The Founders’ Rod

At the spring meeting of the Slate Run Sportsmen (SRS) in Slate Run, PA, I got

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

surprised. Just prior to commencement of the business meeting for members of the group dedicated to preservation of the Pine Creek Valley and to fly-fishing on the tributary known as Slate Run, Leighanne slipped her name into a creel of names to be drawn for a prize.

I’d forgotten all about the Founders’ Rod, a Heddon bamboo once owned by Dr. Luther Fetter, one of the founding members of the SRS. Before I knew it, a name was drawn from the creel; my wife’s name was on the slip of paper. I cheered (rather modestly); she rose to accept the fly rod and the accompanying leather-bound journal.

DSCN3924No, Leighanne wasn’t about to start a fly-fishing life with the well-preserved Heddon 35, although I encouraged her. This “Peerless” rod is one of the high-end models built by Heddon, ca. 1940. She wanted it for me, and I was thankful. The Founders’ Rod, which now rotates annually among members of the SRS, was on loan to me for a solid year, on condition that I write of my experiences with the rod, recording highlights in the leather-bound journal, to be shared at the next spring meeting (2015) of the Slate Run Sportsmen.

The first note in the Journal sets the scene: The rod is dedicated to the memory of the DSCN3932founding fathers of the Slate Run Sportsmen (established in 1954). The rod itself was owned and used by Dr. Luther Fetter, one of the founders… It is only fitting that the rod be used the first year, (of the loan) 2012, by Dr. Fetter’s son, Dr. Werner “Dutch” Fetter.

I am honored to be considered a friend of Dutch Fetter, Luther’s son, a life-long Slate Run angler and a fellow trustee of the SRS. He’s the guy who has made it possible to share the bamboo rod and to experience first-hand a bit of the club’s fine heritage. As the third holder of this Heddon 35, I’m looking forward to casting it for the next few seasons and enjoying what it represents.

DSCN3922At mid-point of the twentieth-century, the status of trout fishing and the mountainous environment in and around Slate Run, PA wasn’t looking very good. Decades of relentless timbering had damaged the soil and forests of the Pine Creek/Slate Run area, and unregulated fishing had pretty much decimated the remainder of the wild and native trout. With Slate Run fishing on the skids, a group of six men, including Luther W. Fetter, sat down at the Hotel Manor in Slate Run and hammered out a plan.

The plan to save the unusual environment of Slate and to establish the run as a fly-DSCN3934fishing-only water was presented in Harrisburg and finally became law. The SRS was born in 1954 and continues to be an influential force in state environmental matters today. Slate Run has returned to a state of wildness and natural beauty, with freestone fly-fishing opportunities unparalleled in the region.

Despite protections set by law, the future health of the Slate Run region isn’t guaranteed. The SRS and the citizens of Pennsylvania need to be vigilant of threats from sources such as invasive species, hydro-fracking of gas deposits, and climate change. Life guarantees nothing for anybody, but with environmental groups like the SRS and Trout Unlimited, at least some of us can say we’re doing what we can to stave off major trouble.

DSCN3936To help sustain the memory of the founding fathers of one small conservation group, I’m pleased to cast a wonderful rod for the next 12 months. I’ll load that instrument (a 3-piece, 8.5 foot) with a five or six-weight line and feel a special history vibrate through the “living reed.”DSCN3935DSCN3925



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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16 Responses to The Founders’ Rod

  1. Junior says:

    When I first started reading I wondered why they haven’t prohibited you and mom from entering the raffles. This isn’t winning for keeps, but it sounds like a great way to honor SRS history and even (literally) write a bit of it as well.

  2. It may get to prohibition, Junior. When President Joe got ready to draw the name, he publicly stated, “Oh we know who’s gonna win this” (looking at her), and sure enough. But yeah it’ll be a fun way to look at SRS history and presence all at once.

  3. Leigh says:

    Look forward to reading about your adventures with this rod. Looks like Spring is finally heading our way. All the best to you and Leighanne.

  4. Ah, spring at last, Leigh. Yeah I think I’m going to enjoy this rod. A little lawn-casting (over a new snowfall) says it’s going to be nice. Thanks, and have a great new season with the fish and with the blog.

  5. Wow! What an awesome piece of history. It’s certainly in the right hands.

    • I’ll say this, Jim, yes and thank you. I do like history in every sense, not the least of which is the local variety, especially when it has to do with that human being/wild nature connection.

  6. Kenov says:

    Great post. The Flyfisher’s Club of Harrisburg has a similar tradition (and sadly I’ll miss their meeting next week).

  7. Thanks Kenov. I thought about you recently with regard to PA fishing clubs because of your appreciation of that Harrisburg club and its connection to streams like the LeTort, which I hope to visit again this season.

  8. LQN says:

    Very neat, love the tradition! thanks for sharing Walt.

  9. You’re welcome Long, I appreciate the comment. I guess I’ve always been a sucker for the traditional aspects of the game, but am always seeking to push the limits elsewhere, too.

  10. Very cool bit of history, and congratulations on the honor of the loaned Founder’s Rod. I appreciate the work you do in conservation and preservation. Slate Run and the Black Forest Trail area is kind of where I got my start in backpacking and hiking (well, on my own at least. We did have a cabin when I was a child between Lock Haven and Farendsville on the north side of the Susquehanna’s West Branch). I was 17 the first time I fell in love with a hawk. It was at a fishing hole just up from the old Rope Bridge by the little Inn at Slate Run. A Red Tailed circling overhead. Went home to the Lock Haven Library later that week to look up indigenous hawks and was amazed to find how many. It’s been a life long love ever since.

  11. David, I enjoy your recollections of the Slate Run area and how it kind of imprinted on your being. I can picture exactly that area of the gorge above the now-defunct rope bridge. And the red-tail soaring above you… Reminds me of a little poem I once wrote, called Red-Tail: Soaring circles/ around the Sun/ drawing the Moon/ thru his embered tail/ Hawk/ plays and hunts/ creation in his eye/ the Earth at his claw/… I’m glad the Red-tail has helped you open up the world of birds for further appreciation.

  12. Alan says:

    What a wonderful story. To own now this piece of fly fishing history is truly special.

    • Thanks Alan! It’s special to me in a way that’s hard to define. Typically when we “own” something special, say a good fly rod, we figure we’ll fish it till the rod or us dies first, then the rod will pass along to the trash bin or to someone who inherits or buys it. With this Heddon, the idea is compressed– into a year, which I hope is a very good one. It says to me, we never really OWN anything, but we can care for it, and when the time comes to part, it’ll be passed to someone else who cares, who’ll build on the history of the thing.

  13. Bob Stanton says:

    Sweet! Actually, I think it should be pronounced as the kids of today might say: “Suh – weet!!” or something like that. And I can’t think of anyone more befitting to honor the tradition and the spirit behind the Founder’s Rod than yourself. I can only imagine that you are dreaming of a year’s worth of angling adventures with the rod in hand. As the good Dr. Suess said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!” Congrats, Walt!

    • Yo Bob! And suh-weet! it is. Thank you, sir. I’ll admit I’m dreaming a bit, perhaps because of the rod but certainly because, thank god, the weather is finally brightening for sure. Not yet certain of those places I’ll go, but when our tracks finally cross, you’ll have to cast this rod and see what you think.

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