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.
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.
In Union County, Pennsylvania just west of the town of Mifflinburg, there is a thirteen-mile Class A Wild Brook Trout Stream known as North Branch Buffalo Creek. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission designates North Branch Buffalo Creek as a Wilderness Trout Stream. This means that humans have not encroached upon the stream and it provides the fisherman a true wilderness experience. The stream is referred to as providing Exceptional Value. This spring fed creek is a tributary to Centre County’s Buffalo Creek.
Each year during the months of September and October, Pennsylvania’s wild brook trout begin spawning. The start of the spawn is different in every stream and is typically touched off by a change in water temperature. During the spawn, the male brook trout begin to change color. The orange on their fins and bellies becomes vibrant as they prepare to join females on redds. There is a lot of controversy around whether or not it is ethical to fish for brook trout while they are spawning. Some folks feel that fishing has little to no impact, as long as careful catch and release is practiced. Others believe that it is the worst thing a fisherman could take part in and avoid fishing entirely.
The rain continued this week. After flooding last week, the streams of central and eastern Pennsylvania desperately needed a break. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. Going into Friday I knew it was going to be impossible to find anywhere that was fishing well for the weekend. I studied the storms as they moved across the state and I noticed that a majority of the weather systems were moving south of the Allegheny National Forest. This giant green area on Google Maps has been in my travel plans for a long time. Deciding to go there this weekend ended up being less about a choice and more about necessity. And so Friday evening I decided I’d chase wild brook trout on Saturday. The big question was where. I wanted to stay as far south as I could to limit driving time. I focused on State Game Lands 44 and 54, which are located in Jefferson and Elk Counties. The brook trout streams in this area are tributaries to the Little Toby Creek. The southern most tributary that is surveyed for wild trout is Jenkins Run. I decided I’d head here first but then found a back-up stream further north called Vineyard Run. This stream was rated Class A and was easily accessible off of 7thAvenue. I headed off to bed early and set my alarm for 3:30AM.
One of my favorite things about writing the Wooly Bugged blog is the people it’s brought me in touch with. I’ve met some genuinely good human beings that I hope to keep friendships with for a long time. Earlier in the spring of this year a fellow by the name of Matt Willison reached out to me on Instagram and told me I needed to come down and see the Savage River in western Maryland. One of Matt’s close friends, Brad Burbas, eventually reached out to me as well and we all struck up a new friendship through social media. I specifically remember one weekend where I’d traveled to western Pennsylvania and fished the Casselman River down into Maryland. Brad saw me post some pictures and asked when I’d be down to meet my “brothers in trout.” As things often go, my paths went other directions in the spring and early summer and I never got down to fish the Savage River or its tributaries.
I think I can officially say that I’ve caught the “brookie bug.” It happened more quickly than I expected. I’ve now been on five adventures across Pennsylvania chasing these colorful native fish and I still haven’t had enough. On Saturday I focused my sights on a familiar area, Centre County, Pennsylvania. I was student at Penn State’s Main Campus around the turn of the millennium. This is around the time I first picked up a fly rod. During this time, the iPhone didn’t exist yet and Pennsylvania Wild Trout lists were not available in seconds via a PDF in Google. This was a simpler time where I was happy to get out on the Little J or Penns Creek for a few hours with a college friend and hope to catch anything on a dry fly. Who knew there were so many brookies in streams just a few miles from campus.
For several months now subscribers to my blog and YouTube channel have been asking me to do more wild trout fishing. A week ago I decided to give everyone what they’ve been asking for, a series of content focused on wild trout in Pennsylvania. One thing is for sure, the Keystone State is not lacking for opportunities to catch wild trout. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission maintains an annual list of wild trout waters where natural reproduction is occurring. You can find this list by quickly typing “PA Wild Trout Water List” in Google, and you’ll find a PDF that is kept updated by the agency. This list is over 100 pages long and each page has over 40 bodies of water listed. No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of wild trout water. One thing that is important to note is that many of those streams are not public. You cannot find a stream on this list, locate its physical location and fish it. You’ll need to first determine that the stream is publicly accessible. If it is not and you are able to locate the owner, then you can ask for permission. I’ve taken this list and started to cross-reference it with maps of state game and forestland in an effort to find public access to wild trout water. This can be a painstaking process and as you’ll read later, just because water looks accessible on a map, does not mean it is easily accessible.
The itch to chase spring run steelhead trout hit me about the middle of last week. A large weather system moved across the Mid-Atlantic Tuesday night through Wednesday and it put a lot of creeks over their banks. Thursday morning, Lake Erie tributaries on “Steelhead Alley” were all blown out. I heard reports that there were still a good number of fresh steelhead staged in the lake prior to the wet weather and all I could think about was how many of these fish were moving upstream. By Friday, folks were posting videos from Walnut and Elk Creek on YouTube and Instagram and sure enough, fresh fish were being caught. Somewhere in the middle of all my internet surfing I came across a podcast by Washington D.C. fly fisherman Rob Snowhite. If you love to fly fish and you’ve never checked out Rob’s podcasts, I’d suggest you do. He’s got a lot of great content posted online that can fill long hours travelling to fishing destinations. Each year Rob spends time fly fishing for steelhead in Ohio. In the podcast I came across he was talking with Dan Pribanic of Chagrin River Outfitters. After listening I made the decision I was going to explore Ohio over the weekend.
