JEFF KNAPP: Spring Creek offers top trout fishing
The brisk wind sent a flurry of dead leaves across Interstate 99 as I approached the exit that leads to Spring Creek via Paradise Road. I questioned the wisdom of making the two-hour drive east — one driven by a case of the shack nasties — when the weather forecast called for 25 to 30 mph winds.
Perhaps, I hoped, the wind wouldn’t be too bad down in the protection of Spring Creek’s Canyon Section, which runs from the Benner Springs hatchery down to the Bellefonte hatchery.
Only a few cars were parked at the Bellefonte (Fisherman’s Paradise) lot; I figured some of these probably belonged to walkers, as many folks use the streamside trail for such. I’m going to have comparative solitude, I thought, especially if I hike up the stream a good ways.
A half-hour later found me about a mile-and-a-half from the truck. The stream was running full, slightly off-color, the result of recent rain and snow melt.
[PHOTO: Tom Ference prepared to release a Spring Creek trout taken during a February outing. (Jeff Knapp/Gazette photo)]
The next few hours provided just enough action to keep things interesting. The conditions seemed to call for streamers; I was able to hook and land a few wild browns on a cone-head Woolly Bugger. A month earlier, when the water was low and clear, the trout had responded to size 16 green caddis larva fished near the bottom of slow-moving pools.
When it comes to winter fishing, one takes whatever rewards one can get, especially during a winter like the one we’re finally coming out of, even on Spring Creek. It supports one of the highest-quality wild-trout fisheries in the Northeast, with more than 16 miles of the creek being open to year-round trout fishing.
Rich in limestone influence, Spring Creek drains a 144-square-mile watershed, flowing through State College and Bellefonte, and then joining Bald Eagle Creek in Milesburg.
A 16.5-mile stretch of Spring Creek is managed under the Fish and Boat Commission’s All-Tackle Catch-and-Release program. As its name implies, anglers can use any type of tackle legal under standard statewide fishing regulations, but must return all trout back to the stream. In addition to the All-Tackle project, Spring Creek also boasts 0.8 miles of Fly-Fishing Only, in the area traditionally known as Fisherman’s Paradise.
The All-Tackle waters stretch from the Boalsburg Road Bridge (SR 3010) at Oak Hall upstream of Hanson Quarry (formerly HRI/Neidig Bros. Quarry) downstream to the mouth with the exception of special-regulations area at Fisherman’s Paradise and the Exhibition Area in Bellefonte. The FFO project waters flow from a point adjacent to the Stackhouse School Pistol Range downstream to the lower boundary of the Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery .
In 2007 additional free-flowing water was restored to Spring Creek with the removal of the McCoy-Linn Dam, an impoundment — located between Milesburg and Bellefonte — that pooled water for about a half-mile. Prior to the dam removal the commission purchased the land. Access and stream-improvement projects proximate the dam site has been ongoing since the elimination of the dam.
Also, about three years ago a portion of Spring Creek that flows between the Benner Springs and Bellefonte hatcheries became available to anglers. This nearly 4-mile stream portion often referred to as the Canyon Section, was formerly controlled by the Rockview State Penitentiary. It can be accessed from Fish and Boat Commission properties on either end and provides relatively uncrowded fishing for those willing to walk a ways.
Recent stream surveys revealed wild brown trout up to 17 inches, with the bulk of the population being in the 10-to 12-inch range.
Limestone-enriched Spring Creek provides a wide buffet of feeding options to its abundant wild trout population. While taking trout on the surface is the poetic method, on Spring Creek, particularly early in the spring, it’s often more productive to go subsurface. That said, Spring Creek has an excellent Blue Winged Olive hatch, which typically begins to appear about now.
Tiny nymphs in the Nos. 18 and 20 range often account for good action. Incorporating a strike indicator will greatly increase your ability to detect pickups.