Meadow Run and Dunbar Creek, Pennsylvania 2000
“Riff Raff.” That’s how one Pittsburgh area fly shop owner described the people who frequent Dunbar Creek. This statement was followed by “I wouldn’t go there alone without a sidearm”. At this point my wife’s jaw dropped and I was looking to change the subject. He continued. “I don’t like Clinton but the best thing he’s done is put that 2 year cap on welfare.” Fayette Country has a high unemployment rate, the result according to him was a welfare state, where families pass their welfare checks from generation to generation. He recounted stores of people fishing in the fly fishing only section with gill nets and M80’s (1/4 stick of dynamite). Car break-ins and car stripping are common he said.
My wife forbade me to go back to Dunbar Creek about 30 seconds into his little testimonial. Our discussion over the next hour, just added fuel to the fire.
My experience at Dunbar Creek this year was vastly different and I must admit, the “bubba” factor was high. What’s the “bubba” factor? That mysterious X factor that causes fisherman to congregate at the same hole, fish through another persons water, keep more fish than they can eat and act in a just plain discourteous way. Most fly fishers would associate the “bubba” factor with bait fishers; after all, bait fishers are the anti-Christ right? Unfortunately, the “bubba” factor” is not exclusive bait fishers and I have run into plenty of spin and fly fishing “bubba”. “Bubba” is a frame of mind, perhaps even a gene (The Bubba Gene) not a fishing style. Add a bit of “hill Billie” and you’ve got an interesting fishing trip.
After touring the house and taking the requisite pictures. I broke out my Pa fly fishing book and quickly located Meadow Run. I’d known that Falling Waters was in the area of the Youghiogheny and even though I wasn’t prepared to fish a river as large as the Yough, I’d brought enough gear for Robert and I to fish a small stream.
Meadow Run is a small stream a short distance from Falling Waters, just on the other side of Ohiopyle. A typical South Western Pennsylvania freestone, Meadow Run was characterized by shallow, runs and pockets. Most of the water is just inches high and fish hold in the deeper water. Robert and I accessed the stream at the bridge just before the Ohiopyle State Park office. We only had an hour to fish, so we hiked down stream for about 10 minutes and worked our way. I hiked a little further down stream than Robert.
I planned to fish dry flies and Robert….well, he had dries also but a woman at the general store where Robert bought his license told him “those fish don’t take flies”. So he bought a cup of meal worms. Robert- oh ye of little faith. “These fish don’t take flies” I repeated, “that women doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” Within 15 minutes, I was able to prove the women wrong.
I’ve rarely seen more perfect fish holding water than the area just downstream from Robert. The creek came around a right hand bend into a some rocks. The rocks created a small channel, the tail of which washed over a log fall and into a wide, shaded pool. I took a quick survey of insect life but didn’t see any. My first casts where to the pool. To areas where I was confident a good drift would pick up fish. I used the caddis cripple I had brought for Dunbar Creek. The pattern worked well at Dunbar last year and is a great searching pattern for use on California waters. As I cast, I worked my way up this perfect piece of water.
With each cast, “those fish don’t take flies” rang through my head. I had just fished the best piece of water between where I was and where I was going, without sign of a single fish. “Those fish don’t take flies”. I switched to a Goldbead Soft Hackle Hares Ear ala Englishman John Goddard and shot a cast to the top of the channel. Nothing. “Those fish don’t take flies” and I had only another 20 minutes to fish. I drifted the nymph through a couple more times. At one point I noticed my line was moving downstream at a weird angle. My leader hung straight down from my rod and then canted off at a down stream angle as it hit the water. At this point the fly should have been dragging or ticking the bottom as it moved down stream. It wasn't, so I set the hook. The fish dove headfirst in the log jam. I pulled up on the fish just as it reached the edge of the logs. The fish danced on top of the water for a short time and then it was gone.
