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Spring Creeks: Words Aren’t Enough

Crystal clear.

Bug factory.

Low gradient.

Constantly cold.

Lush vegetation.

Year ‘round.

Lots of big, wild, selective, spooky trout.

Each statement describes one aspect of spring creeks. But even all of them together fail to adequately communicate how special these unique waterways are.

I’ve been privileged enough to fish spring creeks in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Each is different, but each has so many similarities. Powerful aquifers continually push unfathomable quantities of clean, cool water. These underground sources create the gentle, meandering flows that fly anglers seek out from coast to coast.

If you haven’t sought out a spring creek, you’re missing out.

Spring creeks also push us to hyperbole. Some days they are the hardest rivers you’ve ever fished. Still, when you catch trout they happen to be some of the biggest and most beautiful you’ve seen. The hatches and biomass are the most abundant, and the scenery is the most breathtaking. You’ll have great days of only a few fish, good days when you didn’t see a fish, maddening days when nothing went right, and unforgettable days when everything went right.

Delicate rods, long leaders, and light tippets are the modus operandi. Unless you’re going to sling giant streamers, that is. Then you’ll want a heavy rod… and a long leader and light tippet. But your rod and line aren’t going to matter one bit if you don’t know how to approach the water. Barge into the creek and you’ll be casting purely for exercise. Wade briskly, and you’ll quickly realize how ripples can travel upstream over the glassy currents.

Fly fishing on spring creeks is equal parts hunting and fishing and patiently doing everything right to still fail miserably.

At least they’re pretty, right?

There are real, legitimate geologic and hydrologic explanations for the settings and scenes of spring creeks. Additionally, there are intriguing sociologic and anthropologic reasons why people have been drawn to them for ages. But simply driving along the course of one’s flow is enough. You’ll get all of it without reading a book.

It is worth mentioning that we, as humans, have been abusive in our relationship to spring creeks. Their dependable flows make sense to dam or otherwise harness. Their fertile banks are perfect for hard agricultural use. Their fish are abundant… until they’re not. But let’s be thankful that a lot of those mistakes have been recognized, mitigated, and learned from.

If anything, spring creeks provide ample opportunities for learning. Casting, fly selection, reading the water, and even wading are all tested on these streams. If they aren’t a regular destination, they ought to be at least mixed into the rotation with your freestone and tailwater spots.

You’ll come up with your own significant list of phrases that describe them. Some might be slightly profane, and a few could drip with poetic elegance. But you’ll quickly agree that words can’t communicate everything that makes a spring creek.

5 comments

  1. Geoff C says:

    Nice article. Beyond spooking fish, barging into creeks also has the potential for disturbing spawning nests (aka Redds). Wade carefully.

  2. John Dornik says:

    Hello Mathew, The only spring creek I’ve ever fished is the Little Lehigh, in Allentown, PA a long time ago. At that time there was a trout hatchery adjacent to the stream and it was kept well stocked. I recall large beds of watercress that I would pick and bring home for sandwiches. The trout I caught were all returned. My understanding is that the spring creeks aka chalk streams of the UK have long been depleted of any wild trout and fishing there is maintained by stocking hatchery raised fish. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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