First Trout of the Year on Drys – Spring Creek

The Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph strikes again, size #20. This was the first trout I brought to hand yesterday in Fisherman's Paradise, and I also missed a half-dozen other quick strikes on this go-to nymph pattern. Smaller trout have a tendency to hit-and-spit real fast, often before you can react. And I don't care how good your reflexes are. When the trout started rising, I did what any respectable angler would do and switched to a Sulphur dun dry fly pattern and got down to some serious fishing.

I drove to Spring Creek near State College, Pennsylvania, yesterday afternoon to meet up with three of my friends,  who had come up from Maryland the day before. I was to meet Jack, Frank, and Mike, but I was running about a half-hour late. They were not at the prearranged meeting place when I arrived, so I positioned myself along the road in a highly visible location and fished. In about 15 minutes they pulled up and stopped. I hollered, “Where were you? Having lunch?”

“Yeah,” came the reply. They had gone back to Maria’s at the Lamb Street bridge in nearby Bellefonte, the same place they had dinner the night before. Old farts curmudgeons  geezers  friends like to keep a routine. It was 2:45 PM. We quickly agreed to meet up at Fisherman’s Paradise, which was no more than a mile upstream from where I was fishing. It turned out that a major contributing factor to this plan of action was the fact that Frank, originally from New Jersey, (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and now from Florida, (not that there’s anything wrong with that either), basically wanted to fish like he does in Florida didn’t want to suit up in his waders. Too much of that Florida arm-chair boat fishing I guess. :mrgreen:  The Paradise is a No Wading Zone.

Fisherman’s Paradise was the first-ever Special Regulation, Catch-and-Release, Fly Fishing Only Project in the entire United States. It was started sometime in the 1940’s I believe. And Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Legend – Author – The Dean of Fly Fishing – George Harvey had something to do with it. There is easy access to the water, much of the bank in sections on one side or the other is mowed lawn, courtesy of the staff of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. We weren’t there 15 minutes when the trout started rising. Talk about perfect timing. In fact when I saw nearly a dozen risers in one area I reckoned (like Clint Eastwood, he does a lot of “reckoning” in his Westerns), that it was time to stop nymphing and go dry. I tied a #14 Sulphur Comparadun to my 5x tippet. The first trout succumbed to this fly after just a few casts. Here he is:

My first trout of the year on a dry. The fish took this #14 Comparadun pattern, visible in its jaw. I don't use or own Flurocarbon. The tippet is my favorite dry-nymphing soft mono material, Dai-Riki Velvet. The fly is a simple pattern: Yellow Microfibetts split tail; Wapsi Superfine Sulphur Orange Dubbing, and bleached deer hair for the wing. And Danville #7 Orange 3/0 Monocord thread. I initially posted that it was Danville 6/0 but then I remembered that I'd been using the monocord on Comparaduns size #14 and larger. Stronger thread, doesn't break when you flare the wing.

Freshly hatched sulphur dun. I'm only an amateur aquatic entomologist, but I'm pretty sure this is Ephemerella invaria.

Mike was standing right beside me as I had landed my third or fourth trout. We had been discussing the sulphurs versus the Pale Evening Duns, E. dorothea. Just as I released the fish I saw this fly flutter into some grass at arm’s length. I exclaimed to Mike, “There goes a sulphur dun!” Then I asked him, “Do you wanna see it?”

“Sure,” Mike replied. I looked in the grass and located this bug, carefully picking it up by the tips of its ethereal wings. We observed the Sulphur Dun in my hand, and then I decided to place it on my knee, thinking photograph. The the camera came out, the shot was quickly taken. But it is interesting to note, as I was preparing to shoot, since the breeze was at times a bit gusty, the dun instinctively positioned itself in an aerodynamic posture heading into the wind. I had to wait briefly for her to pose. It was probably a female.

Yes, this photographic evidence, seeing significant numbers of sulphur duns hatching, and taking trout that were seen rising and some that were not, by just fishing seams, edges, eddies, and runs, I took 15 or 16 trout, and rose another dozen or so in just over a couple hours. I didn’t move 100 yards left or right. It’s safe to say the sulphur hatch on Spring Creek has started. Normally on Spring Creek one can see scattered sulphur duns starting around April 23rd to the 25th, with the main hatch getting going around May 8 – 10, but this year, well most of us are aware of the unseasonably warm winter and lack of snow pack in the north east. This has the bugs ahead of schedule.

