Franklin, Pennsylvania – an Outdoors Treat for Mind and Heart

Peace and bronzeback fun abound on the Alleghany River near Franklin, Pennsylvania.

  • Trout Stream Fishing, a Spring Hatch, Fly Rod Fun 
  • Smallmouth Bass, Light Lines, Tube Jigs, Screeching Drags, Double-Headers…a Musical Concert!
  • Riverside Camping near Franklin, Pennsylvania – Campfires, Peace, Eagles, Blue Sky…Unforgettable

By Forrest Fisher

The morning fog rising off the Allegheny River as it flows through mountain valleys and near lands where footsteps have likely not yet travelled. Breathtaking to see in person.

Last week was a journey week for Fern and I. We hitched up the GMC-1500 and travelled to Pennsylvania for a visit with fellow outdoor writers to share ideas, toss a few fishing lines, compare shotguns, quip about each other’s hair loss and joke about how we might climb the tallest mountain to hunt turkey where no one else could possibly be.

Some of us are getting too silvery between the ear lobes to climb much of anything that some might call a mountain – like the stairs to the second floor of the hotel. Still, we kid about it, it’s fun. It helps to laugh, since according to Fox News, laughing helps us all keep younger, the ultimate quest.

As writers, we share our love of the outdoors in every aspect. We talked about fishing rods, reels, boats, 4-stroke engines, shoes, waders, braided lines and fly lines, firearms, new laws, arrows, bows, boots, deer ticks, health insurance and the cost of gas, not necessarily in that order.

My friends in the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association are from an elite group of outdoor folks that love to share the one thing they want to help others find out about – the outdoors. The fun of hiking, fishing, camping, hunting and all the rest.

New terms in the last few years include kayaks, mountain bikes, mini-backpacks, ceramic forks and our dependency on space age communications…‘er, cellphones. We all agreed that the world seems to think we need these gizmos. We did not talk about Chinese exports and our own American need to overconsume everything, thank goodness, since the microbrews tasted so good.

Western Pennsylvania near Oil City and Franklin, offer a step back into American history, American values, culture and the outdoors, all quite refreshing in our modern day and age.

One evening as we walked down Main Street from our affordable and comfy Quality Inn hotel room in downtown Franklin, Pennsylvania, my wife said, “Isn’t it great to see families holding hands, talking and walking from one small shop to another, window shopping and just enjoying conversation?” Who could disagree?

Franklin is special in that regard, besides being right next to Oil City, where our life in the petroleum world started long ago. We are all lucky to live in America, but I was considering that we were really fortunate to find a place like this highly valued town. So to share more about this for friends and vacationers, if you’re looking for a clean, wholesome and healthy place to visit this summer, check out this National Heritage Oil Region in western Pennsylvania, where oil was discovered. I know, who of us knew?!

Home that were built hundreds of years ago and used during Revolutionary War periods still dot the landscape along the Allegheny River. 

We visited the DeBence Antique Music World as a touring stop and we heard the sound of beautiful birds outside trying to overcome the music inside, all coming from mechanized musical instruments that were on museum display and were played for us visitors. Some of these things were straight from the Wild West and the Matt Dillon timeframe – including church air organs. I felt like we were in a time machine. The mosaic of musical gear we observed, provided a symmetry of sound that was beautiful, unamplified, all natural, and was mostly using simple air, simple springs, and old-fashioned ingenuity. No hidden circuitry, if you know what I mean. No permission to share your name, pictures, location or personal information. I miss those days.

We walked a bit farther down the sidewalk, passing undisguised church steeples and wooden-front stores and shops, all still in use, many built in the late 1700’s.

Spring flowers were in bloom alongside the shop venues when we stopped with our writer friends to have dinner at Benjamin’s Roadhouse. Simple wooden tables, wooden floors, a 200 year-old bar and undisguised comfort. We enjoyed live music too, blues and rock, from a group called the Max Schang Trio – you gotta love base, drums and guitar simplicity, half of us were singing! It was that melancholy good.

As we drifted back to the hotel to refuel our energy for the next day and a fishing adventure on the Alleghany River, our conversation embraced the unfussy life of the old days and life in the outdoors, and how good we felt visiting this town.

Healthy smallmouth bass that weighed-in at more than 5 pounds were caught by our friends and I… fun? I could only say…WOW! Yes!  We landed more than 40 fish in just a few short hours. An unforgettable day on the river.

The next day, we each caught several dozen smallmouth bass casting trouble-free tube jigs. Simple fishing, albeit from a modern watercraft and using Gamma brand braided line – the good stuff, and made right in Oil City. Still it was simple, drag-screeching fun.

We observed campers in simple pop-up tents that had hiked down to the river bottom to overnight a stay and fish the shoreline of the river. Watching them cook breakfast took me back to my young family days and camping. Camping is much more than a place where you spend a small fortune to live like a homeless person! Many joke about that.

This adult bald eagle was having an argument with a red-tailed hawk that had decided it was better to find another meal and live another day. The bird-to-bird argument was audible from several hundred yards away – another unforgettable moment on the Allegheny River near Franklin, Pennsylvania.

Camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, even a simple lunchtime break, all allow us to observe nature and sort of “find ourselves.” Some say we all quest to find a deeper understanding for all things outdoors.  Maybe, but we will find fresh air, silence, the sound of the wind shifting through the trees, the music of water rushing over rocks in a creek, and other hidden things that to learn more about outside. All devoid of over-complexity. In the outdoors, with nature, we look to form a special bond with our own universe and the simple natural world. 

If we are lucky, we share such essential time with those special people that we share life with, our family and friends.

For more about this region, visit: www.oilregion.org.

Gurgle, Babble & Slurp – the Welcome Language of a Reborn Trout Stream

By Forrest Fisher

Chuck Swanderski, a member of the Doc Fritchey Trout Unlimited Chapter, volunteers his time to teach youngsters and oldsters about the fun of fly fishing. Forrest Fisher Photo

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. 

For newcomers to fly fishing, the choices are many, including dry flies, wet flies, streamers and nymphs. Forrest Fisher Photo

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. 

Tying a 2-fly rig is simple with the right instruction, as the first fly is tied normally, the second fly is attached by a short 12-inch leader to the curved shank of the first fly. Forrest Fisher Photo

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.

The 2-fly rig is effective when aquatic insects are present in healthy streambeds and are drifting along in the current. Forrest Fisher Photo

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. 

This home-made streamer from Neshannock Creek Fly Shop caught several fish for us when the 2-fly rig only drew followers.

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.

The author enjoys chemical-free protection from deer ticks, black flies and mosquitoes with a protective skin covering suit made by Rynoskin Total (http://rynoskin.com/) that fits comfortably under his clothing, even on hot days. Note the beige color suit that includes socks, bottoms, tops, gloves and hood (gloves and hood not worn in picture).  Chuck Swanderski Photo

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. 

This 15-inch rainbow trout wacked a streamer fly and just made the day so much more special. A beautiful, colorful fish.  Chuck Swanderski Photo

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.

The Quittapahilla Creek Garbage Museum creates a mind-sustaining mental picture of what plastics have done to our environment and everything in it.  Forrest Fisher Photo

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.