The Wiconisco, Also Known As Brookie Nation

Last week I was looking forward to getting back on eastern Pennsylvania waters after three weeks of fishing on the road. I decided that on Saturday I’d continue my exploration of Keystone Select waters by heading to the Wiconisco Creek. The Wiconisco is a freestone tributary of the Susquehanna River that flows through Schuylkill and Dauphin Counties. The PA Fish & Boat Commission’s Delayed Harvest section starts near the town of Millersburg at the Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art property. This special regulations portion of the Wiconisco Creek travels just over a mile downstream.

On Saturday morning I slept in and got on the road by mid morning. I arrived at the Ned Smith Center around 10:30am. When I arrived I found the stream had great flows, a bit higher than average according to a local I chatted with, but the water had a perfect green tint to it. I decided to fish my 9’-5wt Winston with a 9’-5X leader and 5X tippet. The night before I’d tied a half dozen of my J:Son Gold Bead Head Hares Ear patterns. I fished one of them as a top fly and dropped a #18 Caddis Pupa off the hook bend. Mid-April is a great time to fish Caddis nymphs as they are becoming active on the stream bottom and the Caddis flies prepare to come off consistently.

 Looking upstream on the Wiconisco at the start of the Keystone Select waters.

Looking upstream on the Wiconisco at the start of the Keystone Select waters.

Once I was rigged up I headed downstream from the parking lot to the large metal bridge that marks the start of the Keystone Select waters. I found that the fifty yards of water below the bridge is relatively slow and unproductive. However, just beyond this slow stretch is a nice area with soft riffles that are full of state stocked brook and brown trout.

I was fishing my flies under a new Orvis Coros cork indicator. This indicator attaches to the leader similar to the way a Thingamabobber attaches. After several drifts, I attempted to move this indicator up the leader without completely detaching it and it broke my line. Needless to say, I was back to my football style foam indicator on the next cast. Within the first hour of fishing I landed a half dozen brown and brook trout and also had several lost hookups. The number of fish in the creek pleasantly surprised me, and they were relatively well spread-out. I observed the occasional tan Caddis coming off the water, as well as the first mayfly of the season, the Hendrickson. The weather was overcast and it only sprinkled briefly, but the gray skies seemed to create ideal fishing conditions. I worked my way downstream, fishing a few deeper runs and riffles that had been hit hard by other fly fishermen I’d observed. One gentleman I passed that had fished this section of creek before, said that the night before he’d hooked up with two brown trout that were over 20” in length. While I didn’t encounter any large fish, I did hook up with more brook trout.

 My first Wiconisco trout that took a Hares Ear Nymph.

My first Wiconisco trout that took a Hares Ear Nymph.

I found there were only a couple of spots on the Keystone Select waters that had water that exceeded a couple of feet in depth. The rest of the water was softer pocket and riffle water and this is where I found most of the fish I hooked and landed. By mid-afternoon I’d landed a dozen fish that chased the Caddis Pupa. But eventually the fish seemed to shut off on the Caddis and I decided to throw the red Squirmy Wormy on. On my first cast I landed a beautiful brook trout. I spent a couple of hours fishing this fly and landed another half-dozen trout, all brook trout. I joked to myself that it was brookie nation and then thought that’d make a great name for a fly fishing blog.

As I got to he lower part of the special regulations water, the creek slowed and became what most fishermen would call “dead water.” I worked my way through this drifting my Hares Ear Nymph slow on the bottom. Suddenly I saw my indicator shoot under and I set the hook. I could feel that I had a good fish on and I figured I had finally hooked into a Keystone Select trophy brown trout. After a few minute battle, I finally saw my line rise out of the murk to reveal a brightly colored smallmouth bass. I couldn’t believe the way this fish had fought. And it was a large bass, probably in the 16-18” range. I believe that smallmouth are currently in the tributaries preparing for spawning so it made me wonder if this fish had come all the way from the Susquehanna.

The last section of the Keystone Select waters is a long deep slow section that is difficult to access from the bank due to how steep it is. I got out and walked the creek high above on the hill down to the power line where the special regulations end. It made me wonder if the fish commission dropped a couple of lunkers in that water knowing that next to no one would ever come back there and fish it. A giant trout could survive in there for a long time with the right water temperatures. As I was daydreaming about stumbling onto a secret trout spot in that dead water, I started my hike back upstream on the walking path.

I had a great day on the Wiconisco. I met some very nice fly fishermen, hikers, and I caught over 20 brook trout. And it felt good know that everyone of them was going back into the creek to be caught by the next fisherman.