JEFF KNAPP: Fishing for brook trout is quite an experience
The cool, damp early-morning air filtered in the open bedroom window of the cabin. All night long the patter of rain could be heard, likely raising creeks already swollen from the daily thunderstorms of the past week. And though I was in no rush to get started, I felt the day would bring quality fishing, the venue being a 15-foot-wide mountain stream, one of the dozens of such waters designated as a Wilderness Trout Stream by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
According to the agency, “Wilderness Trout Stream management is based upon the provision of a wild trout fishing experience in a remote, natural and unspoiled environment where man’s disruptive activities are minimized. Established in 1969, this option was designed to protect and promote native (brook trout) fisheries, the ecological requirements necessary for natural reproduction of trout and wilderness aesthetics. The superior quality of these watersheds is considered an important part of the overall angling experience on wilderness trout streams. Therefore, all stream sections included in this program qualify for the Exceptional Value special protected water use classification, which represents the highest protection status provided by the Department of Environmental Protection.”
As I pulled out of the camp’s driveway, my GPS indicated the area where I would access this creek was a mere 1.9 miles distant as the crow flies. Of course, trucks can rarely follow the same course as a crow; it was about a 6-mile drive to the parking spot.
After rigging up, I went down a trail to the spot where the stream entered a river; my plan was to start at the stream mouth, fish upstream, and at the end of the outing hike up out of the valley and cut the road I drove in on. It would be quite a hike — depending on how far upstream I fished — because the stream angles sharply away from the road, flowing through a remote valley for about 3 miles.
The stream was slightly off-color, but nowhere near the chocolate milky condition of the river. Encouraged that the trout might take something on the surface, I tied on a bushy off-white dry fly a buddy of mine had handed me earlier in the week, when we were fishing for wild trout on a Venango County stream. The fly had inspired a couple rises that evening, in the 20 minutes we got to fish before chased off by storms.
A few drifts over some near-the-bank pockets of calm water drew blanks; maybe the water was too cloudy for a dry. Several fly changes later found a small conehead Woolly Bugger on the end of the tippet. It seemed a practical choice given the conditions; a good tool to hunt for native brookies in a hard-flowing stream.
A couple pools later the first brookie of the day rose up from the tail end of a small pool to take the Woolly Bugger. Like most native trout taken from the infertile mountain streams of northwest Pennsylvania it wasn’t impressive from a size standpoint. Many of the creek chubs I use for bait during fall bass and walleye trips are bigger. But its modest size was more than made up for in sheer beauty.
Continuing my trek up the stream, I fished pools formed by beaver dams; scour holes at the base of waterfalls; undercut banks; logjams. Some places produced fish. Others didn’t, but no matter.
The pleasure of pursuing mountain stream-dwelling native brookies is as much in being in such a place as catching fish. What it looks like around the next bend … that maybe you are the only person to fish this water this year.
Log on to the Fish and Boat Commission’s website at www.fishand boat.com to view waters listed as Wilderness Trout Streams.
PHOTO: What native brook trout lack in size they make up for in beauty. (JEFF KNAPP photo)