The alarm went off at 3:45. Instead of snoozing, like I always do for work, I woke right up. I had woken up a few times throughout the night just anticipating the alarm. Even with my excitement to travel to Central Pennsylvania for a day of fishing, 4 AM is early. I needed to take a quick shower to get my brain in gear.
A week or so ago, I decided I would find the time to go to fish the Little Juniata River, often called the Little J. I was talking with the folks at Beaver Creek Angler a few weeks ago and they recommended fishing there. I’ve seen lots of videos of folks fishing there and it looks like a beautiful setting with lots of bigger fish than the Gunpowder browns I have caught. I love fishing the streams of Central Pennsylvania.
I packed up all my fishing gear the night before, so even at 4AM I felt confident I hadn’t forgotten waders, boots, rods, reels, or my sling pack. I checked in fishing reports with TCO all week and called in to talk to Mr. Holsinger at Holsinger’s Fly Shop on Thursday. He was gracious and helpful. I had previously tied some of the flies that were being called out as “hot flies”. I felt prepared for flies. I researched where I still was feeling unprepared last night and reached out to Scott Major, of PA Woods and Water. He was incredibly helpful, and his advice helped me fine tune my plan and build some confidence. I was as ready as I was going to get.
After getting some granola bars and some water, I headed to the truck and headed out the driveway. 4:17. It felt like I was going to have a good day, and it would be an adventure. I had checked the weather, and it looked like it would be overcast but not rainy. I forgot to bring my rain gear, which in my typical pessimistic fashion I took as a surefire indication it would rain. As I started to drive through Fort Loudon, showers started to fall. It was a short burst just as the sun was rising.
I noticed a rainbow on the western horizon. I was driving through some of the agricultural fields and large dairy farms, which provided a panoramic, unobstructed view in a picturesque landscape. It was a double rainbow and I could see the entire rainbow from beginning to end across the farm fields. I don’t think I have ever seen such a colorful and complete rainbow in my life. I debated stopping to take a picture, but there were no good pull offs and I wasn’t sure I could capture it in a photo. But now I’m wishing I would’ve stopped to try. It left me with a smile, a feeling like it was going to be a great day, and a reminder than even in a divisive culture with a pandemic that our world can be beautiful.
I arrived at the confluence of Spruce Creek and the Little J around 7AM, and a few minutes later I got to my pull off spot and began to set up my gear. My excitement built as I directed the fly line though the guidelines and set up my rig. I double check my knots with the anticipation that I would be hooking into some bigger fish today. I always put on my waders last, even though lots of folks recommend not tying on your flies until you get to the stream. I like the ritual of lacing up the boots, connecting the hook of the waders to the laces and pulling up the suspenders and walking to the stream. It feels like that is my sign that I’m ready to take on the stream.
I spotted a couple good access points and made my way down to the river. The Little J is approximately 80 to 90 feet wide where I was fishing but easier to wade than Penns Creek. The flows were low, with a discharge at the Spruce Creek USGS gage below 150 cfs. The water was clear with the greenish tint of the limestone streams that brings a greater anticipation of trout rising to my fly or the quick flash of a trout striking my nymph. I love that color. I just know those deeper, greener spots are home to great habitat.
I saw a few sporadic risers, but I decided I would nymph, as the rises were very inconsistent and seemed like smaller fish. I alternated between tightlining and indicator nymphing based on the water conditions, the depth where I could wade and where the currents were conflicting. I had changed through a few different flies and ran into another angler, who was willing to share what he had success with both in what features he was fishing and which flies he used. He shared that he always does well using the Walt’s Worm, which is also one of my confidence flies. I frequently use the Sexy Walt’s Worm. I also used a Frenchie, Iron Lotus, Barr’s Beadhead Olive Emerger, a Squirmy Worm and a Heathen.
I was amazed at the number of bugs coming off the water. Caddis and a variety of mayflies, I think I even saw one straggler green drake coffin fly. The Little J has a healthy macroinvertebrate community. I felt like every time I got hung up on the bottom, my flies came back with several cased caddis attached.
The guidance I had received from the sources I researched supported that evening fishing was most productive right now, but my open time window was this morning to early afternoon. I reminded myself of that as I struggled to connect with any fish in the first couple hours on the river. I had several hits as I swung some of my nymphs on the end of the drifts, but no hook sets. I’ve never fished wet flies by swinging them and I feel like I need to work on learning how to fish with soft hackles better.
At around 10AM I began to get into a better rhythm, and I felt more comfortable reading the river and finding ways to get better drifts. I ended up catching several fish and losing about the same. I picked out a great spot in a riffle run transition that I felt would be holding some good fish and had three of my hook ups all in that run. The Iron Lotus and Barrs Emergers proved to get in the right zone and draw out some takes.
One of the fish I lost felt like it would’ve been the fish of the day. This week I watched a YouTube video by Devin Olson on how to improve technique on landing large fish. I tried to follow his guidance but couldn’t quite get it done. The feeling when you hook into the weight of a larger fish is a great rush, I could feel the head shakes and then the bulldog run to cover. It quickly ran to a nearby bridge abutment and I couldn’t keep my line a position to avoid the tension loss around the abutment. I was glad to have felt the power of a larger fish in the Little J and I know I have a lot of work to do to improve my techniques and decision making.
Driving home, I felt satisfied to have hooked into some good fish and having learned a part of a river I have not fished before. I know there are so many streams to explore in Central Pennsylvania, let alone in the western states. I feel like with each trip and each experience I am gaining more skill, more confidence, and better decision making. I look forward to all the new adventures that await me and I’m glad there was fishing at the end of that rainbow!