I stopped at the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop on my way to Cool Spring Creek to replenish some fly tying supplies. When the guy behind the counter asked if I was going fishing, I made the mistake of telling him I was headed up to Cool Spring Creek. He said a few guys he talked to had come down to fish Neshannock because Cool Spring was too crowded. Considering that it was elbow to elbow on the stretch behind the fly shop right then, I started second-guessing my decision to head up there. But a plan is a plan, so I figured I’d at least check it out. I’ve had plenty of wild goose chases in my life…what was one more?
Supposedly there’d been 20 cars parked along the Cool Spring DHALO the day before. We’ve had beautiful weather this week, and the stream was recently stocked. Today I got lucky and there were only 18 cars parked on the DHALO, so it was way less crowded (he said sarcastically).
This is the point in the story when most folks would’ve probably turned around and headed elsewhere. Cool Spring Creek is a small stream. In fact, it kind of reminds me of a miniature Neshannock Creek, right down to the tannic color of the water. And crowds have simply become a fact of life since this whole pandemic stuff got rolling. Lots of folks have more time on their hands than usual, and I’m glad to see them spending it outdoors, even if it means I don’t have many streams to myself anymore.
Also, this time of year, there aren’t many options for trout fishermen. And as you know, it was a warm, gorgeous day with temps in the 60s. Pressure on Cool Spring Creek drops drastically once trout season actually opens and people have other places to fish. Later in April and May, you usually have sections of it to yourself.
Most of the time, Cool Spring Creek is one of those “hole-in-the-wall” places that often gets overlooked, mainly because of its proximity to the larger, flashier Neshannock Creek. But when Neshannock Creek is crowded, which is most of the time, Cool Spring Creek can be a nice second option later on. Water temps typically stay decent until mid-summer, when temperatures can sometimes get into the high 70s. A few fish hold over to fall, but not many.
The headwaters of Cool Spring Creek are located just southwest of Clarks Mills and feeds Lake Latonka. Cool Spring Creek is stocked with trout by the PA Fish & Boat Commission as well as the Neshannock Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited beginning at the mouth of Lake Latonka for over five miles until it joins Otter Creek to form Neshannock Creek.
The lower limit of the DHALO is located at the bridge on Scrubgrass Road just east of Mercer and extends approximately 1.2 miles up to an abandoned railroad bed. Houston Road borders the lower portion of the DHALO, but the upper half flows through a fairly secluded, wooded area.
The stream averages 20-30 feet wide throughout the DHALO. There are a few excellent, deep pools scattered throughout this stretch, but also a lot of shallow sections void of fish. During low flows, fish will stack up in the deeper holes. This time of year, though, with water levels up, you can find trout throughout the entire DHALO.
The website for the Neshannock Creek Chapter of TU says this about accessing Cool Spring Creek:
“It’s a stream that has good access via groomed trails in the DHALO area. What you probably didn’t know is that all of the above positive attributes of a visit to Coolspring are made possible by the graciousness of the Sharpsville Beagle Club sportsmen whose club occupies the east side of the creek and several other landowners. The SBC owns the largest portion of the land that we traipse over to pursue our finny friends. They provided the gated access road from “the big hole” at the lower end of the project up the glory hole area. This road has helped Neshannock TU get materials and equipment into that area of the stream for work days and at stocking time. The Beagle Club, not Neshannock TU, constructed the Bridge on Cool Spring. Other landowners have helped maintain the paths.”
As far as clubs and organizations go, the Neshannock Creek Chapter of TU is one of the best. They are very proactive with stream improvements, and they put forth a ton of effort to make sure there are always fish in the streams. Hats off to them.
When I walked down to just below the first access point, I immediately spotted a few black stoneflies fluttering along the water’s surface. Nothing was rising for them, but the insect activity was good to see. I took a quick water temp: 42 degrees.
Cool Spring Creek doesn’t have many hatches, but it does have some good ones. In April, look for Green Caddis and Brown Caddis. In May, Sulphurs, BWOs, and even Brown Drakes emerge. Hit it right, when fish are stacked up in some of the long, deep pools, and you can have a heck of an evening matching the hatch.
An 80-year-old guy was just wrapping up as I got to the water. He waded up behind me and we talked a bit as I tied on a size 10 olive Krystal Bugger. He stopped to show me a photo on his phone of a 22-inch rainbow he’d just caught a few hours earlier on a spinner. It was a huge, football-shaped trout that took him 15 minutes to wrangle into his net in a pool upstream. He was mighty proud of that fish.
As the guy tucked his phone back into his pocket, I flicked the Krystal Bugger out into the current and gave it a couple twitches. A beefy 12 incher came up off the bottom and sucked it in. That was the first of what would turn out to be many trout caught on that same fly over the next three hours.
During that time, fishermen came and went. Occasionally someone caught a trout or two before heading off upstream to some of the bigger pools. I slowly worked my way down the long, somewhat deep pool. Most of the fish held in the shade under the overhanging pines on the opposite bank. They were hungry.
Another guy arrived and asked how I was doing. I told him I’d caught quite a few. He waded into the water directly below me and caught two trout almost right away. As he brought them in, he held his rod tip high, and as the fish flopped at the surface, I could see him glance up my way to make sure I was watching. I think all of us fishermen are the same. We love an audience when we’re the ones having success.
Sometimes it pays to ignore the crowds. I know too many people who let crowds deter them from fishing certain streams, or they don’t go out at all because they think there will be too many other people around. I understand that, for some, fishing is a private affair and only worth it if done in solitude. Unfortunately, that’s becoming harder to find these days. And you can still find solitude, if only in your own little world, those few yards of open air around you where it’s just you, the fly rod, and the fish.
I could only fish until 3PM. At that time, I had to quit so I could drive back to Butler and pick up my kids at daycare. At 2:55, I decided to wade down to the tail end of the pool. On my second cast, I hooked into a huge rainbow that wallowed around like a drunken old prize fighter in the cold water. Once it finally realized it was hooked, the fight got real and that trout got my adrenaline pumping, and I felt that familiar euphoria of bringing the brute to net.
An older gentleman was fishing about 20 yards upstream. “Would you mind taking a photo for me?” I asked.
“Of course! I’d be more than happy to,” he said. He came down to me and set his fly rod on the bank and I handed him my phone. He had a pipe clenched between his teeth and the aroma of tobacco was sweet in the warm afternoon air. “That’s a dandy! Truly, a heck of fish,” he said.
I couldn’t get my hands around it. Finally, I grabbed it in front of the tail and then propped it up for a quick photo before letting it slide back into the water. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t hide my smile. “Talk about last minute,” I said. “I wanted to get a few more casts in before leaving to pick up my kids.”
We made some small talk and I thanked him for taking a photo. And then I asked, jokingly, if this was the part where I rode off into the sunset. He said that seemed like a great way to end the day. I agreed, and that’s what I did.
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