Opening Day on Spring Creek, Pennsylvania – Part II

Here is a photo to start this off – what it’s really all about:

I wanted to begin this post with this photo — more pics and text will follow throughout the day — right now I’m having coffee, breakfast, tending the wood stove fire to fend off the chill, and I gotta tie a few flies too. This was one of 27 trout I brought to hand yesterday.

It is now early afternoon on April 15th. Yesterday, breakfast was the first order of business. Almost. I arose at 5:05 AM, loaded my two small coolers with food and beverages, sat down and tied six flies that I thought I might need for the day, loaded the car with the few remaining necessities that had not been packed the night before, and drove the entire distance of 1/4 mile from my house to the bottom of St. Michaels Road. I parked my car and walked through the doors of the Quiggleville Comunity hall, one of the little villages in the Cogan Station mailing district, for the Annual Fishermen’s Breakfast. Quiggleville, a collection of about ten houses, is actually where I live, since Cogan Station is a pretty large, mostly rural mailing district. But I live outside of “town.”

...held annually at the Quiggleville Community Hall, PA, Rt. 973. Rumored to be one of the best Fishermen's Breakfasts in the area...

Quiggleville Community Hall

Not too crowded upon my arrival...

Inside the doors. My friend and some-time fishing companion, Joe "Ma" Radley is seated on the left in the yellowish jacket, wearing the olive green hat. There are plenty of "Ma" stories, but for another time. She's a real character...

For seven dollars, this breakfast is all-you-can-eat: Coffee, orange juice, home fries – hand-cut from real potatoes the day before by the friendly volunteers at “The Hall,” sausage, liverwurst, pancakes, and the lady line-cook will make your eggs – scrambled, sunny-side-up, or over easy, to order. Lots of locals come help, they donate stuff, and the sausage patties are made from bulk, hand-formed. Not pressed out in some big factory where who-knows-what can end up in the mix. Volunteers constantly mingle the tables serving refills on the coffee. This has been going at this location for 15 – 20 years.

They even decorate the tables with appropriate seasonal items. The forsythia and grape hyacinths off to the left are not made of plastic.

The view into the back of the "Nymphmobile" after we loaded TG's gear. When I saw how much stuff he was bringing I thought he was planning to fish for a week. Note the home-made multi-grain hamburger rolls on the lower left...card table, fishin' rods with a couple spares, the orange tin has about 12 different spices in it.

The rear of the Nymphmobile on location along Spring Creek Road in Centre County, PA, parked at the scene of the day's fishing / relaxing / eating / hanging-out-with-friends excursion.

About 8:20 AM, downstream view of where we were parked. Note the guardrails along the stream.

Upstream view from where we parked...besides one affable fellow we later learned was from Maryland, these two ducks were the only other visitors at this spot on our arrival. The water is pretty low, but it was running perfectly cold at 52 degrees F. This riffle is where the osprey make a kill.

Truman took this photo of me, my sixth or seventh trout and it wasn't even 9:15 AM.

This was my first Opening Day on Spring Creek since 2008, the result of the way my life ran the last few years…and this was my first Opening Day – period – in Pennsylvania since 2009 when TG & I met at Rose Vally Lake in Lycoming County  with our ultralight spinning gear and fished for bluegills and crappies. We sometimes did that to beat the “usual” Opening Day crowds. Spring Creek, open all year under no-kill restrictions, has been fished for a few months already and by Opening Day, most people that have been fishing Spring go elsewhere on the First Day, because they can. There were seven anglers in this entire stretch all day – five of them were part of our group.

Another brown that took my #20 Flashback Pheasant Tail nymph.

OK, here I have to announce: the six flies I tied at 5:20 AM in the morning, were San Juan Worms. Yup. Mr. Classic Wet Fly, as some may think, is also a nymph fishermen. And unlike some folks, I’m not ashamed to admit that part of my nymphing repertoire includes junk flies. I had lost my “junk fly” box last fall somewhere along a stream. It contained an assortment of flies sometimes known as “The Guides Revenge.” I’ve unashamedly shown it to folks over the years, always before opening the box, prefacing it with the statement, “No matter how bad or tough the fishing is, one of these flies will always get you a few trout.” And then I opened the lid to show a collection of flies that more closely resembled a bag of jelly beans – “Green Weenies,” (chartreuse sinking inchworm patterns), glo-bugs and egg patterns in an array of colors and sizes, and San Juan Worms of various persuasions. Trout eat worms every time they can; the red garden variety, night-crawlers, and aquatic worms, of which there are some in Spring Creek. Trout eat other fish eggs. Trout eat inchworms that fall into the streams from spring into fall. They even eat them in January and February when no terrestrial green inch worms are about.

