The Dam Caddis
My V-twin rumbles at a half-choked idle in the driveway, packed with my trout gear. If the weatherman didn’t predict good weather for today I would have left for the Kinzua last night in my van. With the gas prices as they are the cycle was the better choice. Even if I didn’t catch anything the hour or so ride back home through the ANF would be enjoyable. The only thing the weatherman didn’t predict is the early morning dense fog.
I couldn’t wait any longer and got on the bike and took off. I was practically at the light when I was able to see the bank’s neon sign ‘7:05, 53 degrees!’ Traveling down river hill and up the other side I feel the cold chill on my bare forehead between my goggles and leather du-rag. Turning right at the light and heading north on rte. 66 the fog was thicker than pea green soup. Being the ride to the Kinzua would take normally a little over an hour, with the dense fog I’ll have to be cautious and drive slower. To make time pass more quickly, and to keep from the thought of the cold upon exposed skin, I’ll reflect back why I am determined to fish for trout, on this weekend, in September!
Last year at this time I got the urge to trout fish. Most of the trout streams were low that I’d be puddle jumping to get my line wet. Even the Tionesta was down and the long walks across slightly wet stones to deeper holes weren’t worth it. The scenery and smallmouth in the Clarion were getting boring to the point I felt I needed somewhere different to enjoy. Besides that, I was in the need to catch some salmonids before the steelhead rush. I read in Meck’s book the Kinzua was a bottom release dam and the water stays cool enough that trout fishing wasn’t all that improbable during the summer. I had called Jeff and we agreed to meet at the welcome center early one September Saturday.
I got there first and got my gear on under the overcast sky. I was already casting dries to a few mouths coming up for something beyond my reach in the slower deeper water. Jeff came down the hill and entered the water. He told me that he did well on my Thundercreek Shiners a couple of weeks ago. Being stubborn I had to still try to catch at least one of the early risers and stayed put while Jeff headed towards the far bank. After giving up I turned towards the riffling water and tied on a woolly bugger.
The water we were fishing was fast moving with an occasional calmer spot here and there. It was this way clear across the river and lasted for about a couple of hundred yards down stream. Swinging the bugger I could feel light taps as the trout were tailing it. Normally in a smaller stream I might trim the tail shorter but I felt that if the trout wanted the thing they’d have to take it, whole hog. It wasn’t long before we started hooking up with rainbows. Fighting the feisty 8”-12” 'bows' in the strong current was what I was longing for. Switching on and off between Thundercreeks and buggers, and catching rainbows, I explored my way back and forth across the river to get a feel for the changes of water depth and submerged rocks. The morning was going better than expected and ‘better’ was yet to come.
I finally noticed some rises in the riffled waters and couldn’t resist tying on my dry fly assortment. The fish didn’t seem interested in what I had so I paused and looked around. A few Caddis’s were coming off so I tried to bare hand one to take a closer look. Fly catcher birds, (I’m not a bird connoisseur), were dive-bombing at the rising light colored caddis’s across the river. I tied on a #12 elk hair caddis and proceeded to cast to the risers. I’d hook into one now and then but found a few trout were just inspecting the fly. I switched to a #14 and the benefit was extraordinary. The longer the morning went on the more trout rose. The more trout rose the more I was able to target and catch them. Jeff was catching the trout also on Thundercreeks and wet flies. When nothing else works Jeff usually always finds a wet fly a few trout will take. By noon we had caught enough trout to break for lunch.
After lunch we headed back down to the river. The trout seemed to be more selective and it wasn’t until I switched to a bullet-head deer hair caddis that I felt comfortable not to change flies any more. The trout were evidently keying on emergers and after the bullet-head would drift down stream without a taker I’d twitch it so it would submerge. Lifting my rod, as I slowly stripped in line, I’d feel a strike and set the hook. This went on for a short while until I noticed brown caddis’s starting to hatch. I switched over to a brown elk hair and evidently matched the hatch correctly with the right size. Fish after fish took my imitation until Jeff and I finally called it quits for the day. We ended the day camping out with a bottle of wine and cooked deer meat.
Sunday morning it was overcast and rainy. Even in the slight rain on and off the rainbows still came up for dries and Thundercreeks below the surface. Fly catcher birds and fish catching fly guys were enjoying the ‘catching’ so to say. Late morning Jeff started to hook up with more trout on King River Caddis. He departed about 11:30. I continued to fish, in the some times pouring rain, catching fish on King Rivers, bullet heads and elk hair caddis. With a few Humpy’s late in the day made it 7 hours of catching hungry trout. 2 days of the best days ever in number of fish caught.
That’s not the end of it though!
