Updated: Dec 28, 2022
My first cast of 2021 landed in Letort Spring Run, and as soon as the fly hit the water, three small brown trout scattered in different directions. My fly floated down through the abandoned pool.
I shrugged it off and moved upstream to a fresh pool where three much bigger browns were gathered. I no sooner saw them and they saw me and took off downstream. I followed them downstream, and waited until they settled down a few minutes before making a cast. They then bolted back upstream, so I followed them upstream. And then downstream.
After a few more times of this Abbott and Costello routine, they settled under some overhanging tree branches. I waited about 10 minutes or so for them to perhaps forget that I was there, a tactic which has worked fairly well for me on the Letort in the past, and then I casually flung my fly out into the soft current and watched it drift down toward the three trout. Two trout moved left and one moved right to create an open lane for the fly to pass through. I can’t say for sure, but I think that was their version of giving me the finger.
Letort Spring Run is always a challenge, no matter the time of year. Some say it’s easier to fish during the winter when the elodea and watercress haven’t grown in and the trout are actually accessible. Well, sure, the trout are accessible, but they’re beyond skittish. If you even breathe too loudly, they dart for cover. For this reason, I’ve found it easier to catch them when the elodea and watercress and leafy streamside bushes are in full bloom. At least then I can get up on the stream and pretend I have a chance. And a lot of times, when these trout do decide to feed, they move out from the cover and into feeding lanes where they’ll sometimes rise for a terrestrial or Elk Hair Caddis. I’ve caught a few of my biggest Letort browns by swinging a wet fly over top of the weeds, too.
Anyway, after an hour or so of walking the Letort looking for a trout to cast to, I finally hooked up my fly rod and headed for Yellow Breeches Creek. Later this spring and summer, I’ll be back for those Letort browns, but on this day, I wanted to catch my first fish of the season.
(Photo: Yellow Breeches Creek in the winter.)
Winter trout fishing is a relatively new concept for me. When I was growing up in western Pennsylvania, hardly anyone fished during the winter months. That all seemed to shift in the early 1990s with the proliferation of Delayed Harvests and other special regulations sections where you could fish year-round. Many of these sections received fall trout stockings, too, which brought out a decent number of anglers on every beautiful autumn day.
Still, geographically speaking, western Pennsylvania doesn’t have many great year-round trout streams anyway. Most are totally reliant on stocking, and after a hot, dry summer such as 2020, very few fish carried over from the spring stockings into fall. Also, and perhaps this is the main detriment to winter fishing near home, many of the creeks freeze up or there’s just enough ice to make the experience miserable.
It wasn’t until I started fishing Cumberland Valley streams that I realized how popular, and how good, winter fly fishing can be. The fertile spring creeks in this region offer such a variety of options on any given day. In the Carlisle area alone, you can hop from Big Spring to Yellow Breeches to Letort Spring Run to numerous others in short order if you find one too crowded with fishermen or one with too many snobby fish.
Cumberland Valley streams definitely get pressured. Even on Letort Spring Run that day, February 9th, there were multiple fresh boot tracks in the snow along the banks. And when I hopped over to Yellow Breeches for that last hour of daylight, I encountered as many anglers there as I normally would in April around home. If you’re not used to crowds, it can be a little demoralizing, but in this area, it just explains why trout can sometimes be so selective. Even still, within five minutes on Yellow Breeches I had my first trout of 2021, a small wild brown.
Despite its diminutive size, the brown was most welcomed. A fish is a fish, as they say, and it was my first of the new season, and something to celebrate. Interestingly enough, almost every time I’ve fished that stretch of Yellow Breeches, I’ve caught a similar-sized wild brown from the same riffle. It’s not much of a riffle at all, actually, and barely ankle deep. But that’s also a testament to the fertility of Cumberland Valley streams – every square inch of water has the potential to harbor trout.
The trout took a size 16 Light Olive Frenchie. For early season, this fly has slowly become my go-to pattern. It’s deadly on streams that have heavy BWO hatches.
After that first catch, I worked through some nice water with no action, so I walked further downstream to a series of small pockets that I’d never fished before. Within a few minutes, and with light running out and the evening air a touch colder, I hooked and landed my second trout of the season, a 10-inch wild brown. I snapped a few photos with my phone, particularly of the red-tipped adipose fin, which I’ve always thought to be one of the most beautiful features on a wild trout.
That fish also took the Light Olive Frenchie, which was good. Any time I catch only one trout on an outing or on a fly, it can feel like a fluke, but catching two makes me feel like I actually know what I’m doing. It was a positive way to bring in the new trout season.