Glory Days, Kettle Creek

The weather could not have been finer– a bluebird sky, a slight breeze comfortable while wearing a T-shirt and a fishing vest. This was the weekend I’d been looking for– with songbirds in the sycamores and willows, with tiger swallowtails wafting over the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsparkling riffles, and with Sulphurs and Green Drakes hatching over hungry trout.

The Kettle Creek water registered a cool 52 degrees on Saturday morning. A dry fly was ignored at first, but at the B&B Pool, everything changed. I had switched to an emerger and quickly netted a strange-looking rainbow trout with heft. Oddly enough, the trout had some physical characteristics of a brown, or so I thought, and so I called it my brainbow trout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was ready to engage the many wild brook trout in this stretch of water, but I waded into a knot of bait and spin-cast fishermen so made a handy detour around them. Watching a high-flying eagle soaring toward a western hollow, I followed it, in a sense, and entered the big woods.

The small tributary in the hollow is a Class A Wild Trout stream. Hardly anyone knows of its existence. I’ve yet to see another sign of human presence there. The forest understory is relatively clear, and it’s fun to cast a fly rod over the stream. Even so, the 8-foot rod I carried was considerably longer than I preferred.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Most of the little pools held a small brookie or two. By the time I reached the mountain’s shoulder, I had lost track of how many speckled fish had risen to the fly (a Stimulator seemed irresistible).

Upon returning to Kettle Creek and finding a sporadic hatch of Green Drake mayflies, I tied on a large imitation called the Grey Fox Variant and continued to catch and release wild brookies. The native fish seems to thrive here despite some stocking of hatchery trout and the steady pressure of bait and spinning anglers not averse to bringing home their limit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe forest has returned to the mountainsides along much of the creek. More and more anglers are returning some or all of their catch. Downstream, habitat improvement projects have been completed by sportsmen and conservation groups. The end result is a 40-mile stream that’s starting to resemble the way it looked and fished back in its glory days of the nineteenth-century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe entirety of the Kettle Creek watershed in northern Pennsylvania had been known as one of the finest brook trout regions in the country. Its wild fish grew to sizes well above a foot in length, with occasional specimens reaching 18 inches. Although a 12-inch native trout might be considered an outstanding fish today, I had moments on the Kettle when I thought I saw the glory of the stream that was.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sunday on the Kettle was a mirror image of the day before. I was upstream from the previous site and there I got my fix for wildness by ascending another small feeder in a roadless area of scenic beauty. I used a 7-foot rod and, once again, had many brook trout rise from the pools and undercuts and riffled waters. This stream is managed as a “Brook Trout Enhancement” water. All other tributaries, plus the Kettle itself, are managed as such from here on upstream to the sources of the watershed. There’s no closed season here for native trout, but the fishing is strictly catch and release.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe farther I walked into this wild area, the better the dry-fly fishing became. Back on Kettle in the late afternoon, I saw no other anglers. A few bugs were hatching, and my dry fly imitation of choice was the Grey Fox Variant, as tied by the late Art Flick.

I had one recurring thought that acted as a weekend theme– given the excellent weather, plus the hatching flies, the hungry trout, and the scenic setting– there was no place anywhere that I would rather be fishing. There was no place anywhere, at least for today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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16 Responses to Glory Days, Kettle Creek

  1. Junior says:

    Reading about the small, unknown stream, I had to wonder who are what classifies a water as “Class A.” If it’s an official designation laid down by the state or a nonprofit organization, wouldn’t that high-quality classification be available in writing or online somewhere? And wouldn’t that, in turn, bring more fishermen sniffing around?

    • Class A wild trout water is an official designation by the state (Fish&Boat, I believe) regarding the water quality and its ability to sustain a wild trout population. It’s listed on brochures and, no doubt, on line somewhere, and it does bring guys like me sniffing around, but let’s face it, the big majority of trout fishermen, no matter the state, do not prefer this kind of solitude and wildness where the trout are generally small and hard to reach. Even today there’s a preference for easy access where the hatchery fish have been dumped. These small streams in far places are a different world. Thanks, Junior.

  2. Junior says:

    That’s “who OR what.”

  3. As I was reading that, it dawned on me that I probably would have been one of the “bait and spin-cast” guys in your way. In my defense, I rarely catch a limit of anything.

    • Jim, I don’t begrudge any type of angler out for a legal limit, and that’s why I chose to fish a section of the stream where I knew I’d bump into some other guys, but in this case I didn’t want to interfere with their work on a piece of water that was difficult for me to maneuver around. Luckily I knew how to do it and still get upstream on the little feeder I wanted to fish. And I don’t know, Jim, the way I hear it, it’s modest guys like you who know how and where to “get a limit” if and when they choose. Just another way of saying thanks here!

  4. Bill Ragosta says:

    Very nice. If I weren’t so busy on the farm daily, I would have been out chasing brookies myself.

  5. Dang man, you catch some nice fish! Great pics.

  6. Thanks F.C.! At times like this, the cards seem to turn up the way you’d like them to, and even a guy like me can do alright. I hope the fishing down your way is going well too.

  7. Alan says:

    Impressive history has this Kettle Creek.
    Beautiful brook trout Walt.

  8. Thanks Alan. Kettle has an impressive history and a pretty decent presence, an enjoyable experience.

  9. Les Kish says:

    Love the composition of the photo with the brook trout, net and reel. It’s funny how one stream will produce hatches at 52 degree water temps while another will not. A pretty stream. Low clear water to boot. Beam me up.

  10. Beamed, Les! With thanks. Yeah the water temp and hatch activity is difficult to figure, though I must say that the temp (at 52) began to rise a few degrees in early afternoon when I saw the sulphurs and the drakes come on (w/ dry fly action).

  11. Mike says:

    A slice of heaven!! Awesome post 🙂

  12. Thanks for that, Mike, and for the read.

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