Sinnemahone is my name for the watershed and countryside of the Sinnemahoning drainage south of Coudersport in north-central Pennsylvania. Its main arteries are the East Fork and the First Fork creeks (and Driftwood Branch to the west) that join the Sinnemahoning south of Wharton, PA and eventually drain into the West Branch Susquehanna River. I enjoy the ring of poetry in the names– Sinnemahoning, Susquehanna– for this enchanted mountain land, but even more so I enjoy the fishing here.
Sinnemahone is one of my favorite fishing destinations in the state, superceded only by the Pine Creek and the Kettle Creek watersheds (areas with abundant Class A Wild Trout streams). Unfortunately the flyfishing on my recent tour of Sinnemahone was slow. The autumn quickening, observed in the brightening of forest leaves, hadn’t yet begun to stir the trout. The streams remained low and slightly clouded from a recent rain. The autumn stocking of the main stems hadn’t yet occurred, and the trout that had survived the summer were most likely still among the headwaters. Nonetheless, the water temperature of the middle section First Fork (just below Costello) was a comfortable 56 degrees.
Below Costello on the First Fork, below several holes and riffles near the Rossiter Pool, I caught the only brown trout of the day. It wasn’t big but it was wild; it was nothing to write home about, yet it satisfied a craving to embrace a thing of natural beauty. There were no obvious hatches other than a caddis now and then. I worked a pair of wets, a beadhead Hare’s Ear and an olive soft-hackle and, to no one’s surprise (since no one else was there) , the Olive was the favored fly.
I drove downstream to sample the special regulations water south of Wharton, thinking maybe it would yield some bass, but a flooded roadway to the access point looked uninviting so I turned around. At Wharton I headed upstream on the East Fork, stopping where the brook trout feeder, Birch Run, makes a final dash toward the larger creek. A small native hit the olive soft-hackle in the first pool that I tried on Birch, but this catch-and-release brookie water, wild as any in this district, seemed too low and overgrown with goldenrod to deal with at this time.
I gave the East Fork a work-out (or it gave me one!) casting wet flies and even a large Black Ant, but the most exciting thing to happen there was to have a walnut fall down from a high branch overhead and miss me by about two feet. The deeply resonant splash made me think initially that someone had tossed a rock at the intruding angler. The big green nut had a message for me on this first day of fall, but I have no idea what it was, unless it meant to say that fishing was done for now, and I had better do a couple of bar reviews in town.
The Old Tannery Saloon is located in the tiny village of Costello (17 miles south of Coudersport, PA) near the banks of the First Fork Sinnemahoning. Across the street is the First Fork Lodge, a fine Victorian sleepover for the sportsman and one that has a fly shop just inside the entrance! Remnants of a nineteenth-century tannery, once the largest in the world, can be seen near the front door of the old tavern. For a while I was the only customer in the long room filled with tables. The bartender was friendly and talkative. The beer selection was adequate. A leg-hold trap for bear was hung on one of the walls. Ostensibly, if you’re passing through Costello late at night and the bar is closed, you can call the owner with an order for beer or pizza and he’ll open up for you. Not bad for a deep woods bar in Sinnemahone. The Old Tannery gets a “2 Beer” rating on my Fish-Bar Scale of 1 to 5.
A half dozen miles downstream on the First Fork lies a cross-road known as Wharton. Here, at the junction of the Forks, is the Wharton Hotel Tavern where the lonesome cry of “Do Your Sportin’ in Wharton!” can be heard occasionally on moonlit nights around closing time. The long bar zigzags underneath a low-hung ceiling and it’s covered with a thousand sportsmen-club shoulder patches under glass. Those patches represent just about every outdoor club in Sinnemahone, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Posters and placards cover the walls. I liked… “Save the Earth, It’s the Only Planet With Beer!”
The food and beer selection is enough to satisfy the average camper passing through the hills. A central feature of the tavern is the big glass window looking out to the East Fork flowing only 20 to 30 feet away. If that sliding window/doorway were to open up, a fisherman could roll-cast to a rising trout from the comfort of a bar stool. Wow. Call your designated driver! The Wharton gets a “4 Beer” rating on the scale of 1 to 5.