My friend Mark McKenzie and I had been discussing going to a stream known for producing big trout, but recent rain made the stream too high, so we gave up on the idea without making further plans other than to watch the water levels and weather forecasts.
Instead I went to a very popular limestone stream, hoping for excellent fishing. I hadn’t been there in over a month. I texted Mark before I left home to ask if he was fishing today. I didn’t receive an answer until I had arrived at the stream. He was fishing a different stretch of the same stream. We agreed to meet after we had finished fishing the stream section we were on.
The creek was cloudy to start but gradually cleared. My fishing was slow in the section that I fished, but picked up as I neared my walk out point. I caught 27 wild browns in 4.25 hours. Quite a few trout flashed at my spinners while others short-struck. I lost several trout as well.
Mark did much better in the section he fished. He caught 47 wild browns. He also had a lot of trout follow and short-strike.
We met for lunch and then fished a long stretch. The action was slow initially, but we caught 35 more trout between us. Mark finished the day with 64 trout and I ended up with 45. I think Mark had more than 64 though. He carries a clicker to count his trout and I think he forgot to record his catch several times.
All his trout were wild browns and hit spinners; his biggest trout was 14 ½ inches. All my trout were browns except for one rainbow. All but one hit spinners and the other one hit a plug. My biggest trout was 14 ¼ inches.
Mark McKenzie with a colorful wild brown trout
14 ¼ inch wild brown
My original intention was fish a favorite freestone stream and two of its tributaries on Monday but when I woke up and checked the stream gauge, I saw that the area had not received the overnight rain that was forecast so I knew the streams I wanted to fish would be too low. Since the forecast was for overcast skies, I decided to go to a large freestone stream in the same area which is a good producer of big trout, but can be a very tough stream.
About 20 minutes after I started fishing, the sun came out. That stream fishes terribly when it’s sunny. Predictably, I had only two hits the first hour I fished and didn’t land either one. My first trout was a 7-inch wild brown and it hit a 2 inch Rapala. About 15 minutes later I caught a 9-inch brown and then a 6 incher. I was considering leaving, but I wanted to at least fish to a shaded spot with good cover on the right bank since it’s produced large trout for me on more than one occasion. If it didn’t produce, there is an easy walk out point just upstream.
My cast zipped under the overhead cover and landed right next to the bank. I made two cranks of the reel and a heavy trout piled into my spinner. I set the hook, then the trout thrashed on the surface and cleared the water three times in succession. I was afraid the spinner would come flying out, but I netted the big brown about a minute later. It measured 16 ½ inches.
16 ½ inch brown
A few minutes later, a big trout followed my spinner in about half way, then swam back toward the bank. On the next cast, he surprisingly followed again, but saw me and took off. The second hour closed with a 9 ½ inch brown.
As I moved upstream, I saw a small trout rise and I dropped a cast just ahead of where the trout rose. The trout struck and I set the hook. The brown cartwheeled out of the water and threw the spinner in the air. My next cast landed about 15 feet above where the small trout rose. Just after the spinner hit the water I felt a solid strike. I set the hook, but unlike the previous big trout, this one did not clear the water. It made several line-peeling runs before I brought it to my feet.
19-inch brown trout
With two big trout caught and released, I thought that it might turn out to be a big trout day after all. Unfortunately, I only caught one more small trout there before I made the long walk back to my car.
Since I had gotten a late start, it was past lunch time, so I stopped to get something to eat. After that I drove to a small freestoner nearby, which was lower than expected. I had a few follows in shallow water before I reached a deeper pocket, which produced an 8 ¾ inch native brookie. A few minutes later, a 5 ½ inch brookie came to hand. A short distance upstream, I came to a spot that I knew would yield a trout. It yielded four on consecutive casts.
