Jun 11, 2010

Penns Creek Trip report

This is the second year that we put together a little fly fishing trip with my brother and my dad and we were fortunate to have my son along this year which isn't an easy task seeing everyone has busy schedules and we live in three different states, but we pulled it off.  Last year we fished locally around my dad's house in the Poconos of PA but this year I talked everyone into a trip out to Central PA to fish the famed Penns Creek.

Penns Creek is a limestone creek that is located in the Northern part of Central Pennsylvania, and is well known for its large Green Drake hatch in late May and early June when people come from all over the world to fish this hatch.  Penns Creek runs through three counties in Pennsylvania (Centre, Mifflin and Union) and divided into 3 main fishing zones which comprise almost 35 miles of fishing.  Our plan was to fish the Middle zone which is home to a 3.9 mile Catch & Release section that is accessible only on foot or by bike.  This middle section of the creek runs through some incredible mountains and through Bald Eagle State forest making for some breath taking scenery, lots of wildlife and some interesting fishing.

This was our first trip to Penns Creek and as any trip to a new spot it required stops into the local fly shops for some first hand information and expertise.  In researching the local fly shops I noticed most of them provide some type of lodging so I booked a small apartment on top of Penns Creek Angler fly shop which is owned and operated by Bruce Fisher.  Upon our arrival Thursday morning we stopped in to see Bruce and pick his brain for some starting points to fish and some suggestions on what to use.  Bruce gave us the low down and marked up the map with a few spots to park and we were on our way.   Bruce mentioned that the water is low and clear and the fish had been hammered over the past couple weeks due to the Green Drake hatch so fishing was going to be tough and tough was an understatement.

There is plenty of posted land around so it's important to make sure to respect the landowners wishes and to park and fish only from those open and designated areas.  There are many cabins and part time homes and many of these have signs posted allowing fisherman to access the river through their property with asking very little of the fisherman except to respect the property, don't leave trash and don't block driveway access.  Some even ask you practice Catch and Release even outside the C&R section and I don't think that is asking much for free access to the river.

We started out that morning just down river from the end of the C&R section and found we had  much of the river all to ourselves which was nice seeing we had no idea what to expect.  Even though my son had never fly fished before and only received an hour long crash course in my dad's backyard the night before he was going to start out using the fly rod so I would be his teacher and guide this day and my dad would help my brother out as he only started last year.  My son and I headed up river to find our starting point and then fish back down to the car while my dad and brother would start down stream and work back up.  We almost got run over by a whitetail fawn that was laying in the tall grass along the bank of the creek so we stopped and watched her for a bit but I only had the small camera and couldn't get a picture of her without chasing her down and I didn't want to do that.  At our first spot i was showing my son where to cast and how to drift the olive woolly bugger along and as it reached down stream to give it a few twitches and as I twitched it we saw a fish come up for it, but return back to the bottom so we twitched it again and up it came and our first Penns Creek trout was hooked up and back off in less than a minute.  ARGGHHHH.  Needless to say I was excited and actually had a little confidence going which I should've known better based on all the reading I have done about this creek.  The river held up to its reputation and was stingy at best with the trout.  We fished until 1pm and then headed out for some lunch and to unpack our stuff in the apartment.

We headed back out around 4pm and this time decided to hike into the C&R section for another adventure.  Once again we found some incredible water, fish rising and even more frustration.  We did run across these turtles laying eggs int he sand and gravel which was pretty cool.  We fished until just after 8pm and after a quick piggy back ride across the river for my son, who by the way is almost 20 and about 205 lbs, because he decided to wear his hip boats instead of chest waders.  So instead of making him swim it across I carried him.  I did refuse to give my brother the camera just in case this didn't work out as planned he wouldn't have any proof of the mishap.  Well we made it without getting wet but it was touch and go a couple of steps.

