Catching Mini Whales with Pap Pap

I had the opportunity to discuss Pennsylvania trout fishing with Joey Lafko. You probably are wondering what the title means. This is a freshwater blog and what are mini whales? Well, you will just have to read on to learn more about Joey and the impact his Pap Pap has had on his life and fishing.

Where do you live in the 412? 

I live in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. It’s about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh.

What are your favorite close by trout streams? 

There are only a few trout streams close to my home and the streams being in such a suburban setting are not the cleanest, freshest or prettiest creeks around. They are Pine creek Deer creek and Bull Creek. Something that is unique is all three of them have a section that is delayed harvest. Which means that they get stocked earlier and later in the season, which is good news for me and my friends.

joey-l-02You are a fly fisherman. What is your favorite fly fishing technique for trout?

My Uncle Matt taught me how to fly fish and even got me my first two set ups. After becoming friends with now one of my best friends Luke, we started experimenting with our own patterns and ideas. He had tied most of the flies we had used for the last few years and I’ve just recently gotten back into tying my own in the last 6 months.

>With that being said my favorite technique is using streamers swinging, stripping, or dead drifting it doesn’t matter to me. I enjoy streamer fishing because it triggers an aggressive take. With streamers you can pull trout out of hiding places that some other techniques cannot get to. Also, with bigger flies comes bigger fish so fishing with streamers is the most fun for me.

What do you consider a great day on one of your favorite trout streams?

One of the best days that I’ve had in my life happened this past year. Luke and I went up to my family’s camp near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. We headed up in March to the fish a section of my favorite creek that was delayed harvest. Over the course of the day from about 8 AM to 4 PM, Luke and I combined and landed over 80 trout. The cool thing was that we were using two different techniques. Luke was using an egg pattern with a nymph dropper combo and I was using wooly buggers.I  also landed a 20+ inch rainbow that day too, so I’d say that was my best day.

joey-l-01What was your biggest trout so far this year? 

This year was a crazy one for me in terms of big fish. My biggest was a rainbow that I caught in Neshannock Creek which was 27 inches long.

But my favorite big fish was one that I caught last December. It was December 19th and I took some of my buddies up to our family’s camp to fish the creeks up there. We decided to go to Meadow Creek because I knew the water there and that it could hold fish all year round. It was a cold day when we started, snow was falling from the sky, it covered the ground, the flies were freezing and our line was freezing too.

The first hole I took these guys to was where I caught this big fish. It was the first fish of the day. I was using a big streamer that I’d caught steelhead on earlier that season and wanted to see if the pattern would work for stocked fish as well.  On my third swing in the hole I felt a take and I was excited because that meant that the fly worked for stocked fish too. I hadn’t seen the fish yet and when I looked at where my line was in the water it was a huge fish. On a 6 foot 6 inch 3 weight rod it was an amazing fight. After a few minutes I landed her and yelled at the top of my lungs with excitement. I had never seen a brook trout as healthy, big and as beautiful as this one. We measured her at 24 inches, quickly took a few pictures and sent her back on her way. It was a total surprise and my favorite fish of my entire life, I will never ever forget that one.

Where are you fishing for the impressive steelhead that you catch?

When we fish for steelhead, we go to steelhead alley, Erie, PA. And my favorite creek to fish for steelhead is Elk Creek because it has faster and deeper water for active, feeding fish to reside in. Also the crowds are usually not as bad as the other creeks. For anyone who knows Erie steelhead fishing, they know Walnut Creek is the worst in terms of crowds.

If you could only fish for one type of trout, which would it be?

If I had to choose one type of trout to fish for, I would pick native brook trout. I wholeheartedly believe that they are the most beautiful of all the trout. The fact that a big native brooky is around 8 to 10 inches makes it very challenging and extremely rewarding. Every time I land a native I’m taken back by the beauty of the fish. Natives brookies are always healthy, have extremely vibrant colors and many different variations of color depending on time of year as well as gender of the fish.

You had a cool photo last year with who I assume is your grandfather. You said he has dementia. How is he doing? How has it been tough watching him go through his dementia?

Yes the picture is of my pap pap. The dementia that effects him is a form that doctors still do not know much about. It has been tough on our entire family watching this transformation over these last several years. However, he is still with us and his overall health is extremely good and we are so thankful for that.

What did he teach you about fishing and most importantly about life?

Some of my most fond childhood memories were of my pap pap taking me fishing. I remember him taking me and my cousins fishing in the creek behind their house for “mini whales”. They were just creek chubs, but at the age of 5 and 6 we loved every second of catching those mini whales with him. He taught me how to use a spinning rod and reel, how to use a strike indicator and even how to bait my own hooks the correct way.

Now in regards to a life lesson that stuck with me the most is the importance of family, both immediate and extended, nothing compares to your family. If he had not been a part of my life, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today.

And that is a great lesson from Pap Pap to all of us. Thank you for sharing Joey. To check up on Joey’s trout fishing success, check him out on Instagram.