Dealing with the weather and how it affects the natural world can be one of the greatest challenges encountered by any outdoor enthusiast.
From an unexpected rainstorm to the cycle of the seasons, those of us who love being out and interacting with nature in some way develop an awareness of weather conditions that can impact our activities in both the short and long terms. This applies not only to hunting or fishing but also to most other outdoor endeavors I enjoy such as hiking, biking, kayaking, wildlife watching and photography.
Timing can be everything when it comes to maximizing one's outdoor experiences, and nothing beats knowing you picked the right day or the right place for a particular outing. Of course, nature doesn't use the same calendar we humans do, so expecting to predict things very far in advance will usually be an exercise in futility. What we have experienced in this area over the past two springs is certainly testament to that. Last year, we enjoyed days of nearly 80 degrees during mid-March, and everything from wildflower blooms to the aquatic insect hatches fly-fishermen covet were two to three weeks ahead of "schedule." This year, we suffered through one of the coldest spring times on record, and even after almost a week of blue skies and balmy weather, some areas were subjected to a severe frost during the second week of May.
Because I enjoy a variety of interests, I've learned to take advantage of the best opportunities available during any given season, rather than stubbornly pursuing a particular endeavor under less than ideal conditions. If the streams are blown out from heavy rains, I'm happy to spend a day photographing wildflowers; if nothing interesting is blooming, I'll hike some wooded trails in search of birds and other wildlife.
Often, the best days out there aren't planned, they just happen, and going with the natural flow of things sometimes produces those kind of days. I relished one of those days last week after my preferred plans went awry. Plan A was to hit the Juniata River for smallmouths, after a bunch of rain over the weekend, but river levels remained much too high for enjoyable fishing. Still in the mood for some bass fishing, Plan B was heading to Canoe Creek Lake to try for some largemouths, but overnight temperatures near or below freezing put me off that idea since I rarely do well for largemouths following a dramatic cold front this time of year.
That shifted me to Plan C, which was to fish for trout. I decided I would go to Spring Creek in Centre County. For a large portion of my fishing career during the late 1970s and 1980s, I spent a tremendous amount of time on Spring Creek. Back then, the stream was an amazing fishery, and its numerous wild brown trout schooled me into becoming an accomplished fly-fisherman. Other interests and obligations gradually took me away from that favorite piece of trout water until my visits there dwindled to just a few times a year, and some years not at all. As I reminisced about so many glorious days in May I had enjoyed there, the desire for a reunion with Spring Creek and its trout became clear.
It was probably close to 1 p.m. by the time I squirmed into my waders and hiked about a quarter mile above the Fisherman's Paradise section of the stream. Water conditions were ideal, and I began fishing a pair of nymphs, as I had done there for so many years. I caught five trout through a marvelous section of pocket water, and shortly after 2 p.m., I spotted several fish rising in a pool above me. I switched to a caddis dry fly and took two or three small browns before I began to notice a few Sulphur mayflies emerging here and there. By 3 p.m., I was in the middle of one of Spring Creek's trademark Sulphur hatches, and trout were rising everywhere to those elegant yellow mayflies.
I quickly marched upstream a few hundred yards to one of my favorite pools, and finding it deserted, eased into casing position. So many fish were taking the emerging mayflies that I was able to catch at least a dozen or more trout without moving more than a few steps. In spite of the virtual feeding frenzy, those browns weren't pushovers. Accurate casts and drag-free drifts were essential to fool them, and I thoroughly relished the tactical challenge. I was experiencing a situation every fly angler dreams about.
For more than an hour or two after the bugs quit hatching, trout were still willing to rise to a properly presented imitation, so I fished several more pools before calling it a night. As I made the long walk back to my truck in the gathering twilight, I replayed that evening's events with some of the glory days from seasons past. What started almost as an afterthought resulted in an unforgettable day, and I felt most grateful that sometimes you can go home again.