We where short on time so I quickly made my way upstream to where Robert was fishing. Along the way, I managed to hook 2 more fish. Each fish seemed extremely strong for there size. I didn’t land the fish, so their exact dimensions are unknown to me but from what I could see of the fish, they where uncommonly strong.
I caught up to Robert as he was fishing a nice looking pocket under an overhanging tree. He said he’d had some luck fishing his meal worms, but the size 16 (short) elk hair caddis didn’t make a good bait hook. He was now fishing the Elk Hair caddis with meal worm guts smeared on it and was getting strikes but no hook ups. Despite the fact that I somewhat frown on this practice, the fact that he was able to go from zero strikes to multiple strikes simply by smearing the fly with meal worm is somewhat interesting. Just how important is smell/scent as a triggering mechanism for fish?
I had timed my arrival perfectly. My sister and wife who where watching us from the bridge above signaled that it was time to go. Robert reeled in his line and I made 3 or 4 quick casts the pool. Another strong fish pulled on the end of my line. My 3 wt bowed deeply and the fish flashed for a minute at the surface and was gone. It must have really liked that fly…because it took it with him.
Where do I begin? I enjoy fishing Dunbar Creek. REALLY enjoy it. I can go to Dunbar and with very little effort find some solitude and challenging (but not too challenging ) fishing. This aside, based on my experiences this trip and the warnings I would receive later, I’ll be a little more cautious in the future.
The day started out like any other. Robert and I rolled up to Dunbar Creek late morning on Saturday. I was playing host, so I was pretty eager to get Robert into some fish. The drive along the creek to where I planned to park afforded us a pretty good few of the creek and the anglers fishing it. The creek was crowded and though I’d only fished here one summer before, I was surprised. I really didn’t think that flyfishing would be very popular out here. In a way I was right but I was also wrong.
I was right because fly fishing here for most seemed to be a means to an end. They couldn’t bait or spin fish, so they “fly fished”- fly fished in a manner which resembled bait fishing with a fly rod. I’m not saying that people were fishing bait on a fly rod. I’m sure some do (I only say this because my fly shop friend told me stories of such) but the majority seemed to be fishing with flies- Bubba style.
Robert and I geared up and walked downstream. I began telling him how there are 3 or 4 man made pools where one could fish a dry all day if one wanted to. It’s not very challenging fishing but it can be fun and is a good way to put dinner on the table if that is your thing. When we reached the first of these pools, I pointed out the fish to Robert. There were easily 50 fish or more in that pool if someone sat down to actually count them. Robert was so excited that he had to fish it. This wasn't exactly what I had planned so we parted company. I was as eager to fish these pools as the next guys but I wanted to fish upstream and make my way to them one by one. Besides, I had a date with some fish in a particularly shallow pool down below.
Last year, the fish in this particular pool scattered as soon as I laid out my first cast. I was given one chance and I missed it. This year, I was determined to catch those fish.
The pool was a natural one. It was quite shallow with a slightly overhanging tree covering the upper 3rd of it's surface. I crept up to the pool as softly as I could, making sure to keep my profile and rod low. I made sure to stay well back from the waters edge, 10 feet or more. I slowly raised my rod and shot a cast to the tail of the pool. My flyline landed on shore and my 9 plus feet leader and fly gently disturbed the water. A few fish scattered. Had I spooked the entire pool? I let the pool settle a little…..then I shot a cast further up the pool hoping to get a longer drift. I reached to the left so that the additional fly line would fall on the bank and not on the water. The fish appeared undisturbed. My fly drifted quietly at first, then the surface of the water exploded, doubling over my tiny 3wt rod. I quickly landed my quarry and shot out another cast. Another brown engulfed my fly.
Immensely satisfied I made my way up stream toward the first of the series of large pools. Robert was another 2 pools ahead. I fished quickly but methodically as I made my way. When I reached the pool, I was surprised to see 3 anglers fishing within feet of each other. I had just walked a quarter mile of solitary stream, catching fish along the way to arrive at this. One of the anglers had been fishing the same spot when Robert and I drove up earlier. I passed him on my way down and I was passing him on my way up.
