Beat the heat by fishing Pa. mountain trout streams
Long after the hottest fishing action fizzles out on many of our commonwealth's most popular approved trout waters, the party is just getting started elsewhere. Tucked away in pristine valleys and remote mountain draws, thousands of primary and secondary streams flow toward larger, more popular bodies of water.
Many of these small, secluded brooks and runs are spring fed, well shaded and therefore maintain exceptionally cool temperatures throughout summer's duration. They also harbor an abundance of insect life, making them prime destinations for locating our prized state fish – the native brook trout.
Though mostly incomparable in size to nursery-raised trout, native brookies make up for their small stature with unrivaled beauty and charm. Bedazzled with gold-speckled flanks and ruby-red dots haloed by iridescent shades of blue, they are undoubtedly the most spectacular looking fish in all the state's waterways.
They also feed aggressively when presented with a desirable, opportunistic meal – making them a lot of fun to cast to with a fly-rod. Natives spook easily, and because of their size, they won't give anglers a huge fight. But they are an ideal species for trout bums to target during slow summer months, granting them an excellent chance to land an elegant fish in an unspoiled setting.
Whether venturing hours north to "God's Country" or just a few miles up the road, many small, crystal-clear runs trickling off the beaten path are home to a large number of naturally reproducing brook trout. Most of these natives range in size from 3 to 8 inches, with rare specimens measuring out a bit larger.
Wild brookies tend to prefer the little pools and pocket waters formed just downstream from rocky drop-offs and spillways. Perhaps the rapid water formed when streams redirect themselves around such structures better oxygenates the water, or it is simply a good location for them to pick up passing food sources. Regardless, many natives will hold in these areas, and they can be targeted rather easily.
When using the fly-rod, a longer leader is preferred. Though it makes the task of casting through overhead vegetation more tedious, a leader that matches or exceeds the total rod length by a few feet will help reduce the number of fish spooked by a gaudy fly line.
Also, make sure leaders are tapered down to a size 6x tippet or finer, and approach casting locations with stealth. All too often, anglers will see dark shadows darting beneath the rocks before they even get a chance to cast into a nice looking pool. To remedy this, try to keep a low profile, wear muted colors, and approach from a downstream location.
Most fish in the creek will be facing upstream, since this is the direction from which food comes floating by. Roll cast a dry fly toward the swift water at the head of the pool, allow the fly to drift back toward the strike zone and set the hook lightly as soon as a rapid splash indicates a hit.
If possible, try to match whatever insect life is on the water at the time, but it doesn't always have to be perfect. Once, during a mild spinner fall of yellow sulfurs, I tied on a cream-colored Light Cahill fly and caught four fish in just seven casts. The color wasn't spot on, but the size and profile of the fly was close enough to fit the bill.
I've also found great success using general imitator flies that "match nothing, yet look like everything." The Royal Wulff and Yellow Stimulator patterns are great multi-purpose flies that have proven themselves very effective on mountain streams. Don't overlook the prowess of a Black Ant either, as it can often catch more summertime trout than any other "bug" in the fly box.
The next time some fine midsummer trout fishing is desired, grab a fly-rod and head to the small streams. Hike in, bike in or simply follow a run upstream from the point at which it flows into a more notable body of water.
The further one get from big creeks (and the colder the water seeping through that old pair of tennis shoes), the better the fishing will be for these gorgeous native inhabitants – the mountain stream majesties that reign supreme in our state's most remote runs and riffles.