I doubt that many of you will be traveling to and fishing the Smokies to fish this month although I
hope you do.  January and the first part of February is probably the coldest time of the year and
you will have to pick out the better days to expect much success fishing the freestone streams.
By the end of February, everyone will be doing their best to force the bugs to hatch and the trout to
respond even though they will probably have to wait a few more days to see any surface action.
That considered, I thought I would write about some fishing trips we have made to various other
destinations. Don't expect these articles to win any awards, just tell you about some things I
hope you will find interesting and a few that I look back on with a gleam in my eye.

Fly Fishing Penn's Creek, Pennsylvania - Part 1

Central Pennsylvania's Penn's Creek is a large spring creek. It flows from Penn's
Cave at a temperature that ranges from 38 to 51 degrees Fahrenheit. This stream
is divided into three very distinct areas or sections. They are different in many ways
including the way the State of Pennsylvania manages them. The upper dozen miles
of the creek, down to the junction of Elk Creek at the little town of Colburn, is
considered the first section of the river. It is a true spring creek and includes the
source of water that flows from Penn's Cave. It does have some very small creeks,
mostly limestone streams, that enter it. This section flows through Brush and Penn's
Valleys, and consist mainly of agricultural land. The flows are rather smooth over a
relatively smooth bottom. Most of the stream does not have trees along its banks
and there is very little overhead protection from the sun. Much of the stream is on
private property.

Pennsylvania divides its trout waters into different categories depending on the fish
species and populations. This section of the creek has a decent population of wild
brown trout but not enough of them to be declared a "Class A" wild trout stream. It
is a "Class B" and it is stocked by the state a couple of times per year to
supplement the population of trout. I'm not sure I understand why. I understand
what they are doing, but I don't understand the justification behind stocking it.

The next section downstream of Colburn is what most anglers refer to as Penn's
Creek. It is very different from the upper section. It flows for about 15 miles through
a forested area and the flows change to more like pocket water than a spring creek.
The flows from Elk Creek, another spring creek itself a very fine stream, helps keep
the water cool. Elk is enclosed with tree cover just about its entire length and is
generally cool even in the hot summer.

This section flows through what is called the seven mountains. Any Smoky
Mountain anglers would call them hills. You will find a lot of riffles, some pools and a
few rather fast runs. Unlike the upper section, the stream's bottom consist of rocks.
The stream is rather large in this section, reaching up to one-hundred feet wide.
Most of this section if considered "Class A" water and is not stocked. It has a very
good population of brown trout, some of them quite large. There is a catch and
release area that is about 7 miles downstream from Colburn near the Poe Paddy
Campgrounds. Most anglers consider it the best part of Penn's Creek.

The stream exits the hills and changes character again. It flows into Buffalo Valley.
The flows slow down. The river is very wide in this section and can become too
warm for trout in the hot summer. The upper part of this lower section, or third
section of the creek, is stocked. The river finally becomes too warm to support
stocked trout so the area bellow the stocked section is not considered in the total
trout fishing length of 35 miles.

The bottom line to this is that the part of Penn's Creek that truly qualifies as a great
trout stream is only fifteen miles long. The other areas have a population of brown
trout, and some very nice ones by the way, but they are stocked to supplement the

The section of Penn's Creek that is not stocked can range from difficult to easy
when it comes to catching fish. The best anglers can get skunked, yet the very next
time they fish it, they may do very well. There are several reasons for it but the
main one is the amount of food the trout have to eat. This stream is the home of a
huge amount of aquatic insects. The trout can be very selective. They also see a
lot of fake flies during the prime season. Anglers come from throughout the country
to fish this stream. The main reason for this is the highly famed "Green Drake"
hatch. The very thought of trout feeding on these huge mayflies is attractive to
most anglers but even during the peak of the hatch, the trout can become very
difficult to catch. Many anglers go home without catching the first trout.

There is a good reason for this. It reminds me of the salmonfly hatch on some of
the western rivers. The fish have so much to eat that they become "gorged" - a
common phase on some western streams. That is probably true to some extent but
the real reason is very simple. Trout don't necessarily eat the largest size food
available to them. That is what many anglers think they do, but the facts are they
don't. This fact has fooled many anglers. It has fooled many anglers that travel a far
distance to fish the Green Drake hatch at Penn's Creek. They arrive at the stream
and if they happen to be there when the big mayflies hatch, they will see the sky,
trees and water full of huge mayflies. They assume every large trout in the water
will be eating all of them they can catch. Again, that is what anglers tend to think,
not necessarily what actually happens. If you sit down and just watch the water
during a hatch, you will see the newly hatched duns floating down the stream
without being touched by a trout. You will probably see twenty or thirty of them drift
for a few seconds, sometimes longer, fluttering around on the surface of the water
just begging to sucked under by a trout, before you will see a trout take one from
the surface. When the spinners fall, you will see the same thing occurring for as
long as you can see. The water will become covered with them in some areas and
you will only hear an occasional sound of a trout eating one of them when the skies
become dark. Your large imitation may float along with them without being touched.

I am not saying the trout want eat Eastern Green Drakes. They certainly will. I am
saying that just because a large mayfly is hatching doesn't mean the trout will
prefer them. It doesn't mean the large trout will prefer them either. We have caught
just as many trout at Penn's Creek on the numerous other smaller mayfly, caddisfly
and stonefly hatches as we have the Green Drake hatch. We have caught trout on
the smaller imitations of other species hatching during the Green Drake hatch.
More tomorrow.

Copyright 2008 James Marsh