I left the water about 20 ft below them, walked around a tree so as not to spook the fish and put in just above. They were all fishing nymphs. This was truly bobber fishing as their indicator sat motionless out of the current of the main pool. I turned and asked to no one in-particular “How’s this pool treating”. One guy exclaimed that he had caught 4 fish. The others were mute. I must have made one of the lads nervous. As I turned to ask the question, he defensively edged into his chosen spot. I laughed, his move was obvious and quite silly I thought. The pool they fished was extremely small. I don’t see how it could support 3 anglers with all of them catching fish, let alone four. I turned and continued up stream, hooking fish they could have easily hooked had they the simple desire to move a few feet.
Again I angled up another ¼ mile or so of solitary stream. At the next pool I encountered two young “Bubbas”. To be fair, these young guys simply seemed to be clueless. They fumbled around the stream much as I did when I first waded, rod in hand, in to the Lower Stanislaus wearing jeans and docksiders. One shoe floated away that day…..but I managed to catch it.
I waded around these fellows much like I did the others. This pool was slightly smaller than the first. They were standing on top of the wooded buttress that is the water break that forms the pool. Trying to be helpful, I turned to them and said. “If you want to catch those fish, fish from behind them. Give then a rest for 10 or so minutes, get behind them and try again. “
They didn’t listen at first. Then I hooked a fish and then another. When I turned around again, they were firmly on the other side of the pool, flailing away. They hadn’t let the water rest. Things in fly fishing can be so simple really, little things that you don’t think can make a difference do. Perspective is a funny thing. I guess from their perspective,” he who catches more fish is better than I.” In truth I was simply luckier. Giving the fish a rest was probably more important in this instance than fishing from the rear. In a stream like this, the constant motion of an angler flailing away, spooks fish. But if you stand right in front of them motionless, they hardly notice. We’ll, may be not hardly…but it sure sounded good. Regardless, I was fishing over undisturbed water.
While all this was going on , Robert was having his own little adventure up stream. He had been happily casting away where I left him, when two families pulled up in their cars and declared that they wanted to barbecue and that he had better move on. To quote the vernacular, he should “F*** OFF!”. The thug even when so far as to set his lawn chair up on Robert's rod (which was really my rod). Not one to resort to the level of an antagonist, Robert came looking for me. It was getting late and we had to go.
We made our way back up stream and just as we reached Robert’s pool, the Bubba wave hit me like humidity hits you as you leave a plane on the tarmac of LaGuardia airport. Two beat up cars, lawn chairs, a barbecue grill and plenty of beer. The only thing they didn't have was the red coffee can. I raised my eyebrow as we walked by, these looked like interesting folks.
Back at the car, Robert told me about his ordeal. I was pretty upset. If I have one pet peeve in life it’s rude, inconsiderate people. Robert was my guest and he didn’t deserve to be treated thus. Besides, THAT WAS MY ROD BUBBA COULD HAVE BROKEN! In high school or 10 years ago even, I would have let it slide. But as I grow older I’ve become more intolerable. My wife calls me the “Grumpy Old Man”. I turned and headed toward the pool. “Don’t lower yourself to their level “ Robert said, “Besides, we have to be getting back.” Robert was of course right. We had my grandmother’s birthday party to attend. Still, I had this tough guy, West Side Story adrenaline thing going on. My window was down as we drove by. I stopped the car and in my best “I might be a warden” voice asked Bubba and family what they where fishing. “Black Gnats” he stammered.
We drove off and my attention turned to Robert. He had decided to keep some fish- two or three from the seven he had caught. I should have expected this, after all, he did bait his fly with a mealworm the day before. I was suddenly very nervous. I don’t like taking fish where I don’t know the regulation. I didn’t know, and Robert certainly didn’t know, what was legal here. Fortunately, this area is posted about every 100 feet so finding the regs wasn’t difficult. Robert was legal but just……..