Penns Creek & The Things They’d Never Believe

I had a small window of time to fish on Saturday, maybe a half-day. I didn’t have time during the week to spool my smallmouth reel with new line so I decided I’d stick with targeting trout. There were heavy rains on Wednesday but the USGS webpages were showing that many of the streams in central Pennsylvania would be at optimal late summer flows through the weekend. I decided that I was up for a challenge and early Saturday morning I was driving in the dark on my way up 322 towards Centre County to fish Penns Creek (“Penns”). If you’ve read this blog since the beginning you’ll know that Penns has always been a thorn in my side. Our history goes back almost 20 years. I think the fact that Penns is a stream that has never given me large numbers of fish is what keeps me coming back. It has a mysterious side to it and as I’ve always described it, this “Jekyll and Hyde” body of water has a way of humbling a fly fisherman. When it is kind, the rewards can really be something.

 The sign-post on Mid-State Trail just north of Penns Creek.

The sign-post on Mid-State Trail just north of Penns Creek.

I arrived at the parking area off of Tunnel Drive around 7:00am. There were already two trucks parked there and both had fishermen prepping fishing rods on their tailgates. Penns Creek is a large body of water, but I don’t know if I’ve ever fished Penns and not encountered another fishermen. I put the Abel on my Scott G2 and rigged up a 9’-5X leader and ran 24” of 5.5X Trout Hunter tippet to my nymph. I decided I’d start with a #8 Lively Legz Golden Stonefly Nymph pattern. I dropped a #16 Gold Beadhead Hare’s Ear off the hook and was ready to roll. Before I’d finished lacing up my wading boots, one of the other fishermen stopped by my tailgate to chat. He was holding a spin rod and said that the day before he’d caught eleven fish on various spinners.

 With a foreboding mist rising off of its surface, Penns Creek is shrouded in mystery.

With a foreboding mist rising off of its surface, Penns Creek is shrouded in mystery.

After I was geared up I headed down the Mid-State Trail and saw that four fishermen had just moved through the tunnel in the mountain. I decided to stay on the north side of the mountain and fish downstream around the large horseshoe Penns makes as it flows south and then east towards White Mountain. I started fishing the riffles just below the Mid State Trail Bridge. I took the water temperature and it came in at 56°. The water had a slight green stain to it and was in the eyes of a fly fisherman, perfect! I dead drifted my set-up methodically through riffle after riffle, no takes. I worked my way downstream over two hours and fished what water was fishable. Anyone who fishes this section regularly will know that there are areas where the water becomes too shallow to be effectively nymphed. I moved past the deep water at Poe Paddy and continued nymphing the riffles around the bend. I decided to swap out my nymphs for a smaller set-up. I tied on a #20 Lightning Bug Nymph as a lead fly and dropped a #18 Frenchy Nymph off the hook. On my second drift through the top riffle, a wild brown trout took the Lighting Bug Nymph and I was hooked up. I was so excited that I finally hooked up with a fish that I struggled to move him out of the heavy water. And just like that he was off.

I continued moving downstream and fished several of the best runs through this section of water. Then after two and a half hours of dead drifting nymphs I finally hooked and landed my first brown trout on Penns Creek in a long time. It feels good when you have to work so hard for them. While fishing that section I had two other lost hook-ups, again, misses on the small hooks, but it was thrilling to watch a large brown trout roll on my line.

 The first wild brown trout I'd landed on Penns in a long time.

The first wild brown trout I'd landed on Penns in a long time.

With only an hour left to fish, I decided to walk back upstream and drift my smaller nymphs through the riffles I’d started the morning out on. I knew there were fish in those riffles. After a brief walk up the trail, I ended up at the lead riffle below the bridge. On my first cast my indicator darted under and I watched a wild brown trout charge along the bottom up into the top of the riffle and I was able to work him to the side and into my net. What a great fish.

 The colorful wild brown trout I landed in the riffle below the Mid-State Trail Bridge.

The colorful wild brown trout I landed in the riffle below the Mid-State Trail Bridge.

Before I headed back to my truck I walked up to the bridge and threw a couple of casts into the deep water that runs on either side of the bridge pylons. On the first cast I put my nymphs into the riffle on the left and I watched my indicator slowly creep down into the deep murky green pool under the bridge. And then like a ghost, a very large brown trout appeared from the depths, looked at my orange indicator, bit it, moved away, charged it again, and then realizing he could not swallow it, descended out of sight just as slowly as he’d risen. Those moments in the outdoors, when you see something that no one would ever believe happened, they are special.

 Looking downstream across the deep pool that lies below the Mid-State Trail Bridge.

Looking downstream across the deep pool that lies below the Mid-State Trail Bridge.

After deciding to call it a day, I walked back to my truck and enjoyed the ride out of Bald Eagle State Forrest. Penns gave me two fish, but I would’ve been happy with one.