Catching some trout off the bat is a good confidence-builder, and as I stated, four trout seasons came and went since I last fished Opening Day in Pennsylvania on Spring Creek with my friends. For sure, I needed a fix of catching some trout. I had a need to feel the sensation of success that comes after making a cast with a nymph rig. This can be described as intense concentration, nerves set on hair-trigger response, mending and tending my drift, eyes on the indicator, then a reaction almost as fast as a mousetrap-slamming-shut that is rewarded by sticking the hook into the jaw of a trout whose eating habits at the moment had a significant degree of association to the slightest alteration in the natural drift of my strike indicator. Fish on! It worked very well. Twice I hooked and brought to hand two trout on back-to-back casts. I tried hard to even out at ten trout on the wine-colored San Juan Worm, but I stalled at nine for some reason. About 10:30 AM I tied on the #20 Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph.

TG intently watches his drift...

A few seconds later...Fish on!

A spot that contains cover, holding areas, and feeding lies. Spring Creek is a limestone stream; note the different coloration in the water. The shallow area in the foreground is darker because you can easily see bottom. Any time the color shades to this lighter, milky-greenish shade, it is an indication of depth, however slight at times. This drop off would be over my hip boots. These are all holding areas for trout. The linear edge where the color changes is a mix of both depth and current change - this is a seam; a perfect lane to drift a nymph (or a dry fly) in. It is critical in most situations to set up your cast and tend your entire presentation with the objective of obtaining a drag-free drift through a specific target zone. I consider this area too small for a two-fly rig. I prefer to fish with a single nymph pattern when the water is low, primarily because I believe the effective nymph fisher needs to be constantly aware of the slightest changes in every individual fishing area that is targeted, and this must sometimes be considered for each and every cast. Constant fine-tuning of one's rig in the form of adjusting indicator placement, amount and location of split-shot, possibly lengthening or changing your tippet, and lastly, the fly choice, will produce greater fishing success.

Around ten AM I tied on a #20 Flashback Pheasant Tail nymph and took a trout within a couple minutes. I missed and hooked a few more during the remainder of the morning, but at 11:30 I headed back to the car to join TG for a beer. He had other ideas...like lunch.

Rick was reading the paper, and TG began unloading the "stuff" from the car so we could set up the gas grill.

Jeff Laws from Maryland adjusts his hat as he spins a yarn. The fellow in the background is Mark, also from Maryland. He was one of the two other anglers parked at this spot. Yes, that's a linen tablecloth. Albeit a cheap one.

When I mentioned to Mark that I had a close friend in Bel Air, he stated, “I play in a band in Bel Air a couple times a month.”

“Really?” I asked. “What instrument?”

“Dobro,” Mark replied.

“Do you do mostly bluegrass?” I queried.

“Yeah, ” Mark replied.

Mark had packed a ham and cheese sandwich for his lunch, but when we offered him something off the grill, at first he declined, but I think it was the aroma of the grilling mixed venison / beef hamburgers that got to him. You know how the aroma of grilled meat excites your taste buds. TG convinced him. “Are you sure?” he asked. “We got hot dogs, hamburgers, three kinds of cheese for cheeseburgers, steaks, pickles, macaroni salad, pretzels, chips, crackers…” Truman’s followup read like the menu from an outdoor picnic buffet.

“OK,” Mark gave in, “I’ll save my ham sandwich for dinner.” So I grilled him a burger, topped with pepper jack cheese, served on a toasted multi-grain roll that TG had made a couple days earlier. And boy are they ever good. We had a nice time – chatting, hanging out, sipping beer, relaxing, eating, listening to the birds, then all of a sudden another angler flew in.

