Nothing like elk watching and fishing
The peak of the mating season for our Pennsylvania elk herd, commonly called the “rut,” occurs from mid-September to early October and provides a special experience for dedicated wildlife watchers.
Currently, about 1,000 elk inhabit Pennsylvania’s elk range, which comprises parts of Elk, McKean, Cameron, Clinton, Potter, Clearfield and Centre counties north of Interstate 80.
Elk can be a spectacular sight any time of year, but these impressive animals are especially compelling to view in the fall. Mature bulls can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds and will be sporting huge antlers that they will use to impress potential mates or as weapons to fend off rival suitors. Hearing a bull elk “bugle” to advertise its presence and assert its dominance for mating rights is an incredible natural encounter. That high-pitched, nasal squeal that at first seems out of place as the call of such a large and magnificent animal is also a haunting sound that quickly grows on those who appreciate the natural world.
For those not familiar with the Pennsylvania elk range, taking time to do a little homework before heading north will help avoid possible frustration and disappointment with the experience. Take some time to learn some of the state forest and state game lands in the region that are home to elk. The Pennsylvania Game Commission website (PGC.pa.gov) is a great source of information on the elk range. The websites for several of the tourist and visitor organizations in northcentral Pennsylvania are great sources of information for those planning a trip to elk country, especially first-time visitors.
The Great Outdoors Visitors Bureau (www.visitpago.com) is the official tourist promotion agency for Cameron, Clarion, Elk, Forest and Jefferson counties. The Pennsylvania Wilds website (pawilds.com) is another good source of elk info. The Elk Country Visitor Center located at 950 Winslow Hill Road in Benezette is the centerpiece for visitors to the region. During September and October, the facility is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Check out their website (elkcountryvisitorcenter.com) for a wealth of information on elk watching in the region.
Most folks will want to visit to the area around Winslow Hill a part of their initial foray to elk country. Located just off Rt. 555 a few miles from the town of Benezette, this area harbors a good concentration of elk and ample viewing opportunities. The downside to the Benezette/Winslow Hill area is it sometimes gets crowded this time of year. Traffic jams are common on the narrow back roads there, as drivers by the dozen pull over and park as best they can to view and elk in a field or nearby woodlot. In any case, remember to be respectful of private property and the animals themselves.
While the elk in some locations are somewhat accustomed to humans stopping to watch them, they are still fundamentally wild animals, and the elk range isn’t a just big theme park. Weekends tend to attract the most elk tourists, of course, so make your trips to the elk range during the week if possible.
September and October can produce some great fishing opportunities throughout Pennsylvania for those anglers who haven’t put away their tackle.
Several factors make early autumn a desirable time to be on the water. Many days of pleasant weather make it a joy to be outdoors. Fishing pressure and boat traffic decline dramatically on most waterways, often leaving some prime fishing spots that were regularly crowded during the spring all to yourself on many days during the fall.
Most important, however, the fish seem to enjoy the transition of the seasons as much as we anglers do. As water temperatures cool slightly, fishing can remain good throughout the day. Favorable water temperatures also bring game fish into shallow water again, which affords the angler a wider array of tactics with which to catch them.
Fall trout fishing can offer wonderful dry-fly fishing, but don’t expect the heavy hatches and great numbers of rising fish as is often the case in the spring. Hatches tend to be more sporadic now, and caddisflies are often the most common insects on the water. Many of the fall mayflies and other aquatic insects will tend to be on the small side, so be prepared to fish flies from size 18 down to as small as you can manage. If the small stuff isn’t your idea of fun, larger attractor-type flies like Stimulators, Wulffs and Humpies will often take fish quite well during the fall. And if you are hunting larger trout, going subsurface with nymphs, Woolly Buggers and other large streamers is an excellent strategy.
Bass in the fall can be extremely fickle from one day to the next. I’ve caught 50 or 60 river smallmouths in late November after having struggled to catch five or six of them at the same spot just a few weeks earlier. The same is true of lake-dwelling largemouths.
One day can seem like there isn’t a fish left in the lake, and a few days later, you can’t keep them off your line. Don’t let one slow day make you believe the fishing is over until next spring. Be willing to keep getting out there while trying new spots, different lures and techniques to enjoy the best fishing fall has to offer.