Updated: Aug 9
Fly-fishing on one of Southeast Pennsylvania's best trout waters
Although my fly-fishing journey began in the mid-1990s, most of the trout fishing during the first decade was done almost exclusively on holiday in Europe. At that point in my career, I really could not find much time for recreational fishing outside of surf fishing for stripers on the Jersey Shore. It wasn’t until 2006 that I had my first experience of fly-fishing for trout in the United States and it was piggy backed onto a personal trip to Reading, Pennsylvania.
Local fly shop in Reading, Pennsylvania
In fact, I had not owned a pair of fishing waders or boots until then and I remember being very excited to buy my first set in the Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters shop (now TCO) in downtown Reading, PA. I had an afternoon and a morning free to try my luck on the creek for which the shop was originally named, aka, the “Tully”. This trout water is one of two (along with the Little Lehigh) awarded four out of four stars by Charles R. Meck in his comprehensive guide Trout Streams and Hatches of Pennsylvania. So, when I was recently invited to a family graduation party nearby, I took the opportunity to reprise my first experience fly-fishing for trout in the U.S.
Paper Mill section of Tulpehocken Creek
The ’Tully’ is a tailwater emanating from the dam at Blue Marsh Lake just outside Reading, PA that helps to cool the waters enough for trout to survive year-round. Contributing to this are two tributaries that provide cooling waters at the mid-points, helping to extend viable fishing (for both angler and fish) throughout the summer months. After first visiting the TCO shop – I hadn’t been in about 15 years – I began at the Paper Mill where Cacoosing Creek joins the ‘Tully’. Here there is a gravel pull-off for three to four vehicles and a few paths on either side of the bridge to access the creek.
Upstream of the confluence is a nice pool of slow water which holds fish that often are slurping up the hatch of the day – caddis, tricos, sulphurs and more. There was another angler there casting a dry fly, but I was not seeing many rises. So, I chose to fish a run and riffle running downstream from the confluence that looked reasonably deep and very ‘fishy’. Based on the guidance from TCO, I chose to fish a tandem of nymphs (rainbow warrior trailing a green caddis larva) under a wool strike indicator.
Tulpehocken Creek is a challenging trout water
I should add at this point that Meck’s book stresses that the ‘Tully’ receives a lot of pressure and that the trout here are very adept at quickly rejecting an offering. The guys at TCO also warned me that stream conditions were very challenging - low and clear water – and it was best fished early morning or late evening. The recommended approach was to use very small flies (#20 - #24) and fine leaders and tippets (6x or 7x). There were also intermittent thunderstorms forecast for the entire time I would be fishing. So, while fly-fishing for trout on an unfamiliar water is generally daunting, the prevailing conditions presented an additional challenge.
It had rained heavily for most of the trip up from my home in the DC area and I knew that if the threat of thunderstorms continued into the evening, I would not want to be on the water waving a stick. As it turned out, the weather was overcast but not threatening when I hit the water at 5pm. I spent the better part of the next two hours nymphing that run downstream of Cacoosing Creek once, twice and then a third time without a noticeable take (how many did I miss?). I then packed up and decided to recon a few other spots recommended by the guys at TCO for the following morning.
Note: The blog post will continue with part II shortly. I am not being compensated for my mention of TCO Reading. I am simply a happy customer!