This river has some incredible food sources from some incredibly large crayfish and bait fish to so many different bugs and hatches (big stone flies, large black caddis, sulfurs, some left over drakes, blue wing olives small tan caddis to name a few that we had seen) it makes your head spin and makes it even more difficult to figure out what the heck the trout want.  You could sit there and watch 10 - 12  fish rise to the surface taking bugs in a 100 foot stretch of water but with the low and clear water conditions and the bright sun you just couldn't get close enough to see what the heck they were taking and many times you put them down and have to wait them out again.  I know for my brother and son this had to be really frustrating as it was frustrating me and I had done enough research to know what to expect.  Honestly i think we ended day one with one lost trout and one or two creek chubs.  I can tell you this much, I took more crap from the crew over this stellar trip that I had talked them into so I knew I had to get this figured out quick.
Friday morning brought another beautiful day to match wits with some Penns Creek trout.  Much of the middle section and C&R area is not stocked so you are fishing for fish born and raised in this creek and they have probably seen everything you can think of throwing at them.  The game plan today was for me to do some nymphing and to switch it up often to try and figure out what was going on.   I set my son up with some wet flies (orange & partridge) while my brother worked some wets and my dad kept stubbornly working the dry flies.  It didn't take long for my son to start hooking fish on the wet flies, except they weren't trout but instead some small mouth bass and creek chubs again.  We worked the same section of water just outside the C&R section with about the same results except that now my son was catching fish and really learning and having fun wit the fly rod.  My brother and dad continued to struggle but I started to also pick up some fish, just not trout.

I knew we were getting closer and it looked like it was time to downsize again which I did that afternoon while back in the C&R section and it paid off with a beautiful 14 inch brown trout.  I was fishing deep water with a indicator and a large golden stone fly with a size 18 pheasant tail with a orange hot spot as a dropper and this brown took the pheasant tail.  Needless to say it wasn't long before the rest of the crew were getting setup for nymphing and plucking those small pheasant tails from my box.  The only problem with nymphing is you are not doing it right if you are not ticking bottom but my brother and son thought that mean hooking bottom necessary to good fishing so I spent lots of time re-rigging their setups instead of fishing which was still fun in my book.  We finished the night with only that one trout a few more small mouth bass and ofcourse some creek chubs.  At this point my son was out fishing everyone.  First time ever with a fly rod and he was hooking into fish all over the place.  It hurts more when he takes your rod only to catch another one while you are re rigging his.  End of the day tally was 3 small mouth bass about a dozen chubs and one brown trout.  That trout made my trip and I could care less if I caught anything else but I knew we would have to work hard Saturday to get another.

Saturday morning was our last attempt and the good news was we had some rain the night before and cloud cover.  I thought for sure this would help and it did.  We headed back in to the C&R section where I caught my fish the night before, but instead of hitting this spot right away we walked up stream more to fish an island area my dad had seen the day before.  We fished it with only a couple of chubs to show for it so we headed down to the deep run and Brendan jumped right into a spot and before you knew it, it was fish on and a good one at that.  Now remember he has never fly fished before and never fought a good sized fish on the fly rod so I tried to keep him calm and talk him through it as his excitement grew with every scream of the drag.  At one point as I was down stream of him hoping to get a chance to net his fish as I found myself dodging the line as the fish was running circles around me.  I did my best to not yell at my son and keep my cool and he fought the fish like a seasoned fly fisherman as I netted his first ever Penns Creek Brown trout and first trout on the fly.  This beautiful 15 inch brown took the size 18 pheasant tail and spit it out as I lifted the net.  We hooted and hollered a little bit as we admired the incredible fish and figured we could get a quick picture before we release him.  My son said, take a picture of him in the net and ofcourse I didn't listen for some reason so as he lifted the trout out of the net, the fish gave one more jump and splash right back into the drink before we could get a picture of it.  I was heart broken to say the least but my son just kept on smiling, picked up the fly rod and jumped back in. He was hooked on fly fishing for ever now.

We continued to work down stream  as we headed back to the car.  At one point I set the hook on what I new was a big fish and I yelled out that we were going to need a bigger net.  After a short fight I finally got the fish up where we could get a look at it and wouldn't you know it was the biggest creek chub any of us had ever seen.  He was all of 20 inches and thick and that should give you some idea of the food that Penns Creek has to offer up to the fish that call it home.  My son had one more trout on and lost it and it was time to call it quits and start the trip home to my dad's house.

We only landed two trout, about 18 creek chubs and 4 bass but we had loads of laughs, some incredible sites and best of all time spent with family.  There are two things for certain, this was not our last trip to Penns Creek and we have created a new fly fishing monster, my son in the process.  We are already talking about next years trip and were to go so if you have any suggestions please share them.


  1. Sounds like great family fun.
    The fish are secondary.

    Great post.


  2. Great report!I have yet to fish that stream but I will one of these days. Sounds like you guys had fun even if the trout were a bit picky.

  3. Now That's what i call a vacation!