Luckily there was no pearly gate to pass through, just a sign that read “Welcome to Fisherman’s Paradise,” a warm welcome to Spring Creek on a cool October morning. Luckily for me, an entrance to one of America’s most storied fly-fishing waters (near State College, Pennsylvania) did not require a life-time of good behavior or superior angling skills. Simply stated, I was on a pilgrimage, a first-time visit, to a very popular fishing site. Ironically, perhaps, the Paradise and lower sections of this limestone creek produce one of the finest wild trout fisheries in the state and country.
The human history at the creek is staggering. It’s been fished by notables ranging from Theodore Gordon to several U.S. Presidents. The mile-long Fisherman’s Paradise was one of the first American experiments with special angling regulations. Located in the mid-section of this 16-mile creek, it remains a fly-fishing only water, where wading is prohibited. Its wild brown trout have seen just about every pattern of nymph, scud, sculpin, and tiny dry fly imaginable. And to think that Paradise could be easy and unchallenging? Not on a blue sky autumn day, not in low, clear water with a high pH and a great variety of aquatic insects.
Well, Paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The stream suffered horrible abuse with chemical pollution in the mid to late 1900s but, luckily, it’s coming back, thanks to the dedicated work of conservationists and civic organizations. I’m glad it’s here on Earth. I wouldn’t want to travel too much farther to attain its pleasures.
The Paradise and its surrounding park were comfortable enough, with easy access and good casting from its open banks. I saw some mammoth, tight-lipped browns. I did not see the ghosts of famous fishermen from the past, nor angelic casters we might recognize from glossy magazines or videos, nor even a school of Orvis-clad couples rigging up at their SUVs. Oh, an angler fished here and there; a group of folks was selling hot dogs for a worthy cause but, over all, my wife and I enjoyed the relative peace and quiet.
The stream was on the rebound and becoming a healthy ecosystem once again. It is said to have more wild trout per mile than any other water in the state. I sampled the canyon above the Paradise (its water paralleled by a popular hiking trail) and found it scenic and wild, considering that the creek was flowing in a populated and rapidly developing county. I attempted to reach the Benner Spring Hatchery section to fish below it into the canyon but somehow missed the turn. If I visit again, that’s where I’m heading.
Back at Paradise, the trout began to rise for midges but the hook-ups were few and far between. I finally landed a leaping brown that made my day, erasing the problems of conflicting surface currents and whatever mental conflicts I may have entertained concerning paradisal expectations. It was time for lunch, so Leighanne and I retreated to a brewery in State College.
The food and drink were excellent but they couldn’t block a conversation at a nearby table. A professorial character was extolling the virtues of technology to a captured audience of three. “Think of this,” said the intellectual. “Someday the entire universe will be reproduced inside of your computer. The. Entire. Universe.”
I thought about what I heard. And yawned. And took another swill of IPA. Hell, I thought. Didn’t William Blake foresee all that– the world in a grain of sand– 200 years ago? The more things change… yeah. But the lunch was good, and necessary.