NW ANF Area Excursion 7.14 – 7.16.7
This trip began Saturday and involved meeting up with Nick Blackie, (.B) for those who know him from TSS, just as the closing bell sounded at work and in route to the highway. After transferring his pack and other items to the D-box, we made our way down the turnpike headed into Pennsylvania. Our destination this trip was a small trout stream said to have reproducing populations of brook, bow, and brown. We arrived just as the sun set into the mountainous terrain. Taking a few moments to get our gear on, we loaded our backs with stuffed packs and hiked the hour or so into the forest habitat Our night hike in was filled with chatter of past and present fishing expeditions as well as catching up on what was new in each other’s lives. Nick is a wealth of information. Surprising, given his age. I find his ability to name forest vegetation and insects by their proper Latin names quite interesting and impressive.
As we walked past several summer cottages overfilling with individuals consuming vast quantities of alcoholic beverages, I tried to hide my disappointment. They were obviously having a great time as the air was filled with loud music, laughter, and the sound of aluminum cans being crushed on foreheads. OK, not exactly what you would want to navigate through as an introduction to a quiet weekend of fishing!? Thinking that we may have chosen a location that was likely over run with campers (and drunkards), my attitude changed quickly when we finally entered the forest and were on the dirt path weaving through pines. I’ve fished this area with JDM on two other occasions, but never for an overnighter campout. Everything looked a bit different as the lights dimmed and shadows became ever present. Somewhere around 15 minutes into an hour hike, the sounds of the festivities that we witnessed were almost muted to non-existence. “Ahhh!” I thought as we finally found the spot to set up our tents. In no time, Nick and I had our two camp areas prepared and we were on to getting the fire going.
I checked my watch and although it seemed much later, it was only nearing 11pm. We had made great time and had been efficient in getting to our destination. Now we could sit back, relax and enjoy the firelight. As we shared jokes, fishing stories big and tall, and laughed…I was reminded on why I love trout fishing so much. Never have I had more fun that when given the opportunity to share these types of experiences with family and friends. I’ve got the small brook trout to thank for it. Amazing!
The logs burned down to ashes and the eyes became heavy, it was obvious; it was time for bed. The following day would bring 5 miles or more of roundtrip fishing and I wanted to at least give a good attempt at resting. Well, my good attempt wasn’t met with the same enthusiasm from my body. For some reason, maybe just the excitement of what the next day would bring, I could not get a good sleep going. Waking up every hour on the hour was nerve racking. I guess I could look forward to sleeping well the following night as I would be exhausted for sure! Don’t you hate when that happens?!
After filling our bellies with an unhealthy amount of eggs, bacon, hash browns, and fresh, strong, French pressed, French vanilla bean coffee, it was time to get some flies floating! We started out early, around 7:30, fishing right in front of the campsite and leap froggin our way upstream. Content to fish until the first person said “Uncle”. Nick was the first to look up not far upstream from my camp area floating hare’s ears. Nick was content to fish nymphs for the better part of the day and I stayed with wulffs and hendricksons in various small sizes. He proudly displayed his first fish via a ziplock bag I had offered him to keep the fish in. A nice 8-10” brown trout. If this was an indication of how the day of fishing was going to pan out, we’d be sitting with full stomachs by the fire in no time! But, this was not the case. The holes that we picked through on the way upstream seemed void of life. Maybe the locals and cottage dwellers of the area have already been well fed from this stream? The water was bit lower than ideal, but not so low as to extinguish the populations. Something was to blame for the relatively low quantities of fish, but what? We later found that the flow of the stream was greatly reduced due to a stream wide beaver dam. Nick and I both notice how much muddy sand covered just about everything we walked past. We also stumbled upon a grotesque sight. A feeder stream (maybe a pipe broken off in the side of the hill) was pumping copper colored water directly into the stream as well. Having the typical mine run off look to it, I was beside myself. It was obvious there was both sediment and chemical connections to the relatively low numbers of fish found in the system. This stream is not officially stocked, having a self sustaining population of fish. It was apparent that Mother Nature was losing the battle, at least in my eyes.
Further upstream we found some areas that held fish. Larger fish at that! I studied a pool that looked really fishy. Filled with cover, overhanging root balls, and deep enough to stay cool, I thought it was only a matter of time before I witnessed some activity. A minute later, an explosion on the surface and the noticeable flash of chrome sides darting back and forth underwater. I watched a little longer and was confident that his pool held some willing decent sized fish. Now it was up to me to get them to bite! I fished the tail out and crept my cast further into the head of the pool. Each time, being careful not to slap the water or overcast my previous location by to far a distance. I switched over to a foam bodied greased stimulator, what I term my orange bodied, big and ugly fly. I repeated the previous casting technique and didn’t seem to invoke the interest of any of these trout. I was dumbfounded as to why. The few moments I spent pondering were interrupted by the leaping splash of a trout two foot up and under an overhanging bush of the opposite bank. It appeared as if the trout actually ate something off a leaf from a branch dangling into its feeding zone. I thought to myself “get outta here!” It had to be a terrestrial of some sort, but what? Was he after a caterpillar, ant, spider, or cricket? Most likely! I was determined to find out. A few cast tight into the bank followed by a twitch-twitch retrieve confirmed that these fish wanted to see life in the fly. The orange big ugly stimulator had their attention. My heart began to pound as I watched a trout venture off the far bank, across the pool and darting behind my stripped stimulator. I stripped and twitched and it did the trick. Suddenly an explosion of sight and sound as the trout attacked the surface. I lifted, but didn’t hook. I let my excitement speed the hook set and in the process ripped it straight away from the jaws of this willing trout. Darn it! (Ok, I didn’t say Darn it!, but you get the thought process I was thinking of!) I pulled in all my line, laid up a few more false casts and dropped it back to the area once more. At this time I had an audience. Nick had caught up to me and was watching from a higher bank behind me. He had the best vantage point and saw the boils and slashes that I was getting from them as I Stripped, stripped, stripped… then whammo! Trout on! My efforts were rewarded with a healthy rainbow that flexed my 2wt. and provided my little Redington CT with a bit of a workout.
