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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

Mr. Van Wie, Mr. Brown is on Line Two

Lou Zambello and I had been waiting for the sulfur hatch to start, but it was now after 8:00, so we were wondering if the hatch would happen at all. The day had been very warm, so maybe that threw the bugs off. A few fish were rising sporadically. We each land a small one, but so far things were pretty quiet.

Two anglers waiting for the sulfur hatch on Spring Creek

A couple fisherman downstream of us sitting on rocks in the middle of the stream chatting away, waiting for the hatch to start. We could just hear their voices above the burbling water. Two or three more were casting languorously in the run below them.

“Sulfurs” are a species of yellow mayfly about the size of a dime. They emerge from the stream at dusk, causing a feeding frenzy among the trout. The sulfur hatch is much anticipated by fisherman, who flock to the stream for the chance of catching multiple fish, and possibly the bigger fish that will move in to feed.

Lou had gone back downstream to "Christian's Pool" where we had started earlier, as I kept casting to the rises in the faster water. I was startled from my trance by my phone ringing in the breast pocket of my waders.

Lou at Christian's Pool on Spring Creek

I thought it was Lou giving me an update on conditions in his spot. Reluctantly I answered my phone. I hate that cellular commercial where they brag about putting towers everywhere, and show a fisherman sending texts and pictures from the middle of a stream. Now I was that guy. We were fishing in a fairly suburban area, so talking on the phone didn't seem quite so out of place.

It was Bill Skilton, director of the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum, calling to confirm our meeting time the next day. As I talked to Bill, the phone in my right hand, I was casually flipping my fly into the current with my left hand. I noticed a couple sulfurs fluttering in the air while I made arrangements with Bill.

Just then a fish took my fly.

There I was, standing in the river with the phone in one hand, trying to keep the line tight on the fish with the other. I told Bill I needed to call him back, while the phone beep-beeped again, a call from Lou. Two calls while playing a fish. A busy day at the office.

I stuffed the phone into my waders and managed to land the fish, a 10 inch wild brown trout. Now the hatch was finally starting.

I called Bill back to finalize our time, and told him I had just landed a fish. I quickly called Lou to let him know the hatch was starting up here, so he should hurry back. He said he had just landed a 12 inch brown trout in the lower pool, but was coming back up to where I was.

In the next 45 minutes, until dark, Lou and I each landed a half dozen fish, including a 12 inch brown that took my fly when it was too dark for me to even see it. I had trouble finding the fly in the fish’s mouth, before releasing it.

And it now was 9:00, totally dark, and time for dinner.

Fisherman's Paradise: Spring Creek

The evening’s action on Friday was in Spring Creek, just below a place called Fisherman’s Paradise, a park in sort of a suburban part of Bellefonte, PA. Spring Creek is a highly productive limestone stream (with classic milky water) that runs north from State College, home of Penn State University.

The area where we were fishing was set aside by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission many years ago, as a special regulations area near its trout hatchery. Ironically, they stopped stocking fish in Spring Creek at one point because of too much pollution from the university and commercial/suburban areas in the watershed. Despite occasional insults from upstream, the water quality is good enough to support a naturally-reproducing population of brown trout, with rainbows swimming side by side. According to several sources, Spring Creek has the highest density of trout per mile in the Commonwealth.

Our guide for the day was a friend of Ed Baldrige, Charles Philip Boinske- Chas to some, Phil to most. Phil is enthusiastic and knowledgeable about both Spring Creek and nearby Spruce Creek that runs south on the other side of the Penn State campus. Phil’s plan was to take me to Spruce Creek in the afternoon, then return in time to catch the evening hatch of sulfurs on Spring Creek.

Phil Boinske shares local flies with Lou (left)

Phil explained that George Harvey used to sit by the stream in Fisherman’s Paradise and sell flies while giving out advice. Known as the Dean of American fly fishing, Harvey taught what is believed to be the first college level course in fly fishing at Penn State. Many of his students went on to become notable instructors and authors.

Harvey also fished with Presidents Eisenhower and Carter on Spring Creek and other streams in the area.

Lou stayed at Fisherman’s Paradise to fish the upstream area that gets less pressure. Meanwhile, Phil took me to meet Steve Sywensky, proprietor and another former Penn State fly fishing instructor, at his nearby shop, Flyfisher’s Paradise. When we walked in, Steve was tying flies up front while listening to tall fishing tales from two locals who couldn’t wait for the other to stop talking so he could top his story with one of his own.

Tying flies and shooting the breeze in Flyfisher's Paradise shop in Bellefonte, PA

Spruce Creek

I picked up a few flies, and we headed down to the Spruce Creek Tavern for lunch.

Wayne's cows

On the way, Phil explained that Wayne Harpster owns an enormous dairy farm along the stream, which Wayne takes great pride in protecting. We drove past the farm for a couple miles, before Phil turned down a side road to show me one of the “cottages” that Wayne rents to various luminaries.

The most notable visitor to area is President Jimmy Carter, who has been fishing the area since he was President. Phil pointed out the field behind the house where the presidential helicopter would land, and the covered bridge that Jimmy Carter helped build. The lawn in front of the house near the covered bridge is often used by Trout Unlimited groups. I have heard that Jimmy Carter recounts his fishing success at Spruce Creek in his memoir, Outdoor Journal, although I have yet to get my hands on a copy.

The cottage where Pres. Jimmy Carter stays.

At the tavern, we met Skip Galbraith, a local guide and commercial fly tyer who has been fishing this stream for 30 years. Also joining us for lunch was Kevin Compton, who owns a fly shop next to the tavern. (Side note: Kevin had met author Jim Harrison and gave him some flies years ago. We chatted about Jim’s books for a bit during lunch.)

Skip Galbraith drifts a streamer in Spruce Creek at Jack's

After lunch, Phil and Skip took me to a place simply called ‘Jack’s’ which is owned by a friend of theirs who only comes to the house on weekends. Skip took me to a beautiful pool where I promptly missed a strike by a good-sized trout. We fished several more pools in the small stream (not much wider than a hallway), with Phil landing four, while I missed another quick strike, and hooked another but it threw the hook on its third jump (there seems to be a pattern here.)

Phil landed a small wild brown trout in Spruce Creek

Soon we had to say our goodbyes to Skip so we could drive back to meet Lou at Fisherman's Paradise at 5:00 as arranged. The park was swarming with fishermen getting ready to stake out a spot for the famous sulfur hatch.

DVW on left, Skip on the right

On the way back to Fisherman’s Paradise, Phil showed me a couple pools below the park were we could fish the evening hatch with less crowding. At precisely 5:00, we rolled into the parking lot where Lou was waiting.

Lou had had a productive afternoon, and as always, was anxious to fish through to the evening hatch. We thanked Phil for all his help and advice (and a few flies) before he headed home to meet his wife for dinner.

Soon, Lou and I were back in up to our knees in Spring Creek waiting for the sulfur hatch to start. It came a little late, but was well worth the wait.

It was the first time I had ever had a call on the line and a fish on the line at the same time. "Mr. Van Wie, there is a Mr. Brown holding on line two."

Lou Z on Spring Creek at dusk

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