Fly-fishing offers different enjoyment
In the wet, sometimes cool opening weeks of the trout season, fish will be receptive to almost any type of bait.
People seen on area streams each April through mid-May invariably have live worms like redworms, nightcrawlers, wax worms and mealworms, as well as Power Bait and salmon eggs, in their creels, vests and tackle boxes.
As the spring drags on toward the heat of the summer months, however, water levels get lower and warmer, and trout are much more selective.
They often eschew live bait, seeking instead to feed on insects that come off the water in natural hatches and rest on or right below the water’s surface, or on bugs known as terrestrials that include grasshoppers, crickets and ants.
Imitating this aquatic fare most often leads to fishing success when the weather gets considerably warmer, which is why many fishermen enjoy and advocate using fly rods and flies when they’re on a stream during the late spring and summer.
Matching the hatch of flies and/or bugs on a stream or creek is both a skill and a challenge.
“I like the challenge of it, catching a trout that thinks (the bait) is a real fly on the water,” said Paul Conner, 62, of Hollidaysburg, who has been fishing with flies exclusively for two decades. “It’s just a different way to fish.
“You need to match the hatch that is going on, and you’ve got to learn how to properly present your fly on the water,” Conner added. “You have to lay it on the water softly. You can’t force it, and you can’t slap it on the water. You’ve got to be gentle with it.”
Bob George, 76, of Newry, enjoys tying his own flies out of foam. He generally uses terrestrial imitations to lure wild trout on small area streams.
“I buy the foam at a craft store — you can buy a big sheet for 50 cents,” said George, who has been fly-fishing for over 30 years. “I make my flies out of foam. Foam is more durable, and it floats better. I like making terrestrials — ants, beetles and crickets.”
Flies can also be made out of deer hair and chicken feathers.
“My favorite fly is an Adams or caddis,” said Conner, who purchases his fly material at the Aquatic Imitations bait shop two miles east of Hollidaysburg. “I probably use an Adams fly more than anything. But it’s important to adjust the fly that you use depending on what time of year it is.”
Creg Croft, proprietor of the Aquatic Imitations shop, is 68 years old and has been fly-fishing for nearly half a century. He frequents close to 20 trout streams within a close drive of Altoona, including Penns Creek and Spring Creek in Centre County, Clover Creek and the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River in Blair County, and Bobs Creek in Bedford County.
Croft prefers using the caddis imitations when he is fly-casting.
“A lot of the time, I’ll miss the major hatches because I work six days a week,” said Croft, whose bait shop is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day but Wednesday. “Caddis hatches (occur) off and on from April to the first or second week of October, depending on the weather. You can throw a caddis out (on the water) any time of the year and catch fish.”
According to Croft, the first major fly hatch of the season is the Grannom Caddis, which comes off the water in April and has a hatch that lasts about a week.
That hatch is followed by the Hendrickson hatch, which is followed by hatches of three different sizes of sulphur flies that last for two weeks apiece, and finish hatching in mid-June.
Following the hatches of the sulphurs, the light Cahills and Slate Drake flies hatch through the end of June, and the terrestrial bugs come in from mid-June through the second week of September.
The Green Drake hatch is a famous hatch that occurs for one week in late May on streams such as Penns Creek, Bobs Creek and another Bedford County stream, Yellow Creek.
“The Green Drakes are the biggest mayflies there are,” Croft said. “That is an absolute major hatch on Penns Creek, Bobs Creek and Yellow Creek.”
Bass season came in on area lakes and streams June 13, and flies are also an inviting bait for bass. Among the many bass flies that Croft sells are those which are known as poppers.
“They’re made of deer hair and thrown on the top of the water,” Croft said. “They float on top of the water, and when you twitch them, the bass come up from the bottom of the water and feed on them.”
Fly rods come in a variety of sizes and are made from bamboo, graphite, and fiberglass.
“I prefer bamboo,” Conner said. “It’s one of the original fly rods that was made. They used to make all of the fly rods out of bamboo.”
Fly-fishing line is a floating line or sinking line made of rubber coating. Leaders made from material like monofilament or fluorocarbon are usually tied to the line. To best carry the light fly to its destination, the line that is used on fly rods is a bit heavier than the line that is used on spin-cast outfits.
Croft said that the thrill of catching trout with a fly rod and line is an intense one.
“When you hook a fish on a fly rod, you could be hooking a 10-inch trout, and it would feel like it’s 25 inches because the fly rod is such a light-weight rod,” Croft said.
It doesn’t take much money to get properly outfitted for fly-fishing, either, depending on a fisherman’s preference and taste.
“You could be set up with a rod, reel and line for 90 bucks,” said George, who has also volunteered his time with the Healing Waters organization, which provides fly-fishing excursions for disabled military veterans.
On the other hand, some fly-fishermen spend a lot more on their hobby.
“I have fly rods that cost over 700 dollars,” George said. “Like anything else, (fly-fishing) can be as expensive as you want to it to be.”
Fly-fishing doesn’t take a long time to learn, Croft said, and it’s a great way to catch fish.
“It just takes a little practice,” Croft said. “I’m still learning, and I’ve been doing it for 45 years. But to do it where I could catch fish, I probably (picked it up) in two or three times out (fishing).
“You can fish withflies all year long,” Croft added. “I tell people that if they start fly-fishing, their spinning outfits will wind up collecting dust.”