Fly Fishing Cumberland Valley: Letort Spring Run

I was recently invited to fly fish Letort Spring Run located in Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania. Even being a Pennsylvania angler that fishes hundreds of days each year, I never casted a line in any of the historic trout streams of Cumber Valley before.

Letort Spring Run, or “The Letort”, is a famous 9.4 mile long limestone spring creek that flows throw Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Placed on Trout Unlimited’s list of 100 Best Trout Streams, The Letort is known for being a challenging fishery full of technical wild brown trout. It would be impossible to mention Letort Spring Run without noting anglers that fished there such as Ed Shenk, Charlie Fox, and Vincent Marinaro.

Because of anglers such as Shenk, Fox, and Marinaro, Letort Spring Run is a historic chalk stream here in the East. I could feel the presence of that history as I was stringing up my rod, walking down the nature trail to water, and preparing to make my first cast. Since Letort Spring Run is so well-known as a tough place to fish for wild brown trout, it can sort of serve as a proving ground for fly fisherman. Being able to catch a wild brown trout is one thing, but being able to fool a wild brown on The Letort proves skill as a fly fisherman. At the same time, there is no shame in being humbled on the banks of Letort Spring Run.

Looking upstream toward a nice “Glide” that produced several fish on a BWO dry fly pattern.

I was pleasantly surpised at how rural, or wild, it felt while fishing along the banks of The Letort, especially considering it flows through the town of Carlisle. A 2 mile Letort Spring Run Nature Trails runs along the stream from Bonny Brook down to Letort Park. This trail travels through marshes and woods serving as a great little escape from the “town” feel of Carlise. Not only is the trail great for hiking, it provides an excellent way for fly fisherman to access Letort Spring Run.

There are a number of signs, such as the one above, placed along the Letort Spring Run Nature Trail that provide information about the area.

Near the nature trail, The Letort is regulated as Heritage Trophy Angling by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. This section is a catch and release, fly fishing only section that is approximately a mile and a half in length upstream from Letort Park. If you are new to the area this is a great place to start due to ease of access, although there are many other sections of water to fish within the 9.4 miles of Letort Spring Run.

If you are looking for a place to grab some food and a beer after a day of fishing, I would recommend the Market Cross Pub in Carlisle. The food was excellent and the selection of beer was almost overwhelming.

Even a wild trout the size of this must be earned on Letort Spring Run.

The day that I fly fished the Letort the dreary, overcast weather was perfect for fishing. Thanks to cloud cover and relatively mild march air temperatures, Blue Winged Olives hatched through the afternoon. I fished at a very slow pace, and was able to catch fish on dries, nymphs, and even a streamer. I won’t bore you with all the sappy details of the beautiful wild brown trout I caught, or the nesting goose that tried to viciously to flog me…

Below are a couple more pictures from the day, and 6 tips that I think will help fly fisherman visiting Letort Spring Run.

6 Tips for Fly Fishing Letort Spring Run:

  1. Patience & A Slow Approach- The Letort is a stream where you first have to hunt fish before you can catch them. Approaching the water slowly, and having the patience to wait until the right opportunity to cast toward a rising fish can make all the difference.
  2. Wear Dull Colors- Colors such as dark brown, olive, or even camouflage will help you get closer to fish without spooking them. A bright color on a stream such as The Letort is like waving a warning flag for the fish.
  3. Focus on Casting- The first cast towards a fish is the best chance to fool him into eating your fly. Focus on making the best cast you can on the first cast, otherwise a smart, large wild brown on the Letort may not give you another chance.
  4. Fish Light Tippet- Smaller tippet sizes like 5x or 6x are suited to fishing small flies, and get cleaner drifts overall. While landing fish on light tippet can be a challenge itself, I believe it will help improve the number opportunities for hook ups.
  5. Fish Structure- Cunning wild brown trout love structure as it gives them a place to hide from anglers and other forms of prey. Structure such as weed edges, logs, or rocks are sure to hold fish. Don’t let the small size of the stream fool you, there could be a very large brown hidden by structure.
  6. Look for “Glides”- I refer to a glide as a section of water that slightly speeds up compared to an overall low gradient stream such as The Letort. In spring creeks such as The Letort, Glides often hold fish and are much more common than riffles.

