Working in the field of environmental science, I travel and observe efforts to repair functions of natural ecosystems and set impacted natural systems on a healing trajectory. I love that part of my job. Recently I was invited to visit the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center in State College, Pennsylvania. It is a beautiful facility with a variety of habitats including several tributaries of Spring Creek. The scientists at the facility are working to create a fen, a wetland fed by high pH water (basic) so it accumulates peat. Spring creeks, fed by limestone valleys, provide the calcium carbonate necessary to create a fen. Please go visit the Nature Center sometime when you are in State College, it is a fun place to walk and explore.

Beautiful Spring Creek at the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center

Along with a trip to the Nature Center, I was able to spend a little time fishing a wonderful trout stream in the area. Fortunate as I was to be there, it was unfortunate to have only the late afternoon to fish. In the summer months, historically I have struggled to catch more than a handful of fish during the afternoon. In western mountain states where nights are cooler, afternoons can be prime terrestrial fishing, but my experience on the east coast indicates afternoon fishing slows down.

Nutrient Rich Waters

Mornings and evenings are cooler, and can produce wonderful hatches and spinner falls, but fishing at 2:30 in the afternoon can be little more than slapping flies on the water. The sun is descending from its highest point casting shadows and making vision difficult. It’s the hottest part of the day, potentially more suitable for a nap than fishing. 

Contrary to these beliefs, on cooler, cloudy afternoons I have had success with dry-droppers or using terrestrials, such as grasshoppers. Larger foam based flies float for an extended period of time and can suspend moderate sized bead head nymphs. But on this day, my dry-dropper hack struck out.   

I covered different water types with a caddis fly and small nymph only to scare more fish with clumsy steps than to entice them with my flies. Sporadically, rising fish would catch my attention. I switched to dry flies without droppers, including sulphurs, blue winged olives, and caddisflies, with no success. The only result from my casts was to stop the fish from rising. Putting fish down is not the goal. Even my most deliberate and careful steps in the stream caused dark shadows to flee. Fish were there, but they wanted nothing I had to offer. 

Switching to nymphing did not immediately change my results. Well, that is not entirely true, I lost many more flies nymphing that using dry flies. Eventually in a heavy, turbulent run, I hooked and landed a small rainbow. I avoided the skunk and had some indication of water where feeding fish may be caught. 

The stocked rainbow that saved me from the skunk.

Nearing the limit of my time on the river, I ended my day with three hopeful yet unfulfilled casts. My drifts were solid, and my mindset was optimistic and focused, but I never found the winning formula to match the conditions that day.

I likely needed more time to figure it out or to have conditions change in my favor. Stacking time on the river builds resourcefulness and observations. To adapt and understand the best approaches for fishing success you need lots of experience. I’ve fished approximately 70 times a year for the last 8 years and those experiences have helped me, but I don’t always know what to do when fishing shuts off. 

Keep stacking your experiences!

The lesson to learn could be to mind the season, the time of day, and water levels to put myself in the best opportunities to catch fish. It could also be to broaden my skills and increase my experiences in challenging conditions. One of the best things about fly fishing is there are always unanswered questions and always things to learn.  

Keep Mending…

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