Updated: Jun 20, 2020
It’s been a dismally wet fall this year and streams have been running higher than usual. I frequently visit the USGS National Water Information System website (waterdata.usgs.gov) to track the flows of my favorite streams, trying to figure out which one will provide the best opportunity to catch trout.
If you’ve never checked this site out, I highly recommend it. They provide information such as water temperature, gauge height, cubic feet per second (cfs), and historical comparisons. This year, the historical comparisons have been quite interesting.
For example, in November, the Clarion River around Johnsonburg (the beginning of the All Tackle Trophy Trout section) typically runs in the neighborhood of 250 cfs. In the past three months, there have been only a handful of days with water flows in that range, and seldom for longer than a day or two at a time. The whole month of November, the Clarion River at Johnsonburg has been hovering around 1,000 cfs. Makes it frustrating to fish the big waters for those fall run browns.
But fortunately, living in Pennsylvania, there are always options, and if nothing else, I’ve learned these higher water levels have been great for fishing small streams. Especially those little mountain streams where trout can be so spooky.
Recently I fished a “secret spot” of sorts in Clearfield County that is stocked with trout (although you won’t find it on the stocking list) and is known to produce some nice wild browns. In the fall, browns from the bigger waters work up into this tributary to spawn. I’ve caught some nice fish there over the years, and by nice I’m talking 15-16 inchers. Not huge, but respectable.
I didn’t find any of those wild browns that day, but what I did find in the pouring rain – and I’m talking downpour from the time I started until the time I quit – were a handful of leftover rainbow trout and one brown from the spring stockings.
Overall, the fish were sluggish. When I woke up that morning, the ground was covered with the first snow of the year. Most of it melted off, but some of it stuck around all day in the heavily-canopied forest surrounding the stream. Temperatures were in the mid-30s most of the day with precipitation changing back and forth from rain to hail to snow to rain.
Honestly, if there was a day to stay home, that was probably the day. But I had a babysitter for my 19-month-old daughter and I wasn’t about to waste it put zing around the house. Yes, I got soaked. For a brief time I was even miserable. And then I figured out what the fish were hitting on.
It’s not often that I can definitively say the trout preferred one fly above all others – even to the point of forsaking all others. Occasionally, even when they are keying in on certain colors, sizes, and styles, you can still pick up a few on a variety of other stuff. More often than not, presentation is more important than pattern.
Not that day. The first few hours, I threw everything at them. Multiple colors of Lively Legz nymphs, Prince Nymph, Pheasant Tail Nymph, sucker spawn, egg patterns, Woolly Buggers, you name. Nothing worked.
And then I tied on a chartreuse Mop Fly. Slam, bam, thank you, ma’am!
I only had two chartreuse Mop Flies in my box. After catching three sleek rainbows, I lost the first fly to an undercut bank. A couple of fish later, I lost the other to a tree branch five feet overhead.
Digging around in my box produced a third chartreuse Mop Fly that I remembered pulling out of a tree back in September. It had probably been hanging in that tree since spring and was severely faded. But it was the only thing I had that resembled what the trout wanted, so I tied it on and caught a nice little brown trout. A handful of casts later, I lost that fly, too, and although I tried a number of Mop Flies in various colors (pink, white, and tan), none of them produced a single fish. My day may as well have ended when I lost that third chartreuse fly.
The thing about the chartreuse Mop Fly is that the trout didn’t care how it was presented. Drag-free drifts didn’t matter. I tossed it in there and trout flocked to it. I watched one rainbow charge out from under a pile of debris over 10 feet away and inhale the fly.
It’s rare that I carry only two of any pattern in my fly box. I’m weird like that, almost to the point of excessiveness. I’m always so paranoid of running out of the fly I need that I purchase or tie large quantities of almost every pattern in my box. If I don’t have a half-dozen of a pattern, I feel under gunned. Except for Mop Flies, apparently.
To be honest, I haven’t used Mop Flies all that often. I’ve caught the occasional fish with them, but they’re rarely my first choice.
But on that particular day, they’re what the trout wanted, and you can bet I ordered a bunch of them as soon as I got home. The trout may never want another chartreuse Mop Fly for the rest of my life, but I’ll have plenty of them available just in case they do.