I pull my Springer Softail into the Quick-Fill across from the prison. I Fill up with petro and grab a sub and soda for lunch later. After warming my hands near the hot oil tank I roll on out to the main road. The sun is trying its darndest to peak through but the fog only thinned out slightly. Onward my Harley burrowed as one headlight leads the way through the confined fog.
Where was I? Oh ya.
Jeff called me that Wednesday and told me he and his brother were heading back up to the Kinzua. His brother only fly-fished a few times and Jeff felt this was a golden opportunity to get him some action. By coincidence my friend Rusty called and said he needed some R&R away from work and town life. I told him to bring his trout rod and a pair of waders!
We met Jeff and his brother Kevin Saturday morn. Rusty and I were feeling the after effects from a fun time at Ray’s Hot Spot the night before but it weren’t anything a few aspirins and a shot of hot tea wouldn’t relieve…. In an hour or so.
We made it down to the river in one piece and wandered into the moving water. Rusty only had hip boots so he had to fish at the head of the riffling thigh high water. Rusty’s not a fly-guy so he was fishing with his light spinning rod with rooster-tails and bait. Jeff was giving some pointers to Kevin in the middle of the river below Rusty while I headed my way down river some. It wasn’t too long after that we all seemed to be catching trout. A whoop and a holler by Kevin now and then told me he was having a great time. There were times all of us had fish on all at once. When we broke for lunch, around 1:00, we set up food on a picnic table and had a buffet style dinner. We were all excited about our fishing and talked about our techniques. After lunch Rusty went into Warren to look for more bait. Kevin took off on his cross-country bike and I took a power nap. I’m not sure where Jeff went?
I awoke hearing the guys talking outside. We grabbed our rods leaning against the shade tree and headed on down towards the river. Descending down the path I told the guys to ‘lets count our catch’. Knowing me, they all knew it wasn’t for bragging rights or competitive fishing. We were still to have fun, I was just eager to get an accurate count of how many fish we can catch in the next few hours. I told them that as long as the fish is on for at least 5 sec. count it. The idea was to see how many different fish we can fool to hook into than actually getting them to net. They all agreed and we were back in the water.
I turn the bike onto Blue Jay Road. The fog finally cleared the roadway though the white object of the sun is hardly noticeable. Knowing the road well I open up the throttle some and take the windy road like a cyclist should. Tilting in and out of turns until I’m able to see the Lynch Bridge. Slowing down, to cross the iron grate, I look down upon the Tionesta. A flock of mallards huddle under the near corner of the bridge in muddy wet sand. Looking up stream as far as my eyes can see, boulders and rocks jutt throughout the water starved creek. Poor fish, I think as I stop at the stop sign. Turning right onto rte. 666 and seeing the straight-a-way I crack opened the throttle to blow out the idling pipes. The engine growls and forces the rear end to dip, gripping the asphalt, as most Harley’s do. The front springer frontend lightens slightly and the whole cycle rams forward. I back her down just before the first bend of the roadway and continue on at a safe speed.
Kevin set up, upstream from me, next to a submerged flat rock. With a good flow of fast water around the rock he could drift his streamers through and around both sides. Jeff took off towards the far bank and fished his wets, dries and Thundercreeks. Rusty kept to the head of the fast water and I swear every time I looked back towards him, his rod was bent or he was bent over releasing another trout. I was in the middle of the river, below Kevin, conducting my dry fly magic. Fish after fish were taking my caddis imitations. It really was a sight, I’m sure, seeing us all catching trout. Around 7:30 we all headed for shore. Upon the bank and walking up the path we shared our totals.
According to my journal the catch went as follows.
Kevin caught 19 trout strictly using Thundercreek Shiners and buggers
Jeff caught 25 trout using mostly wet flies and emergers with some dries and Thundercreeks.
I caught 32 trout mostly using dries and a few emergers.
Rusty caught 37 trout using bait and not even getting into the deeper water.
That’s over a hundred fish in a little over 2 1/2 hours between us. All from woolly buggers to wets, dries, and live bait. Enough said!!
We spent the evening resting our backs at the campground downing a few brews, after our supper, before turning in.
Sunday morning we were back at it only not as early as we would have liked. A few other fishermen were fishing in the same area but the river is wide and the long stretch of riffling water kept us all from hampering each other. A few spin fishermen were casting spinners as we picked our spots and started fishing. Rusty only fished a couple of hours and then headed off to his small town. I accompanied Jeff and Kevin back to the vehicles for lunch and they headed out to pack up camp and head back to Pittsburgh. I sat on the picnic bench contemplating what I needed to do at home. I figured nothing that couldn’t be done tomorrow and grabbed the 5wt. SAS Scott Rod.
