December Buck & Wild Browns on The Little Juniata

Late last week I was torn between spending my Saturday on a Pennsylvania trout stream, or sitting in a treestand hoping a whitetail buck would walk by. I ended up opting for the treestand. I had spent a lot of time chasing fish in October and November and it took away from time I might have spent in the woods. I was fortunate to have some incredible encounters with a couple of bucks during the rut in early November, but the right shot never materialized.

Saturday morning I was in my treestand by 5:30am. I watched the stars of the night sky fade into the early December morning. There wasn’t a sound in the woods until 7:30am when I heard the crunching of a leaves behind me. I turned to my right and there about 75 yards away was an 8 point buck making his way down the hill through the thickest cover. When he got to 50 yards I raised my rifle to my shoulder and placed the crosshairs of my scope on him. There was a lot of brush, but I had a one foot by one foot area to squeeze a shot through. I took a breath, paused, and slowly pulled the trigger. My .270 caliber bullet found the mark and the buck jumped up and ran 40 yards before tumbling to the ground. I let out a sigh of relief. Last year I wasn’t able to recover a buck that I’d hit in archery season. I’d hunted hard in rifle and late season and never crossed paths with a buck. It was frustrating, but it made Saturday morning more special. I was blessed to harvest a buck.

 The 8 point buck I harvested on the morning of Saturday, December 3, 2016.

The 8 point buck I harvested on the morning of Saturday, December 3, 2016.

Of course I didn’t end my weekend without wetting a fly line. On Sunday morning I met up with my friend Jon Fuddy and we headed north towards Barree, Pennsylvania to fish the Little Juniata River (“Little J”). We decided to fish the water off of Mountain Road. When we arrived at the river, it was around 11:00am and the air temps were in the low 40s. We had our cold weather gear and increased our chances of surving the day by using hand and foot warmers. I decided to fish with my 9’-5wt Winston Boron and Abel TR-2 reel. It felt strange using a light rod and reel because I spent almost all of October and November on my 7 and 8wt rods while chasing salmon, brown trout, and steelhead. I used a 9 foot 5X leader with 24” of 5X tippet. For my top fly I started with a #18 Beadhead Pheasant Tail nymph. I then tied 10” of additional 5X tippet off of the hook bend to a #20 Black Zebra Midge. I used one #6 Dinsmore split shot to get fly nymphs rolling near the bottom.

The water on the Little J was running around 180CFS on Sunday and the water temperatures were in the mid 40s. Jon and I started working our way downstream, focusing on runs, riffles, and seams. About 45 minutes into fishing I hooked my first wild brown trout. It was a smaller fish, maybe 8”, but beautiful.

 The first wild brown I caught.

The first wild brown I caught.

We fished downstream towards the 4004 bridge. We spent a good amount of time working all the good water and were unable to hook up with any other fish by 2:00pm. Jon and I sat down and had a sandwich and then decided that we would walk up to the Rothrock game lands access trail and walk up to the arched railroad bridge to fish until dark. When we got to the arched bridge, Jon and I split up and fished opposite sides of the creek.

 The famous arched railroad bridge on the Rothrock game lands.

The famous arched railroad bridge on the Rothrock game lands.

We started drifting nymphs under indicators. When I casted to the pockets in front of the south bridge wall I missed three fish within a couple minutes. In each case I could see the fish temporarily hook up on my midge but then the hook wouldn’t catch their lip. This is a common issue I run into when fishing #20 or smaller nymphs. After one set of drifts and misses, they didn’t give my fly a second look. I decided to which my patterns. I remember my experience from fishing Spring Creek the prior weekend and decided to tie on a #18 organge red dot egg pattern for my top fly. I dropped a #18 Hare’s Ear nymph off the hook bend. On my first cast back through the same pockets a brown trout aggressively struck the egg pattern. These wild browns are so fun to catch on a nimble 5wt fly rod. After releasing him I put a cast a little further upstream and wham, another brown trout hit my line. This time, the fish hit the Hare’s Ear nymph. After another landed fish, a third drift in a row resulted in an aggressive take. This time the trout actually chased the egg pattern up and over a rock to the point that he actually was out of the water for a second.

 The wild brown trout that took the Hare's Ear nymph.

The wild brown trout that took the Hare's Ear nymph.

 The beautiful brown that went over rock to take my fly.

The beautiful brown that went over rock to take my fly.

It was pretty awesome. Either I hit a good fishing hole or it was dinner time. All I know is that it made for a fun fifteen minutes of fly fishing. After my third fish, I let Jon jump into my spot and take a shot at a fish. I moved over to the north side of the river and started drifting the runs under the bridge. I hooked up with a good brown in a deep run and had him on for a few seconds and then lost him to a bad hook set. I worked the riffles under the bridge, as well as ten yards above the bridge, with no luck. The afternoon quickly faded to dark.

It was starting to get cold and I discovered my Patagonia Rio Gallegos II waders had leaks in both booty seams. So with wet feet and dropping temperatures, Jon and I started the trek back along the trail to the parking lot. We both commented that we’d like to be back sometime soon, and we discussed how good this water would be come April and May. When we got back to my truck, it was the last vehicle on Mountain Road. We put some dry clothes on and started our Sunday night drive back home.

 Another one of the beautiful brown trout I caught on Sunday.

Another one of the beautiful brown trout I caught on Sunday.