Quality Not Quantity on Harveys Creek

This was the first week this year that it felt like summer. Last weekend I was on my annual fly fishing trip to Pine Creek with college friends and the air temperatures hit 95 degrees on Sunday afternoon. That heat continued throughout the first few days of this week and the water temperatures in Pennsylvania continue to steadily rise. It wont’ be long before I’ll start venturing out to warm water locations with my 9’-7wt looking for smallmouth bass on streamers. However, today I continued my quest for trout on Keystone Select stream. I headed north to fish Harveys Creek.

I had a late Friday night and slept in this morning. I had my truck packed by 7:00AM. I headed north towards Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Harveys Creek is a freestone tributary that is located to the west of the city of Wilkes-Barre. The stream originates at Harveys Lake and travels 15 miles south where it joins with the Susquehanna River. Using the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s iPhone app I was able to find a good access point to Harveys Creek. Off of Rt. 29, I was able to access Fedor Road, and then make a right onto Jackson Road. The bridge that crosses Harveys Creek on Jackson Road has ample parking to the left just before you cross it. When I arrived I discovered they are currently refinishing the bridge. There are Road Closed signs everywhere but you are still able to drive to the bridge and park. The Keystone Select waters start at this bridge and go all the way to the Rt. 29 Bridge.

 Looking downstream on Harveys Creek from the Jackson Road access point.

Looking downstream on Harveys Creek from the Jackson Road access point.

I currently do not own a fly rod shorter than 9 feet, but if anyone reading this decides to check out Harveys Creek, I’d recommend a shorter rod. I geared up my Scott G2 using a 9’-6X tapered leader with 6X tippet. I tied on a #18 Gold Bead Head Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph and dropped a Squirmy Wormy pattern off the bottom.

You can access the beginning of the stream by either carefully crawling down the rocks along a large waterfall, or there is a grass trail that will take you a bit further downstream and avoids the need to climb down rocks. 

The first couple hundred yards of water below the bridge did not look capable of holding much other than a couple of creek chubs. It wasn’t until I got around the bend that I found some water that was deep enough for a trout to inhabit. I took the water temperature and it read 62 degrees. I was surprised that it was this cool. There were thunderstorms that had passed through the area in the early morning hours so I’m not sure if this contributed to these water temperatures. In the first riffle I fished I was able to see a good sized rainbow trout sitting on the bottom. The first cast of my rig sent this fish scurrying upstream. And then a similar situation happened just a few yards downstream. I found a small riffle with a good sized trout in it, but it had no interest in looking at what I was drifting. And even with 6X fluorocarbon tippet, the fish seemed to be line shy. After realizing these fish weren’t going to fall for my set-up I kept moving downstream. After walking the first 400-500 yards of stream I saw a handful of a good rainbow trout, but I got the impression that these fish have either had so many artificial lures thrown at them that they don’t blink at flies or the oxygen levels in the water are low or something else.

The further I walked down the stream, the fewer fish I saw. After a couple of hours of fishing, I got frustrated and impatient, in fact I was ready to head home. Many of the long stretches of water on the creek were far too shallow to reasonably hold fish. I caught minnows one after the other.

During the early afternoon I reached what I’d call the mid-point of the stream. There is a beautiful riffle that runs into a deep pool where you can just barely make out the bottom even with polarized glasses on. I told myself that there has to be at least one trout in here somewhere. I moved out and around to the lower end of the pool as to not spook any fish and I placed my rig at the top of the pool. It slowly floated to almost a stand still. Then wham! Something grabbed my line and took the indicator with it. I set the hook and could see I had a nice rainbow trout on. I had to be very careful with how I played him on 6X tippet. Eventually the fish became tired and I was able to get him into the net.  What a beautiful trout. This fish measured in the 19-20” range and had perfectly formed pectoral and dorsal fins. After releasing this fish I was envisioning the state worker that float stocked the stream and saw that pool and said, let’s put a trophy in there. I pondered how many times he’d been caught prior to grabbing my Squirmy Wormy.

 My first Harveys Creek rainbow trout was a brute.

My first Harveys Creek rainbow trout was a brute.

After landing my first Harveys Creek trout I continued downstream. The middle section was very shallow and rocky and there were very few places trout could hide. I didn’t see a fish for almost 200 yards. My gut told me that the state workers only stocked the fish in the water that fell within the first 100-200 yards of each bridge access point. As I started getting closer to the bottom boundary at Rt. 29 Bridge, I started running into fish again. At one point I came across a deep clear pool that had 8 large trout in it. All were rainbows but one. It was disappointing because they exhibited the same lethargic behavior as the fish I saw up top. And the fishing line and other debris next to the hole told me that they’d been fished to one too many times. I drifted several different nymph combinations over them but with no success. A few yards downstream I walked up on a riffle that had good depth to it. I cast my line into the current and a fish grabbed my Squirmy Wormy and put up a great battle. I was able to land this fish on 6X tippet. It ended up being a 19” rainbow trout. One cast later in the same spot, I hooked into another hard fighting rainbow. Both of these fish had beautiful colors on them, dark reds and pinks and spots for days. Between this area of the creek and the Rt. 29 bridge I saw a handful of other trout that were unwilling to eat.

 The 19" rainbow trout that I caught in the afternoon.

The 19" rainbow trout that I caught in the afternoon.

When I reached the Rt. 29 Bridge, I decided to turn around and head back to my truck. Along the way I stopped at every hole that I’d previously fished and took a second shot, but with no success. As it was approaching the 5:00 hour I finally made way back to the bridge that was in disarray.

 The incredible summer colors of a Harveys Creek rainbow trout.

The incredible summer colors of a Harveys Creek rainbow trout.

I learned two valuable fly fishing lessons today. The first is that the quality of fish is more important than the overall quantity caught. Second, good things come to those who are patient. Patience is a virtue after all! There were several times during this trip where I wanted to pack it in because I was walking a long way in hot waders and fish were few and far between. Sometimes that first fish is just a little further downstream.