Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hallowed Grounds and Tailing Trout

There are a handful of places that are, to trout fly fisherman, truly holy lands. The chalk streams of England, the salmon rivers of Scotland, the freestone streams of the Catskills, the Rangeley Region in Maine. Really high on the list of hallowed waters are the limestone streams around State College, Pennsylvania. The largest and most famous of which being Spring Creek.

Spring Creek, aside from having the most robust wild brown trout population in PA, is an important part of American fly fishing history. Theodore Gordon wrote about brook trout and then wild brown trout near Bellefonte in the 1870's. Joe Humphreys perfected his craft in the watershed. George Harvey started the first college angling course at Penn State in the 1930's.

Spring Creek has suffered at the hand of man but ironically cam out of it a more wild fishery. The great green drake hatches of the past disappeared in the 50's after sewage and chemical spills. The same contamination lead to the end of stocking and a start to no-kill management, and from there an entirely wild trout fishery was born.

Spring Creek is a place I've wanted to fish since I started fly fishing. And today, I stood on its banks in a soaking rain, seeing a very high and muddy stream and wondering how Harvey would have approached it. Or if he would have bothered. These were not ideal conditions. But Mike Carl, without whom I would not have been standing by this Central PA limestoner, spotted something in the shallow water creeping over the sod bank. Something that completely turned my mood around. Something extremely uncommon in trout fishing.

I have seen brown trout tailing like carp a handful of times. but it has always been a lone fish, and it never stuck around long. This time it was a bunch, and they were all over and not going anywhere. The high, muddy water had thrown us a bone, and we made quick work of it.

I broke of my first taker, which was especially frustrating as it was quite a good trout for that stretch of water. My next taker did not get away so easily. I saw it come out behind a clump of grass in a slow back eddy, dropped my beadless Walt's Worm a foot in front of it, and over she came before the fly even had a chance to sink.

Some time later I found another willing customer in almost the same position. It was so close to the bank though that on it's second jump it landed in less than an inch of water. Quick fight, beautiful fish.

The last fish I caught in our short hour long opening act was the biggest and also sitting in the hardest water. It gave me the best fight for those two reasons. 

We're going to be here for a few more days. My hope is that this sight fishing will persist. It is something special when brown trout act like bonefish.


  1. Spring Creek is Heaven on earth. I'm glad you have the chance to fish this special place for Browns. There is a lot of history on that stream. ENJOY!!
    Tie, fish, write and photo on...

  2. Bravo Rowan. If I had it to do over again, that's where I would be fishing. Lots of history for sure there.

    1. It's special water. Given the choice I'd go with Roscoe, but State College is a close second.