Pocono Mountain Trout Adventure: The Big Bushkill

campers only sign
Before Joe Cermele and I joined the staff at F&S;, we worked together at Salt Water Sportsman magazine. A few times a year, during the striped bass migration in the spring and fall, we'd duck out of the office to cast plugs in the Jersey Shore surf. Our boss didn't mind because he loved stripers. But he had no love for trout...he hated them. But now that Cermele and I work where being a trout bum is PC, we made plans to fish the Big Bushkill River at Resica Falls Boy Scout Reservation in Pennsylvania on Memorial Day weekend.Joe Cermele
bugs on the water
By 6:30 a.m., Cermele and I were standing streamside tying up and watching trout sip the surface. Given that it was holiday weekend, we expected to bump into other anglers. But, thank the Lord, there wasn't another soul to be seen. In fact, the only company we had that morning was a ton of bugs. Not only did we have the place to ourselves, but we stumbled onto one hell of a sulphur hatch.Joe Cermele
a man fishing a stream
Whenever I'm fishing a new hatch and I'm uncertain which pattern to select from the half-dozen fly boxes I carry, I opt for a small Adams parachute. As Cermele finished rigging, he pointed to a riser that had just hit the surface not 10 feet from the bank. "Give it a try before we even wade in," he said. I let out some line and lobbed an admittedly rusty cast. But sure enough, a brown trout snatched my Adams on the first drift. I lost the fish (I blame the barbless hook), but I was off to a promising start.Joe Cermele
image of a stream and foliage
For the better part of the morning, Cermele and I fished according to the old angling adage, never leave fish to find fish. Cast after cast was met with strike after strike. We caught them on top with elk hair caddis, PMDs, spinners, and Adams. We also slammed fish below the surface with tandem nymph rigs, which most often consisted of a pheasant tail behind a flashback hare's ear. More than once we doubled up. Here a feisty brown trout wants absolutely nothing to do with Cermele.Colin Kearns
fisherman holding a trout
But Cermele won the fight. This fish is a bit bigger than the average 12- to 14-incher. But while these trout aren't huge, they can certainly fight and are strong enough to put a mean bend in a rod.Colin Kearns
image of a trout
The Bushkill holds browns and rainbows. The 'bows are all stocked, as are some of the browns. But there is also a healthy spawning population of stream-bred brownies.Joe Cermele
man fishing in a stream
I grew up trout fishing in streams around southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. But when I was 20 years old I moved to Montana for a brief stint, and it's safe to say that I learned more about trout and flyfishing while I was there than I did in all years in the Midwest. For almost a year straight I did nothing but fish and tie flies - at least when I wasn't working or in class. I guess you could say it was in Montana where I became a trout bum, and when I left I thought I could handle any stretch of water. Until now. Sure, I was rusty (by the way, if you find a box worth of flies stuck on the branches along the Bushkill, they're probably mine), but I also just didn't expect the challenge of such tight, technical water. I had trouble mending my line in the confused currents, and I couldn't figure out the water depth to save my life. At times it felt like I was spending more time rerigging than fishing.Joe Cermele
man holding up a trout
But retying pays off. Yeah, I lost plenty of bugs and went through a brand-new leader and used up all of my 5x tippet. But there were a lot trout in this river, and I duped my fair share.Joe Cermele
trout next to a fishing reel
The Bushkill is perfect for the light-tackle fly angler. I fished a 5-weight, which was a bit too much for these fish, although it was nice to have later on the day when I was sight-casting dry flies to risers 30 feet away. Cermele fished a 4-weight outfit, shown here, and says it's the ideal rig for the river.Joe Cermele
man fishing in a stream
Around 10 a.m., and at least 50 fish later, Cermele and I left our morning hot spot and waded upstream. We fished quickly, giving promising-looking pockets and riffles a few casts before moving on. Here I am rerigging - again. This spot was particularly tight and especially unkind to me. Many flies were lost and many four-letter words were uttered under my breath. Meanwhile, Cermele was hammering fish on nymphs.Joe Cermele
close up image of a trout
