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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.