Standing mid-stream with my back to the sun, that chalky limestone aroma in the air and trying to cover a fish that had no business eating flies off the top, a shout from downstream echoes… “Woo!” I knew it was my friend and Fulling Mill fly designer, William Anderson successfully netting another fish. I’ll always remember this outing on Pennsylvania’s famed Spring Creek, as it was one of the best I’ve pried from this seemingly elaborate puzzle.
Sometime before William and I met up on our little rendezvous, we chatted about how we wanted to spend more time fishing a different watershed in Pennsylvania called, the Little Juniata River, or the Little J as many refer to it as. We had everything planned out, our ritual breakfast omelets and coffee, meeting places, shared pins of likely looking sections that might hold some fish… The week before my trip from NH -> PA it decided to rain, quite a bit. Those who don’t know, the Little J is a freestone stream with a lot of limestone bedrock so, when it rains, it rises very quickly. And there’s one thing about the Little J that everyone seems to know, when you’re wading, watch your step as it could lead to a quick swim. Seeing as how I didn’t plan on swimming or wading in near-flood stage waters we chatted about alternatives.
We settled on Spring Creek in State College PA, home of Penn State University (go lions!) and many other wonderful attractions. State College is fortunate enough to be nestled in limestone country in Pennsylvania. Most, if not all of the streams, brooks/creeks and rivers are either pure chalk-streams or freestone rivers with an enormous amount of limestone influence. This means that the biomass of food in these streams is silly, and I mean that in a good way. In my opinion, this is why it has always attracted me to the area, there are so many natural insects in the water at any given time and it’s sometime very difficult to fool a fish into taking your fly. Technical fishing at its best. William and I are no strangers to this stream by any stretch of the imagination. We’ve met up here on many occasions to fish Sulpher emergences and caddis blizzards but, never olives.
We set out from the paradise section mid-morning, to hopefully find a couple fish. The air temp was a chilly 39° but, we knew the sun was scheduled to make an appearance at some point in the day. The water was up some but, it was actually to the perfect level for what I wanted to do and slightly colored… perfect. I had two rods with, my Hardy Zenith 10ft 3wt rigged for dry-fly/wet-fly presentations and a new toy from Thomas & Thomas Rod Co; Contact Nymph 10ft 8” 3wt rigged with a French leader. The latter was going to be my preferred method of the day. It’s funny really, William is a dyed in the wool traditionalist when it comes to fishing. He’s a wet-fly guru and more specifically wealth of knowledge when it comes to fishing the beloved flymph. For those of you who don’t know what a flymph is, do yourself a favor and google it, tie some up and fish them, you won’t be disappointed.
We had somewhat of a slow start to the day with only a handful of fish being caught and released. I found success dredging size 18 PT Nymphs tied on our Fulling Mill Jig Force hook with an oversized silver bead. William found some fish swinging wets to likely looking holding areas and through riffles, as I knew he would, after-all I’m not stranger to wet-flies and their fishing methods myself. We gradually moved upstream and hit every run we thought we could cover. As the sun rose behind us, the bugs slowly made their appearance. First came the olives floating downstream like little sailboats struggling in the wind. Oddly enough, the fish hardly batted an eye at them, at least the adults. Shortly after, little brown caddis flies were seen flopping on the water and this is when the fishing just turned on. Like a switch that was just suddenly turned on, fish came out of nowhere to peruse these little caddis flies. It was amazing, and I’ve seen it time and time again but, it always amazes me how success while on the stream can go from one extreme to the other in the matter of minutes.
Even though fish were rising to caddis flies, I found great success fishing a tandem flashback scud rig on my French leader set-up. Both flies with tungsten beads, one with a hot spot collar and the other without both flies are something I’ve been working on for some time now and I knew this was the day to really put them to the test. At one point I had separated from William and walked quite a ways upstream to a likely looking spot that was haunting my thoughts since the last time I visited this section… that tandem scud rig accounted for 20+ fish out of one run. And that was just one of the many runs that I harassed… My scud with the hot spot collar and colored bead accounted for many fish on this outing as did the one without.
In the end, we lost count of how many fish we landed but I do know it was one of the best days I’ve encountered in quite some time. Presentation always plays a key role when it comes to success and this day is a testament to that. If I had to give one piece of information on fishing methods here, I would say nymphing a hatch is probably a more productive way to achieve high numbers in your net. Slow controlled drifts with properly weighted flies through likely looking holding lies will almost always produce the goods.