Winter Brook Trout Fishing in Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountains

Everyone was talking about winter storm Harper late last week. The storm was moving across the Midwest on Friday and was expected to make landfall in Pennsylvania on Saturday afternoon. The weather report was telling me I was going to have a four or five hour window on Saturday to fly fish. The air temperatures were supposed to hold steady in the mid-30s into Saturday morning and this was actually an increase from earlier in the week when overnight temps were dipping into the low 20s. My experience is that any gradual and sustained increase in temperatures in the colder months can mean active brook trout.

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Ice Water, Private Property & The Little Juniata River Railway

On Saturday morning I found myself up before first light driving toward Cambria County, Pennsylvania to fly fish Chest Creek for the first time. It took just over three hours to make it to the small town of Patton. As my GPS signaled I was getting closer to my final destination, I noticed the amount of snow on the ground was more than what I’d encountered just south along Rt. 22 near Gallitzin. The evening before when I’d researched Chest Creek, it hadn’t occurred to me that the overnight temperatures in Cambria County had been consistently low enough that creeks might freeze over. Sure enough, as I descended a long road down toward the creek, I could see that Chest Creek was frozen. I arrived at a bridge and got out to look at the water. Ice on both banks of the creek had reduced Chest Creek to a small channel of water that winded its way through snow-covered ice downstream. From what I could see, some areas upstream were entirely frozen over. I pulled my truck into a snow covered parking spot and decided I’d hike upstream to see if by some stroke of luck I might find open water that no one knew about. After pulling on my waders and rigging up my fly rod I slid down to the creek bank in the snow and tried drifting a double nymph rig in the small channel that cut through the ice. No luck. I figured the trout were tucked under the ice in deep pockets of water.

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Big Bow & Crowded Jersey Water

I had so much fun fly fishing the Pequest River in New Jersey last weekend that I decided I’d head there again on Sunday morning. I was interested in fishing the portions of the Seasonal Trout Conservation Area that I hadn’t been able to cover because I’d run out of daylight. I arrived at the river around 9:00am on Sunday. The weather forecast was calling for sunny skies with a light breeze and temps in the upper 30s. The sunshine had quite a few more fishermen on the water than the prior weekend. I set up my Winston fly rod with a 9-foot leader and a 5X, 24” section of tippet tied to a Flashback Hare’s Ear Nymph. Below the Hare’s Ear Nymph I tied a #20 Black Zebra Midge, the fly that is becoming my most successful winter pattern. It makes sense being that the midge larva is one of the only things the trout are seeing drifting by them during the month of January. Another new addition to my fly fishing gear was a new pair of Orvis Encounter waders and a pair of Simms Boa boots. It was a luxury to head out fishing with a pair of waders that I knew weren’t going to leak. My 2016 experience with leaking Patagonia and Simms waders is worthy of its own blog post at some point. The Simms Boa boots I wavered on buying because I know they are disliked by fly fishing guides due to the inability to make quick repairs in the field. I ended up going with them anyways because I have been tired of trying to tie frozen laces and get into and pull off wet wading boots.

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Frozen Reels & Rainbows on the Pequest River

I woke up Saturday morning to the sound of snow blowers running outside. A couple of inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight in southeastern Pennsylvania and it was cold outside. The temperatures on Saturday were forecasted to be in the high 20s with a “real feel” that was much lower. This was the only time this year that I paused for a second while rolling out of bed to consider whether or not I wanted to venture out to water somewhere to wet a fly line. But it didn’t take long for me to convince myself to get out there and soon I had my truck packed and warming up. Earlier in the week I’d been continuing my research on trout waters in New Jersey. One name that kept coming up was the Pequest River.

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