I had the great pleasure to travel to State College, PA to compete in my first ever Team USA Regional Competition this past week. I headed down to PA a few days early to learn the fishery and have an idea of what to expect when the tournament started. What I found was an incredible wild trout fishery that rivals any I've found out west. Along with great fishing was a very dedicated group of anglers and fly shops that supported it. In particular, TCO Fly Shop was a great resource for me in learning the fishery, and a top notch shop and guide service. One thing to expect if you head down is that you won't necessarily find a lot of solitude on the rivers. Fishing pressure is high in this area, but I found everyone to be kind and courteous on the water.
Practice for me went by pretty quickly, basically I fished most of the day trying to hit each water in the AM and PM, tying flies in the evening, and sleeping in the truck.
As the tournament approached I felt mildly confident, but that completely changed at the draw when I met lots of new faces and heard story after story of the huge numbers of fish caught, and how well everyone seemed to know the rivers. The tournament also has a team component where teammates share info and and tactics, and I didn't have a team. At the draw I was split onto a team of other individual anglers, though they already knew everyone else and only one person wanted to exchange numbers and info. By the time I left the draw I was feeling pretty low about my prospects for anything but a poor finish.
My first session was on upper Spring creek, a small spring fed stream that is fairly shallow. It has a mix of small riffles, pocket water, runs, and flats. The picture below is of Pat Weiss fishing on Upper Spring. Congrats to Pat on winning the Event. As I headed to the beat I was seeing the water for the first time. It had some nice pockets at the very bottom, a deep bend under a low bridge, a shallow riffle and then a long flat with a deeper riffle at the top. Looking back, I did not fish the beat as well as I should have. I began fishing the tail out of the deeper bend before crossing to fish the pool. It was only a few minutes and I had my first brown on, though it was about 1/4 of a centimeter too short to score. A bit of a bummer but nice to know that I had on a good fly. Before long, my first scoreable fish was in the net. I continued to work the pool and was broken off on the hook set by a heavy fish, minutes later I had on another big fish, which turned out to be a sucker, a huge let down as it looked like a big brown. Moving up towards the head of the pool I landed my second brown trout. I headed up toward the shallow riffle and landed the biggest fish of the session in a tiny shallow riffle. I decided to move down the the end of the beat and hit the pockets at the end of the beat. I should have started here because I spooked a fish on the way down. I ended up landing two more browns but lost three in this small area. Time was running short so I began working up the flat. I casted out ahead of me with my dry fly rod as I had seen a single fish rise. I didn't fool it however. As I moved up the water proved to be deeper and better than it looked from afar. I wish I would have had time to look i over first because I would have spent more time here. I ended up landing two more and losing two more fish, ending the session with 7 scored and 7 lost. I ended up getting a 4 out of 6 on this session and the real bummer was that the three guys above me all landed 14!
Session 2 was on Lower Spring Creek. Its the same river as the morning, but is quite a bit bigger and and faster. I was feeling OK headed into the session because I had controlled Pat Weiss in his first session and felt like I learned a lot, particularly in fighting fish, that is until I met Pat in the parking area. He had just had his second session on my beat and caught 25 fish. I had to fish the same beat in an hour and he had just destroyed it. I was a little bummed to hear that to say the least. I headed down to the bottom of my beat and was going to work up. Something I had not done earlier. The beat was a series of shallow riffles leading into deeper but small bends and depressions near logs and trees. It was fun water. I began fishing the very bottom of a fast run that was fairly deep. The wind was blowing up river with gusts probably near 40 MPH. My strategy was to use a very heavy fly to and then a light nymph above that. The heavy fly served as an anchor in the water and kept the wind from blowing my line up river and keeping it from sinking. It was only a few minutes and I had a nice brown on. Taking what I had learned earlier, I made sure to keep the fish above my by moving my body down river if needed. This worked great and throughout the rest of the comp I was able to control the fish and quickly bring them to the net. Pretty quickly I had two fish scored, and had missed one. I soon hooked a real good fish at the very end of my beat. Unfortunately I could not move out of my beat and the fish got down below me in very fast water, and it eventually came off. I then began working the shallow riffles right above me making short drifts out ahead of me. I took a 37 CM brown out of about 6" of fast water right on the near bank. I then moved to the opposite side of the riffle and took two more fish and missed another right on the bank in very shallow water. They were lined right up along the edge of the riffle. I had 5 fish and began moving up and exploring my beat. I had not seen any of that water before and was hitting each feature as I went. I took one fish from under a large over hanging tree in fairly slow water then missed two more in a little depression which bothered me. Moving up I found a large log in the water that created a depression under it in pretty fast current . I drifted my nymphs under the edge of a log and saw a very large brown flash near my fly, and suddenly I felt him and set. This was a big fish as I saw him roll. Suddenly the line went a little slack but then I was tight again and a rainbow leapt out of the water. I brought this fish to net and found that the brown had taken my dropper nymph and broke it off. I had two fish on at the same time. I was happy to have landed the one rainbow. I continued up the river and it began to get dark and stormy. My controller mentioned there was a tornado warning. I was having trouble seeing my line or where the flies were landing. I hooked another fish right on the bank but lost it, then caught another that was too small to score. Suddenly a wall of heavy rain hit along with heavy winds. I couldn't see anything but threw into some froggy water under a tree and hooked and landed a good brown. I had about 4 minutes left and it was a severe storm. Suddenly a tree came crashing into the river and I decided that with a minute left I was done! I ended up with 9 fish and got second in the session. I was happy but had the fish on the win the session at the same time.
