August 8th, 2005

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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The Father's Day Brookies
Jorge J. Santiago-Aviles, PA

I caught his presence within my marginal vision as we both descended the stairs from the state park shower room. "How was the fishing?" he said, probably after seen the fishing license in the back of my cap. Without waiting for my reply he fired "You don't have to say a word, it was really bad, there are no trout in this river, it is fished-out." I kept on walking towards my campsite smiling. I was smiling because it was a good fishing day in the Hickory Run, not too many trout, but enough to keep you interested and most important, pleased. We fished one of the small ponds formed by a concrete dam in the state park of the same name (Hickory Run State Park) near the city of Scranton, in northeast Pennsylvania.

Nothing like a good campfire to scare away the bears and to roast 'smores.

It was a family camping, five days and four nights. Long enough to give mom and dad a chance for some serious fishing (and some not so serious fishing to the son), but short enough as to not get the son overtired. Camping in the Pocono mountain region of Pennsylvania is popular, and the Hickory Run State Park is one of the most visited. They have a famous boulder filled field (formed by a glacier a long time ago) and all the hiking trails, rivers, ponds, and nature we anglers enjoy so much.

Besides it is relatively close to Philadelphia and a very affordable way of spending some quality time together. We were very lucky that our assigned campsite was near all the pertinent stuff. It was near the washrooms, the river, and most important, it was near several campsites with kids the same age as ours. Sebastian, our son, was in cloud nine when he saw a tribe of kids with plastic "light sabers" calling one other "master Jedi." I was impressed with the skills that some of the kids maneuver the plastic light saber toys. It struck me that they must have spent a great deal of time practicing and rehearsing those routines.

My son Sebastian in the boulders field, always carrying his beloved "Godzilla."

I noticed a large group in the few campsites next to ours, and a very conspicuous van with a church name and logo. As I walked towards the playground, an older gentleman walked quickly towards me "bears, we have seen them during the last two nights." "The first time is scary," he said, "but once you have seen or heard them a couple of times, you just keep on sleeping." It was the pastor of the visiting church group. He was taking the youth group into an outdoors experience, and wanted to reassured us, that they will be there if we needed them. We never saw or heard a bear during our stay, although in my thoughts I had a light wish for sighting one. I heard that Pennsylvania black bears are some of the biggest in the east.

There was a little pond near the campsite, more like a large pool in the Sand Creek, except with a concrete dam. I visit it often, as it lies by the kid's playground. There is nothing that stirs the imagination and provides more excitement to a trout angler than a bunch of trout working the surface of a pond. Every time I sat by a casting platform the State of PA placed by the pond, I could see the trout rising. They were rising to midges, for which the hatch was substantial. Looking from the platform, which lies about five or six feet above the pond surface, one can see now and then a good brookie or brownie (10 inches or so) moving within visual range in the clear water. I have this romantic notion of fishing for brookies, as the quintessential northeast game fish, so I am constantly looking for the white trailing end of the trout lateral fins, to see if it is a brookie. Sometimes the sky was covered by late spring clouds, and the trout gave away all caution (still rising beyond reasonable casting range) and started raising with abandon and making such a noise with their splash, it was such a wonderful combination to the senses, good size trout jumping, big and noisy splash, nice breeze in your face...humm ...great!

The best way to spend father's day. Casting for some brookies in Pennsylvania's Pocono region.

Nevertheless, that pond was difficult to fish. The forest covered shore made anything but roll-cast an impossibility. In my infinite ignorance, I prepared myself for casting in one of the typical Pennsylvania brook trout river, small and with a heavy canopy. To that end, I brought a very small rod, a six-footer. Roll casting with such a small rod is no fun, but I tried it anyway and nailed a couple of 10-inch brownies. I cannot see any fly smaller than 16, so I always fish "the zone." I place a midge with a 10 inches number 7 tippet from a size 16 BWO or Adams, and hope for the best.

I often miss the strike, but sometimes I get it. At the end of the pond, there is shallow area where the river enters the pond. It is a riffle of sorts, and there are a bunch of brownies deep under the canopies of a few mountain laurel and other shrubs. If you cast deep in the shadow of the vegetation, they will come out and check out your offering. If you have a small swimming morsel (I use a sulfur nymph, or a sulfur soft-hackle) they will come and check it out. If it is well presented, they will take it, and it is a lot of fun, first because you can see the trout take the fly, as they feel protected by the overhanging branches, and the shade. Second, because the trout will fight to stay in the shadowy area where it feels so protected. Both my wife and I landed a couple of brownies in that part of the pond, after hooking more than a couple of them.

A father's day brookie, small, pretty and feisty. What else can you ask for?

Quickly we found out that the best possibilities for brookies are at a pond not far from the campsite. It was a pond on the Hickory Run, the pond within the park. I drove with my family to the pond, we walked 100 meters downhill, and one can see some body of water down, through the trees. Once we reached the dam, and look to the shallow end, we saw a lonely fly angler casting. The look was so bucolic and tranquil, immediately I felt a bit envious of the lonely angler. Marta, my wife, felt pretty much the same way. Two small obstacles to our idyllic scenario, first it lies at the other side of the pond, across a tall concrete dam to our right, or through a swampy area to our left.

A good ten inch brookie. Trout of this size were common in the park pond.

Second, there was an angler there, and our fishing ethic requires at least some sort of amicable transaction with the current occupant. I went for my hip waders to the car. My son Sebastian was with me and on returning, we decided to try the swampy route. Bad decision, it was really swampy and very soft. We tried crossing the dam. It looks scary, but once you are on top of it, it was a piece of cake. Here we are, a happy bunch on the way to "the spot." Since it was father's day, Marta after some though decided that I should go ahead and try first. I entered the water and started wading towards the lonely angler. The bottom was soft, but not too bad. "Shall I share your spot for a while?" I clumsily asked the fellow.

"You can have the whole place, I have my five trout and I am quitting."

We must remember that most of Pennsylvania streams and ponds are "put and take" fisheries, and it is not uncommon to keep trout for dinner. I was fishing a no.14 yellowish soft hackle, and after eight or ten cast I hooked a brookie, about 9 inches or so. I was a happy man. The evening was rapidly moving on, so I started wading towards the run formed by the river entering the pond. I was casting, as I was moving, a sort of a rhythm one develop after doing it for some time. I was ready to quit as I cast to the stone at the head of the pool, and then all hell broke loose. I landed brookies, in the 8 to 12 inches, one after another in a furious action that lasted no more than 15 minutes. Landed 6 and hooked half a dozen more, but lost them in the battle. What a way to end a father's day outing.

Sebastian the naturalist (and part time angler), looking for rare and unclassified aquatic species.

Next day was Marta's chance, and she did equally well. Sebastian, true to himself, got into the fine details of aquatic insects classification by collecting, dissecting and (thanks God) discarding a bunch of stick cased caddis, stone-cased caddis and dragonfly larvae. ~ Jorge

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