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 trout 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.
Rock 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.
When 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 an 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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.