Fly fishing a ‘blue line’ in the PA Wilds
By Ray Hunt
Bob Hallowell fishing in the Elk Country Landscape. Photo by Ray Hunt
I moved to the PA Wilds about a year and a half ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. I started fly fishing over 25 years ago in CA and was lucky enough to fish some stunning western spots – the Upper and Lower Sac, the McCloud, the Truckee and Yuba Rivers, Pit River, and other magical spaces in and along the Sierra Nevadas and other states out west. And now in central PA, I’m very lucky that I’ve actually fished more in the last year here in the PA Wilds than in all those 25 years combined. PA fly fishing friends have shown me Spring Creek, North Fork Creek, the Sinnemahoning, the “Little J” and other streams within central PA, introducing me to some incredible fisheries and spectacular scenery, and making possible outings that have provided special memories even after just a short time here.
But I recently met a fellow fly angler, Bob Hallowell, who lives here in town. A very interesting guy, who’s an extreme right-brain creative and is also left-brain smart. By day he works in technology and communications; in his quiet time he builds amazing bamboo fly rods, and woodcrafts furniture from various Pennsylvania hardwoods. For well over a decade, Bob’s passion for creating Hallowell Fly Rods is impressive, and I’ve been lucky to see his process in action.
After a visit to cast several differently-weighted Hallowell Fly Rods in Bob’s backyard over good bourbon and cigars a couple of months ago, he suggested we put a day on the calendar for fly fishing somewhere in the PA Wilds to compare Hallowell bamboo to graphite fly rods. The second word of my reply was yes!
We meet on a Saturday morning at 8:00am to begin what I know will be a very special day. It’s beautiful, mild and we’re in summer mode, which is “hopeful-but-realistic” since stream temperatures are up, water levels and fish numbers are down. I’m fishing a Hallowell 3 weight bamboo on this particular Saturday, on an unnamed Blue Line Stream (“blue lines” typically denote streams on topographical maps), and I’m really psyched about it. We drive for about an hour to a location Bob considers special. It’s a small stream located in the Quehanna Wild Area, the Elk Country Landscape, in a setting that feels remote, because once you get here, it is remote. It’s absolute proof of a higher order at work – there are no worn paths to or along the stream, no signs of any other visitors past or present, no trash, no posted signs. Just mushrooms, hemlocks, ferns, water and life. And hopefully, some fish!
A little brook trout. Photo by Ray Hunt
I tie on an attractor, a size 16 Patriot dry fly, as I’m feeling like a bit of an American explorer today. There are no hatches going on, the temperature is in the 70’s, mostly sunshine, and this small, beautiful stream doesn’t have much in the way of the boulders or rocks, cut banks or pools that I’m used to, but it is incredibly pretty. This is true small stream fishing in the PA Wilds and typifies what “purist” Pennsylvania fly fishers really love. Tramping through the trees, ferns and the lush groundcover, it’s quiet here, other than some song birds, bugs and the peaceful trickle of this special sanctuary. We walk to the stream, which appears 20 feet across at its widest as far as I can see up or down. It’s also quite shallow, with not much water over 12 inches deep in front of us. We step up to a spot, and Bob has me cast below a slight riffle where the water is shallow. I get a strike on my first cast but fail to set the hook. I cast again and the same thing happens. Bob says we should continue fishing and moving upstream. He says he likes to fish this way – covering a lot of space by picking spots, casting, catching, and continually moving on and surveying the stream ahead. And once we start moving we both begin hooking fish! They’re small in size but indescribably attractive and brilliant in color. They’re native Brook Trout and have no problem attacking our dry flies, darting out from what little cover the stream offers.
And I must say that swinging this 3-weight, 7-foot-6-inch bamboo Hallowell Rod is very different from my own 3-weight, 8-foot graphite, which I built 6 years ago. Maybe it’s because bamboo is a natural material, its traditional, and it requires a lot more work. All of this makes me really contemplative about the whole experience today.
The Hallowell Rod is undeniably prettier than my “home-baked” 8-foot graphite. The natural beauty of natural bamboo is stark compared to my slate gray rod with red threaded guides. Don’t get me wrong – my graphite is beautiful, but the Hallowell is more “art-meets-fly-fishing.
Brook trouts with tie flies. Photos by Ray Hunt
Inside some of this tight, lush, jungle canopy I definitely notice that the shorter rod length is a bonus – only one fly lost overhead in the trees! The way this bamboo rod casts is noticeably different, too. Between the bamboo fibers in each rod strip and the fiberglass ferrule design Bob uses, my casting is slower and more natural. Swinging dry flies on this 3-weight could be fun all day long as the rhythm and action allow for more delicate casting and softer fly presentations. The process of crafting this gem – stripping, molding, planing, wrapping, gluing and finishing – took dozens of hours and it’s really pretty, just like the native Brook Trout we’re catching.
These Brook Trout are the only stream trout native to Pennsylvania. They’ve lived in the PA Wilds forever and have evolved in this region due to both manmade and environmental factors. But in this quiet spot, on this beautiful day, they’re active and taking what we’re throwing. “Brookies” are considered a key indicator for stream health; they thrive in cold, clean, clear water. And we’re seeing that today and hearing not another sound, other than the music of the stream and its inhabitants.
So, after hiking, fishing, catching, and releasing some beautiful fish (and enjoying fine conversation), Bob and I decide to call it a day on this Blue Line. We head back to the truck for some late lunch and a cold Straub (or two), and discuss maybe driving past another one or two Blue Lines that Bob has mentioned on our drive here this morning. All sounds good to me, and (hopefully) we’ll set another date on the calendar so we can check them out, on the blue lines.
About the Author
Ray Hunt is a freelance writer and avid outdoor enthusiast who enjoys fly fishing, mountain biking, hiking and other outdoor activities in the Wild. He is a member of the Diablo Fly Fishing Club, Trout Unlimited, and lives in Clearfield County and works in the media industry.
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