Early Summer, Low Water & Lost Trophies

After several weekends of long road trips to chase trout in western and northern Pennsylvania, I decided to stay close to home and focus on the eastern side of the state. As the year transitions from spring to early summer, the cooler air and water temps and easily accessible creek and riverbanks slowly start to disappear. Morning drives to the water are made with the windows down, waders become an oven by 10:00am, and trying to get a fly rod through Japanese Knotweed is like trying to thread a cow through the eye of a needle.

On Saturday I had lunch plans with a friend in Easton, Pennsylvania, so I decided to take the opportunity to fish a small Class A Wild Brown Trout Stream that runs just outside of town called Martins Creek. In Pennsylvania, trout streams are placed in classes based on trout biomass (rather than go into a long explanation on trout biomass, you can read about Pennsylvania wild trout stream designations here on Wikipedia). I had only fished Martins Creek one other time, but my first trip was memorable. My buddy Mike that I went to Penn State with lives on Martins Creek and gave me a free-guided tour of several sections of the stream that held some beautiful fish. I was amazed by the number of wild brown trout, but soon found that much of Martins Creek runs through private land and there are very few sections open to the public.

 Martins Creek near Easton, Pennsylvania.

Martins Creek near Easton, Pennsylvania.

Last week I had been given directions to another section I’d never fished before that was accessible to the public and that’s where I headed. After lunch in Easton, I headed to the Martins and hit the water around 3:00pm. When I arrived at the spot, the air temp was in the mid 80s, it was hot! I had my Scott G2 with me and use this rod when I am intending to only throw dry flies. I walked over to the creek and it was low. I’d love to give USGS water data, but Martins Creek doesn’t have a gauge on it. I just know it was very low, but certainly enough water to still hold fish. I rigged up my rod with a 7.5’-6X leader and tipped it with a foot of 6X tippet. I tied on a #16 Royal Wulff and I was off to fish.

 Martins Creek wild brown trout that took my #16 Royal Wulff.

Martins Creek wild brown trout that took my #16 Royal Wulff.

Martins Creek is a rocky stream that is broken up with shallow flat pools and riffles with pocket water. Wading can be cumbersome due to bad footing on the rocks. My buddy Josh had told me that you need to be extra stealthy on the water, so I was hunched down creeping up to the first piece of pocket water. On my second cast, I drifted the Royal Wulff between two rocks and splash. I set the hook and had on a stream-bred Martins Creek brown trout. A beautiful fish that had very healthy fins and the markings that you’ll only ever see on a wild trout. I worked my way upstream missing a few fish and spooking a few as well. It is amazing how wild fish have this sixth sense of knowing when you are within 50 yards of them. About 100 yards upstream I walked under a bridge and on the other side I noticed there was a drainage pipe that was routing another small stream into the Martins. The waterfall from the pipe had created a deep pool and I could see several trout swimming in the clear water. I threw the Wulff upstream and let it drift into the pool and I watched a brown trout slowly come to the surface and try and sip the fly. I missed him on the hook set. I drifted that fly through three more times with no success. I decided to go to a CDC adult Caddisfly. I tied on a #14 with tan dubbing. On the first cast, a trout aggressively took the fly. He gave me a great fight.

 The wild brown trout from the deep pool that took my tan Caddisfly.

The wild brown trout from the deep pool that took my tan Caddisfly.

I spent the rest of the day working my way upstream casting dry flies and waiting for a wild brown trout to rise. I saw many fish on my walk and as the sun was setting, I made my way back downstream while there was still light to avoid having to stumble over rocks in the dark. For much of the afternoon I was fishing behind houses, but had solitude with the thick green canopy above. It was urban fly fishing at its best!

On Sunday I got up early and drove north up Rt. 61 to 895 and arrived at the Little Schuylkill around 9:00am. I started out fishing the delayed-harvest section that starts at the 895 (Hughes St.) bridge and goes south a couple of miles. Note that there are various places on the web that state you can park at the water sports outfitter at the bridge, but when I arrived there, they have “Staff Only Parking” signs in the lot. I talked to two locals who were parked there and they said it is just to deter parking but not to stop it. I don’t know what the real story is but I didn’t park there. Fortunately the two locals I chatted with frequently fished the stream and were able to give me some direction as to other places to access the water. The locals are always a great resource for fishing intelligence—it’s just that sometimes you need to weed out the truth!