Another trout taken on the Comparadun. You can just see the tips of the deer hair wing in its mouth.

Jack was lacking some sulphurs of the right size and color; he’d been using a #16 more Pale Evening Dun pattern, which the trout were not having. I took one look at his fly and said,”That’s too small. Not the right color. Ya’ need more orange.” I gave him one of my #14 Comparaduns and a Poly-wing Thorax Dun, also had to give him a dab of floatant too. What’s up with a guy going fishing and leaving his floatant at home? Jack has like, 6 bottles of Loon Aquel (my favorite) floatant at home. Good place for that when trout are rising and you want to fish drys. He had his excuses…none valid. Soon Jack was into some trout too.

Another dry fly brown. I lost my Comparadun by decorating the trees, so I tied on a #14 Sulphur Parachute Dun. It worked.

I must have been feeling an unseasonal Christmas Spirit, because I also decorated a tree on the opposite bank with my Parachute pattern. So I tied on this #14 Sulphur Poly-wing Thorax Dun. It too, worked. I lost four or five flies, decorating the trees.

Another trout on the Poly-wing Thorax Dun. Here you can clearly see the split Microfibetts tail, and the same Wapsi Sulphur Orange Superfine Dubbed body.

The abdomen on the Poly-wing Thorax Dun above is “tightened up” by “reverse dubbing;” a technique I developed ten years or so ago whereby the body is ribbed with the tying thread direct from the bobbin, after the dubbing is wound from the thorax to the end of the body. Ideally running out of dubbing exactly as you get to the tail. This produces a segmented look, and as noted, a tight, clean body. Expert commercial fly tier and author of several books, A.K. Best, noted in one of his books, quoting from memory: “Mayflies don’t have buggy bodies. They have clean, smooth, waxy-looking bodies.” Hence my preference to make tight, clean, slim bodies on my mayfly dun and spinner patterns. It has ginger hackle, clipped on the bottom 1/2 way between the hook point and shank to ensure right-side up landings 90-plus percent of the time. And a wing of dun Hi-Vis – a.k.a. Enrico’s Sea Fiber’s – a.k.a Poly Fluff, which is all the same acrylic fiber, but confusing. It results in fly tying material independent marketing ideas which do little more than confuse, befuddle, and confound fly tiers.

I have had two big-fish-that-got-away stories two days straight. On Thursday afternoon, the day before this trip to Spring Creek, I drove up Big Pine Creek and fished the Delayed Harvest Section below Slate Run. In less than a half hour I hooked a brown about 20″ in length on a March Brown Parachute Extended Body Dun dry fly pattern – my own design – that I had the pleasure of watching – and hearing – him feed. Though I know better, in haste or neglect, or both, since trout were rising when I arrived, I left on the 5x tippet from who knows how long ago without replacing it. A couple years probably. When I hooked that big trout, I had him on for almost two minutes, he never surface, but kept digging the bottom, and the leader eventually broke about a foot from my 4x section.

Not seeing many rising trout in one section on Spring Creek yesterday, I started working the far bank with my sulphur dry. I was placing the dun eight to twelve inches from the far side, getting the desired two to perhaps five feet of drag-free drift. I had one of those little rises – slow, deliberate, and delicate, not more than a dimple, not a slash like smaller trout often make. When I set the hook I knew I had the trout of the day. About 17″, but again he got into the heavy current mid-stream and the hook pulled out. No matter…the cast, presentation, tended drift, and successful rise and hook up is the true measure of how well you’re doing on the water.

One other interesting and kind of humorous thing happened too. Some stranger walked up and was watching me. He also started talking, giving advice, almost immediately. Sort of an armchair expert I supposed. Some folks are like that you know. I talked to him, but remember I was fishing. When the trout are on I’m not going to stop fishing just to have a conversation with a stranger. It’s akin to walking and chewing gum simultaneously. I can talk and fish at the same time.

Jack was off to my right. About forty feet away. There were six or eight trout working in an area in front of me. There was a large slack water area immediately under the rod tip, and for some distance out, say twenty feet. I played around and punched various types of casts up and across the currents, mending downstream, and I rose four or five of the trout. Missed ’em all. Or they missed me either way. Observing this, the  “expert” said, “There’s only one style of fly that works here.”

I replied, “I’ve taken trout on three different types of patterns so far; Comparadun, Parachute, and Thorax Dun.” And then, with perfect timing to accentuate my remark, right on cue, I set the hook in a trout.

