We had a great time pedaling just a tiny stretch of the Stoney Creek Rail Trail today. The trail is 23 minutes from Harrisburg making it very accessible for the remote feeling you get from the environment. The trail is in good shape and a hybrid or mountain bike with mild tires rolls nicely over the packed but sometimes slightly loose crushed limestone path. The parking area is large enough to accommodate several vehicles, however please plan ahead, it is a very popular place for the weekend warriors of both the local bicycling and fishing realms. This can create a problem on nice weekends, as parking can become an issue, do not park on private land. StoneyValley.com is a nice website covering the history of the trail and major access points. You can also find trail information here.
You can occasionally see the creek from the trail but not always with a great deal of detail. It is best to drop down and check out the creek sporadically. It’s pretty obvious where to stop and look as there are angler paths that shoot off the main trail fairly frequently. It’s best to check out as many of these paths as possible to really learn the best spots on the stream, not all paths are as good as others but that’s part of the fun of learning the water. You should never feel crowded on Stoney Creek as there are over 10 miles of water open to the public.
We found Stoney to be a great place to take the kids along to fish in a “wilderness” trout stream setting as we could get them pretty far back in the woods by transporting them in the bike trailer and then they could walk a couple hundred yards from the trail to the stream. Once down to the stream the kids had a great time. Cautiously and carefully looking under rocks they discovered some of the forest’s waking reptiles.
It can be difficult to keep the little ones interested but kids can often bring out healthy fishing habits if we let them by forcing us to slow down to read and explain water. Also, children tend to loose interest quickly which means you have to keep moving, which can also be a healthy habit when the fishing slows down.
We didn’t see many bugs out today, the water was cold, and even the flowers in the valley seemed a little more behind blooming than the surrounding areas. The water was low and clear which meant staying back from the holes and stalking slowly while wearing darker colors.
Slowly swinging wet flies during these transitional times can be productive but it takes patience, position, and rhythm. It is also a good time to remember the important orders of fly fishing. The O4P’s and the Order of Examination.
The O-4P’s are : Observation, Position, Presentation, Presentation, Presentation. This is a combination of advice I received from Bobby Clouser Jr. and Art Lee. Bobby once helped me unlock a secret of streamer fishing which was: “don’t stop!”. I was having trouble getting a very large rainbow to commit to eating a wooley bugger. I was working on a bridge project over a local trout stream and each day I would turn this fish and get it to follow my fly right until the end only to have the fish abruptly turn away. Bobby explained that a bait fish doesn’t stop when it is being pursued. Bobby told me to present the fly as I did before but once the fish began to chase the fly he told me to try to pull the bugger out of the fish’s mouth. He promised me I would be unable and you know what, he was right. So of course I returned to tell Bobby the good news and I had to ask how he new that would work and he asked me if I new the 3P’s of fly fishing. Answering no, I was intrigued. He responded: presentation, presentation, presentation. I loved it.
Then Art Lee added his critique. I was in Roscoe NY enjoying a slice of pizza at Raimondo’s while watching the Penguins play the Rangers during the NHL playoffs when the owner of the pizzeria invited me outside to meet someone. It was Art, we enjoyed chatting and I asked him what he thought of clouser’s 3Ps. He liked it but said he would add an O (Observation) and one more P (position). He argued that observation is the first step to realizing your best presentation. Once you observe how the fish are behaving you can decide what technique will be best. Once you know what technique you want to use you can decide where you need to position yourself to be most effective. Both these elements are critical to giving you your best presentation.
The order of examination is a little simpler even though not everyone can come to an agreement on it. Basically the Order of Examination theorizes that the key elements of effective pattern selection and an accepted presentation follow this order: Profile, Size, Movement, Color. Profile means something like Caddis Vs Mayfly or Sculpin Vs Mnnow. Think about the shape of these flies compared to each other. Once you have profile then you have sizing, you need to get your imitation in the ballpark of the naturals that the fish are seeing. At this point you are usually getting looks but you might not be getting takes because of too much movement, or not enough. If you have fish looking but not taking it’s good to change up your retrieve, either slow it down or speed it up. Sometimes jigging under the surface or skittering across the top and adding a bit of movement works. Lastly, color. It seems like the first thing newer anglers worry about but often I think it’s the last thing the fish hone into. Now don’t get me wrong, when the hatch is on they can get honed into specifics, but when you are prospecting with dries think profile and size.
The fishing was a bit slow but the scenery more than makes up for it. The trail is well known and is perfect for anyone who likes to ride and fish. In fact, many local anglers use bikes as a primary mode of transportation.
Do take care when you leave the path or leave your bike. I typically lock my bike up and never take anything I can’t take with me. I also usually leave my bike off the trail and out of sight. This still doesn’t guarantee no one will mess with your gear. When we returned to the bike it was clear someone had rummaged through the trailer and my rod case. As I said before, they found nothing because I don’t leave anything behind but don’t take that for granted. I have never had any issues when I stash my rig out of view of the main trail, remember: out of sight out of mind.
It was a great trip and we will be back. Here’s a video from a stop on lower Stoney.