The stream that flows at the bottom of the Karoondinha Gorge needs no introduction to Keystone State fly fishermen. The name Karoondinha however is not quite as well known, but it's the name originally given to Penns Creek by the native American Indians. Specifically, they were refering to the section of Penns that cuts through the dark and foreboding water gaps of the Seven Mountains Wilderness region. Back then these steep mountains were covered with glorious stands of virgin white pine and hemlock and travel was difficult at best, even by indian standards. In fact, it was only as recent as 1860 that European settlers first entered the heavily forested gorge. We know that in 1865, Daniel Musser built the first small, water powered sawmill in the wilderness at the junction of Big and Little Poe Creeks. And what a wilderness it must have been! The likes of which we will never see again. Around 1875 the Lewisburg-Tyrone railroad had built a line up the gorge and sent a siding up Poe Creek to Musser's Mill. Serious exploitation of the Seven Mountain timber could now begin. By 1882 the population of Poe Mills was larger than that of nearby State College.
Today the sounds of the axe, crosscut saw and the sawmill are silent. The woodhicks are gone and the old railroad bed has been converted into a hiking/biking path. What one sees today are people in rubber clothing wading up to their hips in Penns Creek. These are flyfisher persons, and a typical one will be standing motionless for long periods of time while holding a long thin fishing rod in one hand, and a coil of thickish fishing line of unreal colors in the other -all the while peering intently into the water. Occasionally, you will see the angler wave the rod back and forth before making a graceful and sinuous cast. If we wait even longer, we may see a splash out past the end of his line signaling the disturbance created by a wild brown trout taking his artifice. In the lower end of the gorge lies a tract of 430 acres that are now protected in perpetuity as the Ralph W Abele Memorial Glen. Ralph was a former Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish Commission who was far sighted enough to work hard to protect this area for future generations.
Fast water in early spring and, as any Penns Creek regular will tell you, it's Grannom time in the Glen. This past season's hatch was the baddest, bad assed batch of Brachycentrus numerosi I've ever seen emerge on the creek. The numbers of fish rising to emergers as well as freshly hatched and oviposting adults had to be seen to be believed. Not only the pools, but every side channel, back eddy, beaver dam or slough was alive with rising trout from 10am till sunset. I've been fishing Penns Creek for close to 30 years now and I've been lucky enough to fish some pretty good Grannom hatches but I'd never seen anything like this.
If the Penns Creek Regulars had any fears of a brown trout population crash from the previous summers low water and thermal stresses, they were soon put to rest (as they always are, but that's another story) when they saw the numbers of feeding fish on the Broadwater Pool. There were so many rising fish it looked like it was raining. Just another testament to the vivacity of wild trout genes. They inherently know how to find those valuable cold water refuges.
At this time of the year (early April) the famous hatches of sulphers and drakes, as well as their attendant crowds, are still a little over a month away so it's still possible to find long stetches of undisturbed water. With the trout's metabolism just starting to kick into high gear after a long winter, this might just very well be my favorite time of the year on Penns Creek.
Here the narrow flood plain around the Cherry Run bottom lands is just starting to open up before it breaks out into the western end of the Buffalo Valley. Around the same time the Grannoms emerge, fly fishers can also expect to see a moderate hatch of Hendrickson mayflies, along with an even better concentrated fall of their spinners on the waters of the lower gorge.
Not to mention some world class stonefly nymph fishing in the pocket water. This is where the creek runs hard against the base of White Mountain and it's about as far away from any access points as you can get. White Mountain is the big, long mountain with numerous talus slopes that you can see from the PFBC parking lot at Cherry Run. This section has some of the best pocketwater, and largest fish, on the entire creek.
Camping in the gorge at Poe Paddy State Park. The name is derived from the parks fortuitous location at the junction of Poe and Paddy Mountains. It also sits right on the site of the former town of Poe Mills. Ghost towns don't last very long in the East because of the relatively humid and wet weather conditions so all that remains of Poe Mills today are a few building foundations and abandoned railroad grades, and even they're not easy to find.
One of the very best things about fishing the American Grannom hatch (aka shadfly, dark grannom or Penns Creek caddisfly) is that it can be an all day affair. Starting in the morning with larva/pupae imitations dead drifted on the bottom, once the emergence starts around 10am, you can switch to soft hackled wet flies, emergers and dry flies through early afternoon. Just to stay with the program, hang around till late afternoon or early evening and continue to fish dry flies to returning oviposting adults. It's all good!
Marsh Marigolds, a wetland wildflower and a harbinger of spring along the fishermans path. They can be found in swampy areas or along stream banks and they disappear as quickly as they arrive. They come up about the same time as the ubiquitous skunk cabbage and can be found in many of the same locations.
Parting Shot: "I've got my baby, got my wife. But it's only half a life without a dog... " -Tommy Thompson & The Red Clay Ramblers.