Jim and I wanted to get out to Western Maryland to hit the delayed harvest area of the North Branch before the water warmed up to the point of killing the trout. Unfortunately, life got in the way and the trip continued to be delayed to the point of not being feasible. Since we wanted trout action, Jim suggested we drive north and fish the cold water creeks in south central Pennsylvania. Since the drive would be a little over two hours instead of the three that it would take to get to Western Maryland, I readily agreed. Jim recommended we visit Big Springs Creek. As I do not have any experience with Pennsylvania, one place was as good as another and we made our plans.
Big Springs Creek runs south to north from the small village of Big Spring to the slightly larger village of Newville. The stream is narrow and uniformly shallow in the upper (southern) reaches. It starts at an abandoned hatchery and meanders through a fly fishing only section which converts to normal Pennsylvania trout regulations closer to Newville. We decided to drive the entire stretch to see the water before fishing in a particular location. Heading south, the first place if we pulled off was in the normal trout regulation area just outside of Newville. The creek was about 10 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep. The bottom was covered with white/grey slit with plenty of grassy vegetation providing cover for any trout which also makes it difficult to use any subsurface presentations such as a nymph or wet fly.
We got back into the car and continued to drive up the road pulling over at each of the turnoffs to look at the creek. While it got a little wider closer to the source, the stream maintained the common denominator of a light bottom and grassy vegetation throughout its course. Since everything looked about the same and we had ended up there, we decided to start fishing up at the headwater. There was one other guy already working this stretch when we arrived. I asked him if he was going up or downstream and he indicated that he was going to fish the hole he was on and then leave so I could take my pick.
The creek starts at the spring below the abandoned hatchery in the 100 foot stretch of protected water where you cannot fish. I decided to start at the lower boundary of the protected area and work my way downstream. The water is clear and demands a careful approach so I walked slowly up to the upper boundary being careful to stay shielded by the high, grassy vegetation. For no particular reason, I started with an emerger using a small size 20 nymph as a dropper.
Before casting, I stood at the edge of the creek to see where the trout were. While those that drifted over the light colored bottom were easy to pick out, the ones that hung to the vegetation were nearly invisible. I was amused to see that the trout seemed to know exactly where the boundary of the protected water was. Standing at the boundary, I could see about 20 trout floating in the stream. At least half of them were above the boundary and in the protected area. I flipped the emerger to the first eligible pod downstream and was instantly rewarded with an aggressive hit. Missed him. I continued to flip that pattern at this pod without any further luck. I switched to a terrestrial pattern and repeated the presentation. Again, instant hit on a new pattern. Missed him again. Encouraged by the action, I worked up and down a 15 yard section of the creek trying to convince any of the trout I could see to grab my floating bug.
In all, I probably had five or six hits but only brought one to hand. I had triple the number of rejections - these trout are highly educated! With the clear water, you could see everything the fish did to evaluate the fly. The bug would float downstream, the trout would rise, nose or glare at the bug, and swim away in disgust. Without exception, all the hits I got were on the initial splash of the bug onto the water. In short, I could get a reaction strike but no takers if they had time to do a considered evaluation.
There are some large trout in this stretch. I saw a number of them tbat had to be 16 inches or more. As you would expect, the bigger guys are the smarter guys and none of them were faked out by anything I floated in front of them.
Jim and I worked the hundred yard stretch from the parking lot to the hatchery for about an hour and then decided to try some of the other pulloffs downstream.
We visited three of the pulloffs, took a quick look at the water, and decided to move on. Downstream of the hatchery, the creek enters a flatter part of the valley and spreads out. This causes the depth to recede from the 2 to 3 feet we observed up by the hatchery to a foot or less. We made a few forays both up and downstream in these sections but did not see any trout or get any hits. The trout could have been hiding under the vegetation either not interested in feeding during the middle of the day or smart like their brothers near the hatchery.
Remember to refer to my rating explanations - these are based on what I look for - so RED for Physical Fitness translates to easy physically - you do not need to be in shape to fish this section. I prefer terrain that is tough to get into and out of.
The best looking water is actually at the first normal trout regulation turnoff which is above a bridge where the road crosses the stream. Here, the water runs three to 4 feet deep in places and would be ideal for trout. Unfortunately, we did not see any trout in this area and assume they had been cleaned out given the openness of the regulations. One final point is that the silt on the bottom can pile up like quicksand. A step into the silt releases a cloud of muck downstream that makes the water murky and telegraphs your presence to anything in the path of the slit cloud.
Bottom line: I do not think I will go back to this creek. It parallels the road for the full extent of the fishable area and I am sure it is heavily pressured at the height of the trout season. While we did see plenty of trout up near the hatchery, the fact that they were not visible farther downstream makes me wonder whether this creek gets cleaned out. That said, the fact that Big Spring Creek is closer to northern Virginia is attractive and may cause me to change my mind and visit it again during the spring stocking season.
Getting There: Mapquest yourself to Newville, PA. Once in Newville, take West Street south from Main Street. Turn right onto West Big Spring Ave. Stay to the left and it will turn into Big Spring Road. This road will run next to the creek for the entire fishable distance.
You have a number of different pulloff choices. Each is clearly marked with a large parking lot and a kiosk that posts the regulations in effect for that area.
The upper part of Big Springs not only requires fly fishing, but also demands barbless hooks. Be sure to bend down the barbs.
Another item to recognize in PA is that you must wear your license on the outside of your clothing. It must be visible at all times.
Google Coordinates for the upper section: 40.130099,-77.40779
Secrets Revealed? No. This is a very public location that is documented in the Fly Fisher's Guide to Pennsylvania.