With the passing of the Memorial Day weekend, many trout anglers hang up the waders for the year. But there is excellent sport available, particularly for anglers willing to travel a couple hours to the east to fish waters fed by cool limestone springs. Here’s a look at two such waters, as well as a handful of summertime trout tips.
FISHING CREEK (NORTH CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA: Pennsylvania has its share of “fishing creeks,” but the one most often being referred to in trout fishing circles is the limestone gem that flows thorough portions of southern Clinton County. It’s commonly called Big Fishing Creek.
Fishing Creek is a summertime favorite of Rick Nyles, owner of Sky Blue Outfitters Guide Service, and for good reason. This highly productive stream supports a dense population of wild trout, browns mostly. When the Fish and Boat Commission surveyed a portion of Fishing Creek in 2009 it collected fish at a rate far exceeding the minimum level needed to qualify as a Class A wild trout stream. Wild browns up to 19 inches were captured, along with a number of native brook trout. Stream-bred brookies typically occur in freestone streams; Fishing Creek is one of only a handful of limestone waters in the state to support brook trout. The survey was coneducted in the area known as “the Narrows.”
The Fish and Boat Commission maintains three special regulations projects on Fishing Creek. A 1.2-mile Trophy Trout-Artificial Lures Only section runs from the Tylersville State Fish Hatchery down to 330 yards below the Route 2002 bridge; the next two miles (downstream) are managed as Catch and Release-Artificial Lures Only; and the next 2.1 miles extends to Flemings Bridge on Route 2004 and is managed as Trophy Trout-Artificial Lures Only.
“Fishing Creek is a different kind of water,” explained Nyles. “Since it originates underground from limestone springs it stays cool year-round, providing good trout fishing throughout the summer months. Sulphurs, caddis, stoneflies and Blue Winged Olives are present on Fishing Creek at this time of year. Because it’s all wild fish, the fishing can be of a technical nature in regard to presentation.”
Nyles said Fishing Creek averages 40 to 50 feet wide. It tends to stay a greenish color due to the productive nature of its limestone origins.
Angler access is good on Fishing Creek. It’s a combination of public (state game lands) and private land. Fishing is closed on Sunday in the section known as the “cabin area,” so, as Nyles puts it, “the cabin owners can have a break from the fisherman near their yards. Also, if the cabin is occupied, they ask you not to fish there, which is only fair. The area is clearly marked.”
LITTLE JUNIATA RIVER (SOUTH CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA): When early summer arrives, Mark Transue steps away from the demands of his Kittanning tackle shop to enjoy the fine fishing offered by the Little Juniata River, an activity well worth the 2ﾽ-hour drive.
“The Little Juniata actually fishes better during early summer than it does during the springtime,” noted Transue. “Earlier in the year there’s often too much water. Things typically settle down by June. There’s a good flow of cold water throughout the summer.”
Transue said he watches (on the USGS website) flows on the Little Juniata at the Spruce Creek site. Ideal flows, he said, are in the 200 cubic feet per second range. When flows exceed 300 cfs fishing can be tough.
Though not technically a limestone stream, the Little J is considered “limestone influenced,” due to the influx of limestone springs along its length. The most popular area with trout anglers is the 13.7 miles from Ironville down to the river’s merger with the Frankstown Branch. This section is managed under Catch and Release-All Tackle regulations. The fishery is fueled mostly by wild trout, though the Fish and Boat Commission stocks fingerling-stage trout.
During the early summer, Transue said the common hatches on the Little J are sulphurs in size 16 and Light Cahills in size 14.
Access is good along the Little Juniata River. Route 453 parallels much of this stretch. Posted properly is present, though anglers may access by way of the riverbank, providing they don’t go above the high water mark. Poplar fishing access areas are near the towns of Spruce Creek and Barree.
SUMMER TACTICS: “During June I really like it when it’s a drizzly, overcast day,” Nyles said. “That tends to keep the trout actively feeding all day long. The downside is that the hatch that commonly occurs during those conditions is a Blue Winged Olive that’s small, size 18 or 20. The presentation can be pretty demanding, meaning long fluorocarbon leaders and a good imitation of the natural.”
“On quality waters like the Little Juniata, many times the hatches don’t occur until evening, and I’m usually not on the water then,” Transue said. “During the day I rely heavily on terrestrials, almost totally ants and beetles. The size range is pretty wide, from a size 12 down to an 18. I fish them dry, but there are folks that do well fishing them wet.
“And when cicadas are present, central Pennsylvania trout go nuts for them. While heavy hatches of cicadas only come around every 17 years, the timing differs from area to area. And on streams like Buffalo Creek, where productive hatches can be marginal, terrestrials are very important during the summer.”