Two were wild browns of 10 and 7 ½ inches and the other two were native brooks that measured 8 and 5 ½ inches. Two more native brooks and another wild brown added to my tally before I reached a good-looking spot. As I pulled the spinner past a rock ledge a brown smashed my spinner. After I set the hook, the trout made a spectacular leap to almost head level and threw the spinner in mid-air. That brown trout was in the 12-13-inch range. A little further upstream I caught a 10 ¾ inch brown and a 6-inch native brookie. Two other trout slipped the hook.
The sky darkened ominously and I sensed a very heavy rain was about to happen, so I walked back to the car. I had caught 11 trout in 45 minutes and wanted to stay but shortly after I got in my car it started to pour.
After I had driven to another stream, the rain stopped. It was my intention to walk into a section that I hadn’t fished on that stream in several years, but I was sure that the long walk in was going to be interrupted by a heavy thunderstorm. It looked like it was going to storm at any minute, so I returned to a different section of the first stream I fished, hoping that the overcast skies would persuade the big trout to become active. Unfortunately, I landed only three small browns and didn’t see any more big trout before I realized it was futile and called it a day.
For the day, I caught only 21 trout. All hit spinners except for the first trout of the day. 14 of the trout were wild browns and the rest were native brookies. I’m sure I would have caught more if I’d remained on the second stream longer or ventured into the third stream I visited, but I’ve been burned several times over the years by ignoring the warning signs I saw.
I went to one of my favorite streams on Wednesday, only to find it very high. I drove to another nearby freestoner which was in good shape.
I caught four brook trout between 8 and 11 inches in short order followed by a 13 ½ inch wild brown.
I cast to the far bank and a trout struck aggressively. I set the hook and the brown vaulted out of the water and threw the hook in the air. It was a nice brown in the 14-15 inch range. Two casts later near the head of the pool, another trout piled into my spinner and the heavy trout leaped three feet clear of the water and threw the hook in the air. I was shocked. I was positive that I had a really good hookset.
I caught three browns from 8 to 9 inches before I reached a section that I had fished the previous week.
After returning to the car, I got something to eat, drove downstream and got permission to park my car. I walked in and began fishing in a stretch I hadn’t fished before. The stream was beautiful.
The fishing was very slow unfortunately. I opened with a 9-inch wild brown and then had a 13-14-inch brown hit, clear the water and throw the hook. A smaller trout followed suit. At that point, I wondered whether the trout had figured out how to shake free of my spinners by clearing the water, like the Nashville Predators have learned they can shoot to Matt Murray’s glove side. (Hopefully that won’t work in game 6 tonight. It didn't, Murray was awesome!)
I reached a split in the creek and cast to a deep pocket and caught browns of 8 and 6 ½ inches. The next spot yielded a surprise 9 ½ inch brown that was obviously stocked. The stream is a class A wild brown trout stream with some native brookies too. My next cast produced a violent hit and I thought I had another big brown on the line. When I saw the sub-surface flash I realized it was a smallmouth bass. It was a heavy one, and measured 16 ½ inches. Bass are feisty fun fish to catch, but I don’t like to see them on wild trout streams because they eat a lot of small trout. But then again, so do the larger trout.
The left channel next yielded a 13 ½ inch brown, then I had a long stretch with no action. My next two fish were bass of 13 and 15 inches. I reached a likely looking spot and dropped my spinner tight to a log on the far bank. It was taken on the drop and I set the hook. I saw a yellow flash and knew I had a nice brown trout. It measured 15 ½ inches.
I had another long period of inactivity. I considered walking out, but I’m often reluctant to leave new water because I want to see what is ahead. The inactivity was interrupted by a small bass and then a 13-inch brown, followed by a 10 incher.
About 15 minutes later, I felt the subtle tap so I set the hook. The fish stripped a lot of line off my reel and I wasn’t sure initially if I had a big brown or another bass. As the fish paused to rest, I brought it closer and saw that it was a nice brown. I brought the fish to my feet and measured him. At 16 ¾ inches, I figured it was my first hog trout of the day. It made me feel better having lost a big trout earlier in the day. Unfortunately, when fumbling with my camera, the trout slipped out of my hand so I didn’t get a picture.
