Old Friend, Wintertime on Spring Creek

Ask any serious Pennsylvania fly fisherman what the best trout stream in the state is and they are likely to answer Penns Creek or Spring Creek. I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time fly fishing both of these bodies of water while attending college at Penn State University. I spent considerably more time on Spring Creek because of its proximity to the campus. I have many memories spending spring evenings and weekends on a limestone riffle of Spring Creek trying to fool a rising wild brown trout with a Sulphur Dun. Spring Creek has one of the highest densities of wild brown trout per square mile of any stream in the state. And it also has miles of fishable water that is accessible to the public. It is truly a fly fishing gem of the east and probably the entire country.

 Looking downstream in Spring Creek Canyon.

Looking downstream in Spring Creek Canyon.

The last time I fished Spring Creek was back in late November of 2016 on a trip back from New York. I briefly fished the Shiloh Road section and caught a couple of fish. Last week I decided that I’d spend my weekend exploring some of my college fly fishing haunts in the Spring Creek Canyon near Bellefonte. On Saturday morning I hit snooze on my iPhone alarm and ended up not getting on the road until 6:30am. It was cold out Saturday morning, like mid 20s cold. I arrived at the Bellefonte Fish Hatchery lot just before 9:00am and started getting geared up. I bundled up and made good use of a half-dozen hand and body warmers.

On Friday night I’d tied up some new flies I wanted to try. I tied some Y2K egg flies to use as a top fly and attractor pattern. I also tied some #14 natural colored Flash Back Gold Bead Hare’s Ear Nymphs. I also tied J:son Nymph Legs into these nymphs, which gave them a nice profile. I’ve compared the J:son legs to other rubber nymph legs available on the market and in my opinion, the J:son legs look more natural. Of course fly fishing purists will argue that using anything plastic or rubber will not look as good as natural materials, but I’m convinced the profile these rubber legs give a nymph does make a big difference.

 The Catch & Release Sign along the Spring Creek Trail at Fisherman's Paradise.

The Catch & Release Sign along the Spring Creek Trail at Fisherman's Paradise.

I started fishing just above the no wading section of Fisherman’s Paradise and methodically started working the riffles upstream. The first couple of hours were a bit slow. It was extremely cold and the fish I was able to see in the stream were holding tight to their lies and were right on the bottom. I did hook up and land a couple of fish but it wasn’t until the sun rose over the canyon wall that things started heating up. As soon as the sun was on the water there was a noticeable change in fish activity. From 11:00am to 2:00pm I caught close to ten fish, most were in the 10” range, but several were in the 12-14” range. Almost all of them took the Hare’s Ear Nymph, except for a couple that took a small Black Zebra Midge that I’d switched out to for a short time. The fish all fought well, even for early February. Nothing can match a feisty wild brown trout on a responsive fly rod like an R.L. Winston. Most of the fish I caught were in the soft water just beyond the primary riffles. There were also a large number of fish lying in the deeper water and in many cases, hanging in just a couple of inches of water on the banks. Many of the fish had to be worked hard for. In some cases it required drifting flies through a run 8-10 times before a trout would take. This was probably because the fly had to be right in their feeding lane and not two lanes over.

By late afternoon I had worked my way 1.5-2 miles up into the Spring Creek Canyon. This is such a beautiful and peaceful area and it is remote enough that you really can escape to your own piece of water. Most of the day I had the entire creek to myself. I only ran into one other group of fishermen during the day. It turned out one of the fellas in the group, Jason Miller, followed the Wooly Bugged Twitter Feed and recognized me. We had a good chat and I actually watched Jason hook a nice Spring Creek brown trout. He and his crew were in town from Pittsburgh fishing Spring Creek for the weekend. Jason, if you read this, let me know how you guys made out and thanks for saying hello.

 A Spring Creek wild brown trout that willingly took my Flash Back Hare's Ear Nymph.

A Spring Creek wild brown trout that willingly took my Flash Back Hare's Ear Nymph.

 This guy opted for the Black Zebra Midge.

This guy opted for the Black Zebra Midge.

On my way out of the canyon in the evening, I stopped to fish some of the lower riffles again. I heard a noise behind me and turned around to see three whitetail deer running out of the woods. They didn’t see me and ran right into the creek next to me. After they realized I was there they jumped the rest of the stream. I was wondering where they’d go because the far side of the trail is a very steep tree lined canyon wall. To my amazement, these deer ran right up the side of the canyon. I would not have believed this if I didn’t see it with my own eyes. They had a path that was all but vertical and somehow they climbed all the way to the top. Incredible!

I hooked one last fish as it was getting dark but was unable to see well enough to get him in my net. As I walked back out onto the trail, the snow that was on the ground illuminated the canyon. It felt as if I’d just spent the day fishing with an old friend. As I took off my waders, I looked at the first quarter moon high in the February sky and listened to a Great Horned Owl calling in the woods on the other side of the creek. In some way, it felt as if I’d never left Spring Creek.