Spring Journal: the LeTort

This post is less an introduction to the great Pennsylvania limestone water known asOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA LeTort Spring Run than a strategy for fishing it in a very limited time period. Driving homeward from Virginia I had just enough time to view the famous stream again and maybe fish it for an hour. I had fished it only once before– on a hot day in August and was beaten. There was no shame in that, of course, since the nine-mile stream is considered one of the most difficult fly-fishing waters anywhere. To get skunked there on a first occasion is a humbling experience and a decent way to keep honest.

Ed Shenk, Vince Marinaro and Charlie Fox are several of the many well-known and experienced fly-fishermen who have made the great LeTort a home water and a place to hone their angling skills. Anglers from around the world have challenged themselves on this chalk stream that has been compared to the classic River Test in England. The works of Fox and Marinaro, of Koch and Shenk, have influenced more than a generation of American outdoor enthusiasts. To cast a line on the LeTort is to sense the presence of exceptional fly-fishing personalities who ghost the spring run in an amiable and instructional manner.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was on my own, however, when considering a strategy to successfully fish the stream with only an hour to spare.  Here’s what I came up with:

1/ Okay, I had 60 minutes of actual casting time in the afternoon, with a bright sky overhead. Not good.

2/ I’d approach the lower end of the catch and release section near the city park in Carlisle. I’d select a likely looking spot and stay there for the hour. I’d try to ignore the tempting pools and glassy runs beyond. I’d focus on one place and allow myself to get hypnotized: ah, the beds of cress and swaying grass, the sediment sucking at my shoes, the hatch of midges or Blue-winged Olives (if I was lucky enough to see one).

3/ Of the three rods that I carried, I would choose the longest one to cast with, a 9-footer,  and equip it with a 4-weight line. Earlier at Mossy Creek, the long rod proved to be useful for slinging heavy nymphs into hiding spots, but here, at this southern Pennsylvania spring run, I’d forgotten how brushy and sodden the banks were. Since there is no wading, I was lucky to have the 9-foot for a different reason– for making a long, light cast across the wider pools. I would need all the “line control” I could get on these famously tricky currents.

4/ The wild browns were more likely to hit a small emerger or dry fly than a large nymph,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA or so I thought. I opted for a #18 Olive. When that didn’t work, I switched to tandem flies– a Scud and a Hare’s Ear, then a pair of soft-hackles, which finally did the trick.

With only five minutes to go until ejection time, I began to work a fast run entering the pools where I fished. A small wild brown (bless its pointy little head!) took the soft-hackle and fought me till entangling with a sunken branch.

I waded to the branch and got a quick photo of the brownie as a means of saying “thanks.” Releasing the fish was all I needed to break the barrier of hesitation I had felt at the start. When all was said and done, I was probably lucky to have made that small connection before my hour was up. No matter. I felt grounded with the stream at last. I knew, then, I’d be making longer visits in the future.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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11 Responses to Spring Journal: the LeTort

  1. Very nice read Walt. I am glad that you connected with the fish, and the great fishermen of old.

    • Thank you Peter. Sometimes a small personal cast can make a pretty good “catch.”


      • Bob Stanton says:

        Hey Walt, congrats on striking “paydirt” on one of our seminal waters. I’m a little envious, I must say, of your southern jaunt. I’ll have to wait til May to satiate my jones for some down south water, as we have a trip to the Smokies planned. The trick will be balancing the touristy stuff that’s planned with some quality fishin’ time.

      • Bob, The southern jaunt was good overall, although the sudden switch into the land of Blooms & Pollen nearly wiped me out with allergy reactions, and the fishing was only so-so because of cool waters. The Smokies in May will be awesome for you. In my opinion the tourism there is Dollywood unless you can get off the main track every now and then where the wild fish are. If you strike a good balance, you might get the feel of Ed Abbey or Harry Middleton Great Smokies writing.


  2. Kenov says:

    Every fish you bring to hand on the Letort is the equal of a much larger one elsewhere. Good strategies, by the way. As much as I love Ed Shenk and short rods, the Letort really is long rod stream.

    • Kenov, Thanks for dropping by. I’m going to have to search out Shenk and learn how he managed short rod casting on the Letort. I had a couple of short rods with me on my visit, but I couldn’t see using one there. On my first visit to the stream, I met a guy who claimed to be an old Letort regular. He was using the damndest thing I’d seen– a scoping metal rod of some sort that could reach a length of 14 or 15 feet. He said that was the only rod he’d ever use on this stream. And this was well before Tenkara became popular in this country. He’d just swing out a nymph or wet fly to a likely looking spot and let it sink.


  3. stevegalea6953 says:

    Great read Walt. Might I ask what soft-hackle it took and what size?

    • Sure Steve. The brown took a #12 Olive in soft-hackle. I had calculated the possibility because the Letort has relatively few hatches for a nutrient-rich water, and midges and BWOs (admittedly in much smaller sizes, like 18 and 20) are the most likely to appear at this time, as far as I know. Anyway, I hope the weather’s been easing up a little at your place and you’re gonna get some fishing in soon. I had a good day last Sunday, with 8 rainbows, and today, the opener for the regular season in PA, a few more.


  4. Pingback: Breaking the code | Truttablog

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