I typically make a couple of trips to northwestern Pennsylvania each year to fly fish for steelhead in the tributaries of Lake Erie. Coming off of a very active 2017 fall run, I was expecting the spring fishing to be good. There are two types of steelhead you can catch in Erie from March through May. First is the “drop back” steelhead, a fish that ran upstream in the autumn to spawn and is now working its way back to the lake. Second is the “fresh” steelhead, a bright chrome fish that decided to make its trek up a tributary in the spring instead of the fall. A healthy fall run typically means good springtime steelhead fishing because there are drop back and fresh steelhead in the streams at the same time.
I don’t have any proof that the month of March is windier than any other time of year, but this year it seems that way. The first week and a half of March has brought two nor’easters through Pennsylvania and as I write this, a third is on the way. I’ve only had the opportunity to fly fish on the weekends and the wind has been a problem. It’s not that my fly rod can’t cut through the wind but trying to film video for the Wooly Bugged YouTube Channel becomes problematic, even when using wind screens.
Last January while fly fishing the Monocacy Creek, I reached down to scoop a wild brown trout from the water with my net and simultaneously watched my wading stick fall from my hands into the rushing water. It floated downstream ten yards before slowly disappearing under the water. I spent fifteen minutes looking for my lost wading stick before giving up and chalking it up to the third one I’d lost in the past six months. I could’ve never known that losing that wading stick would lead me to fly fishing one of the most unique streams I’ve ever had the chance to fish, the Elkhorn Creek in West Virginia.
At times it’s nice to fly fish to large trout without having to think too much. When I feel this way, I typically head west to the Yellow Creek Trout Club (“YCTC”) in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. I try to get out to YCTC once a quarter and experience catching big trout throughout the different seasons. I never fished the club when there was snow on the ground and figured it would provide for a nice backdrop with temperatures forecasted to be in the 40s. I met the owner Steve at 7:00am on Saturday morning. The club road was slick but with four-wheel drive I was able to get down to the club pavilion without much issue. I was the first person in the lot. I walked over and took a look at Yellow Creek.
The first couple of weeks of the New Year have brought less than favorable weather conditions for spending time outdoors. We’ve had multiple days of below freezing temperatures, sub-zero wind chills, and almost every body of water in Pennsylvania is frozen solid. Even some of the spring creeks have been seeing ice on the edges of their banks. Against my better judgment, I have ventured out in search for trout three times since the end of December.
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.
A year ago, in one of my YouTube videos, I asked subscribers to comment on bodies of water in Pennsylvania that they’d like to see me fly fish. One body of water that was mentioned several times was the Brodhead Creek, which is located in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. The Brodhead isn’t far from the Poconos and is a 22-mile long creek that splits Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg before dumping into the Delaware River. Last week I decided I’d finally fly fish the Brodhead. I had plenty of time to research the stream and found out that it has an interesting background. One of the more interesting points is that some fly fishermen regard the Brodhead as the birthplace of modern fly fishing. Apparently there were quite a few well known authors and even Presidents of the United States that once wet a fly line on the Brodhead. Once the Catskills gained a good reputation, they supposedly went north.
We finally had decent water levels to fly fish for muskie so my fishing partner Andrew and I headed out to our favorite muskie water. The forecast called for partly sunny skies, with a high temperature of 45° and a low of 37°. The water temperature was 41° degrees and we were hopeful the December "Super Moon" would have the fish on the feed.
After spending a lot of time indoors over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was itching to get out and wet a line on some local trout water in southeastern Pennsylvania. I knew I’d have most of the day Saturday to fly fish, so rather than make a long trek out of town, I decided to fish a stream that had been on my list of waters to revisit. The Codorus Creek is a freestone tailwater of Lake Marburg in York County, Pennsylvania. The state classifies this body of water as a Class ‘A’ Wild Trout Stream. I first ran across the Codorus Creek back in July of this year when I was out fishing the East Branch of the Codorus Creek. I’d fished a majority of the accessible water on the East Branch and was looking for another creek. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission online app mentioned the stream so with limited time I decided to stop by and take a look. When I first laid eyes on the creek, I was struck by how good the water depth was. I was equally surprised by how cool the water temperatures were in the middle of the summer. I fished the stream for maybe an hour that afternoon but never brought a fish to hand. The place intrigued me and I swore I’d be back and so Saturday was the day I’d go back.
On the second to last day of September, I drove north for a four-day fly fishing trip on the lower Salmon River at the Douglaston Salmon Run. The fishing reports coming out of the lower river the five days leading up to my trip were spectacular. The Kings and Cohos were consistently moving into the river. There weren’t large pods of fish, but rather hundreds of fish evenly spread out throughout the day, creating perfect fall salmon fishing conditions. I was excited to get back on the water. I arrived in Pulaski late Friday night and my head hit the pillow some time after midnight. When the alarm on my phone chimed in the dark telling me it was 5:00AM and time to get up, it took a lot of will power not to hit snooze. I gathered up my gear, packed my truck and headed to The Lakeside to grab breakfast before the sun rose. By the time I was paying my bill, the sky was full of light and I was anxious to wet a line. I drove to the Douglaston Salmon Run, picked up my day pass and got my 10’-8wt Scott Flex fly rod ready for battle. The water level out of the reservoir had recently been dropped to 350CFS so I erred on the side of lighter tippet and went with 2X fluorocarbon Trout Hunter to the fly.
I wanted to fly fish for smallmouth bass all summer and due to either high water or being distracted by trout, it turned to fall and I didn’t make it out. On Sunday I had an opportunity to get out and fish in the afternoon. I checked the USGS gauges on the Susquehanna River (“Susquehanna”) and the flows were perfect for wading, I finally had my chance. I’ve fished many different parts of the Susquehanna for bass throughout my fishing career, but Sunday afternoon I decided I’d focus on familiar water.