saw a good brown trout positioned behind some rocks. I wasn’t sure if it was a fish at first because the brown trout’s camouflage is so effective.

 The incredible camouflage of a brown trout on a gravel stream bottom.

The incredible camouflage of a brown trout on a gravel stream bottom.

It’s incredible how a fish that is two feet long can blend with the gravel on the creek bottom. Brown trout have a yellowish tint underwater, the golden hugh of their scales, and it gives them away. I tried drifting a Hare’s Ear Nymph without weight, but couldn’t get him to take. So I tied on a large stonefly pattern with some orange beads and put that on a dead drift. On the second drift through the run I felt my line lock-up and I saw a huge female brown trout lift off the creek bottom and start giving me the head shakes. She gave me a decent fight, but I expected a bigger fight than I got. I fought her for 5-10 minutes and then I was able to get her into the net. I was fortunate to do so because my hook came out as she slid in. The fish was beautiful, and she was probably my biggest brown trout to date. I didn’t want to keep her out of the water long so I decided against taking measurements and weighing her. If I had to guess I’d say she was 26”-28” and her weight was probably in the 10-12lb range.

 My largest brown trout on a fly rod to date.

My largest brown trout on a fly rod to date.

She was fun to catch and that experience turned a somewaht depressing day into a good day. Here’s a pic of her just after I landed her. Eggs poured out of her as I hoisted her from the water. Unfortuantley I forgot to turn on my GoPro during my fly rod battle and so no video.

After landing the big brown I fished the rest of the upper run to the base of the dam but saw no fish. The only section where I saw decent fish on 18 Mile Creek was in that middle section and they didn’t look fresh. I fished until lunch and decided to move to new water for the rest of the afternoon. I headed over to Oak Orchard because it had moderate flows and with more water, you never know when new fish might show up. However, the reports haven’t been good out of the Oak. I got into the Oak lot around 12:30pm and got geared up and headed down to the river. There weren’t many guys on the water.

 The view on the Oak Orchard River on Saturday afternoon.

The view on the Oak Orchard River on Saturday afternoon.

This may have been because it was the second weekend of whitetail deer season or because the fishing had been slow. I walked down the top part of the river below the Waterport Dam. There were ten guys fishing this stretch of water. I talked to each one of them as I passed by and the only catch they had was one steelhead and nothing big. I worked downriver to the archery club and there were a few guys above it and in front was the largest group as usual. I walked downstream further and saw a lot of guys down there. I waded out to look at the riffle water and saw a couple steelhead and brown trout that were spooky. I drifted a few nymphs and fished blind in several riffles. I tried stone flies, woolly buggers, egg patterns, and no success. Around 3:00pm I decided to start walking back towards my truck because the trail back was so muddy and treacherous, I didn’t want to walk it in the dark. On the way back I watched two guys hook into decent steelhead and saw one guy lose a good brown trout. When I got to the top of the river below the dam, I decided to take one more shot. I tied on an egg pattern that Mark at TCO in Reading gave me on Friday night. And wouldn’t you know it, on my first drift I had a fish hit and I was into a good steelhead. He wasn’t a giant but he put up a great fight and it felt good to land a fish after a long day of not catching anything. I took a pic and decided to leave with a win under my belt.

 The steelhead I caught on Mark's egg sack pattern just before leaving the Oak.

The steelhead I caught on Mark's egg sack pattern just before leaving the Oak.

Typically my weekend story would end there, but trying to do the six hour drive up and back in the same day is brutal. I got about half way home on Saturday and ended up in Mansfield, which is just across the Pennsylvania state line. I stopped to grab a hotel room so I could sleep. The next morning when I got up, I looked at a map and realized on my drive home I could fish Pine Creek or the State College streams. I opted to try and catch some wild Pennsylvania fish on Spring Creek. On the way there I stopped in Williamsport for a diner breakfast and met up with my buddy Mike Haines and we talked fly fishing and whitetail hunting and then I was back on the road. I headed down 220 South through Lock Haven and then hopped on 80 West towards State College. I got off at the Bellefonte exit and headed towards Fisherman’s Paradise. I hadn’t fished Spring Creek in a long time. I got there and the water levels were very low and gin clear.

 The gin clear water on Spring Creek near Shiloh Road.

The gin clear water on Spring Creek near Shiloh Road.

As I was getting rigged up I ran into Ed from Fly Fisherman’s Paradise Fly Shop and he said he was catching fish on small #18 egg patterns and midges. I headed upriver and started at the bridge and was able to hook and land one wild brown on a #20 black midge. He was only 8-10” but a beautiful fish. After that I headed over to the Shiloh Road area near the Benner Fish Hatchery. I walked upstream and on my walk I saw a lot of trout on redds in the gravel. It was neat to see and I walked around them, letting them go about their business. I got up to the bridge and saw some fish holding in a riffle. I drifted a red dot egg as a primary and a black midge as a dropper. On the first drift through I hooked into a nice wild brown that was probably 12”.

 The larger of the two wild brown trout I caught on Spring Creek.

The larger of the two wild brown trout I caught on Spring Creek.

It was a beautiful fish with dark brown autumn colors. I got a picture and put him back. Then I headed further upstream, fished next to the hatchery. There was one hole where I hooked up three times and couldn’t keep them on the line. I wrapped it up after that and headed back home. The ride home was terrible because of an accident on Rt. 322. I sat on the highway for two and a half hours on the way home. It was a memorable weekend of fishing, but I probably won’t be heading back to western New York again this year. I said that last weekend too.