Session three was the next morning on Lake Perez. It was cloudy and windy and I figured there would be fish up high in the water column so I began with an intermediate line to fish about 3-4 under the surface. This proved to be fruitless, and I didn't touch a fish. I had seen some other competitors land fish both on dry dropper and on sinking lines so I figured I was not on the right flies. I switched lines and went to a type 3 to get a little deeper and kept running through flies. I missed one fish near the boat. Time was running low and I was facing a blank which would really not be good for y overall. With about 15 minutes left I changed to a floating line and put on a dry with two nymphs underneath about 8' and 10' below. With 2 minutes remaining I finally saw my dry fly dart and set into a 27 CM rainbow. It felt pretty good to save the blank though I knew I was not going to have a great finish. I got a 5 that session. In hindsight I should have gone to the dry dropper sooner, as it worked, and it was easier to cast in the wind because I didn't need to try to lay out 70' casts. Lesson learned and it was off the my final session.
The final session was not going to be easy. It was on the Little Juniata River and because of the severe storms it was anything but little. You can see the water was high and muddy. I was pretty bummed because I had done very well on this river in practice and thought I could have a good result. It was most like the rivers here in Vermont. That being said with high water, it is fairly predictable where you can find fish, its just a matter of being able to get to them to put a fly in their face. I was confident I could catch at least a fish, and knew that numbers would not be high, so thought I could do alright. I started at the bottom of the beat, and found a small island with some nice soft water behind it. It was beyond obvious that there were fish there and now I needed to land them. I began with two large attractor flies that could be seen in the high water. About 15 minutes in I hooked up and landed a brown. I then hooked another small brown that came off. I thought it was probably too small to score. I worked my up the edge of the river and quickly fished along the bank. I broke off my point fly and decided to just fish one fly for a little cause I didn't want to re rig. I found that I began getting better drifts and was more accurate than throwing two heavy flies. Even though the water was high the actual holding areas for fish that I could get to were small and not real deep so one fly proved to be better. I moved up and briefly had one on before losing it. Getting to the top of the beat I waded deep into a heavy rapid as far as I dared and made a tuck cast over the heavy current. The tuck cast drove my fly quickly into the soft water directly behind a bridge pillar and boom, I set into a good fish. I took off down stream and so did I. I lost my footing in the current and was swimming down river in the heavy current with the fish still on. Briefly I regained my footing but was then swept off my feet again. The fish was still on and I was keeping him from getting below me. About 40 yards downstream, the river shallowed and I was able to get the fish in the net. It was pretty memorable, a fish I won't forget. With not much time I headed back down to where I started and with only on fly on I was able to get some better drifts. I hooked a good fish and again in heavy current headed down. I moved down towards my beat marker and stopped fearing I'd go out of bounds and it wouldn't count. The fish got below me and came off. Pissed, I move back to the same spot with only a few minutes left. I missed a fish, then a few drifts later landed my final fish of the session. My three fish were good for second place in the session and I was pretty happy.
In the end I ended up with 10th place overall. I was happy with the finish but dropped too many fish. I did have a great time competing and learned a lot from some great anglers. Thanks to everyone who helped me out and organized the great event, in particular Madoka Myers, Ken Krane, Alan Bole, Pat Weiss, John Anderson, Andrew Koons and Mason Sims.
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Ben Wilcox Owner/Guide Maple Country Anglers