Saturday, February 28, 2009

Saucon Creek Angling Society

It wasn't really all that long ago when I would annually look forward to the second weekend of April on Big Fishing Creek in north central Pennsylvania as the advent of the seasons first reliable dry fly fishing of the year. With any luck, I could have a couple of miles of blue ribbon water pretty much to myself while trout eagerly rose to blanket hatches of Blue Quills and Hendricksons while the rest of my angling brethren were blissfully celebrating their Opening Day ritual shoulder to shoulder on various stocked waters around the state. Nothing lasts forever as the saying goes; the secret of Big Fishing Creek's early hatching subvaria sub-species is now fairly common knowledge and I've recently discovered, with the help of a few relaxed and very generous friends, that there is some terrific dry fly sport to be had a full month and a half ahead of those early arriving Hendricksons on some of our commonwealth's better limestone streams. Yep, you got it, we're talking Baetis tricaudatus mayflies and please do not refer to them as blue winged olives. Blue winged olives are a summer hatching mayfly, and besides, these baetis have neither the requisite blue wings or olive bodies to justify that misapplied common name.

Since it's comeback from the dead back in the 1980's, Saucon Creek has stood apart and above the other Lehigh Valley 'stoners when it comes to heavy reliable baetis hatches. I try not to miss 'em -spring or fall- although some years I'm more into it then others. A quick perusal of my old fishing logbook reflects that I had good solid dry fly fishing to this hatch as early as the 20th of February back in 1998. That's pretty darn early for a blanket hatch of mayflies in these parts.

So I was fairly confident about the days prospects as I loaded my gear into the car this morning for my first foray of the new season. The weather forecast was for bright sunshine giving way to afternoon clouds and a high of 43 degrees F. Winds were out of the north and moderate at 5-15 mph. Not exactly perfect conditions for hatching baetis but I'll take it on this last day of February. Water levels were perfect for dry fly fishing and the water temperature was 47F at 1400 hours.

I spotted my first rise, tight to an old field stone retaining wall at 1230 hrs while snapping some pix with the new Canon 40D. I assembled my vintage Pfluegar Progress 1184 reel onto my 7', 4-weight Dream Catcher bamboo fly rod post haste and knotted on a size #20 biot & CDC hackleless Trouthunter style baetis dun to 6X tippet. I was all about taking these fish on light tackle today despite the gusting wind.

By the time I made it down to the stream the duns were already pouring out of the riffles in waves. I hooked my first fish of the new year on my third cast of the day into a gentle riffle. For the next 2 1/2 hours I would witness the type of hatching and rising activity one usually associates with the 3rd week of May. During the peak of the emergence there were so many duns covering the water that it would have been difficult to pick out my own artifice from the crowd had it not been for the brightly colored George Harvey-esque wings I now use on my small flies due to my poor eyesight.

The most satisfying, and surprising, note to the whole day was the average size of the wild browns that rose to these tiny mayflies today on the Saucon. Not one fish brought to net was under a foot long and one particularly notable specimen that walked me a good 50 yards downstream was halfway past the 14" mark on my net handle. Each brown bolted straight into the air as soon as they felt the sting of the hook and would continue their acrobatic jumps and somersaults for 4-5-6 times in succession before heading for deeper water .These were very fine fish for Saucon Creek where the average wild brown is prolly closer to 10"-12".

Around 1530 hours it was like someone threw a switch and the emergence, as well as the dry fly fishing, pretty much shut down for the day. Even though todays hatch only lasted about 2 1/2 hours, catching a bunch of really nice wild fish on light tackle was a great way to kick start a new season. It'll only get better from here on out.

It would be an affront to your gastronomical system not to stop at the Springtown Inn, located on the headwaters of Cooks Creek in Bucks County, for one of their mouth watering delicious New York strip steaks and a cold beverage on your way home from a successful day of angling on Saucon Creek. Tell 'em Wade Rivers sent you.

P.S. Sorry for the lack of fish pix today. The CCD image sensor in my on-stream camera (Canon Powershot) died and I didn't discover it until it was too late. Film rules!