Cermele, who has fished the Bushkill for years, told me beforehand that browns outnumber rainbows by a big margin. That definitely turned out to the case on this trip. Here, I'm cradling one of the few 'bows we caught.Joe Cermele
closeup of a trouts scales
The Bushkill rainbows might not have had the rich and prominent pink stripes like the ones I caught in Montana, but I've never seen a rainbow that I didn't like. Besides, these fish had other qualities - like the ability to put up a strong and stubborn fight.Joe Cermele
trout in the water
We maybe scored one 'bow for every 10 browies, and the majority, I'm not ashamed to say, were caught by Cermele. This rainbow hung around just long enough after its release for Cermele to snap a stellar shot.Joe Cermele
green grass and water
As we worked our way back upstream, we encountered this spot, dubbed Piano Pool. The section was wide, leaving anglers with plenty of backcast room. Plus, it was shallow, flat, and the current flowed slow and steady. In other words, it was a perfect dry fly joint. We arrived here in the early afternoon, and Cermele worried we might've missed the best action. But there were still plenty of bugs and consistent risers, so we waded in and gave it a go. If you squint, you can see me way in the back to the left of the closer angler.Joe Cermele
man fishing in a stream
This spot turned out to be my favorite of the day. I didn't catch as many as I did at the morning spot, but everything I did catch came on top. Switching to a nymph never crossed my mind. I tried a few options: a single Adams parachute, a PMD parachute paired with a rusty spinner, and some emergers. The most productive combo was an Adams-elk hair caddis duo.Joe Cermele
trout in a man's hand
For at least an hour I never moved. I fired cast after cast at a small cluster of fish rising underneath an overhanging pine tree branch about 25 feet away. I landed four browns and hooked and lost probably six others. I could've fished there all day, but I knew there was still a lot of river ahead. Besides food started to sound good.Joe Cermele
fisherman's collection of flys
Here's a look inside one of Cermele's fly boxes. We both had plenty of patterns to choose from, but honestly a box full of pheasant tails, flashback hare's ears, Adams, and elk hair caddis, all in various sizes, probably would've been enough. However, one pattern that I brought with me from Montana worked well on the Bushkill: it's a pheasant tail emerger that I tie. It looks and is tied just like a pheasant tail except instead of peacock herl in the thorax I use yellow rabbit dubbing, and for the wingcase I use a small strip of gray foam, which is enough to keep it afloat just below the surface. I always fish this pattern behind a buoyant dry fly, such as an elk hair caddis, and I've found that it's especially deadly at the end of a long drift.Joe Cermele
man holding a trout
The bite slowed down considerably after our late lunch. (Or perhaps we slowed down - McDonald's will do that to an angler.) And around 5 p.m. we decided to call it a day - after one more cast, that is. Funny thing happened though: That one last cast turned into 50 last casts, and the later we stayed, more fish began rising. "This is trouble," Cermele said. "The longer we stick around, it's only going to get better and harder to leave. We could wind up staying 'til 11." It was approaching 6 p.m., and we'd been up since 4 a.m. What's more, between the two of us we had to have caught close to 100 fish. We just didn't have it in us. We looked across the river - tempted by the rings from risers before us - made one last cast, then broke down our rods.Joe Cermele
trout
Earlier in the day, Cermele told me a story about a conversation he had with a Montana guide last year. The guide told him that oftentimes when eastern trout anglers travel out West, they expect to encounter challenging fishing only to find that the big rivers in the Rockies aren't as tough or technical as their home waters back East. The fishing is easy for them. "And when western anglers visit the East, they think they've got it all figured out," Cermele said, paraphrasing the guide. "But once they actually get here, they see how tight and technical these waters are, and they really struggle." After about 12 hours on the Bushkill it was a lesson to which I could relate. But that struggle made the fish I caught all the more worthwhile. If you want find out how many trout F&S; Deputy Editor Jay Cassell nailed on a different Pocono stream, Mud Run, click hereJoe Cermele