October 15th, 2007

Ready or Not
By Dave Pearson, PA

The seasons have turned and Fall is here. Here in the Central Susquehanna valley that means cold, foggy mornings and hot afternoons. The sun is lower in the sky and the light is more apt to hit you at eye-level. At least it seems that way. I find I wear my sunglasses more often than I did in late summer. In general, things have cooled off quite a bit, but standing in direct sunlight can break you out in a sweat. In the shade or in the evening, a light jacket will keep off the chill.

The trout are putting on the feed bag. They are getting in shape for spawning and for winter. Both require extra calories. The bugs are cooperating. The Blue-Winged Olives hatch nearly every afternoon. Size 18, mostly, unless you're on Penns; then they're a size 16. Everything's a size bigger and more abundant on Penns. The Slate Drakes are still hatching, though they're starting to wind down. Size 14. Tan Caddis are still abundant. The actual emergence activity has lessened, but there are plenty of adults streamside to keep the fish "looking up." There are smaller Caddis about, too; everything from a 16 to a 20. And there are always midges. Black and dun are the most numerous; sizes 24 26. We have yet to get a frost, so there are still plenty of ants, beetles, and crickets to end up in the water by chance, circumstance, or a good strong wind.

Small trout

And if there aren't a lot of insects on a given day, the trout can always find other sources of nourishment: minnows, crayfish, and each other.

Last Thursday, I got out to one of my favorite headwater streams. This stream has a couple of sections that are lightly stocked, but it is mostly managed as wild trout water. The stream itself is a bit over 11 miles long and the Fish and Boat Commission stocks close to 500 fish total in two small sections of the stream. The vast majority of the stream is populated by wild trout. Mostly wild brook trout. At least it's supposed to be.

The water was low but cool; as it has been since late spring. Now, low water can make for some challenging fishing, but what was more surprising is that it looks like prolonged periods of low water can change the piscatorial make-up of a stream even if the water temperatures are well within a normal range.

The pools were shallow and the riffles next to nonexistent. And I spent the morning catching trout. One, sometimes two trout per pool for a mile or so in the wild trout water. I spent the morning catching brown trout. And, for the water, they were monster brown trout. The smallest was 9 inches and the largest was a bit over 14. Keep in mind this section of stream normally holds mostly native brook trout which run about 4 to 7 inches long. The brown trout, which are much less numerous, are about the same size or slightly bigger. And, over all, the fish population is normally much greater.

As I fished that morning, I didn't even spook a smaller fish. I saw no brook trout. I fear the low, slow water allowed them to become lunch for the brown trout. The big fish were hungry and the little fish had no place to hide. These pools need water. These runs need riffles. We need rain.

Stream Needs Water

The brown trout move out of the main creeks and rivers up the tributaries to spawn sometime in the fall. Exactly when depends on the weather. In the early fall, leaves, sticks, and debris fall into the water and get stuck in the slower moving pools, or hung up in the riffles. Then, at some point mid-autumn, a good, hard rain or a series of rains will flush all that detritus out of the trib and clear the way for the trout to migrate upstream to spawn. If the way upstream is inaccessible, the fish will spawn in the larger water where the fry are much less likely to survive. We need rain. We need it now; we've really got to have it by late fall.

When I was in grade school, I remember late fall weather defined by cold, hard rains. Back then, I would pray for snow. Snow meant sledding, snow forts, and wonderfully exhausting trudges through an endless blanket of white and wind. And perhaps an extra day off from school. But if snow came at all, it was at Thanksgiving or, more likely, just after Thanksgiving. And those first snows were usually just a dusting; harbingers of white weather yet to come.

Yet, I would pray for snow.

Today I pray for rain. ~ Dave (black gnat)

About Dave:

Dave Pearson lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with his loving wife, Gillian, and two dogs, Casey and Booboo. His passion is small mountain streams. He teaches guitar for a living. You may contact Dave at: pdewey2@aol.com

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