 The delayed-harvest section on the Little Schuylkill.

The delayed-harvest section on the Little Schuylkill.

I parked in an access spot the two recommended and headed to the water. This is where I got into my bout with the Japanese Knotweed. Wow is that stuff difficult to walk through. That stuff belongs in a jungle. I had never fished the Little Schuylkill but had read about the stream in one of Charles Meck’s books and found some information online as well. This freestone stream is recovered after years of being damaged from mine runoff. From what I could tell, the stream is in great shape. The water looked great, the rocks looked great, the insects looked great. I saw Caddis on the water and even a couple of Grey Foxes were lingering. The Little Schuylkill is fairly wide in the delayed-harvest section. There is plenty of room for casting but the banks do have a decent amount of foliage hanging over them. Like the Martins Creek, the Little Schuylkill also has a low water level right now. I walked downstream and drifted a Pheasant Tail and Hare's Ear to prospect. When I got about 100 yards downstream I found some deeper water that cut under a fallen log. On my second drift through this run I raised my rod to a trout, which was almost surprising after a long walk with no success. I landed a 10” brown trout that looked stocked.

 My first Little Schuylkill brown trout.

My first Little Schuylkill brown trout.

A few more yards downstream I found a nice set of riffles running into a very deep pool. This is where my luck turned. After several minutes of drifting flies through the riffles I dropped a Psycho Prince nymph off the Hare's Ear and it was like magic. I proceeded to land over a half dozen brook, brown, and rainbow trout, all in the 10-12” range.  And this was during the lunch hour! As I worked my way to the head of this deep pool I kept thinking that there has to be a large fish in there. I started working the far bank, letting my double nymph rig dead drift down into the pool. On my fifth cast I saw a flash and then I watched a giant hooked jawed brown trout dart out of a lie and grab the Psycho Prince as I was pulling it toward the surface. It surprised me so much I almost fell backwards. I kept pressure on the fish without playing him too hard and then the head thrashing started. I couldn’t believe how hard this fish was fighting and swear it was a wild fish. After a few seconds of head thrashing he was ripping line off my Abel and headed into the depths of the pool. I only saw his tail hit the water surface twice. As he headed deep he continued to thrash wildly. I felt I had him hooked well and had the GoPro on. It was too perfect. Suddenly he made a move out of the deep water back towards the riffle and I couldn’t reel fast enough to get the slack out of the line and then just like that the line went limp. Ugh, is there any worse feeling in the world of fly fishing than losing a big fish? I’ll post the video of me fighting and losing this fish later this week.

 One of the brown trout I caught in downstream riffles.

One of the brown trout I caught in downstream riffles.

 A beautiful Little Schuylkill Brook Trout.

A beautiful Little Schuylkill Brook Trout.

 I caught several rainbows in the riffles as well.

I caught several rainbows in the riffles as well.

Being way down stream and heart broken over losing that big brownie, I decided to wrap it up on the Little Schuylkill. A very interesting stream and one I’d like to explore further in the future.

On my way home I decided to stop at my home base for an hour, the Tulpehocken Creek. The last time I was on the “Tully” was on a Sunday in late April when the Caddisflies were just beginning to come off. I’ll never forget that day because I caught double digits on Caddis Emergers and landed a 22” brown trout that came close to beating the largest trout I ever caught on the Tulpehocken, a 24” brown trout in June 2015 (that one made the back cover of Pennsylvania Angler & Boater Magazine).

 The 22" Tulpehocken Brown Trout I caught in late April 2016.

The 22" Tulpehocken Brown Trout I caught in late April 2016.

Well, the Tully had progressed into mid-June and the stream was entirely different. Like the other streams I’d fished over the weekend, the Tully was very low. The foliage was heavy, the trout had moved from their April lies and I had to do some exploring to find the trout. Eventually I did find them and there were a lot of them. They were in schools and sticking close to the bank in the deeper water. I ended up landing over a half dozen browns and rainbows all in the 10-12” range. It made for an enjoyable end to the day and had me wondering how much longer I’ll be able to fish on the Tulpehocken this summer. Did I mention we need water in the streams?

 A rainbow with early June colors on the Tulpehocken.