By Forrest Fisher
Fly fishing for trout is a new adventure for fishermen more familiar with trolling for Great Lakes walleye or casting for tournament bass. That makes it a new adventure for yours truly.
The new unfamiliar tool? A lightweight fly rod about eight-feet in length with a single-action reel that holds a heavy-looking fluorescent color “fly line” with a long, fine, clear leader tied to the end.
We were fishing Quittapahilla Creek, a small stream in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania (near the candy-making city of Hershey), known locally as the “Quittie,” and my mentor for the day, Chuck Swanderski, a member of the Doc Fritchey Trout Unlimited Chapter, shared some of the history of this waterway.
The creek starts as a clear, clean, upward bubbling spring, just a few miles upstream from where we were standing. Problem was that it had become an industrial waste discharge outlet for 80 years ending just after WWII. At that time, the stream was dead with little aquatic life and no fish. From WWII until about 1990, the area had become a waste dump when concerned citizens started a clean-up with organized angler groups. They petitioned for grant monies and project funding from state and federal sources, and got them.
Trout Unlimited assisted with the hard work and planning efforts, providing manpower for stream improvement that included invasive plant removal, stream clean-up, riparian buffer tree plantings, bank retainer netting, in-stream boulder structure placement and habitat construction, cedar chip trails (anti-deer tick), safety-minded access, parking areas, stream stocking and harvest monitoring. And more.
The downstream areas of the riffles created from water flow over the in-stream boulder placements become highly oxygenated, providing preferred comfort zones for oxygen-seeking trout. They are also preferred areas for anglers to ply their skills with fly presentations.
For this day, Chuck provided me with an intro to learning on-stream etiquette and made it a fun adventure for yours truly. He supplied details about the usual “how to do” things with the nearly weightless feathered hooks. It might have been a sort of day-long ordeal for Chuck, but I think we had some great fun.
We shared conversations, we laughed, and we joked about modern life, mostly comparing it to ancient life in America five decades ago when we were kids. Lots to compare with 27 cent gas and Dick Tracy wristwatches from back then. Beam me up Scotty. We’re almost there!
It is humbling to watch a skilled fly angler cast a nearly weightless fly with so little effort. Chuck was VERY good. With a curious and watchful eye, it is easy to see that there is an artful rhythm to the whisper of the unassuming fly line soaring gently overhead to land so softly in a riffle 40 feet upstream. No sound, no vigor, just a small feathery sample of barbless food for a hungry trout.
As I listened to Chuck direct my ability to make unfettered motion with a 50-year old Fenwick “gold series” fiberglass fly rod and fly, I forgot about all of the many issues on my mind. Paying bills, story deadlines, emails to answer, calls to make and the ever-growing to-do list for around the house back home in East Aurora, New York, five hours north. They all disappeared during these few hours of on-stream renewal. I was developing something I had only heard about from other fly rod anglers, a kinship with the natural world of a water flow and feathered, fuzzy hooks.
My heart and soul was at peace with nature in this restored stream. I was feeling quintessential on the Quittie! The gurgle of the flowing water was such a welcome sound. It is, perhaps, a sacred signal that these same swish and chinkle sounds occurred hundreds of years before.
At that moment, I was again stopped in mid-thought, feeling bonded by nature to our forebears. I thought to myself, again, such peace. I measured my heartrate, it was 52. Indeed, heart-found peace! This fly rod stuff was really good stuff.
Earlier we tied on a two-fly rig using nymph stage Hare’s Ear flies to imitate aquatic insect larvae in the stream. After an hour of casting skill improvement, we moved from hole to hole and rifle to riffle checking for active fish. The fish were moving toward the fly, but would turn away, perhaps the wrong size or pattern. Maybe my leader was too heavy. So Chuck switched me to a hand-made streamer fly made by his old fishing buddy at Neshannock Creek Fly Shop from another favorite fishing spot of his near Pittsburgh (visit http://www.ncflyshop.com/).
The retrieve was fairly simple when compared to some bottom big jig bass fishing tactics. This simply was cast out with a roll cast, then retrieved in a pull, pull, and stop manner. Bringing in a few inches of line with each pull.
On the second cast, a 15-inch rainbow trout slammed the fly. Wham! My arm jolted forward as the fish ran the other way, then leaped high in summersault fashion some four times before coming to our welcome net about 45 seconds later. My heart rate zipped a bit too, awesome fun that was measurable. What fun this was! We carefully released the fish to fight another day, maybe to provide these same moments of fun for some youngster tomorrow or the next day.
Lastly, Chuck was really happy to share something that might serve as a learning lesson for thousands of other streams in the country, the Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum. Here was a collection of hundreds of various shapes of disposed plastics. Bottles, baby toys, plastic chain, plastics in many forms, most of it tattered, broken, but still identifiable.
According to a written message from the Garbage Museum Executive Director, an educator person who placed numerous informational learning signs for others to study and whose name is not known to me, “Most plastics will DECOMPOSE, but never BIODEGRADE. Breaking into smaller chunks, the plastic molecules will be with us for millions of years, ingested and excreted millions of times by fish, birds and other organisms.” After reading this I thought to myself…and we wonder where cancer comes from – something we didn’t have much of 50 years before plastics.
Then I recalled the movie named “The Graduate,” where most of us remember the most significant word from that steamy movie made in 1967, “plastics.” There is goodness and not-so-goodness, perhaps, with every invention. I wondered if the preceding native ancestors, the Lenape Indians, would continue to use plastics if they understood what we now know about plastics?
It was getting late, we had walked about 3,000 feet downstream stream from the public parking lot on this 34-acre Quittie Nature Park stream and the temperature was 90. It was time to recap our trip with friends from the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association at the nearby Snitz Creek Brewery, a tasteful beer-making facility not far from the stream. We took a beer plant tour with co-founder, Patrick Freer, then discovered a few moments later that there is nothing quite like a microbrew they call “Opening Day IPA.” This is particularly true among fellow fly-rodders that can tell a tale, if you know what I mean. “No, my fish was bigger. I caught two. I caught four.” And on and on. You get the picture. A fun, thirst-quenching, long-winded, joke-filled lunch. The best kind.
When friends and community work together to create a revitalized stream treasure and nature area, the future is brighter for everyone. On a related note though, while we seem to have saved our second amendment with our current legislators – a good thing, the work of clean streams and waterways may become more challenging due to currently retracting rules of the Clean Water Act. Be watchful as sportsmen, speak up when we need to.
Hats off to all those volunteers that take the time to reclaim lost parts of nature for the benefit of our common future.