Monday, June 7, 2010

What the Guide Said -- Drown the Ants

After a challenging hour of nymphing for brown trout on Spring Creek Sunday morning, I thought of what the guide had said the night before at the end of an even more challenging day/evening/night of fishing on Penns Creek.

“We should have tried the sunken ant again in the evening on those sporadic risers,” Eric Stroup suggested. From the tone of his voice I knew he wasn’t all that sure about the idea – after all the fish were pretty tough to come by all day long in the clear water of Penns. Yes, a few had moved to the ant about mid-day and a more skilled angler would have landed some of the big ones. But as it was we didn’t see a single fish caught by any other anglers – and there were more fishermen on the stream than I see most days steelheading on the Rocky River. And the few fish I caught all came on different flies. But one thing about trout fishing, there’s always another fly to try – even if it is in hindsight.

I sat on a flat-topped bolder along the bank of Spring and watched the water rush over one of the handful of limestone shelves that broke up the half-mile stretch of straight stream. Thunder rumbled overhead, a reminder that at any moment the promised thunderstorms could bring a premature end to the trip. I pondered which fly to try next and decided to turn Eric’s hindsight into foresight. He was dead on.

After switching up my leader so it could handle a dry fly as an indicator, I tied a size 14 black wet ant as a trailer behind a Royal Humpy. I wanted a real good indicator fly that would float well and I could see easily. I considered a parachute ant on top, but decided the Humpy would hold up better and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time greasing flies or swapping them out when they lost their float. I’d only seen a few fish rise that morning, and there weren’t many bugs on the water – unlike Penns. So I figured if I got any action it would be down below. Spring Creek is one of Central Pennsylvania’s most bountiful trout streams. The trout are plentiful and aren’t nearly as particular as those in Penns or Big Fishing Creek. In many ways, Spring is an ideal trout stream. Easy to wade, a nice path along on its bank. Its beauty was only enhanced by its relative solitude on this Sunday morning. I had seen two anglers fishing a stretch near the parking lot, but as I walked down the old dirt admiring the green canopy and hillsides there were no other anglers in sight. Indeed, I would fish about five hours that morning and only share the stream with three deer, a muskrat and a few ducks.

I had fished spring on Friday evening and Saturday morning, before joining Eric for the trek into Penns. (How Penns could be crowded and Spring empty remains a mystery, since Spring is close enough to State College to be considered urban fishing in these parts.) By mid morning Sunday I had caught enough fish on the trip to consider it a success by my low standards. But I knew there were more fish to be had, if only I could hit upon the right fly.

I had seen a brown trout flash in a narrow corner slot up against the far bank where water flowed over a limestone shelf and took a slight right hand turn and flowed in my direction back across the stream. The slot was smaller than a coffee table. The water was moving fast enough that I thought the fish would be a little less particular about my presentation. Penns Creek made my limitations as both a caster and a mender quite evident and I wanted to try to put the odds back in my favor.

While my casting form causes guides to cringe, I can get the fly to land pretty close to where I want, and at 15 yards I was able to land the Royal Humpy at the head of the slot and watched it shoot back down toward me. But I couldn’t watch it for long. On the first good drift the fly was pulled under and I set the hook on a brown trout that turned out to be about 10 inches long. Remarkably I took six browns out of that slot – a few in the 14 inch range. All of them hit the ant hard and fast and put a nice bend in my five-weight rod. The same held true as I explored other pockets of fast moving water as I hiked the creek. If a brown failed to take the ant in the first few casts I could move on because 15 minutes of working a spot wouldn’t turn up a fish. More often than not, I hooked a fish in the best looking spots.

Below one limestone shelf, branches from a tree along the bank extended right into the water providing an ideal overhang for the trout. It was nearly time to head back to the car for the four-hour drive back to suburbia, but this run just looked too appealing to pass up. I landed the Humpy at the edge of the shelf and the fly quickly got engulfed in the fast water that shot under the branches. As the fly headed under the leaves I decided to cast again, but as I lifted the fly rod I felt a heavy trout on the other end and a large brown surprised me by leaping out of the water right at me. He jumped a few more times with the acrobatic skills of a rainbow. The hefty brown brought a close to a trout filled morning and a weekend of many memories.

Thanks Eric for reminding me to drown the ants.

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