Someone excitedly declared, “There’s an osprey! He just landed in that tree.” When I looked up, I had never seen an osprey so close. There were five of us sprawled about the parking lot, and this one apparently had little fear of humans. He was perched atop a large dead snag in a tree just fifty yards across the creek. He sat there for the best part of twenty minutes. He didn’t fly away as I expected he might as I advanced to rest my camera on the Fish Commission roofed bench / rules / regulations / stand for some pictures. I needed a rest since I did not bring my tripod. I zoomed in to 24x and shot away. Below are some of the photos I took:

Note the different head positions – the bird was surveying his surroundings, but mostly he was perched like this:

This osprey was primarily in this pose, head down, keen eyesight intently watching the riffle below his perch. Hunting...well, more appropriately, fishing. He remained here for the best part of twenty minutes.

One of the guys was watching when the bird made its move. “There he goes!” someone exclaimed. We all looked over in time to see the raptor drop from his perch, his wings swept back like an F-15 in a steep dive, and SPLASH! Right into the riffle. The bird remained on the water for almost ten seconds as we all watched, spellbound, as no one said a word. We wondered. Then the bird rose from the water clutching a fish. And of course, he had to fly right back by our position to show off his catch. It was a large sucker. We later surmised that the bird was arranging his grasp on the fish, adjusting his talons to get an aerodynamic start to his jumping off flight. (They are smart enough to point the head of the fish into the wind). A couple of us applauded his skill as he flew off.

Here is a link that my Canadian friend Rick Whorwood, sent me a few months ago. It contains incredible film footage of ospreys fishing.   http://www.arkive.org/osprey/pandion-haliaetus/video-00.html

After lunch we all resumed fishing. I walked up stream and took eight trout from one area, below some boulders and debris. Again, I was still fishing the #20 Flashback PT. In fact except for one five-minute period when I attempted to take a trout that had risen a few times on a #18 Baetis Dun pattern, which he ignored, I only fished two flies all day.

We caught a few little guys like this. Small trout are always a joy to see, they are evidence of Spring Creek's healthy natural brown trout reproduction. There is no (intentional) stocking in Spring Creek. Note the beautiful red spots, the red tip to the adipose fin, and the white edging on the anal fin.

Big brother of the fish in above photo.

Another on the Flashback PT. I'm not usually one to change flies if what I have on my tippet is catching trout.

About a fifteen incher...best fish of the day for me. Not huge, but sometimes size really doesn't matter.

Another image of the same trout. I took mostly macro images because it's hard to get good full-size photos when you're shooting pictures by yourself, with one hand. I found out too that most cameras are designed for right-hand operators.

My friend Dave Lomasney, from Maine, asked in a comment to this post if anything was hatchin’. I was getting to that in the More to follow segment.

I gotta go mow some more grass…(What I wrote Sunday evening at 6:15 PM).

OK, hatching activity, yes there was some, and a few trout rose, but it was sporadic and so did not convince me to switch over to drys. First off mid-morning, a tan caddis was hatching, and I only saw maybe two – three splashy rises. Not enough to tie on a dry. For me anyway. I know some that would have…we have a term for them…a couple of my friends are like that.

We saw a few of the usual #18 Baetis duns hatching, not many. By early afternoon the Baetis activity had intensified, still only a few trout rising here and there. Nothing steady. The BWO’s hatched all afternoon, just not in numbers significant enough to bring the trout up. My experience in this situation is, if you see a few BWO duns and a scattering of rising trout, there’s lots more fish working the nymphs.

By about 4:30 PM I started to see a few sulphur duns. Early for them…I’ve seen them sporadically start on Spring Creek in other years by about April 22 – 24, but it might last only 15 minutes a day. I suppose I saw about three dozen sulphur duns, not a hatch for sure, but it’s an early start. At this rate, considering the unseasonal weather and low water conditions we’re having, the Green Drakes will be coming off Penn’s Creek by May 20th. Of course, we’re talking the weather and it could all change next week.

In the early afternoon, I was fishing in the riffle about where the osprey made it’s kill, and after about 15 minutes, TG, who was still relaxing in a lawn chair (he had a good excuse – surgery five weeks ago, so he still needs to pace himself). He was only 75 feet away so why he called me on the walkie-talkie is beyond me, but I guess he wanted to whisper. He cued the mike and said, “Hey D! Don’t look now but you got company.”

