Afield with Friends: Rock Run: A day worth remembering

Sometimes during August in Pennsylvania, you can find many smaller trout streams that have exceptionally large, holdover trout – native browns and our truly native brook trout.

Rock Run, which empties its cool, crystal-clear water into Lycoming Creek adjacent to the village of Ralston is one of those gems. It has the credentials of greatness.

If you are lucky and find the stream as my late friend, Roy Stannert, and I did on a hot, humid August day, many years ago, you are in for a treat.

“I will give you a call when the conditions are near perfect,” Roy said.

I knew that meant that we would need plenty of water to flush the trout out from their retreats beneath the million year-old bedrock shelves that make this gem so precious – and crying out for preservation.

It was a special stream for both of us and for those who enjoy treading lightly on slippery, algae-coated bedrock from recent storms. We both remembered lugging milk cans stuffed with fingering size trout to the headwaters of the tiny reaches of the main stem, the Yellow Dog Branch, and pools that would hold native trout.

On our 20-mile ride to Ralston, we talked quietly about our special secret spots and you could hear names such as five- and 10-dollar holes, the drum hole, the lunch counter and the rattlesnake – all guarded secrets in our closely knit friendly group of anglers.

If we were lucky, it would almost be a guarantee to make eye contact with a fat yellow- or black-phase timber rattlesnake that had made the long trip from a rocky den to the stream for water, as well as a careless frog for food.

Our plan was simple – drop me off at the lower cabin pool and leave the Jeep at the only bridge where Yellow Dog Branch begins and the terrain begins to flatten.

If I don’t spend too much time working my way up the canyon, I should be there before dark and avoid climbing the steep canyon wall and disturbing a rattler basking in the late sun’s rays.

Upon reaching the drop-off pool, I remember Roy’s words: “I cannot believe it! There must have been a cloud burst yesterday because I have never seen so much water.”

Debris was everywhere, and the stream literally was a sea of foam as a torrent of water torn through the canyon. Not wanting to waste the day and the long trip from South Williamsport, it was decided to give it a try.

There we were – Roy, with a can of his favorite bait, live stonefly nymphs, carefully guarded in the frig for this eventful day, and his wife’s permission, and me with a batch of dry flys, size No. 14 and 12.

As luck would have it, a closely clipped, deer-hair body, spent wing adams size No. 12, fully hackled from the best Bucky Metz roosters, seemed to say, “give me a chance.”

The technique was simple: don’t fall in, because you are sure to drown if you are caught in the 5- and 6- foot, rocky undercut bedrock strata.

Just cast the fly into the foam-like mess, tread cautiously along the million-year-old rocky shelves and meet my fishing partner before dark was my plan.

There we were, me with my 7-foot, South Bend glass fly rod, a 2-mile canyon ahead, and trout that many experts said were not there.

It was an eventful, storybook lesson that day. Flop the adams into the water and hang on. With almost every short but hurried cast, a partly submerged dry fly imitation was inhaled by feisty brown trout, measuring 15- to 18 inches and appearing to have come from nowhere.

Every niche that I had fished in early summer with little success yielded beautiful browns and a great lesson that given the right habitat and strong genetic ancestor, each species adapts and learns how to survive.

Rock Run is a special stream. Only those who have taken the time to explore its tributaries, pause to drink its cool, pure water and rest their weary legs after a long hike on one of its many trails know of its hidden secrets.

Left alone by man in his glut for financial gains and his ability to change a national treasure, it will continue to carve its path for many millennia.