Spring Creek Preview

The long cold winter had been wearing me down, so it was nice to spend a few days in the slightly warmer climate of Pennsylvania’s spring creek territory. Thanks to a gift from my son, Leighanne and I stayed at the Inn at Ragged Edge near Chambersburg, an historic B&B conveniently located near several of this country’s most celebrated (and challenging) limestone trout streams, viz., Big Springs, Falling Springs, and Letort Spring Run. We had a good time of it, with friends and pleasant company.

Winter had made me feel like an old pileated woodpecker’s tree

What made the visit sweeter was the fact that, on departure from New York, I had stopped at our local post office on the slight chance that my long-awaited fly rod would be there, available to be christened on the southerly waters. By god, there it was– after a nearly two-year wait from time of ordering. If you invest in a split-cane rod that’s built entirely by the hand of an established craftsman, you expect to wait a while, but when it’s finally ready for the stream, the pleasure you derive is special.

my shavings all over the ground…

I immersed Chester2 (my second fly rod built by Brian Kleinchester) in the rainy atmosphere of Big Springs Creek near  Newville, PA and broke him in a little. No catch was made, but I sure enjoyed the casting stroke across the clear, placid, cress-filled waters of The Ditch, renowned brook trout haven, rich in nutrients and well-fed trout, notorious for their finicky habits and the challenge they create for the obsessive fisherman. I saw one wild brookie, maybe 14-inches long, that eventually made a close inspection of a drifting artificial.

the view down from The Inn improved my spirits…

In the afternoon the rain grew stronger. The air felt cold and miserable as I visited Falling Springs, one of the few PA streams with natural rainbow trout production. A flock of bluebirds lent a dash of color, song, and hope to the dreary landscape but, ultimately, the anglers’ “skunk” approached me with its tail held high. Dinner in town, plus some late-night wine and bourbon, eased this transitory business of the die-hard angler.

I like big butts (on rods), just above the cork… Chester at bottom, Chester2 on top… The new rod is an 8-ft. 3-piece, for a 5…

The second day of fishing was much more pleasant. Arriving at the headwaters of Letort Spring Run, I saw a guy fishing whom I’d met years ago when first visiting this famous stream. I immediately felt comfortable: with clear, cress-filled water, flocks of songbirds absent all too long (ah, ye white-throated sparrows, Carolina wrens, robins, cardinals, and mourning doves!) and with this angler who introduced himself (again) as Rocky… a Letort Spring regular, for 40 years, who lives close to the stream.

Big Springs, one of several sources…

Any suspicions I may have had about Rocky’s fishing tackle were absolved as we spoke about experiences on water near and far. His fishing rod for many years (ever since he gave up casting with classic bamboo rods, perhaps due to their problematic upkeep) reminded me of nothing less than a black steel pole that needs no reel, that’s beaten up severely and patched together with duct tape. Rocky calls this practical (and legal) instrument “the original American tenkara rod,” a telescoping (or collapsible) 16-footer that’s become shorter through breakage, but still capable of reaching difficult brown trout hiding in the deep, grassy currents of the run.

Falling Springs in the rain…

I had first met Rocky in the summertime. Attached to his tenkara line was a large unwieldy wet fly, a “Black Ant,” fashioned on a barbless hook– the same big fly that he was casting now in February. Rocky took note of Chester2, the new fly rod that still had some plastic wrap on its grip. He seemed appreciative, stating how the swelled butt reminded him of work done by a famous rod builder. I said, yeah, I was loving it, even while thinking I would slowly simplify my rod collection and narrow down the numbers– if not to the extant of a master like Rocky, at least by the standard I was used to.

Here was a guy who knew many Letort Spring “Regulars,” the famous spring creek fishermen and conservationists like Vince Marinaro, Charlie Fox, Ed Shenk, and Lefty Kreh. He had fished with those guys and been mentored well. Rocky was a weathered gentleman, himself, a fellow with a friendly voice and helping hand who shared his stories with a stranger. He gave me a large wet fly, the great Black Ant, and told me that although it’s still early in the season for good fly-fishing, an Ant could work. Feeling humbled, I thanked this man who helped to usher in a bright day on the water.

on the Letort…

I walked downstream with a new fly rod and a looping sense of wonder, looking for spring, and seeing first signs– plus a wild brown trout that had taken a Pheasant-tail nymph beside a mossy grotto.

with Rocky’s superlative Ant…

a Letort brownie, too….

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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17 Responses to Spring Creek Preview

  1. Brent says:

    The Big Ant makes a nice contrast with Chester2’s earth tones. I’m looking more closely at the picture of Big Springs, and it looks very…well, big. Is that one of the bigger ground sources you’ve seen in the eastern US? I remember the real big one in Idaho, just west of the Tetons where we camped that time.

