"It ain't the same old west,
No that's for sure.
But I think it beats anything been here before.
A rockin' and a rollin' on a Livingston Saturday night." - Jimmy Buffet, 1975
I'm sure it will surprise nobody that Pennsylvania doesn't exactly have a monopoly on good spring creek fishing here in North America. Let's take a short little break from our local waters and see what the fishing might be like a little west of the 100th Meridian. The town of Livingston, Montana, once known as a hard drinking railroad town on the Northern Pacific Line, is now much more famous for it's fine fishing, it's literary & arts community, spectacular views of the Absaroka Mountains and a bevy of fine resturants. For my money, The iconic Murray Hotel (pictured above) is the place to stay in town. Once the residence of the cult Hollywood movie director Sam Peckinpah, the hotel has recently been remodeled and is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The Murray Bar has been the long time gathering place for many of the towns other well known residents. On any given night you could be tossing back shooters with anyone from Tom McGuane to Ramblin' Jack Elliot to Doug Peacock.
DePuy Spring Creek is the largest of the three Paradise Valley spring creeks. I first heard of it through the writings of Joe Brooks in the early 1970's. Back around 1960, the DePuy Ranch was running close to 400 head of cattle, but for the idiosyncratic Warren DePuy that was not enough. He decided to start a trout hatchery, but for that he needed water. Back then, Armstrong Spring Creek gushed right out of the ground on the neighboring O'Hair ranch to the south, then flowed onto DePuy's place for less than a 1/4 mile before emtying into the Yellowstone River. So Warren bought an old D-9 Cat and began digging and rerouting Armstrong Spring Creek through the entire length of his property. He now had plenty of water to build a hatchery and raise a few rainbow trout. Today, the hatchery is long gone, buried under the tons of backfill and blacktop that make up today's Route 89 through Paradise Valley. Eventually, after the demise of the hatchery, locals from town started knocking on the door and offering the DePuy's $5.00 to fish their creek for the day. That was the beginning of fee fishing on the creek and it would soon become a well known entity in the fly-fishing community.
Today, cattle still drink from the creek but only in a few selected locations. Fisherman's huts provide warmth on cold days; picnic tables provide places to eat your lunch while drinking in the jaw dropping views of the stunning Absaroka Range and rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout inhabit the spring creek to a tune of over 2000 trout per mile. Yellowstone River fish migrate from as far away as Springdale to spawn in the clear spring water. This fishery that Warren DePuy created would be very difficult, if not impossible, to build today because of existing laws. Warren did it all with little or no help from the state or the feds , although I guess he did have a little help from Mother Nature.
I had the opportunity to sample this world famous spring creek for the first time this past August. It was perhaps the single greatest day of fly fishing I had ever experienced, and for a while I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
After an inauspicious start to the morning terrestrial fishing, the hatch of Pale Morning Duns began to appear shortly before 11 am -right on cue. A few rises here and there to get things started slowly turned into a full blown feeding frenzy with trout rising in spots that had earlier seemed devoid of fish. Since the Paradise Valley spring creeks are considered by many to be the World Series of fly fishing, I kinda figured I still wasn't out of the woods yet as I nervously tied on a #18 Pale Morning Dun CDC Biot Cripple. These were going to be some persnickety fish to be sure. I couldn't have been more wrong. My first cast with said fly was taken aggressively, and with confidence, by a stunning 14" brown trout that was rising between weed beds. Ditto for my second cast. It went on and on like this well into the early afternoon before the hatch of duns slowly petered out around 2:30. The real challenge presenting itself was trying to keep these nitro-fueled fish out of the weedbeds after they'd been hooked. Ever try to fish a #18 dry fly on 3X tippet?
Depuy's is a shallow creek, two to three feet deep in most places and the bottom is relatively flat and mossy. There is such an abundance of food that the fish do not have to move far to eat, so casting accuracy is critical. The number of anglers on the 3 miles of spring creek water is limited to 12/day. In fact, I did not even encounter another fisherman on my beat in over 12 hours of fishing that day. Although I saw a few anglers way off in the distance, I had the entire middle section of the stream to myself that day as the photos in this post will attest.
