Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Big Fish in the Little J

Big Fish in the Little J
3/25-3/27 2016


 The Little Juniata River is like most trout waters I imagine as far as the bite goes. One day the trout could be eating now and then and the next day they will shut down like fasting on Good Friday.
 Jeff and I fished a long stretch of the Little J from 8am till just after 12 without a strike. We met three fishermen at the bridge who also never caught a thing. The day was overcast with the occasional appearance of the sun. The water was a bit on the high side with good flow. The clarity was just right, not too clear but clear enough beneath the surface the trout should be able to see a meal passing by from some distance. There weren’t any hatches going on but should have been prime nymph fishing. NOT!
 After noon we went to the campground and set up camp. Lunch was cheese, crackers and assortment of meat and some semi-dry Riesling. After lunch we discussed our plan and drove down creek to where I have fished before.
 Fishing our way, across the river, a few fish rose to the top. We searched the air and water for some kind of a hatch. A few grayish mayflies were about which looked like Blue Duns which I felt was a bit early. Jeff saw a few Mayflies with a grayish-brown body. There were a few midges about and an occasional Brown Stonefly when the sun peeked out for a bit warming the chilly air. There were two trout feeding regularly just out from the far bank, in a wavy current flow, downstream from an uprooted log jam. Doing some research, before this outing, I read that Early Brown Stoneflies and Blue Wing Olives may appear in March depending on the weather. I had tied up some Brown Stonefly dry and nymph patterns before hand. I hadn’t seen any BWO about so I decided to go with a Brown Stonefly dry. With the gusts of wind, and a #14 dry, I went with adding a length of 5x tippet to my tapered leader. I doused the dark brown body of my dry with floatant and was ready to give it a try.
 The nearest trout, behind the log jam, was coming up more often than the one downstream from him. I concentrated on him first. I had some good drag free offerings but he didn’t want what I had to offer. After about 5 showings I tried for the trout behind him.
 Despite the occasional gusts of wind, I must have timed it right and the Brown Stonefly imitation fell upon the water upstream from the trout feeding zone. The current between was a little faster but it looked as though the dry would drift into the zone drag free. As soon as I seen the splash I reared back the long length of line. I felt the rod arc and a tight line rose into the air from the tip of the rod to the swirl of surface water across creek.
“Got him” I called out to Jeff, “First fish on a dry this year.”
 I soon felt the heaviness of the trout as he turned down creek with brutal force. I squeezed the cork grip tighter and felt the muscles in my forearm tighten. I knew I had a heavy fish on and was intending on getting him to the net. Like most brown trout he stayed deep in the waste high water. He’d give a hard head tug before he forcefully swam in a different direction. I maneuvered the rod tip always trying to keep side pressure on him as he fought beneath. As he tired I would take in some line but only let out less line when he would pull away. Nearer to me I got him turned upstream and slowly backed him into the net. What a rush catching my first trout on a dry fly in March, being a heavy wild brown!

After the release I concentrated on the trout that was still feeding. I tried an assortment of dry flies and dry midges. I even threw a few emergers his way and dropped a beetle pattern in his path. He completely ignored everything. He’d rise before my offering and sometimes rose after it went by. Whatever he was munching on wasn’t anything I had he was hungry for. Jeff fished down creek for awhile but I continued on trying to catch that one or two trout on a dry. I even waded back to the van and got more dry flies and offered them to the picky trout. He didn’t want anything. Before dark we called it quits and our total catch of the day was that one single brown trout that I caught on a dry fly.
 At the campground we talked to one guy who said Thursday he caught close to 40 trout all on minnows. Today he didn’t catch any. Other fishermen at the campground claimed the same, no fish. Evidently it wasn’t us! Saturday the weather was suppose to clear up with plenty of sun. We were hoping for some good March hatches that would bring trout to the surface.


