February 5th, 2007

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In the Bleak Midwinter
By Black Gnat

It's Saturday morning, well below freezing, and anyone who wants to wet a line in such weather is either at Penns Creek or Spring Creek. If I want to fish big water I choose Penns. On a cold January day that means big stonefly nymphs, unless it warms a bit in the afternoon, then it's midges. There are plenty of bugs and fish in Penns creek. If we move the calendar ahead a few months the amount of aquatic activity is astounding. Mid-spring turns Penns into nymph soup with dense, frequent hatches. Some of these hatches are famous.

Popular wisdom of our local Trout Unlimited chapter suggests the best Green Drake imitation to use on Penns Creek late in May at the height of the hatch is a Sulphur. This is sound advice.

Sulphurs work. Personally, I find a March Brown at the end of my tippet, likely as not.

Often I'm on another stream entirely. Penns can be tough, and during the Green Drake hatch; doubly so. The Coffin flies will fall at dusk, covering the water like a blanket of snow on a windless evening. The thick coating of white will remain undisturbed by rising trout. The trout remain unmoved because they have gorged themselves to bursting on Green Drake nymphs, or Sulphur duns...or March Browns.

Today I want small water. Somewhere that ends in "run:" Rapid run, Spruce run, Cherry run. Somewhere that tumbles into water that ends in "creek:" Spruce Creek, Spring Creek, Elk Creek, Penns Creek. Which, in turn, enters into "river:" Susquehanna or Juniata.

I want small water where the fish are sized right. Small by Penns standards, but just right for the environs of a "run." 7 to 8 inches is a good fish - 12 inches a monster.

Dave's small water

The warmest part of the day will be between noon and 2pm. The fish should turn on at noon, but I'm too antsy to hang around the house and I get to the stream at about 9:30 am. Air temperature 20 degrees. Water 33 degrees. There's a couple of inches of snow on the ground. No visible bug activity. Nothing in the spiderwebs. Heck, no spiderwebs... or spiders. I dip my bug seine into the water - nothing.


I tie on a CDC and elk caddis - this with a deer hair wing and bright red CDC; an attractor caddis, a royal caddis. And a pretty good looking fly, if I do say so myself.

I start upstream poking my fly into likely runs and holes. The glare is terrible and my sunglasses are somewhere in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or in some fisherman's vest. Sunglasses don't work very well for me anyway. They tend to fog as I warm up. I need a pair with a built in defroster. Better yet, I need Polarized contact lenses. Such things are possible, but as yet no one is manufacturing them. I checked.

The fish don't like my caddis. So, I change flies. A tailess humpy in red (Joe Humphreys' design!)- not a hint of interest. Come on fish! I really don't want to flip nymphs!

But after a while I do. First a stonefly, then a hare's ear. But the fish like these as much as they liked my dries.

If there were some sun, there would be some midges, or, perhaps some small dark stoneflies. But the sky is overcast. And the wind picks up. And the glare is even worse.

I put on an orange stimulator, size 12. Something big. Something big, bushy and visible.

More casting. The bushy blob that floats in the glare vanishes. I don't know who is more surprised, me or the trout. He quickly comes to hand a scrappy 8 inches. I check my watch. It's noon.

Scrappy 8 incher

I fish the stimulator for the rest of the afternoon and bring more fish to hand.

So, why do the fish here in these small runs hit on top when the water is so cold? Perhaps the water is SO cold that there is no nymphal activity. These small runs are not terribly buggy anyway and the fish tend to be opportunistic. They are not very deep, either. Bottom to top is a pretty short trip for a hungry fish. So, the fish will hit on top in this weather for a good meal. At least that's my working theory.

A deeper question is: Why does one dry fly work better than another when by most reckoning nothing should work on top or, by my "cold water, small run" theory, any fly at all should do? Hmm...I'll have to give this some more thought. ~ Dave (Black Gnat)

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