The wet weather continued in Pennsylvania last week. A storm system dumped rain across the state overnight Thursday into Friday afternoon. Any big trout waters that were on their way to normal December flows once again pushed out of their banks. I’m thankful that Pennsylvania has so many spring-fed streams in its mountains. The blue ribbons that fill the map of the keystone state wilderness make me feel alive.
On Saturday I headed to Luzerne County, Pennsylvania to explore an unnamed wild brook trout tributary to the Nescopeck Creek. I’d first fished the Nescopeck Creek over twenty years ago when I was attending Penn State. The Nescopeck is almost 38 miles in length and dumps into the Susquehanna River near Berwick, Pennsylvania. Many of the named and unnamed tributaries of this coal region stream support wild trout reproduction. I cannot confirm if the Nescopeck itself supports a wild trout population, but I’m confident some portion of it probably does.
The unnamed tributary that I targeted runs from north to south through the Nescopeck State Park. I was able to find parking along Honey Hole Road. I wasn’t sure what the woods would be like in the state park and only brought my 8’-4wt G-Loomis. This rod length would prove to be challenging to use.
After prepping my fly rod and tying on a new nymph pattern, one based on the Lively Legz Pink Cadillac pattern, I headed into the woods. I walked about a hundred yards through thick forest growth to reach the unnamed tributary. The flows were great for December and the water was crystal clear. The edge of the stream was strewn with thorny vines and small fallen trees. The forest surrounding the stream was full of young trees that were not easy to walk through. The water was much narrower than I’d expected. I walked upstream until I located a good winter trout hold, an area where the tailout of the run formed a pool with a slow current.
I was using a 7-1/2’ leader with about 12” of fluorocarbon tippet. I used a tungsten bead on the nymph I tied with the Lively Legz. This allowed me to drift my set-up without any additional weight on the line. On my third drift I felt a small wild brook trout tug on my line. I slowly lifted my rod and moved him toward the bank. This beautiful fish confirmed there were in fact wild brook trout in this tributary. I held the fish for a few seconds just under the cold water and then watched him swim away, his fins outlined against the gravel streambed.
As I worked my way upstream the only place I could walk was in the creek. The thick woods combined with numerous fallen branches and trees made navigating this small stream difficult. Many of the prime lies, the deep-water plunge pools and tailouts were filled with obstacles, both above and below the surface of the water. The nymph I was using, one I named the “Pink Ferrari,” was attracting the fish, however I was missing a lot of fish. The #14 hook may have been too large or perhaps it was the lethargic fish requiring a stronger overhead hook set.
By early afternoon I’d caught a half-dozen brook trout that were in the 9”-10” range. As I followed the water uphill, the woods opened up a bit. At one point the stream took on the look of marshlands. The water flowed out into many different branches and each one held a brook trout that quickly fled as my shadow shown across the water.
Brook trout fishing when the sun is low in the winter can present fishermen with a challenge because of the shadows the light creates. Wild trout are especially attuned to the movement of shadows, even at a great distance. They associate shadows with predators and their predators typically only come from one place, above them.
Eventually the stream became so narrow and covered with overhanging branches that I had to walk out and around. This led to a large clear-cut created by a commercial power line. This area almost had the feel of a western stream and I could feel the buzz of the electric power lines in the cork handle of my fly rod as I walked underneath them.
I followed the stream into the woods on the other side of the power line and kept an eye on the sun hanging low in the distance. It became very difficult to find water to drift a nymph through. A dry fly pattern would’ve been perfect. Every couple hundred yards I’d come across an area that had a section of deeper water, but the brook trout chasing my nymph were small.
After finally hooking a brook trout where the stream had narrowed to just a couple of feet across, I decided for my safety, I’d better head back towards my truck. In December the late afternoon is deceiving, especially when there is cloud cover. It can get dark quickly and it is important to leave yourself time to hike out of the woods. I worked my way back to the power line and then using GPS on my iPhone was able to locate a trail that cut through the woods, presumably to allow whitetail hunters easy access. Once I got on the trail I knew I’d make it back to my truck just as it got dark. I walked the long road, pausing every now and then to take a deep breath and experience the quietness. I eventually made it back to Honey Hole Road and watched the on and off blinking of read and green Christmas lights on the front porch of a home in the distance. It was just a brief walk down the road to my truck. After breaking my gear down I headed home.