Fall fly fishing on Kettle Creek in the PA Wilds
Earlier in November, friends Bob Hallowell, Mike McFarland and I, snuck out for a day to meet at Kettle Creek in Clinton County for some late fall fly fishing. Bob is a local bamboo fly rod artisan who crafts handmade rods from his shop in DuBois, and Mike is an artisan who crafts bamboo, graphite and fiberglass rods commercially, with his business located in the pretty hamlet of Bellwood, Pennsylvania near Tyrone.
This past April, I was lucky to have been invited to a “Gathering” that McFarland hosts each year in the town of Coburn on Penn’s Creek in Centre County, where over a dozen fly rod craftsmen from different parts of the country meet annually. It may be the best weekend I’ve had in the three years I’ve been in PA. From daybreak to dark, the “pirates” of the Gathering cast their latest craftwork, fly fish Penn’s Creek, eat world-class meals, and drink good bourbon.
Several of these friendly brotherhood of rod builders brought numerous rods, and after casting lots of their craft treasures, I left the weekend almost $5k in the hole, having picked up five new fly rods – among them, two of Bob’s 4 wt. 7’ 3” bamboo treasures, and a special “hybrid” rod that Mike crafted just in time for the Gathering. It’s a 5 wt. rod, hand rolled from both graphite sheet strips and fiberglass strips, and it’s a tremendous rod for all around fly fishing in PA streams and still waters. And it’s amazingly delicate. The action is unique, suitable for either fishing on a quiet, calm day or in a stiff wind. These two and their passion for rod-crafting are uncommon.
For this outing, Bob has made me a hand-crafted 5/6 wt., 9’ bamboo rod. He calls this a “blonde with dirty roots” because the process he uses to bake and cure the bamboo involves both high and low heat. This creates lighter and darker finishes for each of the six strips that comprise this beautiful rod. So, the alternating strips of the rod are light, then dark – really different and totally stylistic. I’ve never seen anything remotely similar.
We head out from Bob’s shop for an hour-and-a-half trek, heading northeast to Kettle Creek. It’s a chilly day, temperatures are in the mid 30’s and it’s pretty grey. When we get to Cross Fork, it seems winter got here before us, but there are still some pretty colors on display in the landscape. Today the steeply-sloped hills are glowing with forest green hues, and lemon butterscotch.
We decide and agree we’ll grab a bite before we fish, and meet up with Mike at Deb’s Cross Fork Inn in Cross Fork for lunch before we hit the stream. Almost a year ago Bob and I came here after spending a couple hours fishing the same stretch of Kettle, on a snowy and windy day, where I fished my first Hallowell Fly Rod, a 4 wt. 7’ 3” “Blonde.” It’s one of my favorites and amazing to cast.
Mike’s late (Bob labels this “McFarland time”), but it’s okay. The food and characters at Deb’s are memorable, and I haven’t seen Mike since a visit to his rod-making shop in Bellwood last spring. When Mike arrives, we order lunch and enjoy great conversation, some catch up on rod-making business for each of them, and have a great if not-too-healthy lunch of burgers, fries and wings. Absolutely perfect, and our bartender/server is a true classic and the perfect mascot for Deb’s Cross Fork Inn.
We pull out of Deb’s and head north on 144 to find a clearly-marked access point for Kettle Creek. Mike, Bob and I enter and move downstream, methodically casting to a handful of pools and some riffles that look like good holding water, then continue moving down along the western edge of the stream.
Mike’s throwing black streamers and Bob small dry midges on top of the water. Mike’s getting some takers, and the first is a pretty Rainbow Trout – maybe 14-15 inches – and he’s feisty. We move down to a cut bank with a nice drop and riffle. No action. Then we move south to a different section. Mike snags a few more, continuing with his black streamers, and Bob finally hooks into a pretty Rainbow, about 12 inches.
We continue to fish this spot for another hour or so until the water and cold outside temperatures have crept into our bones. We decide to call it a day until next time, having enjoyed each other’s company and the opportunity of sneaking out on a weekday.
Bob Hallowell’s bamboo fly rods are a treasure. Visit his Facebook page at Hallowell Fly Rods to see pictures or leave questions. Mike McFarland’s rods are made in beautifully-crafted styles in fiberglass, graphite and bamboo. Visit his website at McFarlandRodCompany.com to learn more about them.
So get out and enjoy the late fall splendor of the PA Wilds, and best wishes to all for the holiday season!
About the Author
Ray Hunt is a freelance writer and avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, hiking and outdoor activities in the PA Wilds. He is a member of the Diablo Valley Fly Fishing Club (DVFF), the PA Outdoor Writers Association (POWA), Trout Unlimited (TU), and lives in Clearfield County and works in the media industry. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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