This is what trout fishing is about! This pool provided 5 hookups and two fish to hand. What can I say? I just can’t time the hook set very well when I’m pumped up with adrenalin. Seeing these aggressive fish come from underneath cover and pound the fly gets to me! LOL!
I fished the hole a little more and got a slightly smaller twin of the first rainbow. Both had stomachs filled with caterpillars and grasshoppers. I supposed a green weenie dropper off the orange big and ugly would have gotten some action out of them as well.
Nick had left me to pound this section and I met up with him a little later. Just in time to find his 2wt. bent into the cork. What had he hooked into? A quick survey as I scurried up behind him provided me with a look at a deep pool with a very large undercut boulder on one side matched by a boulder half the size and partial submerged on the other.
He had dropped his nymph into the left side of the stream nearest the submerged rock and got maybe one twitch out of it before it was devoured! Whatever he had on his line was big, much bigger than what either of us had caught thus far. When the battle was over, Nick had caught the most colorful brown I’d ever seen.
It almost looked like the largest brook trout I’d ever witnessed caught in such a small stream, but as he hoisted it out of the water and we got a better look, its golden color gave its lineage away. We measure it against my hemostats and got 2 and a quarter lengths from nose to tail. A 16”+ brown was an impressive fish given the fishing quality that we’d experienced thus far. Maybe he was to blame!? In any case, witness the glory of this monster!
Nick and I fished for a few hours more. Hooking a few brooks, but not getting them to hand. In the end, Nick had accomplished the trifecta, hooking brown, brook, and bow.
I had fallen short with only brook and bow. Nick found some find insect specimens which we photographed. As 3:30 approached, we had fished for over six and a half hours and felt it was time to head back to camp. I prepared dinner (early I know) and we talked about packing it up and heading to another location.
In the end it was decided this would be the best bet. Neither of us wanted to have to walk a mile or more up this stream just to have a chance at hooking a fish.
The trip over to this other ANF location wasn’t very long. Both areas I knew well and made at NASCAR speeds to reduce the time. In about an hour we were at the new site and setup. Nick headed up stream to fish a few areas and I prepared to fish the main river that this stream fed into. This stream, known to hold large browns was warming and my thought was I’d either catch a brown at the mouth of the feeder or a hook into a smallie. Either way, fishing is fishing! I love it! I took out the 4wt. and tossed a greased woolly bugger. Employing a popper style retrieve and wishing for the best, I worked my fly through the warm and cool water flows. The fishing wasn’t all that great and soon I was joined by Nick as he made his way down the stream fishing along the way. We fished streamers, sculpin patterns, and gobie style stuff without any takers. Nick even indi-rigged up a live crawfish and practiced his casting. I got a few hits on the sculpin he lent me but was unable to hook up. The frustrating part of the experience was we could see huge schools of bass at our feet and at least two big browns as well. They were swimming together which I thought was unusual. The browns were obviously stressed out. Nick and I witness them rolling and burrowing into the bed of the stream. Acting strangely, like hanging out in the water two foot in front of us, was erratic behavior of a fish that was too warm.
Eventually we called it quits and hurried back to camp to get the fire going and have some liquid refreshments. After a few, I suggested that we venture back to the parking lot and check out the stars. In this area, as I had taken my family camping here a couple times before, the view of the night sky is awesome! Being that I live in a city that has a ton of light pollution in the evening, I relish the chance to see that the night sky holds more than the moon, 5 stars, and two planets. What is really cool about this area is the shooting stars and satellites that a patient viewer will catch given the right timing. We were able to see 5 satellites traverse the night sky that evening.
By the time we headed back to camp, the night time temperature had dropped a good 10-15 degrees cooler than the first location the evening before. Meaning, it was frigid cold that evening! We could see our breath at 11pm! By 3am, I had changed into my trail weight fleece and snow hat. Yes, it was that cold!
Ok, so you’ve made it thus far. It is Monday morning and we’ve got 4 hours more of fishing on a new creek to recount. I took Nick to the couple spots that I new held big brook trout and left him to venture further upstream. I fished a few other locations that I did well and have told about in other reports listed. I got to fish, hike, and cover a lot of beautiful forest terrain, but the actual hook up rates were disappointing. The last hole, a well traveled swimming spot for the campers in the area, was always good for an aggressive larger trout. I figured, why not? I put on a green adams and hit the tailout. Nothing there, another cast further into the belly of the pool. Nope, nothing. One more cast I yelled to Nick who had made it up above the pool onto the trail leading out. A good cast into the head, drifting down into the belly….whammo! Nice brookie to hand, photographed and released.
(some knucklehead complained that I look too serious in my fish photos. A "serious" fisherman, I AM NOT! Please excuse the ear to ear smile! LOL!)
He was a little larger than the guy I had caught there on two consecutive weekend trips. Maybe “buster” as I call him, was sent packing by this more dominant male? I dunno? All in all, a weekend spent trout fishing, tent camping, and eating good food is better than a weekend doing anything else!
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