Breaking the Ice – South Branch of Tunkhannock Creek
Fly fishermen are sure to be getting antsy about now. For one, it’s the weekend of the Vernal Equinox – the true start of Spring – when day and night are equal in duration. The associated change in light must awaken some primal instinct that makes us fly-guys (and gals) want to break out the gear and hit the creeks and streams.
Though last week featured the mother of all snow-melts, followed by steady rain for good measure, the weather at the start of the work week dawned unseasonably warm and dry, and set the stage for stream conditions that might just make for a good weekend a-stream.
The STFF staff watched the developing conditions with an eagle’s eye. Staff Hydrologist Dan bemoaned the fact that Saturday had been previously reserved for an all-day girl’s basketball tournament. Staff Canoeist and Ace Swimming Coach, Kelly, was locked in to another swim meet somewhere up Buffalo-way. And then there was this email from none other than TTA Staff member Dave. It read something along these lines: “me and the boys are heading down to the DH / ALO section of the South Branch of the Tunkhannock – disregard this email at your own peril.” Dave went on to mention the fact that some of the TTA boys had scored big a few weeks ago on this same creek.
Those who follow this blog will be aware of the fact that I take my fly fishing seriously and set some goals this year (for more on goal-setting for you slackers, click here), one of which just happens to involve exploring the abundant trout waters of Pennsylvania (pronounced Pee-Ayh, in these here parts). So, at 11 am on Saturday, I was southbound on I-81, with hope swelling big in my heart, and my yap chewing gleefully on one-helluva ham “samitch”, hand crafted by none other than the STFF madre.
The Delayed Harvest / Artificial Lures Only (DH / ALO) sections of Pennsylvania trout waters are great spots to tune up for the regular open of the season. Much of the South Branch of the Tunkhannock is classified “Approved Trout Waters” by the state, and receives regular trout stockings but it is also open to all fishermen, meat-fishermen included. The DH / ALO section of the creek has reduced allowable limits for killing fish, but most fishermen who fish this stretch practice catch and release.
I arrived at the South Branch around noon time, and met Dave and his friend Todd, already busy stringing up their rods (another member of the TTA posse, Tom, would arrive later). I was not disappointed with what I saw, once we ambled down to the creek. The .7 mile long DH / ALO section has some truly beautiful stretches and collegiate park-like ambiance as it rambles through the manicured campus of Keystone College. Access is almost too good: not long after arriving, Dave informed me it might be a tough day due to the number of fishermen. The bigger challenge, however, turned out to be the fish.
I have found it to be a curse on fishing when anyone tells me “they were killing them last week”. I’m not sure if it was that or the milky stain to the 44 degree water, but no one seemed to be murdering them on this day. Dave advised using a dark nymph to imitate the black stone flies that were sure to be coming off later in the afternoon. I tried a number of different patterns, starting off with a prince nymph, and changing often as I fished. I used weight above my lead nymph but finally started hooking up on my trailing fly, first with a soft hackle pheasant tail and then twice more using a #12 picket pin.
The hatch of what appeared to be size 12 – 14 black stoneflies started not long after we were on the water, and with the sun out in full and the air temps into the sixties, it continued well into the afternoon. Perhaps the picket pin imitated a drowned stone fly, or maybe it was just the “confidence factor”: whatever it was, this old pattern saved the day for this fly fisherman.
Dave and the rest of the TTA gang left early that afternoon, but I decided to continue fishing, if for no other reason than to fully fish the DH / ALO section and enjoy the sound of the rushing water and solitude. While the morning saw a decent amount of fly and spin fishermen, by 3 pm, I had most of the creek to myself.
I definitely plan on visiting the South Branch again this year, and would heartily recommend it to any of my esteemed readership. If you go, chest waders are fine, but as flows recede, hip waders will work just fine too. Most of the fly fishermen I saw on the creek had long rods, but I fished my 7 foot 4 weight JP Ross Beaver Meadow and found it to help in the tight spots.
I took Route 11 on the way back home, and happened on quite the marvel of engineering:
This monstrous viaduct, used by the railroads, was the largest in the world back in 1915. I guess you just never know what you’re going to find in them thar Pennsyltucky hills: a nice trout stream, a beautiful day, the company of TTA anglers, and a colossus of concrete – what more could you want!