    • Yeah, it’s substantial. I almost included a second picture of a second springs nearby. It seemed to have an even greater outflow, but the photo didn’t come out as well, so I passed on it. The Henry’s Fork has a more substantial source, but the two adjacent springs here in PA are impressive, about the biggest I’ve seen anywhere.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Chester dos is every bit as handsome as his counterpart, Walt. And every window should have a view like the one at the inn.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Inching towards spring…hang in there.
    Here’s wishing you many happy outings fly-fishing with Chester 2!

  4. Great pictures, beautiful rods (and especially nice reel seats)! Excellent picture of the fly with the rod grip – how did you get such a clear shot with 1/40s shutter speed??WOW! And the fish – well I think I left a comment directly about the fish. It’s always nice to run into a pleasant person on the stream. (Just looked outside) It’s snowing here, but it wont be too much – and its ‘that time of year’ – I think I’m getting antsy. Oh well.

    • Thank you for the compliments, Marion; good to hear from you. Not sure how I get an occasional clear shot, mostly I get there just by chance, although I usually try for a fresh perspective. One of the great things about fly-fishing is the interesting personalities sometimes met along the stream. Rocky is a good example. Looking forward to a Slate Run visit this spring and a chance to talk things over!

      • As for the trout, itself, I find that the spotting and coloration of wild fish can vary considerably from place to place and sometimes in the same stream, so I’m not surprised that your northern PA brown had a different appearance. Bottom line is that all wild trout have a beauty of their own.

  5. Tim Didas says:

    Hi Walt,
    I’m glad that Chester 2 finally arrived! As always, great pics and narrative. Looks like a great getaway…

  6. JZ says:

    Nice to see your exploring wonderful areas and enjoying the good life Walt. Certain areas have wonderful charm, like Chambersburg. Great places to eat and just the motif of the area make it feel cozy warm, even in February. Great picture of your new rod with a Letort brown perched next to it. Great stream to christen it and find its casting rhythm. That wet fly looks very familiar Walt. Bob Church, a Brit native and well known angler often tied fly’s resembling that look. Nothing fancy, just plain fish catchers. I would say, without knowing, Rocky was a fan. I am too! Well, spring will soon be here Walt and your new rod will soon be hosting new parties at familiar venues. I think Chester2 is gonna like his new date. He knows your not a cheap-skate, that’s for sure! If the moon could speak and who says it can’t. He might whisper, “its a match made in heaven”. Go rope some trout..

    • JZ, indeed! The Limestone Country of PA has an undeniable charm to it, most certainly from the fly-fisher’s perspective. Although I’m not crazy about the urban development that’s going on, I very much like the streams, the history, the restaurants, etc., so it’s a pleasant get-away from the ice-bound rivertops in NY. And yeah, I think the new rod & I will get along just fine; we’ve off to a good start, and looking forward to a new season, as you are. As for Rocky, he may very well be a Bob Church tyer fan. I’ll be interested in seeing if there’s a connection there. Let’s hope we’re all roping trout soon, or at least getting roped into dream fulfillment!

  7. loydtruss says:

    I feel the handle on Chester2 will look as worn as Chester1 after this coming season is over. I’m impressed with the butt sections of both rods. What are the sections made of?
    Glad you and your wife were able to escape some of brutal weather you guys have been experiencing.
    Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      Glad you asked this question, I had to think… Chester is varnished blonde cane with a bird’s-eye maple spacer (I believe), and Chester2 is lightly flamed bamboo with varnished walnut burl (I think). They’re both pretty rods but, more importantly, are very comfortable for a caster who enjoys a slower, more relaxed stroke. Indeed, the latter grip will look as worn as the original after the next season is complete. Thanks!

  8. Bob says:

    Yet again… Kinderhook, Shenandoah, Washington D.C. area… This is seriously uncanny. I used to live in Dauphin, very close to where Clark’s Creek & the Susquehanna meet and fished the limestones religiously for years till I got transferred to the Pittsburgh area. I even got to explore several springs vaguely mentioned by the old timers at Cumberland valley T.U.. I still make several trips every year. Glad you got to enjoy a few. And it’s no mean feat to catch a Letort brown – way to go!

    • Uncanny, perhaps, and wonderful in the sense that you, and a few others, understand what the heck I’m getting at in trying to experience these waters. Much appreciated, Bob. I guess great minds (ambitions) plug along on similar waterways. Thanks for the kind words, and here’s to another fine season for us all!

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