 Most people I talk to, about fishing the Little J, would say nymph fishing is the best way to catch the fish. I have fished this river some time ago and can never remember ever catching a fish on a Woolly Bugger or a streamer of any sort. I have had a few good days on dries during a hatch but other than that going to the dark side, nymph fishing, will be a better chance to catch more trout.

 Saturday morning I cooked up some bacon and eggs while Jeff heated up a pot of tea. After a good breakfast we were off to another section of the river Jeff had suggested. We found the road, between the guard rails, and headed along the road till we found a place to park. Jeff went up river to check the area whereas I walked down to the water following a path.
 The sun was up though the morning air still had a chill to it. There wasn’t as much of a breeze as the day before. The river was much clearer though it could have been just that the day was brighter so visibility was better. I found a good wavy current of water that flowed towards and followed the far bank. I knotted on a Bi-Color San Juan with a stonefly dropper. I added some weight, to get my offering down quickly in the tumbling current. With a roll cast, I dropped my offering up stream and gave the line a quick mend. On my second drift through I felt a hard grab and lifted the rod to tighten the hook set. The fish pulled line beneath and swam with the current down river a short piece. I felt I had a good fish on and had to play him against the current flow. I was knee deep in water and didn’t feel comfortable wading back to shore over the slippery loose rocky river bottom. I did back up a bit hoping to get him out of the quicker current that he swam back into. With the rod arcing downward I moved it down creek with just enough force not to strain the 5x tippet. It felt like he swam side to side, facing the wavy current, beneath the surface water with a tug now and than with his head. He finally gave in and turned down river, with the current, and than swung around facing me. A little battle ensued before I got him in the net. Not as colorful as the brown trout I caught the day before but a nice lengthy brown no less.

 After fishing an hour or so, without another bite, we decided to head to another section of the river.
 We found that fishing the slower water was a waste of valuable time. We concentrated on the wavy and riffling water with stronger current flow. Though I would try a streamer now and then by the end of the day I didn’t even take my streamer box along. Saturday we drove to different sections of the river and maybe spent an hour or two before driving to another section. We caught some trout here and there but it wasn’t an easy task and there were long periods of no strikes. Just enjoying being outside and fly fishing, with a good stogie between my teeth, kept me content and happy.

A big hatch never developed and we were left nymph fishing throughout the day. We each caught a few trout, some nice browns and some smaller trout. Jeff hooked up to, and netted, a big rainbow later in the day.
 We ended the evening with emptying another bottle of white wine after a filling dinner. We didn’t know what to expect Sunday except there shouldn’t be too many people out on the stream being it’s Easter Sunday.

 Sunday morning we ate an oatmeal breakfast and finished off a pot of coffee. We cleaned up camp and headed back to the river where we seen a few cars parked the day before. When we got there, there was only one vehicle parked. We got our gear on and headed down to the river. Right off I spotted a good riffle and tumbling water down creek where Jeff started to fish. I had to wade half way across the creek to get to a small island of pebbles and rocks. From there I could fish the nearer bank, towards the lane, that was too steep to fish from that side of the creek. I also had a small run of water that edged the other side of the bank. I knotted on a San Juan and dropped a weighted nymph beneath. Once out mid-river I started to fish my way downriver and back towards the bank.
 In riffles, no more than knee deep, I mended my cast up creek and let it tumble below the surface high sticking with the drift. I didn’t expect to catch anything in the shallow narrow run but my line appeared to stop and the fly line arced up creek. I never seen or felt a nudge in the line so I figured I got caught up on the bottom. I wrist the rod upward to loosen the snag but that didn’t free it. With a couple of soft tugs I still couldn’t release the snag. I jerked just a bit harder and the object started to move into the deeper and faster current cross creek.
 Now, if this was a piece of drift wood or a water logged piece of wood, and I dislodged it, it would have flowed with the current down river. Instead this movement was across creek and I realized I had a fish on. It stayed low and when it reached the faster current it turned down creek with the flow. I knew it wasn’t a trout but whatever it was it had some body weight to it. As my rod flexed down creek the pressure was evidently too much for the fish and I wasn’t going to give it any more line. It finally became a little livelier and put up a little tugging battle before I netted the long sucker. I guess they like San Juan worms also.

