Three for One, Fly Fishing the Tunkhannock, Pohopoco & Little Schuylkill

On Friday, the AccuWeather app on my iPhone was sending me flash flood notifications for southeastern Pennsylvania. I knew this was going to eliminate any chance of fishing for smallmouth bass anywhere in the Susquehanna Valley on Saturday. I looked at the weather map and all the precipitation was moving south of Rt. 80. I started thinking about fishing options for Saturday and Friday night decided in the morning I’d continue my Keystone Select video series on the South Branch Tunkhannock Creek in Wyoming County.

I had intended to stay up late Friday night to tie some flies but instead fell asleep on my couch. I woke up at 3:30AM and rather than try to get another hour of sleep I decided to get on the road early. It was pouring down rain as I drove out of Lancaster County. The rain didn’t stop until I was as far north as Hazelton. By the time first light was breaking across the sky, I was driving on dry pavement. The temperatures on Saturday morning were much cooler than normal for the month of July. If I didn’t know any better I’d say it was the first taste of autumn.

The South Branch Tunkhannock Creek is one of the original eight streams that became part of the Keystone Select Stocking Program in 2016. The creek is a tributary of the Tunkhannock Creek which eventually flows into the Susquehanna River. The stream received its name from the Lenape Indians who once inhabited the northeastern portion of Pennsylvania, as well as what is now the state of New Jersey. The Keystone Select section of the creek is located just south of the town of Factoryville and runs from Rt. 11 down to the footpath bridge that crosses the creek behind the Keystone College campus. There is adequate parking to access this section of the creek at the Keystone College baseball field just off of South Overbrook Road.

 The view on the Tunkhannock Creek in late July.

The view on the Tunkhannock Creek in late July.

When I arrived at the baseball field at 7:00AM, there was no one else in the lot. I rigged up my Winston 9’-5wt with a 9’-6X leader and 6X tippet. I decided to start out fishing with a #18 Copper John Nymph with a pink color Squirmy Wormy that I’d salvaged from a previous fishing trip. When I got to the water, I was surprised by how good the flows were. The water was stained but the color was great for summer fly fishing. I took a temperature at 7:30 of 67°. Where you walk into the creek off the baseball field lot, there is a large riffle and pool. It looked deep enough to hold fish so I waded across the creek and began fishing there. As I made my second cast, I heard a voice and look up to see a gentleman walking through the woods shouting “Mike.” It turns out it was someone who recognized me from the Wooly Bugged YouTube Channel. I can’t remember the gentlemen’s name, but if you’re reading this, thank you for saying hello and I apologize that I was in your Saturday morning fishing spot! Not long after this gentleman headed upstream to fish, I hooked into a trout in the riffle I was fishing.

 A small rainbow from the Tunkhannock, a very hardy fish!

A small rainbow from the Tunkhannock, a very hardy fish!

I started heading downstream toward the lower Keystone Select boundary, looking for deeper water that might hold summer trout. I caught a couple of small rainbow trout that were hiding in runs that flowed underneath low handing bushes on the bank. Eventually the stream made an almost 90° turn and at this bend, there was a deep fishing hole. I spent a good amount of time drifting my nymphs through the riffle and into the deep tailout. I had three hook-ups that didn’t end with landed fish. One of these fish felt like a really good one. It ripped off fifteen yards of fly line before it broke my 6X tippet. I could feel the headshakes and it felt like a solid trout.

 One of the rainbow trout I caught underneath cover on the creek bank.

One of the rainbow trout I caught underneath cover on the creek bank.

I continued downstream and landed two more feisty rainbows, both fell to a pink San Juan Worm pattern. Eventually the stream became shallow as it ran under the footpath bridge that crosses the creek from Keystone College. After reaching the bottom boundary, I decided I’d hike back upstream to fish to the top boundary. I expected a lot more from the stream in the upper section, but unfortunately this part of the stream didn’t seem to hold many fish. The water was definitely deep enough in two or three spots, but I was unable to even get a hit.

The upper boundary to the stream is marked by a wire and sign below the Rt. 11 bridge. I finished fishing around 10:45AM. I’d had no intention of finishing early so I decided I’d expand the day and head south to fish another body of water. While fishing I used up the last of my Squirmy Wormy patterns so I decide that as I headed south I’d stop at the Evening Hatch Fly Shop which sits on Rt. 940, just east of White Haven. While I was there I chatted with the store attendant and asked him about local streams. He suggested the Pohopoco Creek and said that the Pohopoco Rod & Gun Club had stocked the stream about a month ago. After buying a handful of flies I took his suggestion and headed further south towards Lehighton. Just east of Lehighton is the Beltzville Lake. The Pohopoco Creek flows out of the lake and travels almost 28 miles before it runs into the Lehigh River. The state stocks the Pohopoco with rainbow trout in the early spring. The Pohopoco Rod & Gun Club stocks in the late spring and early summer. When I arrived, I parked in the lot just below the dam spillway. This bottom release dam is enormous and is neat to see. When I walked down to the stream I was surprised at how low and clear the water was, almost to the point where I considered leaving. I remembered the fellow at the Evening Hatch Fly Shop mentioning good fishing near the stream gauge station. I got back in my truck and drove a few hundred yards downstream to the station. It turns out there is small low-head dam here, and the water is a bit deeper. I started fishing using an olive Hare’s Ear and a red Squirmy Wormy. After ten minutes of drifting my flies, I finally hooked up with my first Pohopoco trout. It turned out to be a moderately sized rainbow and looked very healthy. I walked downstream a distance and found some nice stretches of deeper water. I’d been warned to look out for private property. When I saw a dock with a no trespassing sign, even though there were fish rising in front of it, I decided to stay where I was. I left the Pohopoco after having only fished for an hour. I did see a few fish rising, so I’m sure the stream fishes well before sundown.

 The beautiful rainbow trout I caught on the Pohopoco Creek.

The beautiful rainbow trout I caught on the Pohopoco Creek.

I decided to make it a three-stream day and headed south again toward the town of New Ringgold, Pennyslvania to fish the Little Schuylkill River. Unfortunately, the further south I drove the more water I saw in the streams. The same was true for the Little Schuylkill when I arrived. The water flows were up around 100CFS. The water was off color and much swifter than the last time I’d visited. I fished some of the water off of Mill Mountain Road. While attempting to wade and drift nymphs, I was able to hook up with a rainbow trout that I eventually lost while attempting to get him to hand. After fifteen minutes of this, I decided wading was not safe. I ended up on the large rocks along the road, casting upstream and letting my nymphs drift down. To my surprise this technique netted me two rainbows, one being the largest I’d caught all day.

 The Little Schuylkill River flowing well for late July.

The Little Schuylkill River flowing well for late July.

I’d estimate that throughout the day I hooked up with about a dozen trout, only netting seven or eight of them. But it was the last weekend in July and although it is hard to believe, September is only one month away. I can’t complain about catching that number of trout in the middle of the summer. I’d rather be standing in the warm waters of the Susquehanna or Juniata Rivers stripping buggers for smallmouth, but before I can do that, we need a week or two without a major rain event. That hasn’t happened since June. Ironically, it is almost a 180-degree difference from last summer, when we couldn’t buy a drop of rain. I’m not complaining.

 The rainbow trout I caught in the stained water of the Little Schuylkill River.

The rainbow trout I caught in the stained water of the Little Schuylkill River.