I barely had a bend in the rod when he said, “You gotta go way down on your tippet size.” I didn’t know what he meant by that size-wise because I didn’t ask.

“I’m using 5x,” I replied. In about four minutes I hooked another trout. He wandered off after I released that one. Good thing I didn’t tell him I was using a 7-weight floating, weight-forward line that I had fished with on Big Pine Creek the day before. He might have fallen ill. 😉 Point here is: Fly line weight was and at times is – irrelevant. I had thought about this as I prepared to fish, but my rod was still strung up from the day before. I didn’t see the need to de-string and re-string my equipment. Because my leader was so long the fly line weight was of no consequence to my presentations. I was not fishing smooth, shallow, glassy glides and pools in gin-clear water. Though if someone walked up with a freshly-made Martini I would have surely taken it. :mrgreen:

The heavier line actually allowed me to punch my casts more accurately and with more authority, despite the occasional gusts of wind. Jack had observed that, standing right beside me at one point (I had to give him a dab of floatant). We both saw a trout rise on the far side, near the opposite bank in shallow water, over fifty feet away. I stripped line out, threw the cast across current with a slight left curve / reach cast, the fly landed in perfect position, and it promptly rose the trout. He missed the fly though, or perhaps I missed him, but my point is that the presentation was right on. Jack said, “I’m impressed. All the way over there, first cast, and he took it.” It made me feel good to be back in the groove. But perhaps I was also a bit lucky too. I do love technical, tactical dry fly fishing. Where you have to constantly amend, adjust, and modify your casts, your position, angle of rod sweep, every aspect of presentation to obtain the “right drift.”

My leader was about 12 – 13 feet long, with almost six feet of 3x, 4x, 5x; the George Harvey concept of leader design. George’s basic leader design has in the last few years or so become christened as a “Czech Nymphing Leader.” I plan to expand on that topic and concept more in the future. The truth is, the only thing “new” about the Czech nymphing leader design is the name. George Harvey designed longer, more finely tapered leaders than what were commercially available, custom designing his leaders so far back in history that he constructed them with silk gut leader material, before monofilament was even invented. This was in the 1940’s, and the evidence on this is in George’s book, Techniques of Fly Tying and Fly Fishing, 1978 (I think). Also, his leader formulas, combined with his field research using Japanese beetles and 15″ sections of silk gut of all diameters, feeding gut-skewered beetles to rising trout that he had chummed up with a coffee can full of beetles, made him recognize that trout don’t care about tippet size, they care about drag-free drifts of what they eat. As his eyesight faded in his 80’s, George fished Tricos on 3x tippet because that’s what he could see to thread through the eye of the hook. His 3x tippet was about five feet long. And he used his slack-leader cast to present the fly. Enough digression, but this is relevant. My personal experience of the last 20 years bears out George’s research, though I do not rigidly adhere to his exact leader formulas, I do follow his basic leader design principles.

Green inch worm, a.k.a. Green Weenie. Yes, already, they come out when the leaves begin to sprout.

When I quit fishing, I was just getting into the Nymphmobile when I saw this guy on my car door. I placed him on the hood and took the photo. I know, it looks like Godzilla in a larval form, but it was only about 3/8 of an inch in length. Now and from here on through the rest of the spring, summer, and fall, this will be a go-to fly for any occasion when you don’t know what to use – well, you can always resort to a sinking inchworm pattern, a.k.a. Green Weenie. Or a floating version…in between the hatches when the trout may key on one bug, don’t forget these terrestrials. My biggest trout in Pennsylvania, a 26″ brown, was taken on a Green Weenie nymph. Sight-fished, too. That’s another story.

I will endeavor to post macro photos of the dry fly patterns here in the not-too-distant future, as well as posting a separate topic / essay on the Sinking Inchworm…

After the fishing the best part of the day was a late dinner of a grilled venison steak, rare, and a side of some penne pasta, sauteed baby bella mushrooms, and Alfredo sauce that I made myself. Well, OK, I lied a little. The Alfredo sauce came from a jar. Finished off with a neat nip of “Jack,” Special Reserve, Single Barrel, November 2011 Bourbon. Compliments of a friend. Yup. Life is good.

I hope to continue to write more of my fishing journal escapades like this in the current season, keeping in the theme of my planned expansion and diversification of topics, tying fishing related.