From the Bucket List

A number of experienced Pennsylvania anglers, in addition to fishing writers such as Charles Meck and Dwight Landis, have described Rock Run, a tributary of Lycoming Creek in north-central PA, as the most beautiful, spectacular, and picturesque troutDSCN5031 stream in Pennsylvania, a state that’s already blessed with an unusual number of scenic waters.

One writer went so far as to place it among the most beautiful trout streams in America; and Backpacker magazine rated the water in 2009 as the “#1 swimming hole” in the U.S., which certainly assured that this stream would rise from the mountains of anonymity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARock Run (well-named) had been on my bucket list of streams to fly-fish for a decade, ever since first reading of its beauty. Rock Run tumbles from the McIntyre Wild Area of the Loyalsock State Forest, a stream with steep walls and ledges and waterfalls and swirling potholes, with chute-like channels boring through solid bedrock, and with water so clear that sometimes you can see trout hugging the bottom of pools at depths of 25 feet.

The run, whose mid-section waters average about 30 feet wide, has summer channels (or chutes) narrow enough at times to be stepped across, if necessary. The stream has virtually no sediment at all, and gravel can seem like a precious commodity. Rock Run, well-scoured, limits its production of insect hatches and sizeable trout, but to walk it is a fun experience.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I found several You Tube videos praising this trout stream as a spot for family swimming parties and even for kayaking adventures in spring, I figured I’d better visit the place before popularity killed off its appeal. Other than that, I don’t know why it took so long for me to scratch it from the bucket list.

Actually there was another reason I finally got moving on it. I read more about Elizabeth S. Benjamin (1829-1907) who lived in the village of Ralston at the mouth of Rock Run. Benjamin is now considered, by the likes of fly-fishing historians such as Paul Schullery, to be the first woman in America to have tied flies commercially. Although some of her trout flies are displayed in the American Museum of Fly-Fishing (Manchester, VT), very little is known about this interesting personality.

Perhaps I could find a clue about her existence in Ralston. I made a casual inspection of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAan old cemetary above the banks of the Lycoming but found no family name of Benjamin among the aging stones. Elizabeth Benjamin had studied the insects that emerged from the trout streams near her home and had watched the habits of anglers in what was once a popular gathering place for those who fished for large brook trout.

Along with her son, who gathered the feathers from local birds, and her husband, who helped in various capacities, Elizabeth established a lucrative fly-tying business in the valley as early as 1853. Today I found no indication of a fly-fishing interest whatsoever. Other than a bald eagle that I saw flying over the Lycoming, the only other positive sign I found was in the local general store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe woman who clerked at this location, hearing that I was about to climb the mountainous road on my debut at the stream, pointed out a small pack of wet-fly leaders built professionally for the casting of three artificials at a time– a practice that had once been a standard for fishing with wets.

Did I know who built those leaders? They had been acquired long ago, and the woman wanted more of them to sell. I had no idea who might have built those 7′ 6″ and those 9-foot leaders complete with dropper tippets, but ever curious about such matters, I purchased a longer one for later use on the Lycoming.

The weather forecast for my debut had given a 20-percent chance of rain, which soundedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA pretty good until the 20 percent became a 100-percent certainty for morning-long precipitation.

As I climbed the narrow gravel road (apparently the first visitor of the day), I worried that the rain might drop a tree or heavy branch across the road and cause some problems, but when I saw another intrepid soul parking his vehicle and heading for the run, I decided it was now or never, and I’d do some wet-wading for trout.

DSCN5040The other visitor, named Gene, went swimming in the rain and took a lot of underwater photographs in an amazing pool below a waterfall. It was his first visit to the run, as well. I took it easy on the slick and treacherous rocks and tried unsuccessfully to hook a stocked or wild trout in the rain, in 60-degree water clear as proverbial gin.

I spooked a few fish, but the others would have to wait for me to make another appearance. Maybe in the fall when the leaves are exploding with color. Maybe then, with a little more exploration under my belt, I’ll be able to judge whether this beautiful stream is truly more spectacular than any other fished in Pennsylvania.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS 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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16 Responses to From the Bucket List

  1. Leigh says:

    It does look like a good place to swim or fish. Look forward to hearing of your return visit.

  2. It’s an interesting visit, Leigh, and should be awesome in a month or so. Will keep you posted.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    What a beauty of a stream! Definitely worthy of further exploration. Those leaders look kinda like the ones PA Trout was selling in their magazine a few years back to raise money for the state council, methinks. But then, maybe not. The three fly cast is something I’ve not experimented with enough, though I’ve been tying a bunch of classic style wets lately. I’ll have to give it another whirl.

  4. It’s something else, Bob, and I’m looking forward to another visit soon. Yeah I don’t know where those leaders came from, but I tried a set of wet flies on a nine-footer, and even with a small bamboo, the casting on Lycoming Creek went better than expected. More experimentation, with a longer rod, is in the works. Lots of old-timers used a weepy cane rod with this set up and, of course, became quite good at it.

  5. Les Kish says:

    Nice stream, even for skinny dippers. Neat bit of history too Walt. Pretty amazing that someone would be selling trout flies as early as the 1850’s.

    • Thanks Les. Glad there weren’t any skinny dippers out; I had enough distractions. And yes, the touch of history here, the fly-tier who apparently predates Sara McBride (often credited, till now, as the first female tier), makes the place even more special for a visiting angler.

  6. Here’s to the places yet undiscovered (by anyone but me)! Looks like a fun place to visit even if the fish aren’t cooperating.

  7. Especially fun when the place is in your own “backyard,” here defined as within a couple hours’ drive. Thank you, Jim.

  8. Brent says:

    I think I remember Ralston from a drive south from Elmira after I left home. It was in the winter and I was heading back to Washington. Along route 14, the transition from the rolling, slightly wooded farmland into the wild mountainous country further south was even more dramatic than on 15. This stream looks almost exactly the way I would’ve imagined a Lycoming tributary in that area.

  9. Brent, The Lycoming drive is probably more dramatic, and as you recall it. There’s a couple more streams in that neighborhood that I’ve got to visit soon, one of them is just north– the Roaring Branch, and the other just south, the Pleasant Stream. Both are superlative for scenery.

  10. argosgirl says:

    Beautiful place, looks perfect for a lovely fall day of trout fishing. Very cool to read about Elizabeth Benjamin. To think of a woman having a commercial fly-tying business in that era is pretty neat.

    • The story of E.B., the little we know about her, makes an interesting topic, I agree. A little more about her life has recently come to light, and maybe there’s more forthcoming. She was tying and selling trout flies prior to the American Civil War. Thanks Rebecca.

  11. loydtruss says:

    That is some absolute stunning water to fish there, the pretty greenish color mirrors my home waters on Smith Lake. Spiders remind me of snakes “dangerous”!!! Thanks for sharing

    • Bill, I saw the same attractive green on your lake water as on certain pools of this run, beautiful indeed. This spider, which was huge, and comparable to the fly reel I was using, is some kind of wolf spider, a ground hunter, and isn’t dangerous to the big galoots who carry fly rods, though I’ll admit, it does look like it could do us in.

  12. Alan says:

    Dwight Landis, trout streams of PA.
    That’s a sweet one.

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