The Neshannock & Lost Hookups On Buffalo Creek

Would you be surprised if I told you the forecast for most of Pennsylvania this past weekend was rain? I just read a USA Today article that said April 2017 was the wettest April in 60 years in the United States. And yet again, heading towards the end of last week, I started searching for a place other than eastern Pennsylvania to fish on Saturday. From what the forecast said, it looked like the rain was going to miss the northwestern corner of Pennsylvania. Friday evening I was scouring the USGS site looking at water levels and I zeroed in on the Neshannock Creek near Volant, Pennsylvania. The water levels looked great and the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop’s website was saying that the fishing had been good. I decided I’d continue my Keystone Select series and head west!

 The view on the Neshannock Creek where I started fishing on Saturday morning.

The view on the Neshannock Creek where I started fishing on Saturday morning.

I was up early on Saturday morning heading out Rt. 76. I drove in rain almost the entire time until I hit US-19 North. When I finally got close to Volant, the early morning sky that had been covered by clouds was being blown wide open by sunshine. It was a welcomed sight. When I’d done my research on the Neshannock, I found a great map on the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop’s website that shows the Delayed Harvest Special Regulation section of the creek. The map shows an old railroad trail that runs on the northwestern side of the stream. I found a road named Covered Bridge Road that intersected with this railroad trail on Google Maps and set my GPS pin there. When I arrived it didn’t look like I’d expected it would. It appeared most of the land there was private, but the land owners allow for parking near the trail. There were already a couple of cars when I arrived at 7:30AM. I geared up my 9’-5wt, put on my waders and headed over to the trail. This trail was not well traveled. I looked down the trail as far as I could see and all I saw were large potholes filled with muddy water, large branches hanging over the trail and spider webs glistening in the morning sun. I headed in. I walked for a good mile, until footprints of other fishermen disappeared and I was making new boot prints in the mud. I finally got to a portion of the trail where it came close to the creek. I decided to jump in and start fishing downstream.

When I got to the water, I was surprised by how wide the Neshannock Creek was. Based on YouTube videos I’d watched, I was expecting a stream that was narrower. The area where I started was a deep slow moving run that ran along a rock wall with overhanging pine trees. It looked like a spot that trout might wait to ambush insect larva floating in the current. The state stocks the Neshannock with a large number of rainbow, brown, and palomino trout. The last stocking had been almost three weeks prior. Not knowing what to expect I decided to tie on prospecting flies. I tied on a small Pheasant Tail Nymph for a lead and dropped a Pink San Juan Worm off the hook bend. I started drifting my rig under an indicator, working the slow water and waiting for a take. I waited, and waited, and waited. I could’ve sworn I saw trout barrel rolling on the bottom, taking nymphs. But the longer you drift a rig with no luck, the more your eyes start seeing things in the reflections on the surface.

After working this first spot for thirty minutes, I decided to head downstream. I worked the shallow riffles, the deep pools; I worked everything, not a fish to be taken. I tied on nymph after nymph, no luck. After I’d covered almost 500 yards, I finally ran into some fishermen. I stopped and chatted with a gentlemen and his son. He couldn’t believe I’d driven as far as I had to fish the Neshannock. That alone had me concerned about how successful a day I’d have! This gentleman told me that the fish were not well spread out and that most of the stocked fish were in deeper pools near the ends of the Special Regulations section. He mentioned an area downstream that I should try. I thanked him for the information and started walking. The closer I got to Covered Bridge Road, the more anglers I saw. First one, then two, then I was dodging five or six. It got a little insane. I just kept walking and eventually found some solitude just above the covered bridge. I stopped because a large palomino trout sitting in a deep hole to my right distracted me. You know, the token palomino trout that everyone has to drift a fly to but that no one ever catches. As I was drifting a Caddis Nymph past this palomino, my indicator suddenly dove under the water. I finally had a fish on. I’d gone so long without getting a hit; I almost forgot to set the hook. It turned out to be a rainbow trout and I sure was happy to catch him.

 My first Neshannock Creek trout.

My first Neshannock Creek trout.

A few minutes later I caught another in the same hole. Eventually I moved down to the bridge, saw a few more palominos in the riffle, but had no luck drifting nymphs in front of them. I started to sour on the Neshannock Creek and decided that with lunchtime approaching, I’d make a change of scenery and head back east to new water.

When I’d been researching the Neshannock Creek, I’d come across another creek in Butler County named Buffalo Creek. This creek caught my attention because I’d watched a video on YouTube posted by the guys from the Lively Legz crew that was shot on Buffalo Creek. They’d funded the stocking of large rainbow trout in the creek back in February. I’d also read that the state, as well as the Arrowhead Chapter of Trout Unlimited stocked the stream. I figured there had to be some fish in the creek in May and that’s where I headed. The Buffalo Creek has a long Delayed Harvest section but it isn’t well mapped out online, so after doing some research, I decided I’d drive toward Craigsville and access the creek at Morrow Road. When I arrived in the early afternoon, no one else was there. I saw signs on the trees marking the Delayed Harvest water and found a place to park. I rigged up my rod with a Hare’s Ear Nymph tied with J:Son legs and dropped my Ice Worm pattern off the bottom. When I got into the creek, it was 180 degrees different from the Neshannock.

 Looking upstream on the Buffalo Creek.

Looking upstream on the Buffalo Creek.

The Buffalo Creek is a narrow stream that has a thick canopy of trees and bushes that line the banks. It is a freestone stream marked with slow runs interrupted by short riffles and pockets. The Arrowhead Chapter of TU has done a lot of work on the stream. I immediately noticed the many deflectors they’ve installed. These deflectors do wonders for disturbing the water and creating nice rapids and water movement.

About 50 yards downstream I was drifting my fly rig in the current and suddenly hooked up with a nice rainbow. I had visions of hooking into one of these giant rainbows the Lively Legz crew had stocked, but it turned out to be a standard stocky in the heavy current. As I tried to move him, the hook popped out. A few seconds later I hooked up with a second fish and I was able to land him. He took the Ice Worm.

 The first trout I caught on the Buffalo Creek. If you look close you'll see scars from a Blue Heron attack on this trout's back.

The first trout I caught on the Buffalo Creek. If you look close you'll see scars from a Blue Heron attack on this trout's back.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working my way downstream. I probably walked a mile and a half. I believe this section of the creek flows through private property that the landowners graciously allow fishermen to access. I hooked up maybe a dozen times but it wasn’t until late in the day that I realized my Ice Worm dubbing had started to work free and had closed the gap to my hook. No wonder I was losing fish. I decided to switch to a fresh Squirmy Wormy and had a fish in the net within minutes. Unfortunately all those lost hook ups were the fish that would’ve made for my weekly video. During my exploration I didn’t see a single large fish. I figured that with the number of large fish that had been dumped into the creek I’d at least see one. I didn’t see a single one. Where did they all go?

As the sun dropped in the sky, I realized I’d walked a long way from my truck. On the way downstream I’d paralleled a railroad track. No trains had passed so I didn't know if it was a live rail line, but I hiked my way through the woods and up to the tracks. In the twilight, I was able to walk the tracks back to where I’d started. By the time I got to my truck, I was exhausted. It was an interesting day. I missed many opportunities, but the adventure was great and to me, that’s all that mattered.

 The sunset over the western Pennsylvania mountains on my drive home.

The sunset over the western Pennsylvania mountains on my drive home.