Cold Fingers, Toes, & Hatchery Fresh Bows

It’s that time of year again, the state trout stocking trucks have started making their rounds to Pennsylvania approved trout waters and workers are pouring buckets of hatchery raised trout into them. One of the first streams in Pennsylvania to receive a state stocking is French Creek, located in Chester County. Not all of French Creek is stocked on this early stocking, which happens in February. Specifically, it is the one-mile special regulation catch and release fly fishing area, starting at the Sleepy Hollow Dam and running downstream to Hollow Road. This year the state, with the help of the Dame Juliana League Fly Fishers, stocked this section of French Creek on February 22, 2017. It’s nice that the Dame Juliana assists because they do a great job of ensuring that the fish are well distributed throughout the entire special regulations section.

I typically fly fish French Creek once or twice in the early spring not long after it’s stocked. French Creek doesn’t have the ability to hold fish well in the summer months due to water temperatures that become inhospitable for trout. My schedule hadn’t allowed me to make my trip during the last weekend in February so this past weekend things lined up to allow me to fly fish French Creek on Sunday. The temperatures plunged into the teens overnight in southeastern Pennsylvania on Saturday night. I knew Sunday morning was going to be cold, however, there were two things that had me interested in braving the artic air. One, I knew the cold would keep most fishermen in bed until late morning or lunchtime. Two, with the unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve recently had, I figured that even with a couple of days of cold air, the water temps weren’t going to drop significantly.

 The low water on French Creek above Sheeder Mill Bridge.

The low water on French Creek above Sheeder Mill Bridge.

On Sunday morning I got up at 6:00am and headed south on Rt. 23 towards Pughtown. When I arrived at the Sheeder Mill Bridge, like I’d expected, there were no cars. I took my time getting rigged up, threw some hand warmers in my gloves and headed down to the water. The first thing I noticed is that French Creek is very low right now; it could desperately use a foot of water. I decided I’d fish an attractor pattern Y2K with a #18 Gold Bead Flash Back Hare’s Ear Nymph trailing off the back. I adjusted my indicator close to the top fly and didn’t use any weight. I figured most of the fish were lying in the deepest soft water available and I was right. It didn’t take long for me to find a large number of rainbows. By the time I’d found these fish, the sun was just above the surrounding trees, enough to be hitting the water. For the next two hours I had epic fresh hatchery trout fly fishing. Using that little Hare’s Ear pattern with rubber legs, I’d estimate I hooked up and landed around 25 rainbow trout.

And that didn’t include the dozen hook-ups and lost fish. All fish were in the 10”-14” range. I like and appreciate catching wild trout but I’m not going lie, it was fun, iced guides and all. These trout were hungry and the sun was warming the water at just the right time. At one point I was so perplexed as to why no one else was on the water by 10:00am that I called French Creek Outfitters to verify that the rules hadn’t changed. On all other Pennsylvania stocked trout waters, fishing is not allowed until opening day. I worked my way from the Sheeder Mill Bridge riffles down to the riffle and run that extends beyond the bend. I saw and caught trout anywhere the water exceeded a foot deep.

My goal starting out was to shoot enough video by lunchtime to be able to relax for the afternoon. Needless to say I achieved my goal a couple of hours early. I truly appreciate days like this because I know for every one day like this, there are a dozen not like it. I only briefly switched out to a #16 Pheasant Tail Nymph and caught maybe a half-dozen on this pattern. But mostly the fish were keyed in on the Hare’s Ear Nymph. I was also using 6X fluorocarbon tippet and I’m not sure what role that played if any.

When I got back to my truck I realized that I’d dropped my Fisknat net somewhere in my journeys. After getting packed I took a walk back downstream and I happened to walk up on my net floating downstream about 50 yards below where I’d last cast my line. By the time I pulled out to head for home at lunchtime, I saw three other fishermen on the water and I observed one fish being caught.

The next time the temps dip into the teens in early March, consider a trip to French Creek, you never know what you might stumble in to. Numb fingers and toes are a distant memory after that twentieth hook-up.