Spring Creeks in the Rain

I fished on and off for three days in the rain. The heavy but periodic rainfall in south-central Pennsylvania felt rather warm and welcoming, though I knew that harsher storms were causing trouble elsewhere in the country. There wasn’t much time for fly-fishing, but I had an opportunity for revisiting several classic trout streams and refitting my ego in more modest attire. At least I was comfortable in a poncho and appropriate winter gear.

Barrel factory, Big Springs Run

Spring creeks are exceptional trout streams flowing out of deep springs in a limestone base. Nutrient rich, their wild fish are well-fed, colorful, and extremely fussy when an angler presents an artificial fly or lure adjacent to their watercress abodes. Pennsylvania’s Falling Springs, Big Springs and Letort Spring Run are fine examples of the kind, and I love the challenges they present to the caster of flies.

Letort Spring Run

For the most part, these streams are remarkably stable considering their presence in agricultural, suburban and industrial zones. They stay relatively clear despite heavy precipitation, and their water temperatures are generally cool in summer and fairly warm in winter. That said, spring creeks have some serious problems, too. In addition to continuing urban development in their watersheds, the streams often draw pollution, sediment and, in the case of the Letort, “sink holes” and collapsing ground.


We can be thankful that various conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited have worked to safeguard spring creeks and to alleviate some major issues, but it’s in everyone’s interest to learn about these waters and to further our collective efforts to preserve them.

I may have grumbled a little at my overall lack of fishing time, but I was glad for the surprise visit from my son, his wife and his in-laws who drove up to Gettysburg from Virginia to visit my wife and me. While my small bamboo fly rod dried out in the car trunk, we dined in old-town Gettysburg and then proceeded to absorb some history at the National Battlefield. Standing on Little Round Top where so many Union and Confederate soldiers lost their lives along the hill of rocks made our heads spin through the gap of 150 years since the Civil War.

down in “Devil’s Den,” Gettysburg

Later, at the Appalachian Brewery in town, we toasted craft beers to our health and to better times for this ailing nation, to the healing of rifts in our society and in the world. “Imagine all the people…” toasting the same, listening to the song of dreams, to truth and valor, as in the words of grieving high school students, thinking of how a small but sturdy step taken within ourselves can make a difference overall… Imagine.

Little RoundTop & the killing fields

My wife and I enjoyed a short stay at two remarkable Bed & Breakfasts in this country of limestone waters and late winter rains. Once again (as in last winter) we stayed at The Inn at Ragged Edge near Chambersburg and then at Pheasant Field near Carlisle. Both of these historic country homes are ideal havens for discriminating fly-fishers and saner folks who travel through.

Granted, I have no photos of wild trout from this excursion. I’ll have no excuses, either, except to say that the fishing was tough. The neighboring Yellow Breeches was blown-out with high yellow water, and even the Letort was spreading and taking color, though I did get a strike or two on a small olive streamer.

When fishing these small streams in the rain, I was happy for the song of birds. I hadn’t heard it in many months, it seems. The first springtime notes from bluebird, blackbird, robin, cardinal, and sparrow brought my thinking to a point…

I thought of Charlie Fox, Lefty Kreh and Vince Marinaro, legendary Pennsylvania fishermen who suggested that it’s no disgrace to be skunked by the fabulous Letort, perhaps the most challenging trout stream in America. To be humbled here was to join the ranks of global pilgrims who had assembled with fly rods and then stalked away scratching their heads and mumbling quietly.

Catching and releasing trout has its reward, of course, but to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the ghosts of such angling pioneers seemed like pretty good karma to me, even in the rain.

Pheasant Field, once a station of the Underground Railroad…

a quiet, rainy afternoon at Little Round Top, Gettsyburg

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 Spring Creeks in the Rain

  1. Brent says:

    I’ve been welcoming the growing chorus of birdsong on my walks to and from work. On a more sobering note, Gettysburg seems like an appropriate place to ponder where we are in our history. Some of Lincoln’s words at the cemetery seem just as relevant today, perhaps in the example of the grieving high school students and families: “…we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Hey, that’s my man Gouveneur K. Warren, on his eternal vigil over “the valley of death.” I haven’t been to Gettysburg in several years, not since the new visitors center went up. I have at least one ancient relative buried in the National Cemetery. I’ve been hankering to get back for a while now, maybe this post is the kick in the pants I need!

    • Gouv. Warren it is, Bob. Yeah you should get back and visit when you can. Lots to see and think about, of course, and to feel our own bodies and soul therein. The new visitor center is something else and capable of sustaining more than one visit by anyone interested in 19th-century U.S. history.