Letort Spring Run is a limestone stream that I will certainly revisit in the future. I would never tell anyone that fly fishing The Letort will be easy, but I definitely think it will be worth it.

For more information about fly fishing in Cumberland Valley, Pennsylvania visit the Cumberland Valley Visitor Bureau.

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A Last Minute Trip

It was a last minute trip. You know, the go to the grocery store to buy a tooth brush, sleep on your buddy’s couch, and borrow a pair of waders kind of trip. Austen, and I weren’t really planning on fishing this day, but we weren’t planning on not fishing either.

We were eating a burger and drinking a beer at a local watering hole. It was around 9:30 at night, and I found out I didn’t have to work the next day. So, we decided to go fish. We both made “the call” to our girlfriends. You know, the “Hey Babe, as it turns out I won’t be coming over tonight. Yeah, I’m going to go fish tomorrow”. Fortunately, they were both really okay with us randomly deciding to go fishing. I think that’s by design.

I knew this day on the water was going to be interesting. Any day on the water that starts the way this trip did is sure to be an adventure. We floated for a few hours, but the early morning was fairly cold so the fishing was pretty slow off the start. We were sitting in the boat talking, eating a sandwich, and drinking a beer when the day to decided to take a turn towards more interesting. Something fell out of the boat. At first we weren’t sure what. All of a sudden Austen jumped up to realize, it was his phone. Ouch.

We pulled over to anchor up. Trying to find a black iPhone in the middle of a river is probably worse odds than finding a needle in a haystack. Nonetheless we decided to take a look. After a half an hour of searching relentlessly we were about to give up, but then Austen spotted it tucked beside a rock on the bottom. Wow. He stayed there marking the spot, I walked over to grab the net and a long stick. He held the net below the phone, and I popped it up in the net with the stick. We walked back to the boat with his phone that still worked thanks to a waterproof case. Crazy. I mean you can’t even make this stuff up.

To cap things off, about an hour later Austen stuck a real good looking, healthy female brown trout. Fortunately she was quick to the net, we snapped a couple pictures, and off the fish went to hide away and sulk in the depths. A few more fish for each of us and the sun set ending another day well spent on the water.

For me, days like these are what it’s all about. Fish and stories like this are not easily forgotten. The very reasons why I could fish 8 days a week, and fly fishing will never get old. Do you have any good stories from last minutes trips?


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Pennsylvania Trout Fishing Report: March

Date: March 16, 2017

Water Conditions: Water levels in the area are slightly lower than normal for this time of year, but are in great fishing shape. As the snow begins to melt off, it will be important to consider how snowmelt could affect water temperatures. See previous article, Winter Fly Fishing: The Snow Melt Impact. Monitoring stream flow on your local watershed prior to making the trip is always a good idea. See the Stream Flows page on the blog for a list of streams with USGS data.

Recommended Flies: Blue Winged Olives Size 18-20, Black Zebra Midge Size 18-22, Little Black Stonefly Size 18-20, Rock Worm Larva Size 12-16, Frenchie Size 12-16, Pat’s Rubber Legs Size 6-10, Pink Beaded Walt’s Worm Size 12-16, UV Braider PT Size 16-22, RTV Nymph Size 12-16, Wooly Bugger Size 6-10, Slumpbuster Size 6-8

Fishing Report:

We have certainly experienced more than our fair share of warm, and comfortable weather so far this winter. Recently, the weather has been more typical of the season with cooler temperatures and doses of snow. Prior to the recent cold snap, the fish seemed to have turned on with hopes of spring being right around the corner. Even the bugs such as Midges, Little Black Stones, and Blue Winged Olives were hatching heavy at times. We certainly deserved another shot of winter, and anglers alike are hoping that ol’ man winter is giving his final blow for the year. Looking ahead towards the next week, the weather forecast is back towards normal for this time of year with daytime temperatures in the 40’s. As winter breaks, the fishing will likely pick right back up again as the fish turn on for spring. It will be interesting to see what happens with the bugs in regards of hatches over the next month. Until temperatures warm up a bit nymphing the slower, winter water types should be the most productive ways to catch fish. Slowly drifting, or stripping streamers should also continue to pull large fish out of there hiding spots. Enjoy time on the water now, it won’t be long until spring is in full swing and the water is crowded again. Go fish.

