Pine Creek 2016, German Browns, and Broken Fly Rods

I finished up my few days of fly fishing in the Catskills on May 11th, and then headed southwest to fish the Big and Little Pine Creeks in western Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. This was the 13th time I made this trip. Shortly after I graduated from Penn State University, a couple of my college buddies and I met up in Waterville, Pennsylvania to fly fish and stay in touch after school. The trip started out as a reunion of sorts and now 13 years later we’ve added various friends and acquaintances along the way. We usually average out around 10 guys making the trip each year. One of our traditions is meeting up on Little Pine Creek on our first morning at 8:00am. This meet-up has proven to be a good indicator of what we can expect for the rest of the week as far as mayfly hatches and fish activity. When I got on the water, there wasn't a lot of March Brown mayfly activity above the surface, but there were a lot of nymphs in the water. I started fishing using a #16 Pheasant Tail dropped with a #10 March Brown nymph. This proved to a be a pretty good set-up. The fish on Little Pine were looking for March Brown nymphs and I had multiple hook ups on Little Pine that first morning. That evening we fished Big Pine at Black Walnut Bottom and I had a few hookups on the same March Brown nymph set-up, but didn’t bring any sizable fish to hand.

 The Big Pine Creek at Black Walnut Bottom.

The Big Pine Creek at Black Walnut Bottom.

The forecast for the week was great weather for May 11-12 and then a cold front was supposed to bring rain. Our strategy was to fish Big Pine as much as possible as it was at a wadeable level around 2.2 feet. A little rain can bring Big Pine Creek up quickly and wading over 2.5 feet on Big Pine starts getting real sketchy. Before I went fishing on Thursday I stopped in to see Tom Finkbiner and the guys at Slate Run Fly Shop.  Tom explained that he’d made a bigger investment this year in stocking large German Brown Trout in the new Catch and Release Section (formerly the Delayed Harvest Section) of Big Pine Creek. This area runs from Slate Run downstream to just above Clark Farm. After he explained that they’d stocked 24 German Browns in the 27-31” 8-9lb. range, a dozen Kamloop Rainbows in the 25” range, and dozens of fish in the 18-20” range, you start to understand the fly fishing circus you’ll frequently find at Naval Run. Not wanting to miss any fun, we decided to fish the Tomb Flats on Thursday. This turned out to a be a great decision. After cool morning temperatures gave way to sunshine around 10:00am, the trout bite was awesome. I was drifting my March Brown nymph rig through the head of a deep riffle and at one point I had landed three of Tom’s German Browns that were in the 18-20” category. The fight in these fish is amazing. I was able to catch two of these battles on the GoPro.

One fish was such a fight that I had to enlist the help of a stranger to help me net him. That was an adventure as I couldn’t detach my net from my sling pack and had to give him my entire pack and net in the middle of the fight to get the fish to hand. Fishing from 10:00am-1:00pm that day was some of the most exciting trout fishing I’ve had a 9’-5wt in a while. The additional highlights of the day included hooking into what may have been the 31” brown trout slate run stocked, aptly named “Bubba.” I had a fish on my line that ripped 50 yards of line off my Abel faster than I’ve ever witnessed and broke 5X tippet without hesitancy and based on the couple head shakes, pretty confident it wasn’t a foul hook. In this same session, I also had the pleasure of snapping my 9’-5wt Thomas & Thomas fly rod in half. Note to all anglers out there. When fighting a big fish, don’t choke up on the rod to gain more leverage after your arm gets tired; this changes how forces are applied to the rod and in some cases “snap.”

 Some of the guys from the Pine Creek fish camp.

Some of the guys from the Pine Creek fish camp.

As the weatherman had predicted, Friday and Saturday brought colder temperatures and rain. We all fished pretty hard those two days, and most people hooked up with a couple of fish, but all in all, the temperature change on the Pine Creeks shut the fishing down. Like my buddy Mike from Williamsport says, “I know of no other river more sensitive to any environmental astronomical meteorological hiccup. If you fart wrong in your waders, you can shut er down for a week.”

On a side note, I had to replace my Thomas & Thomas while on Pine Creek because I didn’t have another 5wt rod with me. I ended up buying a 9’-5wt Orvis Recon at Slate Run because Orvis had a 20% discount program running. I’ve wanted a Recon as a back-up rod. In the first 36 hours after buying this rod, I caught no fish. I must’ve had a dozen hook-ups and the fish kept falling off the hook. I couldn’t land a fish to save my life. This lead to a joke at fish camp that the new rod was cursed. And the story is that if you can’t catch fish on a new rod, you need to give it to a friend and let them catch one to christen it. I refused to pass it to a friend. At the writing of this post, still no fish on the Recon. I have a game plan to christen this new Orvis Recon. Check back for the next post to read about that.