If I had any thoughts that the best fishing of the day ended with the last of the PMD's, then they were soon put to rest as I returned to the water after a short lunch break only to find the rising activity starting to crank up once again. This time it was what the locals call an afternoon sulpher. A little larger than a midge in size, this mayfly is actually a member of the Baetidae family and has a reputation for providing some reliably technical fishing. That was not to be the case today. Evidently, the fishing gods were smiling on me since all I did was drop down one fly size, to a #20 baetis parachute dun, and the no-brainer fishing, along with my good fortune, continued to amaze me. The highlight of the late afternoon "sulpher" hatch was a 20" Yellowstone cutthroat that had been my White Whale during the PMD hatch earlier in the day. It had been rising all day long in a nearly impossible location to execute a drag free drft over him. Surrounded by thick weed beds and taking advantage of the overhead cover provided by a wild rose bush he must have felt pretty safe and secure until I finally presented the perfect pile cast that slowly metered out my #20 baetis dun into his feeding lane. A few minutes later he was revived in my net and safely released back into the silky currents of the spring creek.
The afternoon sulphers lasted until the sun dropped below the crest of the Gallatin Range to the west. By now, I was fully satisfied with the days fishing and thinking to myself that there was nothing else the creek could throw at me. There was a short interlude after the last of the sulphers played out so I grabbed the camera and started doing the clickety-click thing. Welp, you guessed it, even more rising activity was now getting under way. But these rises were different, they were soft rings appearing in the slower water sections of the creek compared to the aggressive gulping that was taking place to the freshly hatched duns earlier in the day. The evening spinner fall had commenced and some of the biggest fish of the day could be spotted taking the helpless imagoes as they drifted tight to the protective weedbeds in the waning twilight.
Parting Shot: Looking south towards the O'Hair Ranch just before the onset of the evening rise to spent spinners. During the ensuing spinner fall, the trout were stacked up and rising like gangbusters all along the weed beds and structure that you can see in the middle foreground along the left bank of the creek. Some of those fish were better than 20". The only sensible approach was from the right bank, but due to some hillside springs the entire bank was swampy which made walking and wading exceedingly difficult. As a result, I couldn't get into the right position to effect a good drag free presentation and I failed miserably to take any of the real big bruisers. I can still see them rising in my dreams and I would give anything for another shot at them.
Sunday, December 31, 2006
"It ain't the same old west,
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Dateline: June 14, 2003 - Tylersville, Pa. If ever there was an aquatic insect to stir the rich imaginations of the Eastern dry fly aficionado it would have to be Ephemera guttulata, aka the Green Drake, Shadfly, Coffinfly, Green Mayfly, etc. This large and regal mayfly appears on the waters surface just as spring is making the transition to summer, and the limestone streams of central Pennsylvania are almost synonymous with blizzard hatches of them. Almost as numerous as the insects themselves, are the number of variations of degrees of angler success during the hatch. The result of which can be a steady stream of grumbles and moans such as; not enough bugs, too many bugs, too much sun, too much rain, too windy, too calm, high water, low water, etc... familiar refrains, echoed by the Western Salmonfly fishermen. Nontheless, the call of the Green Drake is the siren song to which many a fly fisher (myself included) are fatally tuned. More often than not, as we will see, those Green Drakes even provide some pretty decent fishing.
The spring of 2003 was a cool & wet one by anyones standards. Streams that were high and bank full of ice cold water were the norm for much of the spring season. Many hatches that weren't completely lost in a sea of high water were delayed by up to two weeks. Such was how my friends and I found oursleves fishing the peak of the Green Drake emergence on Big Fishing Creek during Fathers Day Weekend in June, 2003. In a normal year of precipitation the hatch would have been over by that time. In the above photo, my fishing buddy Greg -an intrepid angler- is drifting a tandem nymph/dun rig under some excellent overhead cover along the bank of Big Fishing Creek, and actually had a nice fish take which shortly then executed a LDR.