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Featured Fly: Frenchie Perdigon

Frenchie Perdigon Material List:

Hook: Hanak 260BL #16
Bead: Copper Slotted Tungsten 5/64
Lead Wire: 4 wraps of 0.10
Thread: Veevus Brown 14/0
Tail: Coq de Leon
Ribbing: UTC Extra Small Copper Wire
Body: Veevus Brown 14/0 Coated with Loon UV Flow.
Hot Spot Thorax: Danville Fly Master 6/0 Fl. Orange

I was made aware of the term Perdigon when I read a blog post by Devin Olsen of Tactical Fly Fisher. Devin has been a member of the USA Fly Fishing Team since 2006. From what I understand, Perdigons are Spanish style flies that worked well at the Bosnia World Championships, where Devin finished with an individual bronze medal.

Perdigon’s seem to be a new craze. To me, a “Perdigon” is a new name for a style of flies that are not necessarily entirely new. To me, a Perdigon could be defined as a style of fly created with a thread, or equivalent, style body coated with a cement or resin. For example, a Zebra Midge coated with cement could be considered a Perdigon of sorts. But that’s to me.

If you know me at all, it’s no secret that I place a load of confidence in Frenchie style patterns. When I was active in fly fishing competitions, I relied heavily on Frenchie’s. I originally started tying thread body style Frenchie’s coated with cement for durability purposes. I have recently added the classification of Perdigon to name this style of Frenchie pattern.

In 2013, I fished in a Team USA Fly Fishing NE Regional Qualifier. One stream in the competition consists of trout that are very drift sensitive in fast, deep water with tight hydraulics. This stream tends to be responsible for giving anglers “blanks”, or sessions without scoring a fish. I was able to catch a couple fish in this stream on the fly I am now calling a Frenchie Perdigon, which helped me finish 5th overall in the competition.

While the fly that I am now calling a Frenchie Perdigon is somewhat different than typical Perdigon flies, it has very similar properties. Thinly tied, thread body flies coated with resin sink quickly due to minimal resistance while falling through water. This gives an angler the ability to fish less weight in fast, deep water. Being able to achieve depth with less weight allows anglers to get slightly better drifts to help fool technical trout. For this reasoning, I feel that Perdigon style flies have a place in my nymph boxes.

This Frenchie Perdigon works well for me in the fast, deep water that I fish. I prefer smaller sizes such as the fly above that’s tied on a Hanak 260BL #16. Perdigon flies are fun to tie, and can be very effective when fished in the right situations. Tight wraps.


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A Wind Advisory & Small Streamers

Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer using Fish-Skull Articulated Fish-Spines and Minnow Grey Chocklett’s Body Wrap. I tied this “mini” version on a Gamakatsu B10s #4.

Last week the weather temperatures were pleasantly mild, so we hit the water with hopes of correctly timing a Blue Winged Olive hatch. While we did see a few BWO’s popping off shortly after we entered the water, it was pretty obvious that the wind would be problem.

In fact, the gusts of wind were so strong at times that it felt near impossible to nymph. Tight line nymphing methods were out of the question. The gusts of wind were so strong, that even indicator rigs were being blown across the water.

For awhile I suffered through the wind, and was able to pick up a couple fish on nymphs. But I’ll admit, dealing with the wind was not fun. There’s not much worse than the wind forcing drag into a drift. Rather than fight the wind any longer, I decided it would be much more enjoyable to fish small streamers.

On very windy days, I will often switch to stripping, or swinging streamers. Even the strongest gusts of winds have minimal impact on presentation while fishing streamers, comparatively. The streamers I swam were small, so casting in the wind was not really an issue either.

A small, articulated sculpin inspired by Rich Strolis’s Headbanger Sculpin. Tied with a Mini Fish-Skull Sculpin Helmet, Gamakatsu B10s Size #4 up front, and Gamakatsu B10s #6 in the rear. (Rear hook is out of focus.)

Problem solved, no more miserably fighting strong gusts of wind. Even better, the fish were on it. Fish were diving all over the place to eat the small sculpin, and minnow pattern that I offered. This creek is not known for large fish, but there are more than enough small fish to keep it exciting.

A lot of the anglers that I guide say that I refuse to take no for answer from the trout. It’s true, as I always believe there is a way. The next time you are struggling to fish in gusts of wind, give small streamers a shot. It just might save the day.

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