When I got back down to the creek a few guys also entered from the other side of the river. A few spin-casters were still out in the water so I slowly fished my way towards the middle. For an hour or so I fiddled around with different flies to see what worked and what didn’t. I put extra weight on the buggers and fished deep in some spots to see if I could hook up with any big browns that I heard about. I finally found myself just below the big rock Kevin was fishing near the day before. There were two spin fishermen, now standing there, and casting spinners in the fast water.
I’m known to show off sometimes and this seemed just the time for that occasion. I tied on a #14 elk hair caddis and looked for the first riser. Down stream to the right a trout was feeding pretty regularly. I stripped line and false casted a couple of times. I laid the fly upstream from the feeding trout and quickly mended the body of the fly line upstream. I watched as the imitation drifted with the current into the strike zone. The fish rose and I set the hook.
"He got one!" I heard one of the guy’s say
I put on a good show for the spin-guys as I brought the fish in. I was actually waiting for another fish to rise before netting the fish and it just so happen another did come up about 25 feet away. I released the trout and took in some line. False casting once, I shot the fly right near the 2nd rise. The fish half jumped out of the water to take in the fly. Again I set the hook and brought him to hand. As I let go of this trout my accustomed tuned ears heard a splash somewhere downstream near, and behind me. I twisted my body and looped the fly to my left. Keeping my rod high, and line as tight as possible, my rod followed the dry downstream. The fish took the fly within 15 feet of me and I set the hook. Three for three I thought. I played the fish upstream enough so I could see the spin fishermen standing there watching me. I netted the fish and released him. Now for some grace. I let line out and executed a graceful cast as far as I knew I was able to perform. I wasn’t aiming or casting to anywhere in particular. I was just concentrating more on my rod movement. The fly fell softly to the water and I mended the belly upstream.
Sometimes you’re good and sometimes they say it’s luck. Sometimes the fish gods look down, and even if you’re showing off, sprinkle a little magic in the air.
As I watched the fly waffle with the riffled waves a mouth came up and I set the hook. The fish sprung into the air and reentered the water. That little 8” rainbow completed my show-off exercise at four casts-four fish. After releasing the fish I hooked the fly onto the hook keeper. I than reached into my inside vest pocket and pulled out a Fuente Cubanito. Lighting the cigar I stood there a moment in the middle of the river, puffing on my cigar taking in the scenery.
After an hour of catching more trout I turned upstream and started fishing my way out. An older gent, with a wading staff, was walking across the shallow waters at the head of the riffles. He was heading to the bank in which I was going to exit the river. I slowly casted my way, while catching a few, towards the bank. The older gent sat on a rock on shore as if inspecting his fly rod. I recall the conversation went something like this.
“You were doing well out there, can I ask what you were using?” he questioned
“Elk hair caddis mostly” I replied. “I figured out using light elk hair when the clouds covered the sun and switched to a brown elk hair when the sun was shining”
He looked at me as if he expected more.
“We were catching quite a few on Thundercreek Shiners when the trout weren’t coming up for dries” I continued.
“Thundercreeks? I heard of them” he replied
I reached in a fly box and handed him one.
“The original pattern calls for painted eyes but I found they work without them” I continued.
“You fish for steelhead?” I asked
“I work at so-and-so fly shop up in Erie,” he said
We finally introduced ourselves and I remember his name was JT or JL, something like that anyway.
We jabbered a little more and I headed to the van and headed home.
Slowing my cycle down through Sheffield human life appears. A few early walkers are striding down the main street. I pull my cycle up to the light at rte. 6. Now more than ever, eager to fish I turn left and roar the power on towards Warren.
A few days after that weekend I called my friend Bud. Told him about the caddis hatch and if he was interested in getting some fly fishing experience to come on up. To make a long story short we hit the Kinzua that Sunday. I spotted him in a good area of the river to catch some fish. I explained a few techniques and handed him a box of flies. I headed down a bit and started fishing caddis. Very few caddis were coming off, the hatch must have been petering out. I did catch enough trout, though, that I was satisfied when we decided to depart. Bud caught a few also on buggers and Thundercreeks that he enjoyed the outing.
Can you believe it? 3 straight weekends of dry fly action! In the same waters! I had to have caught over 40 trout each day the first two weekends and ended catching about 15 the last Sunday! All in September! No doubt about it!
I pull the Harley into the welcome center parking lot. An empty boat trailer is hitched to a parked truck. Two lone cars are parked along side. I turn off the big twin and walk down to the wooden rail. Foam is spread out across the smooth deep water, flowing downstream. It appears as if the water is a little higher and a little faster than I remembered. I look downstream over the riffled water and fly catcher birds dart from one side of the bank to the other.
Above, a cloud of fog is still touching the out-stretched mountain of green trees across the way. ‘Looks like it may be a good day to catch some rainbows.’
‘Might be just a story worth telling?’