Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter Count

The weather outside finally turned from frightful to delightful for a few short days just after Christmas with air temperatures forecast to hit the low 50's in central Pennsylvania. It was time to strike while the iron was hot so to speak. So I finished off the last of the Christmas ham, checked the hydro-graphs and dropped everything I was supposed to be doing, then jammed it on up 322 to spend a few lonely days on the one stream that I knew that would certainly warm up my Scrooge-like heart.

It was bright and sunny with air temps already pushing into the mid-40's when I pulled into the upper parking lot at Paradise at noon on Saturday morning. Not even 10 minutes later -in fact, before I'm even done lacing up my wading boots, I spy a familiar silver/gray pickup truck rolling into the parking spot right next to me. I would recognize that truck anywhere, even without the RBF sticker on it's rear window. Much to my delightful surprise it was none other than fellow Pro Staffer, renown world traveler and sage of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, Agrontrutta. Faithful readers will also know him as the author behind all those endlessly prolific and very cool posts over on the RBF Pro Staffer's page. What are the odds of us both arriving at this same spot at the same time without any prior contact or knowledge of each others plans? We quickly assembled our gear and beat feet upstream past the only other angler on this stretch of water. The water was limestone green and at a perfect level for mid winter fishing, having been bumped up by some recent rain and the ensuing snow melt. The water temp. at 1400 hrs was 45F.

I wish I could report that the fishing was stellar and that our arms ached deeply from landing one wild brown after another but it wasn't and they didn't. Prolly because we stubbornly stuck it out by nymphing all afternoon with an assortment of the usual suspects for this time of the year when, in retrospect, we should have been throwing streamers tight to the bank. Just as the sun starting to set behind the canyon wall a bell in my head would ring and I replaced whatever nymph I had on the end of my line with a Shenk's White Minnow streamer. Threw it against the far bank and bam! A fine Spring Creek brown a little over a foot long. Little did I realize at this point what that simple bell ringing portended for the next day. For tomorrow it would be even warmer...

What difference a day can make. Warm, tropical like, breezes came wafting down the canyon and it felt more like early May than late December as I slipped into the water with not another Flatlander or Ridge Running angler in sight. Where did everybody go? I couldn't believe it at first but I had this entire beat of water all to myself on such a delightful day. Even the wild browns were in high spirits as they proceeded to hammer my Shenk's White Minnow streamer much like I hammered that Christmas ham a few days ago. The routine was so easy even I could do it. Toss the streamer TIGHT to the bank and, using the element of surprise, immediately strip it back at a moderate speed. If a fish doesn't nail the fly by the third strip, pick it up and toss it into a new spot while working your way down the bank.

It went on and on like this, up and down the creek all day long. I stopped counting when I landing around a dozen fish but I missed just as many on short strikes or thrown hooks. I finally had to force myself to leave the stream after a particularly nice fish -it was getting close to 5 o'clock and darkness comes early on these late December days. Today the water temp. was 46F at 1400 hrs.

Lets be honest for a second; Despite all of it's fine fishing, I've never really been a big fan of Spring Creek. For my tastes it was always too "cosmopolitan" of a stream. A busy road runs right along side of it for most of it's entire length and, after all, why spend my time on Spring Creek when I could be fishing in more scenic surroundings on Penn's Creek, Elk Creek, Hammersley Fork or the Little Juniata River. Even Big Fill Run held more appeal for me until relatively recently. I'm embarrassed to admit that I missed out on the glory years of the 80's on Spring Creek because I was preoccupied with exploring other fly waters and I still have never fished the sulphers there. Over the last 5 years some good friends of mine who live close to the creek have turned me onto the more remote water upstream of Fisherman's Paradise and I've had some good fishing up there but nothing quite like I experienced today. While I still wouldn't call myself a Spring Creek Regular I now have deeper respect & understanding for what the real regulars have known all along. My loss, I guess - sort of.

At one point I was pretty proud of myself for showing the fish a white Shenk's streamer. I figured it was a different pattern that they didn't see everyday and that was the reason for my ungodly success this day. Well after eventually losing all of those to underwater structure and overhanging brush I knotted on a black woolly bugger and they attacked that fly even more ravenously than the other one. That brought me back down a notch or two.

Seems every time I stay at the Feathered Hook over in Coburn that Jonas & the "Boo Boys" have sumpin' new in the works there. This time I discovered that local bamboo rod artist Jim Downes, who recently relocated to Centre Hall, is in the process of finishing and tooling up a rod building shop in Jonas' barn at the rear of the property. Here Jim (on the right) and local Penn's Creek guide extraordinare' Tom Doman (on the left) mull over the next phase of a project they're working on together. Evidently they have a relationship of mutual respect; Tom is doing all the electrical wiring in Jim's new shop and Jim is teaching Tom how to build bamboo fly rods.

As if the great day on Spring Creek was not enough excitement for one trip, the real high point came when Tom Doman invited me to tag along with him and fish the lower part of the creek outside of Milesburg and just above the confluence with the Bald Eagle. I had just met Tom for the first time that morning at The Hook but I already knew who he was through his writings and herculean, diligent, forward looking work with the Penn's Valley Conservation Association. I also knew he was a well respected guide of the old school type variety on Penn's Creek and I had wanted to meet and fish with him for quite a few years now. Tom's guiding service is called Penn's Creek Guides (naturally) , he's based out of George's Valley near Spring Mills and if you ever want/need to hire a local guide to show you around the waters of Central Pee-Aye you would be hard pressed to find a better one. Needless to say I was as giddy as a schoolgirl and I jumped at the invitation. I hope I didn't embarrass myself on the water too much. At least I didn't take a spill in the boisterous flows that were pushing 1,000 CFS below Bellefonte that day. Above Logan Branch and the Big Spring it was only 120-130 CFS and the wading was a little easier.

What type of fly rod did Tom decide to use on lower Spring Creek you might be axin' yourself? Bamboo of course! One of Wyatt Dietrich's Dream Catcher tapers - the 7' 9" Jim Kelly Special. I kid you not. Tom's taste in fly rods is as good as his choice of home streams.

All in all it was a great weekend with excellent water conditions and a wonderful respite in the weather. I had the best day of winter fly fishing I ever had in my life, hooked up with a fellow Pro Staffer by accident, plus I got to meet one of my fly fishing hero's in person and made a treasured new friend at the same time. In this day and age I don't take any of those things lightly.

Happy New Year to everyone and let's all hope for a much better water year as we march forth into that brand new day in 2009.