Cold December Rainbows on The Tulpehocken Creek

Watching the forecast this past week I knew it was going to be a cold weekend. On Saturday there was a good breeze going and I didn’t want to deal with it on the water. I opted to take the fly rod out on Sunday. When I headed outside to pack up my truck at 10:00am it was 28 degrees outside. I broke out the heavy long johns and headed to the Tulpehocken Creek in Berks County. I haven’t fished the Tulpehocken (“Tully”) since this past July. I knew the state had completed a fall stocking back in October. And I also knew that TCO Fly Shop had stocked a large number of small fingerlings back in November. There are problaby more trout in the Tully this time of year than any other body of water in southeastern Pennsylvania. Typically when the state stocks the Tully, they put fish in the same locations each time. I figured it was a safe bet to start fly fishing in the riffles below Rebers Bridge Road. I arrived at the Rebers Bridge parking lot around 11:00am and started getting geared up. While I was there a gentlmen who’d been out fishing stopped at my truck and offered me his hand warmers, saying they still had a couple of hours left in them and that I’d need them. I didn’t argue and took them. He mentioned that he’d caught four trout since early morning but they were all caught further downstream. After thanking him for the info and the warmth, I headed down to the creek. I took the water temperature and it was around 42 degrees.

I brought my 9’-5wt Winston and I had a 9’-5X leader with 6X tippet. I decided to start out fishing a standard Hare’s Ear nymph with no bead head with a #18 orange egg pattern dropped off of the hook. I also decided to fish with an Air Lock floating indicator for the first time to try it out. I methodically worked every riffle below the bridge and 75 yards downstream. I didn’t have any hits or even pauses of the indicator. I don’t know if the fish weren’t there or I just didn’t have what they wanted. After an hour I decided to move down to the Rt. 222 bridge. When I arrived there I walked upstream and started fishing the same rig I’d used upstream. On my second cast my indicator stopped and I set the hook on a rainbow. He took the Hare’s Ear nymph and I landed him with relative ease. A half an hour later I made my way down to the riffles below the Rt. 222 bridge. After several casts, I had hooked up and lost fish on two occasions. Both takes were on the Hare’s Ear nymph. I decided to change out the egg pattern for a #20 Olive Zebra Midge. I dropped the midge off of the Hare’s Ear and on my next cast, I was hooked into another rainbow trout. After releaseing that fish, I put another couple drifts through the riffle and hooked into another rainbow on the midge pattern. They were all close to the same size, maybe 12” and they all looked like they came from the October stocking by the state.

 The first rainbow trout I caught that took the Hare's Ear nymph.

The first rainbow trout I caught that took the Hare's Ear nymph.

As the afternoon wore on, I worked my way further downstream towards the covered bridge. I had a couple takes and misses, but I didn’t have any additional hook-ups before heading back to my truck around 3:00pm. At that point I couldn’t feel my toes and I was having a hard time tying flies on my line because I was losing motor control over the muscles in my hands. It was so cold in fact that I was dealing with ice blocking my fly rod guides. I might as well have been steelhead fishing in Pulaski.

 The temperatures were so cold on Sunday I was dealing with ice on my rod guides.

The temperatures were so cold on Sunday I was dealing with ice on my rod guides.

I did see a couple of other fly fisherman casting below the Rt. 222 bridge in the afternoon, but everyone else was gone by the time I was leaving the creek. For a day with a high in the upper 20s, I can’t complain about landing three trout and hooking up with a couple of others. I’ve had worse days in the spring! On a side note, I really like the small Air Lock indicators. Their design keeps them exactly where you put them on the leader. I’m not sure yet if they’ll replace my foam indicators I’ve used for years, but they do a great job. They are very easy to put on your line and to move when needed. Check them out if you haven’t already. Stay warm out there, winter is just around the corner.

 A rainbow I fooled with a #20 Olive Zebra Midge pattern.

A rainbow I fooled with a #20 Olive Zebra Midge pattern.

 Looking upstream on the Tulpehocken Creek just above the Rt. 222 bridge.

Looking upstream on the Tulpehocken Creek just above the Rt. 222 bridge.