I’m looking up and down stream, all around, thinking another fisherman was nearby. He started laughing. “Look up in the tree, moron.”

When I looked up, I saw that the osprey had returned. Now it was even closer to me than it had been at lunch. The bird was only about 75 feet away. I thought what are the chances, but it could happen, and said to him, “Hey if you really wanted to be entertained you should not have told me he was there, and just sat back and waited to see if that osprey would make a dive like, twenty feet away from where I’m standing. For sure, that would’ve made me come unglued.”

There he was again...later in the afternoon I was fishing farther upstream when all of a sudden I heard, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. I looked up to see him passing barely twenty feet over my head. This bird apparently has little fear of humans.

Lew (left) and Jeff fishing the afternoon session. They both landed a fair number of trout here, but these guys tend to nymph with more weight than I do, and they also take more suckers, considering their flies are running closer to the bottom where the suckers are. Jeff did take some trout on drys.

This was a great day, spent on the stream with good weather, good fishing, great food, and enjoying the fellowship of friends. We need to do this again…soon!

Tomorrow morning I’ll try to take a macro photo of the Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph and write the recipe and include them here too.

Monday, April 16, 2012: OK, I finally got around to tying a fresh nymph, took a few pictures and posted them here:

Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph, Size #18, 1x long nymph hook. Silhouette was more of a concern than lighting or trying to get the fly totally focused...

Head-on view...you can see the twist in the Krystalflash wingcase. I've never magnified one of these this much before...

I brought 18 trout to hand Saturday on this fly, though I was fishing a #20. This pattern is my favorite nymph for whenever and wherever Baetis and other BWO's species are present and active...which includes most trout streams.

Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph

Hook: Standard nymph hook, 1x long, size #14 to #22.

Thread: I normally use Uni-Thread 8/0 Dark Brown, but I was out of that and also out of Danville Flymaster 6/0 Dark Brown, so I used what was at hand, UTC 6/0 70 denier, brown. I really don’t care for the UTC thread. It has less twist than Danville, flattens out faster, but the individual strands are more delicate than Danville and it frays more easily. I make it work if I have to, but it’s the least favorite tying thread I use.

Tail: 5 (larger sizes) or 4 or 3 (smaller sizes) fibers of ringneck pheasant cock tail fibers.

Rib: Fine gold wire, counter wound

Abdomen: Formed from the same fibers of PT as used for the tail.

Wingcase: Pearlescent Krystalflash, this one used 10 strands. More or less depending on hook size.

Thorax: Peacock herl, usually two strands. If tied in properly the nap of the herl will face toward the tail. The herl fibers represent the legs very well; tying in legs of an additional material is unnecessary in sizes #16 and smaller.

Head: Formed from the tying thread, cemented.

This fly has been successful many places. My brother Larry, & his daughter, Emily caught trout in Maine’s Kennebec River near Bingham. I caught trout with it in Montana’s Ruby River. Spring Creek, as evidenced by my fishing last Saturday. Anytime there are BWO’s hatching, try this nymph.

21 comments on “Opening Day on Spring Creek, Pennsylvania – Part II

  1. streamers365.com says:

    Love it! I have a friend up here in Ontario who talks about Spring all the time. I’m hoping to get there someday soon. Nice little brown, looking forward to seeing some more fishing pics. I’ve got a couple weeks before we open up on my home waters.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hey Darren;
      Thanks! If and when you get here you have a standing invite to fish with me…be happy to show you the water there…the nice thing about Spring Creek is it’s open all year…and yes, I have more fishin’ pics…

      • streamers365.com says:

        That would be awesome! From what i hear, it’s a beautiful stretch of water with some challenging fish.

