Photos: Home for the Holidays in Pennsylvania

Written by: Josh Diller

A nice wild brown trout I was able to land during my trip back to my home waters of Pennsylvania.
Photos by Josh Diller

Although I now live and guide in Colorado, I’m originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and this year I spent the holidays with family and friends back East. For some people, such a trip might mean a week without fishing, but I saw this as an opportunity to get on some waters that are different from what I’m used to. I did a little homework, lining up connections and preparing for the cold temperatures, and looked forward to the adventure awaited me back home. When I mentioned to family and friends that I was going to be doing some fly fishing, they said “You’re nuts; most of the creeks and ponds here are frozen over!”

If you had asked me a few years ago, before I moved to Colorado, where the good trout fly fishing is in central Pennsylvania, I would have laughed and said that you were in the wrong place for good trout fishing. In the summertime, the creeks in Lancaster County are like bath water, and they often freeze over come winter. Five years later, now that I’ve got a Colorado degree in fly fishing, I see things a lot differently.

Stalactites of ice hang from limestone rocks on a day with a high of 13 degrees.

Something I had overlooked in my younger days are the limestone fed spring creeks of my home region. These gems are basically like little natural versions of the tailwaters I fish in the Rockies. Usually not more than a few short miles long, these limestone spring creeks offer some spectacular fly fishing, especially for anglers looking for a challenge. Because they are spring fed, these creeks do not experience extreme temperature changes like a freestone river does, which makes them fishable year round. With good water temps and catch-and-release, fly-fishing-only regulations these creeks feature thriving populations of wild brown trout.

I found quite a few of these caddisfly larvae on a single rock I flipped over.

I learned to flying fish on bass ponds, and I moved to Colorado shortly after becoming completely fascinated by this newfound pastime. My lack of knowledge and skill meant that I never spent much time targeting trout in these limestone fisheries when I started out. But after gaining the skills and knowledge in Colorado, I was excited to come back and try my hand at these waters that have always been right in my backyard.

The first chance I got, I made plans to fish with some old buddies who had been dialing in these spring creeks. After the first spot, I was blown away byt how big some of the brown trout were that we saw. I was able to catch a couple nice browns, as well as a few stocker rainbows that first day, mostly fishing nymph rigs or a streamer. These fish were very healthy and full of energy.

Wading a deep run, I saw a few small dries out that day, but I did not see any fish rising.

In the following days, I was able to hit a handful of limestoners that I had researched about prior to my journey home. You can never do enough research, and the resources are right at our fingertips. There are tons of these spring creeks, so I have yet to barely even put a dent in my list of waters I want to fish.

There’s no doubt that these creeks will put any angler’s skills to the test. The fish are spooky, the creek beds are jungles, and the locals aren’t quick to give away the best spots. These springs have shallow stream beds and brushy environment, so the trout feel every step you make. Just being able to place your fly in front of a mature brown in these conditions takes a stealthy approach.

This chunky rainbow was most likely a holdover stocker but nonetheless it was a nice fish for winter.

As I discovered om my week-long trip, the browns are big and the fishing is different from what I’m accustomed to. I spent most of my time sight-fishing to mature brown trout hiding in and around structure and sometimes even facing downstream, ambush-style. In Colorado I’m used to fish holding in the middle of the river in runs or deep pools, usually facing upstream. These Pennsylvania fish offered a challenge, and I was well rewarded when I was able to hook up with a fish.

The East Coast is known for having big mayfly hatches, and I can only imagine sight-fishing to these wild browns slowly sipping dry flies in these crystal clear creeks. I would love to make it back some day during a sulfur or Hendrickson hatch. Sure we have plenty of great hatches in Colorado, but the atmosphere and the challenge of these spring creeks are like nothing I have fished before, making it very intriguing.

Josh Diller is a Trouts Fly Fishing guide based out of Frisco, Colorado.

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