The day had dawned cloudy, warm and humid with more showers in the forecast. Greg had reported excellent rising activity to Green Drake duns along this same stretch of stream the night before so hopes were high around noontime as we donned our waders, checked our knots and bushwacked our way through a thick stand of hemlocks down to the stream. Typically on these warm, cloudy, overcast type days you can expect the duns to start popping much earlier in the day than normally expected. Alas, that was not to be the case today -at least on Fishing Creek. Not a Green Drake dun in sight, yet. It must have been quite a hatch last night and apparently Fishing Creek needed a little time to reload both barrels so to speak. After a quick glance up and down the stream corridor revealed only a few dark dun colored caddis in flight, it quickly became apparent that we would start the day off by fishing nymphs in the riffles, pocketwater and runs until some serious drake hatching gets under way.
Turns out the creek was in perfect shape for nymph fishing. The previous weeks rains had it running slightly high and bank full of ice cold water, the clarity was slightly murky -or limestone green- and the already mentioned cloud cover would make those wild browns a little easier to sneak up on. On top of that, it had been raining off and on all afternoon, with some localized heavy storms up in the headwaters of Big Fishing Creek in the Sugar Valley. There is no better time to nymph fish a limestoner than on rising water -and that's exactly what the stream was doing that afternoon. No need to sit on the bank for hours, guarding your spot on a productive pool until the onset of the hatch, when you can be actively fishing the riffles and pocketwater with imitations of the nymphs that the trout have been keying in on for the past few days.
These inquisitive anglers are taking the time to poke around in the stream substrate to check on the maturity of the Green Drake nymphs on this soggy, humid June day in central Pennsylvania.
As if on cue, the Green Drake duns began to pop shortly before sunset in the Narrows. Surely the rising water would effect the rise, but to what extent? The answer would come shortly as the first rises began to appear along the edges of the pools and moderatley fast runs. It was thrilling to watch those huge duns drifting downstream, tight to the bank, only to disappear in the swirl of a good fish. These fish were up and feeding and they were not being shy about it. There were no last minute refusals, no compound/complex riseforms, nor were there any fish balancing the fly on their nose this evening. No cripples or stillborn duns needed, and 9' of 3X tippet would be a much better choice than 12' of 7X. This was down and dirty dry fly fishing central Pennsylvania style.
As it grew darker, and the hatch became heavier, entire pools came alive with rising trout. The normally recalcitrant and picky wild browns of this stream now seemed like easy pickin's and it was hard to keep from "flock shooting". Then just as it was becoming too dark to see, the Coffin Fly spinners hit the water and the real feeding frenzy begins. You start to hear the audible sounds of a few large browns gulping down helpless spinners yet, because you are so focused on this pleasant endeavor, you don't even notice the soft chirping of the crickets, nor the smell of the forest on this warm and humid evening. You briefly think of the cup of bourbon waiting for you back at camp and for a few brief moments in time all seems right with the world.
Later that evening, on the walk back to the parking lot after dark, one could even pick up fish here and there by following the stream corridor and casting to the audible and barely visible riseforms.
It was on the drive along Fishing Creek Road, later that night, that we saw million and millions of Ephemerella dorthea spinners undulating over the road. Had they been a couple of sizes larger, they would have caused automobiles to overheat by clogging up their radiators. A sight I won't soon forget!
One of my favorite tactics for fishing the Green Drake hatch in solitude is to be on the stream at daybreak on the morning following a good fall of Coffin Fly spinners. Most of the local fly fishers will still be sleeping off the evening rise.If conditions are right, you can find plenty of fish still rising to left over spinners remaining from the night before. They can get trapped in back eddies, side channels and pockets, then slowly released into the main current. It's imperative to find a good pool with a slow to moderate current for this kind of activity.
Parting Shot: The bewitching hour on Big Fishing Creek. The rain continued to fall and the creek continued to rise. Even with these rising water levels, trout continued to feed on the surface, taking Green Drake duns and spinners well into the night.
Posted by Wade Rivers at 6:26 PM