  2. Great follow-up post Don. Spring Creek was the scene of my wild brown on a dry. It was of course during the sulphurs and as you previously mentioned, the orioles were swooping on mayflies all afternoon. I got a chuckle when you mentioned your “junk fly” box. If anyone busts my chops about fishing a SJW I won’t feel too bad about it now. Lastly, that breakfast brought back some memories. Not of fishing, but of American Legion and VFW breakfasts that my grandfather and great uncles used to take me to when I was too young to know that I would always remember them. Great stuff. Hopefully I’ll see you on the water sometime.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Thank you Jeff! Nice to see you started your own blog. Sure, sometime if you come to Spring, or maybe the Little J, perhaps we can hook up. Just look for the black Jeep Compass Nymphmobile. :mrgreen: And as far as this post goes, I’m not quite finished yet….more to come. Stop back… ;-)

  3. dlomasney says:
      Beautiful lookin’ water Don, I love the golden color of the cheeks on those big browns.
      Those ospreys are amazing to watch go into their dive. They look like bandits with that black mask over their eyes. Looks like you guys had a great day. Anything hatching?
    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Dave;
      Yes there was some caddis hatching, some Baetis, and a few sulphurs (already) in late afternoon, but not enough bugs to bring the trout up. I also like the way you refer to these fish as “big browns.” Most of them were 10″ – 12.” Some even smaller! Thanks for your comment!

  4. Catskilljohn says:

    Nice Don! Opening day for us was a little different in the Catskills, 40* and raining hard, but we had Quill Gordon’s popping up by the thousands. This is the first year that opening day has been like a June evening as far as catching trout goes, looks like you guys did the same. Great post. CJ

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi CJ;
      Thank you for sharing your comments; yeah the weather patterns kinda leave us wondering how the season will go, we really need rain here. Glad to hear your opening day was enjoyable as well.
      Don

  5. Bill says:

    Great report, Donnie! Is that stretch of Spring Creek the one above the Handicap Access platform?
    Looks and sounds as though you guys had a real blast.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Bill;
      Thanks for your comment! Yup, that’s the place, and we did have a blast. I tell ya’, for me, just gettin’ a bend in my rod after setting the hook was despreately needed therapy for my not fishing much the last few years. I’m in full-recovery mode now!
      We might be seeing you, Jack, & Frank on Spring Creek later this month if the shad run peters out due to lack of rain.
      Thanks again!
      Donnie

  6. Doug Swesty says:

    My son and I fished Spring Creek (first time for me since 1983) on Friday and Saturday and we also hit a nice sulphur hatch on both days. It was amazing to see sulphurs in mid-April when we are used to seeing Quill Gordon’s or perhaps Hendrickson’s on most streams! I was also down on the LeTort earlier in the week and saw a few sulphurs there. What a wacky weather year this is!

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Doug;
      Thanks for your comment! It is early to see sulphurs. We quit fishing about 5:30 because of the drive, but we didn’t see trout rising to the sulphur duns. Good that you were able to make it back there, I don’t know what I’d do if I missed it as long as you did…thanks again!

  7. Rich says:

    Wow, Don, the blog gets better and better!

    • Don Bastian says:

      Thank you Rich! I appreciate your enjoyment of my writing. My plan is to continually improve this and make it better, with more diverse and expanding topics. Thanks again for your kind comment!

  8. Steve Sawczuk says:

    Great post Don. I was lucky enough to fish Spring Creek 2 years ago while at Penn State on business. Small nymphs during the day, sulphers at night. That is one stream I want to get back to. Nice nymph pattern, I’ll have to tie some up. Keep the posts coming.
    Steve

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Steve,
      Thank you very much for your comment! Glad you got to experience Spring Creek. You’ll have to come back sometime! I’m glad you like that Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph. The ones I originally saw many years that inspired me to tie this pattern used pearlescent mylar for the wing-case…somewhere I got the idea to use Krystalflash. It gives more flash because of the twist – reflecting the light on multi-faceted angles. Definitely on my short list of nymphs…real short list. Thanks again for your comment! See you soon!

  9. Doug Daufel says:

    Nice post Donnie. Reminds me of the old days.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Doug;
      In my other message to you I told you to check this out…I see that you already did! Thanks! Of course you remember that Opening Day back in the late ’90′s when you, Dan & me fished at the Paradise…that was some fun and great fishing! Thanks for having a look here on the site! Take care!
      Donnie

  10. hey don i have also had very good luck on spring creek and i enjoyed reading about your trip there! i have one quick question and that is what color hackle you used on you sulphur Parachute pattern? it looks pretty sweet!

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Jake;
      Thanks for your comment, glad you enjoyed the article. The hackle I use on my sulphurs is generally ginger of various shades, but I also use light and medium dun shades as well…another slight color option is a good back-up plan. :-) Thanks again for stopping by!

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