  3. Just a great post Walt. I’ve only been to Gettysburg once many years ago but I’ll never forget the feeling at Little Roundtop. It has stayed with me all these years. The sorrow is so great that you can almost touch it. I got the same feeling at Little big Horn.

    • Thank you, Howard. Glad that you’ve had a chance to experience Gettysburg. This was actually my first small intro to the place. Next time, it’s to other sobering, encompassing locales within the area. And yes, Little Big Horn comes to mind, as well.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Another fine post, Walt. Gettysburg is a place to encourage sober thought and make connections between the past and present. We could use some cool heads, and find some leaders ready to show humility and a willingness to listen and learn from repeated mistakes. I have some measure of hope in the committed and eloquent actions and statements we’re seeing from students, our future leaders, but my God, what it has taken to provoke such a response…
    I enjoyed the soggy photographs included with this – It has been quite a few years since we were in the area, but if memory serves, even in the wet, it’s an environment worth exploring.

    • PC, Your “I have some measure of hope… but my God, what it has taken to provoke such a response…” is so on the mark. The connections we could make form a sobering web of human activity, past and present. Thank you, as always.

  5. Walt – Gettysburgh is quite a place. It’s hard to look out across the fields and imagine all the causalities from the battles fought there! Too bad the weather wasn’t kinder and the fishing better although even under the best of conditions the Letort can be very humbling from what I hear!

    • Mark, Thanks for your appreciation of the Gettysburg site. So much to think about there. As for the Letort, it’s always a challenge, to say the least, but trout or no trout, a very satisfactory experience. I’ve had luck there before, and I’ll be back.

  6. Bob Matuzak says:

    One of my favorite areas. Lived in Dauphin for several years – go back often. Loved Gettysburg and a tour with a National Park Ranger is the best way to really understand the battle. They often spice up the tour with such interesting little know facts. Next time in Carlisle check out the Museum and fish the Letort at the confluence with the Conodoquinet…

    • Bob, a ranger tour is the way to see the battlefield(s), for sure. As for the newly situated museum in Carlisle, I’ve been meaning to check it out and will get there sooner or later. Also want to see the lower section of the Letort. Haven’t yet fished below the park. I appreciate your sound suggestions, friend.

  7. loydtruss says:

    Remarkable those streams can stay clear with all the heavy rains you guys have had and going to receive in the coming months. The south and northeast are getting pounded with rain, which has caused flooding and will put a damper on trout fishing here for sometime.

    My wife and I visited Gettysburg some years ago; while there I couldn’t help but remember my Great Grandfather and a couple of my great uncles who fought in the war. My great uncles lost their lives and my Great Grandfather survived the horrors of the Camp Douglas prison camp in Chicago Illinois. This particular prison camp was referred to by the confederate soldiers who was held in prison there as the North’s Andersonville. The conditions in the camp took a toll on his life and he died less than a year after he returned home.
    A war that was not about States Rights but about the wealthy plantation owners in the south retaining their lavish way of life at the expense of human bondage.
    Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      Thank you sharing your experience and knowledge about your family background with regard to the war. What a horrible experience for all who lived in that era and many of those who suffered directly because of it. I guess the words of Abe Lincoln, expressed at Gettysburg, put the best face on the end of it.
      As for the rain, yes, a lot of it recently, and currently, a lot of wet snow for the Northeast. We’ll all look forward to fishing again, as the weather allows.

  8. Jet Eliot says:

    Really enjoyed this post, Walt, as always. Not being experienced in fishing, some of the concepts are so interesting to me, like wild fish being “extremely fussy” about the lure. Birds are like this too, and you spend enough time feeding wild birds and you know exactly what their fussiness comes down to; but I had never thought of it with wild fish. I am also experienced with spending time with family and making an effort to bond with them, while all the time being aware that you could be in the wild outdoors and fishing (or in my case, birding). A tricky balance always. The sites, events, visits, wilderness and rain all came alive here, and was much enjoyed…thank you.

    • Jet,
      Yeah wild trout can be extremely wary (that’s how they stay alive in the face of numerous predators and fishermen) and can also be very fussy in their eating habits, that is, they often key in on a singular species of insect even when other species or types of food are available, Thus, a fly angler may be required to “match the hatch” for success. And I agree with you on a similarity in birding– we need to know their habits and habitats in order to be more successful in our observations of birds. As for that “tricky balance” in our bonding with family as well as the outdoors… oh yes!
      Thanks Jet, I always appreciate your comments!

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