Photo: Why a Montanan Travels to Pennsylvania

Written by: A.L. Swanson

That is a beast of a rainbow, no matter where you fish.
Photo courtesy A.L. Swanson

As a Montanan exposed to some of the finest trout waters on earth, why is it that I venture to central Pennsylvania annually to fish for trout? Because it is truly a special place, with a robust abundance of large trout and hatches that are rivaled by few. Spruce Creek, Penn’s Creek, and the Little Juniata are all nestled into the rolling green hills outside of State College, and these are among the finest waters in the Keystone State.

A cold and rainy Sunday morning welcomed us to a unique stretch of water, surrounded with freshly leafed-out walnut trees, blooming dogwood,s and very spooky fish. I delicately cast a Soft-Hackle Sulphur into the shadows of an overhanging dogwood. The water is so clear that you often get just one shot at these fish. It was a successful cast, and after a long fight–in which I saw my backing and the rainbow leaped over a dam–the fight ended with this beautiful monster. Its weight was in the middle double digits, and it was at least 30 inches long.

A.L. Swanson lives in Helena, Montana, where he handcrafts some of the wooden fly boxes, cigar boxes, and landing nets that we sell at Orvis.

26 thoughts on “Photo: Why a Montanan Travels to Pennsylvania”

  1. Penn’s Creek never fails to produce some of the best fly hatches, fishing conditions and fish as well. It is a truly special creek.

  2. Spruce Creek is full of ridiculous, pellet fed, hatchery fish. Embarrassingly, the clubs on Spruce Creek stock loads of these fake fish on top of a decent wild brown trout population that could be Class A if they would stop it.

    I don’t understand the fascination with Spruce Creek and these fake fish, especially considering that excellent wild trout fishing is available all over the same region.

    Catch stocked fish and have fun with it I guess, but brag about it on the Orvis page? Really?

  3. Not only is that fish a frankenfish, the guy is squeezing it in the most vulnerable area of the fishes belly. A real hero. Can’t catch wild fish in Montana, I’ll go to PA to catch a fat freak of a rainbow and brag about it like I was Trump himself. Moron.

  4. Traveling from the state with arguably the best wild trout fishery and angler friendly access laws to fish a stocked, private stream full of pellet-fed fish? Interesting choice…

  5. I live in Montana, I fish in Montana, I find no reason at all to travel anywhere else to fish. Bug trout, if you like trout, big walleyes, big northerns, big cats, bass, crappie and rock crushers, and I have lived everywhere.
    But, I am glad that this guy is somewhere else killing fish.

    1. If you are a tried and true PA angler showing off Spruce Creek is not what this state is about. Mention Spring Creek not Spruce Creek! A private pellet fed fish infested wild trout fishery that 99% of Spruce Creek just that. It is not what PA fishing is about. If this is what you and Orvis is going to promote about a state with more miles of trout water than any other state in the lower 48 I just don’t do it! It is a slap in the face to the anglers that enjoy and work to protect and promote the waters in this great state. Mr. Swanson you loose a lot of respect as a reputable angler to many that know the area when your only fish you highlight is a pellet head private water fish. I honestly can’t believe you two are that clueless to why this post got PA anglers all fired up. We can totally all get along but you mislead anglers into thinking sweet some good stuff about PA trout fishing then promote a private stream! I guess I need to head to Montana and see if I can fish some of Ted Turners streams and promote it.

  6. Fishing Montana waters is truly a blessing, and I by no means take it for granted. Traveling to Pennsylvania to fish is more the just angling fo me, and too is hardly taken for granted. Rather, it is a trip in where a dozen or so friends from all over have gathered for years now, to enjoy the beauty (and fishing) that PA offers. The guides that work with us are world class, and many have become friends. Casting in those creeks can be a challenge, and landing large fish (though very rare) is even harder. Hooking that large fish was not part of my agenda, but it happened. Landing it was a whole other story – that’s angling. Needless to say, all involved were quite proud of it.

    1. That’s all well and good, by all means come to Central PA to fish. You are correct, the area offers some of the best fishing for wild trout east of the Rockies. The backlash in the comments section stems from the fact that the article wasn’t built around the camaraderie and enjoyable experience you shared with your friends, but rather around a slovenly pellet fed disgrace that was in all likelihood stocked by an extremely unpopular organization. Beaver and other landowners own their property and are free to post their land to trespassers. But, when they try to prevent the public from accessing public waters (Little J) and when they stock those slugs over a vibrant and viable “Class A” wild brown trout fishery they deserve all the public scorn they receive and more.

    2. I can appreciate that, but why didn’t you write that story, instead of a “hero” one that features a pellet-fed stocker from private water, which goes against the ethics of many people. Spruce Creek, Donny Beaver, and the other landowners rub a lot of people the wrong way, so why not write something and feature a picture from the amazing publicly accessible water in the area.

      I live in Wyoming, but am from Pennsylvania, so I can understand the appeal of central PA’s fishing. I too have made the trip back east to fish with my brothers. We always fish public water and are often skunked, but that doesn’t diminish the experience of being on the water with people that mean a lot to you.

