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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Van Wie

Yellow Breeches

Yellow Breeches Creek just downstream of The Run

Yellow Breeches,

Full of stitches,

Mammy sewed the buttons on.

Daddy kicked me out of bed

For sleeping with the breeches on.

The source of the creek's name is uncertain, but it certainly is colorful. According to the Yellow Breeches Watershed Association, the name Yellow Breeches dates back to the 1700s, when it appeared on various deeds and maps. The origin of the silly song is unknown.

No matter where the name came from, the Yellow Breeches is a fine fishing creek.

After a great day and evening fishing near State College on Friday, Lou Zambello and I drove the two hours south over the accordion hills of central PA toward Boiling Springs and Carlisle. Saturday was overcast and a tad muggy. Perfect for fishing.

Thanks to Tom Gilmore’s comprehensive Flyfisher’s Guide to Pennsylvania, Lou and I were able to navigate quickly to the parking lot at “The Run” below the small lake in Boiling Springs, PA. The Run is cold and clear, and meets the Breeches a few hundred yards downstream from town. There the cool spring water enhances the trout habitat for a mile or more.

The Run below Boiling Springs PA that flows into the Yellow Breeches

When we pulled into the parking lot, two fishermen were chatting at a picnic table near the stream. Lou strolled right up to “to the fishiest looking guy,” he said later, to ask for help orienting ourselves, and maybe a tip on fly choice to get us started. Boy, did he strike pay dirt!

Lou Z and Jim with his flies

Fishy Character

Jim Marafka is a member of the Yellow Breeches Anglers and Conservation Association, which had just stocked several sections of the river. Jim was literally a walking library and fly shop. He pulled binders of info from his car, and displayed his impressive collection of books by Pennsylvania authors.

Talk about Storied Waters. Who carries a library in his car when he goes fishing? Other than me, that is.

Streamside library, and a few flies, known as The Spook.

Jim pulled out his collection of flies that he uses on the river. He gave Lou a couple flies, including a big ugly streamer called “The Spook” (above) that proved worthwhile later in the afternoon.

I only had an hour to fish before I had to meet Bill Skilton at the PA Fly Fishing Museum (PAFFM) in Carlisle, about 15 minutes away. I extracted myself politely from Jim’s clutches, walked down the path, and waded in to cast along the bank, as instructed, below where The Run mixes its clear water with the milky water of the Breeches. Lou stayed a few more minutes chatting.

I had one strike almost immediately on a march brown wet fly. A few minutes later, I watched a young man wade into that same spot and catch a nice trout on a spinning lure after I had moved down about 30 yards to the next run.

Before I knew it, it was time to go. Lou stayed to explore and fish, while I headed to the museum to meet Bill.

Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum, Carlisle, PA

No Mysteries At The Museum

The PAFFM (recently relocated from its prior location near the Yellow Breeches) is a beauty of a place with exhibits that look like shrines to the greats of Pennsylvania fly fishing: Vince Marinaro, George Harvey, Charlie Fox, Jim Leisenring, Joe Humphreys, Ed Shenk, Ross Trimmer (Bill’s great uncle), Lefty Kreh, and even Bill Skilton himself.

Tall, with a trimmed beard and a rumpled fly fishing shirt, Bill is a big piece of fly fishing history in the Commonwealth, as he grew up working in the fly shop in Boiling Springs, learning from many of the greats. In addition to his duties as museum director, Bill sells flies and fly-tying materials on-line, as well as various fly fishing memorabilia.

DVW photo op, floating a fly in the Letort Spring Run behind the PAFFM

After touring the museum, and getting some great lessons in the history of bamboo and graphite rod construction (solving the mystery about the metal ferrules on bamboo rods from the American Museum of Fly Fishing: it has to do with how the material wear with use), I headed out back for a photo op, making a few ceremonial casts into the Letort Spring Run which flows behind the museum. Bill indulged me by taking pictures of me drifting some flies in that Storied Water, while I lamented having no time to actually fish the river.

Back at the Breeches

I had to zip back to the Yellow Breeches to catch up with Lou before he headed back to Maine. More importantly, he had texted me that he was catching fish and they were rising to dry flies.

I worked my way back downriver looking for him. As I did, trout were rising along the bank, and I managed to land a nice 9” wild brown on a green mayfly pattern.

Pretty little brown from the Breeches

Lou made his way upstream to me, and soon said his goodbyes (after telling me about all the fish he caught), while I stayed to cast for another 30 minutes. I had a few more chances at rising fish, but was not able to get a hook up.

When I finally headed back to the car, exhausted from nine days of intense fishing and driving, the parking lot was filling up with anglers getting ready for another sulfur hatch. I was tempted to stay, but wanted to get moving on toward Wisconsin, so I shed my waders and packed up my rod.


As I did, a car pulled into the spot next to me. I did a quick doubletake, as the gentleman at the wheel looked remarkably like my late father-in-law, even down to the cigarette between his fingers. He was talking on his cell phone, telling his wife he would wait a half hour to see if the sulfurs started coming off the stream.

I introduced myself, and told him there were a few random sulfurs fluttering about as I left the stream. He said he lived nearby, so he came down to see if anything interesting was happening. He also mentioned that he once owned the fly shop in Boiling Springs just a few blocks away.

Roland Harrison is his name. He was excited to tell me he had been to Maine, where he ate so much lobster and seafood he thought he would burst. When I explained my extended Storied Waters excursion, he grinned, telling me that his favorite writer was John Voelker (Robert Traver).

“I have Testament of a Fisherman on my wall at home. I told my wife, you better read that at my funeral!” he laughed with a big smoky rumble.

I wish we could have kept chatting, but Roland had to gear up to go chase some fish, and I had to head west.

I wheeled out onto the road, leaving the Yellow Breeches behind.

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