Fly fishing the streams of Potter County in the PA Wilds
By Ray Hunt
At McFarland’s Coburn gathering in April, fly fishers and rod builders descended upon Coburn, PA, for a traditional celebration of fishing, rod-casting, bread-breaking and good Bourbon. The stream was Penns Creek, a waterway idyllic in every aspect – the stream, the landscapes, the hospitality and camaraderie.
I’ve discovered the Coburn gathering isn’t the only event where fly lords convene to enjoy similar treasure. The recurring Memorial Weekend gathering at Bob Hallowell’s Camp in Cross Fork, PA brings fly fishers together, with a focus on fishing, intent on landing the beautiful trout of Potter County’s streams. Bob and the Cross Fork crew don’t miss a beat on anything – memorable meals, camaraderie, Bourbon and great cigars.
Photo: Last cast and hookup for Brook
Most of the groups at Bob’s Camp come to Cross Fork on the Wednesday before Memorial Day. I come up Thursday after work. The drive is spectacular, the weather and foliage vibrant. The plan is to meet up with the gathering at 6 p.m. at Deb’s Cross Fork Inn for dinner, and then out to fish Kettle Creek. I arrive to find the crew inside and we enjoy a casual dinner and a good catch up. Deb’s is a great local spot, great pub food and the bar serves up a good cocktail or a great microbrew. The gathering had a good time on the water today, and great luck catching trout that will lure many anglers later this weekend. Even before I arrive, it’s decided that there will be more fishing after we settle up at Deb’s tonight.
We head up the road a few miles, the lot of us, and find a spot near a bridge on Kettle Creek that I fished with Bob and Mike McFarland in late Fall. A couple fishers come off the water so the stream is ours. The sun is starting to dip, and I decide to capture some pictures. The gang fishes until the sun fades, the last glimmers of daylight providing a steely glimmer on the stream. Fishing both green drakes and Sulphur duns, Ray Schon pulls a 14” rainbow from the stretch, and proceeds to snag another three, while Bob nets a trout just upstream also using a green drake – his evening tally will be six or seven rainbows and a couple of pretty brook trout. Corey and Brook are further upstream and report that they too have been productive. Brook snagging a 20” on one of Bob’s custom 5 weight bamboo Hallowell Fly Rods.
Photo: Ray Schon’s 14-inch rainbow on Kettle Creek
By the time we’re off the water and back to Bob’s camp, spirits are high and it’s cigar and Bourbon hour. And for the next couple of hours the conversation covers many topics – rods, flies, Corey’s infamous brisket (planned for dinner Friday), families, and then back to Corey’s brisket. The conversation is just as good as the Bourbon and the cigars.
Saturday morning, it’s breakfast and then off to the water. Bob Hallowell’s sausage gravy and biscuits are the perfect fuel for a day on the stream, and delicious. Just the night before, Ray, Brandon, and I decide we’re going to head over to fish the First Fork of Sinnemahoning Creek near Wharton. We’re in good spirits and hop in Ray’s pickup and follow Brandon as he’s fished there before and knows the area. This time of year, there may be multiple hatches occurring simultaneously – March brown, blue-winged olive, and the evening may bring Sulphur, brown drake or green drake.
By the time we get on the water, it’s nearly noon. A cloudless sky looms high above and the water’s low, but it’s an incredibly beautiful freestone stream, certainly one of the prettiest anywhere in Pennsylvania.
Ray, Brandon and I go to a section that looks like it has some pools and pocket water. Not much luck until Brandon suggests we fish a stretch up against a rock shelf along the bank in the shade. I watch Ray cast for a while but no takers. Brandon is sighting and suggests I step up and drift my light Cahill two feet away from the shelf. I decide to tie on a size 16 blue-winged olive and on the third cast I hook a 10-inch brown but loose him quickly. I repeat the cast and just a bit further I hook a 16-inch brown and we dance around the stream together, and when I get him to the net, he spits out my fly. I’m still pumped because this is the first time I’m fishing my 5 weight bamboo custom Hallowell Fly Rod and it casts beautifully. Know when to declare victory, I always say.
Photo: Ray Hunt’s 16-inch brown he relocated on First Fork
Arriving back at Bob’s camp all talk returns to the mystery of Corey’s brisket that’s been slowly cooking over the past day. Dinner will be in an hour, and a few of the gathering have been monitoring the temperature since the night before. Most gather on the porch for a drink, or a snooze and the magic of the day isn’t lost on a single one of us.
Dinner proves to be an event. The menu calls for Corey’s magic brisket, with a pot of “kitchen sink” beans that are hearty and savory beyond measure, and a pot of perfectly boiled baby white potatoes that are sure to put us all in a coma. And they do!
Photo: A fabulous dinner at The Gathering
The next morning a few of the gathering ready themselves for departure. Bob, Mike Bowser and his son, Josh and I head into Cross Fork for the Annual Cross Fork Sportsmen’s Kids Fishing Derby. By the time we get there, hundreds of kids, their parents and grandparents are jockeying on Kettle Creek across the parking lot from Deb’s Cross Fork Inn. There’s a bridge that crosses the creek where the four of us perch to look both up and down stream at the young anglers anxious to get a prize for the first, the biggest, and who knows what else.
Photo: Bob’s first rainbow caught after dinner
From our bridge perch, we see nothing but excited kids and families, and at 10 a.m. the Derby is scheduled to begin. The countless stocked fish are easy to spot up and down the creek, and we decide to grab an ice cream cone, then come back to watch the bonanza.
Before the Derby ends we decide that it’s time to quit while we’re ahead and retreat back to Bob’s Camp to pack up and head home. Enjoying the company of the gathering, and the authentic souls who’ve descended upon Cross Fork, and the kind and patriotic citizens of this town make me feel grateful to be here. I can’t wait to come back…
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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