This past weekend, my friend Mark and I went to Poe Paddy State Park on Penns Creek near Coburn, Pennsylvania. It’s a trip I have done the last three years, and one I look forward to each year. I mentioned this trip as something I was looking forward to during the initial COVID19 lockdown. Mark’s enthusiasm for fishing and being outdoors is contagious, he loves to plan and research the hatches and flies to use, and he’s an awesome campfire story companion. So, as the restrictions lessened and camping was allowed in Centre County, I was anxious to go and spend some time fishing.
After some weather checks and one “pep and prep talk” phone call, we decided we would go, hoping to maybe catch the green drakes, but we’d be fine with looking out for Sulphurs and March Browns. I quickly got into the mode of planning the trip and getting ready to pack the truck up. Emails were flying back and forth on hatch charts and fishing reports from TCO. We planned what food we were bringing and when we would each arrive and how long we could stay. The weather was looking iffy about a week out, so we monitored the forecasts and talked every couple days leading up to the trip. Friday would be rainy, but not heavy downpours, and that may cut crowds down and make for cloudy days when fishing seems more productive.
Mark arrived several hours before I did and hit water promptly. There is no cell phone service in this section of the stream valley, so we had agreed to meet at a spot we both knew. The lack of cell service is both a blessing and a curse on fishing trips and leads to one of my first recommendations – always be prepared on where you are going. Maps or a quality GPS is necessary in many of the remote stream valleys. The roads aren’t always well marked or paved, and it is easy to become disoriented if you are going somewhere for the first time. I’ve become too reliant on using my phone to tell me where to go. A surefire way to spend time lost in the car instead of fishing is not being prepared with mapping.
A slow steady rain was falling as I pulled up and parked behind Mark’s SUV. I put on my waders, got my gear together, and walked to meet Mark. I walked to a bridge to see if I could spot him in the water. I spotted him downstream of the bridge, tying on a new fly. I could almost hear him muttering to himself about losing flies on a snag, and it made me smile. Tying on new flies is a very frequent exercise during a fly-fishing trip.
This leads to my second tip – bring lots of flies and be prepared with your confidence flies and recommended flies from the local fly shops. To me it’s a huge part of the fun of planning a trip, to tie or buy new flies that fit the profile of the food supply of the fishery. If you’re focused on dry fly fishing for specific hatches, it’s important to understand the size, timing, and life stage of the hatches of the insects during your trip. I’ve probably been a bit of a newbie in planning trips to well-known streams that are heavily pressured. In these systems, size and profile of the dry flies seem to be critical in addition to proper presentation. Or maybe my presentation is so bad, that’s what I convinced myself!
After meeting up, we fished for a few hours, trying to work out the depth and weight combinations of our nymph rigs, without success. We decided to head to the camp, set up the canopy, and get some food before the evening hatch, which we believed would occur right at dusk. We picked the spot we wanted for setting up the hatch fishing into night. Fishing at night requires knowledge of where you are wading, where fish are likely holding, and how to get back to the camp or car safely. Tip number three – bring a head lamp.
Setting up the camp in the rain was a little challenging, but it was important to us to set up an area where we could get things out of our vehicles and they could remain dry. This leads to the fourth tip – manage wet items well. I have found that no matter how I wade or fish, or what the weather is like, all my fishing gear gets wet. So regardless of conditions, I recommend bringing several towels that you can get dirty, tarps, and rain gear. I also have desiccants in my car that I change regularly. Too much moisture ruins flies and impacts all your gear. Each night I’d leave my fly boxes open on my dashboard to help them air out. I hung or laid out my waders somewhere they can dry and laid out my fishing sling pack. Several days of all your gear being packed up and wet can lead to damage and mildew. It feels a little silly to say, but on a trip, you need to be prepared to deal with all the moisture.
We left for the river around 6:30 pm to get good spots for the evening hatch. We made it to the spots and set up. Mark and I set ourselves in good positions to hit good holding water on the river and where we could safely wade in the dark. As the sky darkened, bugs began emerging and filling the air. Caddis, Sulphurs, black stoneflies, and March Browns all were in the air. Rising fish were all around us. We had prepared longer leaders to help with better drifts. We each targeted selected risers. Our first set up was with March Browns as they are large meals, and we’ve had success on them before. No takers. We each switched to Sulphurs of various forms and sizes. Again, no success. It became too dark to see much of anything and with my aging eyes. There was no way I could thread a line through a hook eye anymore. We called it a night around 9:15, skunked.
We made it back to the camp frustrated, humbled, and hungry. The rain had stopped, so we started a fire, set up the grill, and had some brats and Natty Bohs by the campfire. We told some stories and tried to problem solve through our skunk. I remember how much fun it is just to sit by the campfire and joke around with a good friend.
The next day we hit the river under a clear sky, and each had some success in the morning nymphing, and that brightened our moods. In the heat of the day, we made it back to camp to have some lunch and plan the rest of our day. We had debated driving over the mountain to Spring Creek to fish the evening hatch there. Then we discovered Mark had a flat tire. This leads to my fifth tip – prepare for the unexpected. When you are far from home and from the convenience of development, things can break down with anything you rely on. This is my second flat tire on a fishing trip in 3 years. Rods and reels can break. Bring back ups. Have your car checked out. Bring an extra blanket and lots of snack foods that can travel safely like granola bars, jerky, etc.
After developing a plan and changing the flat tire, we set out for another evening hatch at Penns Creek. A different but good spot, and another strategy. But no success. Anglers were all around us, and we only saw one angler land a fish. It’s a challenging and frustrating space when you can’t seem to figure it out. We head back to the camp even more perplexed than the night before. But the thoughts quickly switched to food. Firing up the grill to cook some kielbasa and camp potatoes brought our excitement up again. After a day of physical and mental ups and downs, a good meal just gets elevated. I appreciated all the effort we had put into the trip, all the problem solving, the beautiful scenery and the comradery.
My exhaustion from the day and satisfaction of the great meal helped me sleep well, and I woke up ready for another morning of fishing. I decided to hike up and explore some areas I hadn’t seen yet and was rewarded with several nice browns while nymphing. The fast current and amazing food supply help the trout be formidable to land. Each fish hooked was a heart pumping battle, and it made for a memorable end of the trip.
Mark and I finished the trip and we each headed home. I looked back on the trip and was wondering what I would write about for the trip. There were no dry fly highlight reel moments, and we didn’t have great numbers of fish. Regardless, the time on the water was amazing, and I felt like I learned a lot. Managing the weight of the nymph rigs to get good drifts takes constant adjustments, and when I was able to get it right, I was rewarded with nice trout. I learned about more carefully watching the life cycles of the different insects to understand what was emerging and what would be in the water column at different times of the day. I think what I will remember most from the trip is hanging by the campfire and eating great meals with my fishing buddy. The comradery of enjoying stories with Mark over beers and being able to joke about changing tires and getting skunked on dry flies will be great shared memories for our lifetimes.