 I wasn’t sure where Jeff had gone but I didn’t plan on moving down river into the flat water. I had a nice deep stretch of wavy rough water in front of me and I planned on working it over good. I ended up hooking up with four trout but only was able to land one from the rippling current. I also hooked into another sucker on a brown stonefly nymph.

Jeff never fished the Little J near Spruce Creek so I decided to take him to a section of the river that I have fished before. For an hour and a half we fished a small section and never got a strike. There were three rises in different areas but nothing was feeding regularly. The sun was out but we didn’t see any major hatches about. Jeff finally called it quits around 2, I guessed, and headed back to Pittsburgh. I contemplated on going somewhere else to fish but decided just to fish my way down river some.
 I could see shallow riffles and looked like some deeper runs along the bank. Also it looked like there would be some nice pocket waters in the shallow riffles along the wider section as I looked down river. Besides that I had ¾th of tobacco to smoke of the fuma I was puffing on.
 With the rough water I figured a San Juan would attract attention. I didn’t have any bead San Juan worms left so I dropped a weighted nymph below the worm to get it down quicker. I also added a little weight to the leader and started down river fishing the riffles and deeper runs.
 The bulk of the water flowed towards the bank and the strong current toppled over the boulders creating a wave of tumbling water. The water smoothed out closer to the bank but between me and the bank, the water still tumbled and waved over the smaller hidden boulders and rocks below. It always amazed me how a trout can see any quick meal and be quick enough to grab it within the fast current. But they do!
 The first brown trout nearly took the rod right out of my loose grip. He grabbed the San Juan near the end of the drift unexpectedly. The yank was like two siblings grabbing each end of a jump rope and trying to yank it out of the others hand.
 The trout swam briefly into the slower water directly down from me before fighting the ‘give’ in the rod back into the rougher water. I swung the rod down creek and towards the opposite bank and he nudgingly followed. Once in the slower current he battled with uncontrolled darts like he was avoiding paint balls being shot at him. He tussled all the way to the net never giving up.

After releasing the trout I made a few more casts into the rough water. I seen the line pull outward and I lifted the rod tip, taking up the slack, and setting the hook. The end of the line cut through the waves as the trout scurried about beneath the surface. With the line tight he turned down creek and tried to hold in the small ripples just this side of the rougher water. I turned around and forced him into the shallow water behind me where I was able to net him. He also took the San Juan.

It wasn’t long after that another brown took the nymph in the tail out.

 I landed another smaller trout in the same run and lost one.
 I fished for about another hour, wading down creek, before finishing up back in the run I caught the other browns. I did catch one more brown, on a bead head pheasant tail, before I decided to call it quits.
 Back at the van I felt like an old man changing clothes and getting ready for the long drive home. I munched on some crackers and meat snacks on the way into Tyrone to fill up with gas.
 At a stop sign, before getting onto Rte. 350, I reached into my traveling humidor and took out a dark outer leaf cigar I’ve been saving for such the occasion.

 The Garo, Double Habana, looked to be an interesting smoke and had a great aroma to it. It wasn’t as strong as I would have thought, looking at it, but was an enjoyable long smoke for the ride home.



  1. We fished the Little J last spring and got our buts kicked, haha! great catches and great post.

    1. Thanks Tom. As you read the slow flat water was a waste of time. When we stuck with the faster runs with weight, we got some hook ups. First time i fished it this early.

  2. Thanks! Little J is on my bucket list and your post is in my bookmarks for a reread before go!


    1. When you catch one hold on tight. They are some good fighting wild trout. Don't be afraid to cast terrestrials along the banks under the trees.