Next, I caught another heavy bass followed by a small bass and a sub-legal brown. After another long period of inactivity, I switched to a small Rapala and was rewarded with a 13-inch brown. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any more action on the plug so I switched back to a spinner.
I had reached water that I had fished before, but not for several years. I landed three browns from 8 to 11 inches, but came up empty in two excellent looking spots.
I could see I was close to my walk out point. I cast to the head of a nice riffle and caught a nice 14-inch brown. I cast to the right bank and a heavy fish engulfed my spinner. I thought initially that I had a bass, but then saw the telltale shape of a large brown trout. It took several minutes to bring the behemoth in. I wished that I hadn’t left my net in the car. When I first saw the big trout, I thought it might be a 20 incher but as I kneeled to measure it, I could tell that it was short of the 20-inch mark. Still, I was very happy landing a 19 ¼ inch brown on that small stream.
A little further up in the same pool, I again cast to the right bank. A big trout smashed my spinner and after my hook-set, it somersaulted out of the water. I instantly thought “Uh oh, not again”, but this time the hook held and after a couple minutes, a 16 ½ inch brown lay in front of me.
I had one more nice strike but missed the fish before I reached my walk out point. I had a 2 ½ mile walk back to my car. While there was still plenty of time to fish, I was tired and called it a day. I finished the day with 25 trout (21 browns, 4 brooks) and 7 smallmouth bass. I’d previously caught two big trout there in all my trips combined, so catching three and missing a fourth was a big surprise. I caught several other nice sized browns as well as some hefty smallmouth bass.
I returned to the stream I had left on Wednesday. It was in much better shape. The fishing on that stream is very inconsistent. It can be incredible and but can also be tough. I waded in to a familiar spot. Several years ago, I had a thunderous hit in that spot and thought I had a big brown trout on. It turned out to be a 15-inch smallmouth bass. A couple of years ago, I had another heavy fish strike and I figured I had another big smallmouth on, but I saw the unmistakable yellow flash that signaled that it was a brown trout. Unfortunately, as I maneuvered the trout within two feet of me, he wriggled off the hook and was gone.
With that in mind, I hoped that the higher than normal flow would enable me to hook and land a large trout. On my third cast, a savage 5-inch native brookie drilled my spinner and that was the only fish I caught in that spot. As I moved upstream, I was not getting any action from places that I normally would get at least a follow. I took the water temperature, which was 53. That’s low for early June and was a result of the cold overnight temperatures. I caught only two more trout the first hour, a 9 ½ inch wild brown and a feisty 4-inch native brookie.
I suspected that the stream had been fished recently, but decided to keep going. The next hour started very slowly and it took ten minutes before I pulled in two 8 ½ inchers, one a brook, the other a brown. Shortly thereafter, I caught a 6 ½ inch brookie. I fished a prime spot with no interest whatsoever. Since I thought that section may have been fished recently with spinners, I tried a small plug and a 7 ½ inch brook trout smashed it on the first cast. No other trout hit it though and I switched back to spinners. I caught three more trout the remainder of the hour, all sub-legals, two browns and a brook.
I caught four brooks and one brown in the next hour, ranging from 5 ½ to 8 ½ inches. I missed several other strikes. I was close to the upper limits of that stream and it took me another ½ hour to reach it. I caught three nice brookies during that time in an abandoned beaver pond; 9 ¼, 10, and 9 inches.
I fished that stream for 3 ½ hours, longer than it usually takes me from my starting point. Partly because of the elevated water level and because I wore my hip boots instead of my waders. I wore my hip boots because there is a lot of underbrush on that stream’s tributaries where one might encounter rattlesnakes, which thankfully I never have. The big problem with my hip boots is they have rubber bottoms and I don’t have anywhere near the traction that I have with my wading shoes. I was sliding all over the place on the first stream and nearly fell several times.