      Phil asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”, and we absolutely can, but I can’t help but see a correlation to wildlife photography. Game farms are a way to pay for the chance to photograph captive animals in situations that appear wild. Some photographers label their images as “captive”, others do not. Perhaps if you mentioned in your post that the fish was caught in private water and that it is fed after stocking, then maybe there wouldn’t be a backlash from commenters.

      Maybe it’s the beers talking, as I’ve had a few, but in the US we are lucky to have so much public water that it is hard to appreciate a fish from a private stream.

  7. Growing up less than 30 min from this area really helps in understanding this situation. Let me just say that locals are not fans of spruce creek. We don’t agree with the business of it and how it affects some beautiful sections of river with browns that haven’t been stocked for longer than I have been alive. There are amazing brown streams and even better native brookie streams in central PA, but all we hear about is spruce creek and it’s dog food. It’s just sad it happens that way.

  8. Anglers should certainly feel free to express opinions about the way the waters in their home state are managed. However, there is a way to make your opinions known that don’t involve personal attacks against an angler who makes a choice you wouldn’t make.

    This post is about the joy that this angler gets from his annual fishing trip with his buddies. It doesn’t promote anything other than that. If you wouldn’t get joy from a similar experience or wouldn’t want to fish similar waters, that’s fine, too.

    There is an interesting debate to have about public vs private water–and Mr. Beaver has been at the center of controversy in PA for about as long as I can remember–but that debate doesn’t require us to attack other anglers.

    1. Where in the actual article is there any talk of fishing with friends? If you can quote it please do!

  9. He posted it expecting glory and applause. I’m reminded of the Colorado ‘outfitter’ fishing Wyoming reds and posting it.

  10. World class guides at a pay lake? How much did this fish cost to catch? With the controversial PA location aside for now I have fished private non-controversial non – commercial waters and its pretty easy and fun fishing but it would be shameful to compare it to catching real fish in a natural environment. Just taking a picture is silly to us, let the pet go for tomorrow. Trout grow amazingly fast and big in these environments and you can buy 24″ fish to start with. When ones pride and ego succumbs to all this Orvis picture fishing it can be a slippery slope.

  11. When I shared the image of this fish with a colleague at Orvis, he mentioned that I should write a quick story with it, and perhaps it would appear on the news feed. I had little expectation that it mignt, so I appologize for not articulating the entire three days of fishing, laughing, cooking, drinking and story telling we all engaged in. Nor did I realize or understand the aparent discontent for fishing private waters for either stocked or non-stocked fish. Yes, we were fortunate to fish private waters, and will likely do it again. And when asked how much did I pay to catch that large rainbow in a lake? The fact is, is that I met an older genetlman a few years back that happens to own a magnificent piece of property next to a creek. I shared with him my love for woodworking, and gifted him a fly box that I had made.
    This year we met again, and I gave him a personalized landing net – we have become friends. That friend subsequently invited me to experience the stretch of water along his property – property he has been on since 1942. That is where I caught that large rainbow.
    I will return to the beautiful state of Pennsylvania (where my father is from) again soon, and hope to introduce my young son to the new friends made there…

  12. Had you started your quaint little story about your clear water stalking and brilliant fly selection with full disclosure I for one would have thought good for you I know how much fun private,fed fishing is. But you didn’t and it questions your ethics and honor. Maybe we’ve got it all wrong. Nice catch. Fine angling prowess to land such a fish. Next season send us a picture of your trophy buck taken from some fenced in well managed game farm in Texas. But don’t say where you got it.

  13. I like Spruce because it lessens pressure on the other nearby creeks with natural fisheries. Caught a 27″ brown there 5 years ago, but it’s sort of a hollow boast when talking to other fisherman. “Yeah, but it was on Spruce….”

  14. Do you think this photo would have been published on the Orvis site if the Montana angler
    had not been wearing an Orvis hat? Find the $$, find the truth. He paid to catch a “pen-raised” fish, like
    shooting an Orvis pen-raised stocked pheasant or chukar on an Orvis guided property/partner. I fish with friends too, and eat and drink and be merry as part of it all…..but let’s call a fish a fish. The Spruce Creek has been turned into an aquarium to please those that can pay and Presidents of the USA. It’s a shame. It was a nice little limestoner….but then it could be like the Cedar Run in Camp Hill, PA…dried up…polluted and dried up…swallowed most likely by limestone mining nearby. You know, like the mines at Aaronsburg adjacent to the Pine and Elk and Penns Creek. Anyone want to buy a “Fly-Shop”? They’re all “For Sale”. Everything is “For Sale”. We talk at camp too….unfortunately about the way it used to be. It’s now about the money, and a “River Runs Thru It”. Public access will continue to wane just as it has in Europe and Russia and Chile.

  15. A Majority of these rivers are regardless stocked in some form or another so I am not sure if I should state hypocrisy? I mean unless you have made all efforts to only fish in waters that have never seen any form of stocking which I highly doubt.

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