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Fall Fishing

October 8, 2012

The following article appeared on the FFP website in autumn, 2000. To a great extent the lessons learned from this piece are still relevant. Nuances particular to this season and other changes will be presented in an addendum after the original article.

Here is the old article:

Fall Fishing in Central Pennsylvania

The Summer

It was a tough summer locally. Air temperatures soared into the 90s nine times, and there were too many evenings when overnight lows were sultry. Rainfall was scant during June, July, and early August, and combined with abnormally warm temperatures, low water levels and elevated stream temperatures were the norm.

Of our local streams of note, Penns Creek was most severely impacted. Water temperatures reached the 80s, and trout ran into drought-shrunken tributaries for cooler water. The PA DCNR wisely posted six of these small streams to discourage disruption of stressed fish. Penns Creek is obviously a poor bet for fishing this fall, and annoying fish that have survived a harsh summer would be unwise.

Spring Creek and Fishing Creek, while extremely low this summer, both fished well. The Tricos on Spring Creek were the best in memory, and fishing with terrestrials and tiny #16-22 nymphs was excellent. Because of significant rainfall late in August as well as cooler temperatures, the outlook for fall fishing in Central PA is good. Continued and reasonable rainfall will only improve conditions.


Spring Creek

Fall fishing on Spring Creek has always been superb. For the most part the crowds are gone, and the stream is largely deserted. The trout seem to sense the approach of both spawning and winter and feed more aggressively. Then too, the fish are an inch or two longer, fatter, and more colorful.

On warm days terrestrials, especially ants and beetles, fish well, and fall Trico fishing can be excellent. Trico duns, as a bonus, can be more of a factor in autumn. As the weather cools there is less of a need to be on the water early. Fall Trico spinner falls are usually from 10-12, rather than from 7-9 AM.

By early October #20 Baetis (Blue-winged Olive) hatches can overshadow Tricos in importance. Expect this hatch between noon and 3 PM. Exceptional days can have both Trico duns and spinners, followed by several hours of fish rising to BWOs. Those are days to be savored and remembered.

By mid-October look for #26-28 dun/black midges on Spring Creek virtually every afternoon. Although diminuitive in size, these Diptera can induce even large trput to rise. Dark midges are a staple into December.

As good as autumn dry fly fishing can be, underwater angling can be even better. Shrimp and sowbug patterns, wet ants, Pheasant Tails, and Bead Head Pheasant Tails produce just as well as they do in the summer. When the Olives begin to hatch, Baetis nymph and emerger patterns outfish dries.

Streamer fishing can be productive when good fish move to spawn, given adequate water levels. During the spawn itself, egg patterns like sucker spawn and globugs work extremely well, since it appears that eggs not attched to redds are a prime trout food. Although fishing while the fish are spwaning is OK, we discourage anglers from fishing to trout on the redds.

Many of the pattern recommendations and hatches described for Spring Creek are also relevant for the Little Juniata and Fishing Creek. Although Tricos are not as important as on Spring Creek, there are autumn Baetis and midge hatches. Slate Drakes and tan caddis are other hatches to look for on the latter two waters.

Just like on Spring Creek, anglers should be ready to fish sunken flies. Pheasant Tail and Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymphs are extremely effective on both streams, and the Bead Head Green Weenie, for whatever reason, takes fish consistently on the Little J. If water levels allow, Slate Drake Nymphs and stone fly nymphs in smaller sizes work well, too. Streamer fishing can effectively target larger trout, and egg patterns work well when the spawn is underway (mid-October through November).

Recommended Reading

Central PA trout streams are far from a secret, and they are prominently featured in a number of books available through our catalog:

Trout Streams of Pennsylvania: An Anglers Guide, Dwight Landis

Fly Fishing Pennsylvania's Spring Creek, Daniel L. Shields

2013 Update

The old saw "the more things change, the more they stay the same" certainly applies to the weather this summer. July, 2013 was the hottest month on record, and it did not bode well for the fishing. Fortunately, August was slightly cooler and wetter. Accordingly, fish on the Little Juniata and Penns Creek got something of a reprieve from warm water temeratures in the latter part of the summer.

One other major difference between 2000 and 2012 was the strength of the Tricos on Spring Creek. Put simply, 2012 was a lousy Trico year on Spring Creek. My best morning of fishing Trikes produced a meager six fish on the little spinners. Fishing a Trico soft hackle after the spinner fall was much more effective. Terrestrial fishing was similarly not spectacular. Other than wet black ants, terrestrials were not as productive as during a normal year.

Finally, the intervening twelve years have also seen more water open to public fishing, The piece of Spring Creek known as "the canyon", the chunk of water between Fisherman's Paradise and Benner Springs, was opened to the public in September, 2011. A large parking lot to accommodate hikers, birders, and nature lovers other than flyfishers was built to allow for more vehicles. A much smaller reach of water in Bellefonte, stretching from the Lamb's Street bridge upstream to the High Street bridge, was opened in January, 2012.

Fishing so far this fall has been a continuation of summer angling. Trico and terrestrial fishing has been spotty at best. Fishing small nymphs to match the low water instead has been the ticket to moving trout consistently. On Spring Creek at least, sowbugs, olive scuds, zebra midges, and the Spring Creek Midge, a John Stoyanoff pattern, have been effective.

There is some hope on the horizon for dry fly anglers. Baetis (BWOs) have begun to appear on local streams. While hatches have yet to be intense, the trout have risen well to them. A few anglers have gotten trout to rsie to the small duns fished to the water, and low water levels make this a viable choice. There have also been reasonable numbers of tan caddis hatching. This #16-18 morsel is big enough to tempt even better trout to the top. Lastly, do not forget about terrestrials. Even though the weather has cooled significantly, there has been no frost. Each night there have been numerous crickets singing, and ants and beetles can still be observed on riparian vegetation.

Steve Sywensky