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Morning on Pequea Creek

 

Pequea Creek, pronounced “peck-way,” flows through the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County. By most standards, it’s a marginal trout stream with limited access. In fact, most of the stream is posted no trespassing, and only one short stretch is stocked by the PA Fish and Boat Commission. But there was a morning several years ago when a few hours on Pequea Creek was exactly what I needed.

Pequea Creek is a winding, pastural stream surrounded by fences, cows, horses, and the occasional ornery, bank-nesting goose. To look at the stream, you might guess that it muddies quickly, and you’d be right. You might also guess that deep holes are few and far between, and that access is hard to figure out. You’d be right about those, too. However, after being cooped up with my wife, 2-year-old daughter, newborn son, and a wired-tight English setter for a week in a travel trailer, Pequea Creek looked about as good as any stream I’d ever seen.

In February 2019, my wife and I got the idea to buy a travel trailer. She was pregnant at the time, baby due in early March, and we thought a two-week trip in May, when she’d be on maternity leave, would be an awesome experience. In theory, it was a romantic idea. We imagined sunshine and campfires and idyllic scenery to go with endless days of mayfly hatches on some of Pennsylvania’s premiere waters. What we got was the typical sleep deprivation and moodiness that comes with taking care of a new baby. And rain. Lots of rain.

At Penns Creek – flooded, muddy Penns Creek – our travel trailer sat on the only patch of dry ground in the whole campground. At Little Lehigh Creek, my friend Doug showed me spots that we would have fished if it hadn’t just downpoured five days straight. For a week I looked over chocolate-colored water flooding over the banks of all of the streams I’d hoped to fish. The best I could do was hit a few small Class A streams that, while also flooded, were at least fishable.

We didn’t see sunshine until we rolled into Lancaster County, setting up in a campground high on the hill. After consulting the PFBC stocking list, I settled on trying Pequea Creek. I found a place to park next to a Fishing Permitted sign along the stream, which was still high and muddy but I was determined to fish it anyway.

When traveling through new territory, I enjoy seeking out and fishing new streams. Many folks enjoy poking in and out of small shops or touring sites of historical significance. I like to touch the water. It’s there, in the quiet sunlight, the slight breeze, listening to the ripple of water that you get a sense of what truly makes a place unique.

Upstream was a small bend in the creek. On the left, an Amish house and work barn. I could hear them pounding their hammers, cutting with their saws. From the corner of a small pump house, a clothes line stretched 50 yards or so to the top of a sturdy pole, and freshly laundered britches, shirts, and towels flapped lazily in the wind. Behind me, across the road and on the other side of the bridge, I could hear the faint tinkle of wind chimes. Beyond that, cows mooing, and beyond that, the screams and laughter of children at play.

It sure felt good to be in the sunshine, and even better to finally be fishing.

 

I didn’t expect to catch anything at Pequea Creek. It had been a month since the last stocking, and most Amish I’ve known don’t practice catch and release. Also, Pequea Creek is fairly shallow, only a few decent pools scattered along its length, and there’s virtually no overhead canopy. The stream just sits there in the wide open pasture fields, the sun baking down on it.

High, muddy water made it difficult to decipher depth or locate pools. I donated a few nymphs to the river gods before switching to a black Woolly Bugger that I could swing down through the current and strip back toward me.

 

As the Woolly Bugger swung down toward the bridge, I stripped in a few inches of line, enough to speed up the fly just a bit and kick that marabou tail out. It worked. As the bowed line reached the shadowed region directly below the bridge, a trout smacked the Bugger at the exact moment the fly straightened up. It took two or three jumps and fought hard. A nice rainbow, 11-12 inches, and it felt awfully good to catch considering the rotten run of luck the previous week.

I’ve seldom enjoyed fishing Lancaster County streams. Flowing through so much pastureland, Pequea Creek is a major water source for farmers, and their fences run all the way up to the bridge abutments. Roadside parking is limited to nonexistent, so even though it says on the PFBC website that a section is stocked, and the Fishing Permitted signs are plain to see, you never know if you’re actually welcome.

Despite the high and muddy water, a few caddis flies came off that morning. They were tiny, size 18, with brown-or-black bodies and mottled wings. A dozen or so of them clung to the cool concrete on the underside of the bridge. I ducked under them as I inched downstream.

A short sidearm cast put my streamer out just far enough to get in the main channel. As it swung down in the current, my rod tip jerked and I instinctively set the hook. Too slow. Two casts later, it hit again and this time I felt weight on the line. My second trout of the morning.

I was about to leave, imagining that back at the camper, my wife needed a reprieve from child duty, but the pool downstream of the bridge beckoned. My wife Natalie is very tolerant of my shenanigans, but even she has her limits. But then, one or two casts wouldn’t hurt anything, would it?

I toiled around downstream to no avail and was about to call it quits when I saw a deep little glide between two rocks. I swung the black Woolly Bugger through the pocket, just under the surface, and a beefy rainbow shot up and grabbed the fly. Another hard fighting acrobat. After releasing it, I floated the bugger through the pool one more time to make sure there were no other takers and then hooked up my fly and headed back to the campground. When I got back, the world felt different, my mood was lighter, and my wife, 2 year-old-daughter, newborn son, and even our rambunctious setter all seemed happier, too. For the first time all trip, we were able to sit outside around a campfire and roast hot dogs and marshmallows, and just enjoy being together.

Pequea Creek won’t make anyone’s “Top 10” lists of streams to fish. In fact, it doesn’t even get a mention in any of the popular stream guides that focus on Pennsylvania waters – and rightfully so. It’s not a destination stream.

However, this state is full of streams very similar to Pequea Creek that are stocked with trout, have no major hatches, and don’t appear on any must-visit lists. They exist in near-anonymity to all except for the locals who pass by it every day. But at any given time, when you just need to fish and none of your other plans seem to work out, they’re as good a place as any to spend a morning on the water.

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