I caught only 18 trout and 1 smallmouth bass in 3 ½ hours on the first stream. I expect to do much better than that on a mountain freestone stream that is mostly native brookies with some wild browns. 14 were native brookies and the other 4 were wild browns. The largest trout was a 10-inch brookie. I stopped to take some pictures of an amazing waterfall on that stream. I’ve posted a picture of it before, but I will again.
I moved up the stream’s main tributary, not expecting to do much, but I’ve been surprised there before. My first trout on the tributary was an 8-inch wild brown. It took another 10 minutes before I caught another trout, but I picked up 11 more in the remainder of the hour, colorful native brookies between 6 and 9 ¼ inches.
I came to a familiar bend in the creek and hoped to connect with 4-5 trout in that spot, but instead got two. Ten more brookies came to hand during that hour, with the largest being 9 inches. As I approached another familiar spot, I noticed water trickling in from a side channel on the right. I suspected there was a beaver dam in that channel, so I walked up to see if I was right. There was indeed a beaver dam there, though I didn’t see any beavers. Not unusual since they’re typically more active toward dusk. I guessed this was the lower end of the pond as beavers often build more than one dam on a channel. I’ve had some fun fishing on beaver dams in that past. On a few occasions, I’ve pulled out my fly rod and caught a few on dry flies, which is fun. But my fly rod was in my car a few miles away, so I hoped my spinner would suffice. On my first cast, a 6 ½ inch brookie struck viciously, but that was the only trout I caught in that pond. Like most beaver ponds, it was very shallow.
I moved back to the main channel, where the action improved. As I said, my first trout in the tributary was a brown, but after that it was brookies rampant. I caught 18 trout during the hour and had many more follows and strikes.
17 more trout were added to my tally during the next 1.25 hours, highlighted by a 10 ½ inch native brookie. I thought I might pick up a brown or two in a very scenic deep spot where I have caught browns in the past. I had a trout in the 11-12-inch range follow but not hit, which I am pretty sure was a brown trout. I had a lot more strikes that I whiffed on, usually a sign that I’m tired.
I had reached the upper limits of that stream and decided to keep going, despite my fatigue. I had 78 trout at that point and wanted to see what lay ahead. The tributary to the tributary still had a good flow and I was confident I could continue to catch trout. I fished for another 1.75 hours and caught 29 more trout, all native brookies, ranging from 3 ½ to 8 ½ inches. There was a beautiful looking spot a short distance upstream and I was very tempted to go up and check it out, but I knew that I would fish it and there would be another good spot, and before I knew it, I’d be another hour upstream, so I climbed the bank and headed back.
On the walk out, I flushed a grouse and came to the upper end of the beaver pond. The upper end had flooded the trail. This time I saw the beavers, a female which immediately submerged and the largest beaver I have ever seen. He climbed onto the bank briefly and got back in the stream and swam directly toward me, which surprised me. He swam to within 20 feet of me, then dove and slapped his prodigious tail on the surface. It was both an alarm to his family and a warning to me that I was trespassing in the bosses’ moat.
It was a day with other wildlife sightings as well. On the morning drive to the creek, I saw a dark animal scurry across the road, which I believe was a fisher. I had only seen one in PA before. I saw three deer, but no fawns. I’m sure I walked past quite a few that were concealed in the abundant ferns on the forest floor. I’ve seen bears on two occasions in that watershed, but none today. I had my bear spray with me that I only carry on a few streams. I’ve never had to use it thankfully.
Despite the slow start, I thoroughly enjoyed the day. Though I’m a big trout enthusiast, I also enjoy catching little native brookies and wild browns in scenic surroundings. I finished with 107 in 9 ½ hours. A person who is better at hooking small trout than I am would have caught a lot more trout. Of my trout, 100 were native brookies and the rest were wild browns. The biggest trout of the day was a 10 ½ inch brookie. The largest brown was 9 ½ inches.
Pictures from the day: