Red Eyes on Tionesta Creek
It was close to 10pm on this sunny morning when I arrived and parked at an empty campsite along Tionesta Creek. It was Mothers Day and the previous rain, the past few days, left campers to a minimum. In fact I didn’t see a camper or even a fisherman along Blue Jay Creek or along route 666. I dressed warm as the morning still had bit of a chill about it. The sun was coming up over the mountain and I was hoping it would bring good cheer.
The Tionesta was flowing with a light brownish tint but was clear enough to see submerged rocks and boulders in the distance with polarized lenses. The wind was a bit harsh on the way over so I decided on my SAS medium-fast action Scott rod with WF5F line.
Out on the creek the wind brought a colder chill that I didn’t expect. Within a short time sun gradually faded and put a dirty looking cast over the already tinted water. I decided to not venture too far from the van being that I wasn’t sure how the weather was going to develop. Within a half hour rain clouds moved over the tree tops and rain began to fall. My hands were getting wet and the cold wind just made them feel colder. I think the water was now warmer than the wind chill factor. I waded out to the van for warmer clothes and my rain coat.
I bundled up adding a fleece pullover over top of my heavy weight Duo-Fold and polypropylene turtle neck. I donned my insulated Gortex Jones Cap and put on my Gortex raincoat. I lit a cigar, in the van away from the wind, before returning to the creek.
In the period of the next three hours I fished within Pennsylvania’s four seasons of the outdoor elements. First the sun shown down upon me like a happy summers day. Than, within minutes, the sky darkened and a light spring shower sprinkled rain drops upon the water and the spring like landscape. Soon after that a wintry hail storm developed. Hardened drops of falling rain dotted the water surface and bounced off my Gortex Raincoat sleeves. Intermittingly the wind gusts were sever enough, like an Autumn wind storm, blowing down loose tree branches and tree blossoms that covered the water surface.
Trying to cast a weighted bugger into the sudden gusty crosswind was like trying to throw a cheap Styrofoam boom-a-rang. I had no idea where it would land and sometimes it returned towards me that I had to dodge the oncoming object. At times the water rippled with these gusts like small waves in a no wake zone after a boat had gone by.
Within this continuous 3 hour sequence of abnormal weather conditions I landed one brook trout, missed two strikes and caught two drifting branches. I also had one rainbow, that jumping out of the water and feeling the extreme weather in my world, returned into the water and released itself into its calmer conditions below.
When the rain started to fall sideways, from the strong wind, I turned my back towards it. It wasn’t long after that that I gave up and headed to the van. At the van for some reason I decided not to take off my waders or break down my rod. For some reason I thought, maybe, just maybe the rain and wind would subside and the sun would shine the rest of the afternoon. It was nearing 3:00pm by now and I wasn’t ready to quit.
Driving up route 666 the sky did clear up and sure enough the sun shown reflecting its rays off a big cumulus cloud that blossomed over the tree tops. The wind died down some and the wavy water glistened with a pleasant welcome
Once I got almost mid stream I caught a rainbow stripping in a bugger. Thinking maybe I hit a hot spot I returned to the van and grabbed my camera. Returning to the water I started upstream a bit, in the shin deep riffles, and fished my way to the mid deeper section.
About three quarters of the way across stream the riffling section widened out towards the far bank almost like a cove. The water here deepened and the current was much slower. A couple of weeks ago I caught a couple of brook trout slowly fishing it with a drifting bugger so I figured I’d give it another try.
I cast upstream into the shallow riffles that emptied into the deeper pool of water. After a short mend, I kept my rod tip up, as if I was nymph fishing. The bugger didn’t go more than a couple of feet when the hook stuck and the fly line began to flow downstream of the bugger. I lifted the rod tip up quickly in hopes of avoiding a snag. When the line tightened and the ‘snag’ began to move downstream I knew I had a fish on. The fish swam into the deeper pool with a forceful tug. At first I thought that maybe it was a brown trout being it was staying deep and not fighting with the friskiness of a rainbow. I struggled with the fish as he used its weight and energy trying to keep its distance from me. Down stream, in the pool, I got it turned towards me and coming in my direction reluctantly. There were two submerged boulder, about three feet apart, in front of me the appeared to be the beginning of the drop off into the slow deep pool. The fish rose towards the surface and than I thought maybe a big brook trout from what I was able to see of it being shorter in length but with good girth. The color just wasn’t right as I looked on from a distance as I struggled with the fish. I got him around the first boulder and within better sight. As I was trying to get him between the two boulders he shot up creek and I could picture my leader rubbing on the second boulder and possibly snapping being I was only using 5x tippet. I raised the rod and the fish turned suddenly and it appeared the leader may have dragged the boulder. The line went limp; the fish splashed the surface water and disappeared. I quickly brought in the line and was surprised that my bugger was still on the other end. I didn’t see any marring on my leader or tippet. Hmm, I was beginning to think this wasn’t a trout at all.
I let out line and roll cast into the center of the big pool a couple of times before deciding to shoot the line across creek. I heaved the line off the water and single hauled a cast that put the bugger cross creek where I could see the discoloration where the sandy shallows met with the darker deeper water. The bugger plopped into the water and I watched the fly line lay atop the surface waiting for the slow current to start the drift. Within seconds the line slowly pulled away and the fly line tip started to dip. I raised the rod tip for the hook set and felt the heavyweight on the other end. When he took off down below I gave a quick wrist jerk to make sure I had a good hook set before I let him take line. I had the drag set light for trout but this big boy was too strong for that. I tightened the drag some as the fish continued to take line off the spool. By the way it was pulling I thought maybe a big sucker but as I tightened my fingers for more pressure on the fly line, I felt him headshaking trying to release the hook just before he turned my way. My right hand tried to hold the rod steady but he had the power and force to continue to flex the rod towards him. We struggled a bit in the deep water until I felt he was tiring. I started to reel him in with caution but gave him a little line when the struggle got to strenuous. When I got him between the boulders and me I could see his red eyes and yellowish olive scales. He turned and shown me his opened round mouth than rose above the water and belly flopped right before my eyes. Without a net I struggled to get him turned around and finally lipped him out of the water. My biggest Tionesta smallmouth was now within my grasp.
After releasing the big boy I continued to work over the pool from a distance. It wasn’t long before I felt another grab as I was stripping the bugger towards me. Another battle yielded another red eye.
After two smaller red eyes I cast down creek at the end of the deeper pool and let the bugger drift some before stripping it in. I didn’t have to strip it very far before I felt the swipe and set the hook. The fish immediately went skyward showing me his lateral line. After a good lively battle I finally got a rainbow back in my hands.
What started out as a trout expedition in the most inclement weather conditions I ever experienced trout fishing, turned into a good ‘red eye’ fishing experience. Something I didn’t expect this early in the season. I have a new used 6 weight fiberglass rod I’ve wanted to try out for bass. Maybe I’ll have to return soon, in better conditions of course!!!