Color: A Sunday in the fall on the Little J (pre-spawn action)

Sunday I had the opportunity to get out of town and fish for the entire day. The trip was hidden under the guise of a swap forum sale to gain permission from the boss. My wife likes to hear that I actually sell some of my fishing stuff to finance new purchases instead of endlessly hording fishing tackle that catch more dust than fish.

I was to meet with a sketchy fellow from Pittsburgh who goes by the alias “Albatross” on the PaFlyFish forum boards. I decided I might need back up so I asked my Marine buddy Travis to come along. He was happy to oblige and so we met at the Huntingdon wally-world parking lot.

     The day started off early and rocky for me. A 3:45am alarm and check engine light was not how I wanted to start the day. Luckily I just needed to add a quart of oil in the old honda and I was off, a Wawa coffee in hand, a brisk 37° wind through the window and the radio cranked up to ward off the sleepies until the caffeine could take hold.
Surveying the creek from the bridge
     I made Huntingdon by 6:45am, I was 30 minutes late. Nobody likes a late fishing buddy. Unfortunately, when it comes to my personal fishing, I am that guy. Never the less we made it to the lower stream by 7:00am. The water was beautiful. A few days of rain gave the river a much needed bump. We strung up the rods and went to work. Travis took me to the old, dilapidated railroad bridge we would work first. we stood on top of the failing structure and surveyed the water up and down.
I love our rich rail history in Pa. This bridge appears to be a short-line (locally built railroad) bridge that was converted to be used by automobiles.
      Now many of my friends know I have a special knack for fly-fishing from on-top of bridges. There are a couple stories there but maybe another time. By now you can see where this is headed. All I will say is have fun while you are out there, sometimes you might surprise yourself and your buddy. We had a good laugh as I cast the meal ticket below us and had an aerial view of a wild brown breaking the surface to crush it. Unfortunately its tough to set a streamer from 40′ in the air half way across the stream, he got away.
Travis giving me the low down on this section of the creek. Planning out your approach is always a good way to ensure thorough coverage of a section without wasting too much time.
     We decided to stop messing around and got down to business. I brought both my streamer rod and nymphing rod down so I could change my tactics quickly as I made my way down stream through various types of water. Browns tend to get more aggressive the closer they approach spawning season which is usually the end of October. Pre-spawn streamer fishing can be quite productive. I had a lot of follows and a few fish but I knew my retrieve was off. We both managed a couple in an hour but quickly called it and moved on.
This guy ate a stremer that was almost half his size. BOOM! I love wild fish.
The day was already starting off nicely with fish to hand in a beautiful mountain morning. I was even visited by a pair of playful otters.
     The main idea to take away from a day like this is: fish smarter, not harder. If the fish are not cooperating, move on.
Travis dropped a few nice fish through this run but he also landed a few. FISH ON!
     We moved up stream to Baree, this is one of my favorite sections but it is favored by many others also. We quickly made our way through the section picking up a few fish as we went along. The nymphing game became more important as the day went on. I did turn more heads once I switched from the meal ticket to a Hawkins Triple Double to adjust for more light and clearing water conditions. Still the section was not as productive as we hoped so we moved on.
Another one of the iconic rail bridges of the Little Juniata

It was almost time to meet Albatross in spruce and I was fishing just upstream of the little church. nymphing was still the best approach but I noticed that running a streamer through the head of a riffle where it emptied into a pool was pulling a lot of decent size fish off of the bank. I still did not have the streamer chops to induce a take and it is my suspicion that I am hesitating when I should be stripping faster.

Love em’ and leave em’

I finally left the stream to meet Greg. “Al-bee” (as many of the PaFlyFish forum members call him) is a great guy and has been fishing the area for many years. He was excited to see how the day would go as he had heard reports of ISO’s ( Isonychia commonly referred to as slate drakes) and BWO’s (Blue Winged Olives) coming off in the late-afternoon/evening.  As we rigged up he suggested I bring my dry fly box. The decision not to heed this advice would later haunt me…but not too much.

Fall Colors
      We made our way down to the stream. This time I only brought my 10′ 4wt nymphing rig. I also managed to forget my net, which is always a good sign that I am going to catch something that needs a net, Sunday was no exception. I worked my way downstream to a section that is not wadable under spring flows but was surprisingly easy to wade. I ussually don’t fish that far down but I decided to do something different.
I love the colors and how clear the fin were on this fish.
     Here’s the part of the story where I tell you about how amazing it was, and it was. Greg caught over 20 fish out of the same pool on BWO’s. Greg’s fly was size 22 and was still too big, but most of the fish did not care. I managed over 2 dozen fish in the afternoon which took my total for the day over 30. I mention this only to caution anyone from thinking this is normal. This was truly a phenomenal day. A combination of the rain from the day before, the air temperature and clouds combined to make for the best fishing conditions you can ask for. I will let the pictures and video tell the rest of the story. What I will leave you with is the big lessons from the day.
Biggest fish of the day was this chunky wild rainbow
     First: KEEP MOVING. Many anglers camp out over the same beat-to-death holes for the entire day. Don’t be that guy/gal. You’re wasting your time. Look at it this way, you can stay in one spot and not catch fish or you can move and not catch fish. At least if you move you are guaranteed to learn more of the stream.
another victim of the iso nymph
Second: Fish smarter, not harder. No matter which method of fishing you prefer, hit the water with a plan and stick to it. Have fun doing this because if your plan is to just chill in one spot and relax thats your plan. If you want to catch fish, you need to keep moving and a plan will help you to avoid getting stuck.
     Last: Have fun. Whether you have been fly fishing for 1 month, 10 years or half a century it is easy to focus on the wrong stuff. We fish to get away from stress. Hit the stream and play around, have some fun. Do it right away first thing in the morning, it will set the tone for the rest of the day. My best days on the water are always when I am relaxed and having fun.
The seasons not dead. Get out and fish.

Alby LJ 1 from Keystone Fly Guides on Vimeo.

If you want to learn more about the Little J and support this great fishery please visit and support the Little Juniata River Association at:


Alby LJ 3 from Keystone Fly Guides on Vimeo.

Alby Lj 7 from Keystone Fly Guides on Vimeo.


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