There’s a sharp dichotomy here in Pennsylvania among anglers and this same split applies equally well to the fishers of other states. I think that I captured this difference best in my long read book, The Dying Fish, but here’s the quick read version.
When I came to Pennsylvania other fishermen who discovered our shared passion wanted to help me out. They told me where I could go reliably catch fish, often the same places they’d always fished and that the state reliably apportioned hatchery trout to. They told me their preferred baits and tactics as well, reliably exaggerating the remoteness of their fishin’ holes, the size of their catches and the reliability of harvest.
But it wasn’t really necessary. I had boots and a map and a love of exploration. Trying the waters for myself was the essence of fishing, as far as I was concerned and how could I really learn all the waters and all the fishes if I was skewing my whole experience toward stocked fish and popular waters? It’s analogous to much else in life, I think. How do we hold an expansive, holistic view of things when we’ve followed the recommendations of other people concerning their best places and experiences? (This helps explain my aversion to putting stock in online reviews.)
What does the counter strategy look like? Well, one day last week I woke in a hemlock grove beside a spring-fed brown trout stream in the central part of the state. I wadded up the mosquito netting, pulled boots on and checked my water-depth indicator sticks from the night before. The swollen stream was falling, the water clearing just enough for a perfect day.
My comrade Nigel arrived from Pittsburgh early, he eager to stretch his legs and fly line on Pennsylvania’s limitless trout waters, a contrast to the sometimes more confining waters of the UK. I’d found this place by accident. Who can say how many like it lie between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia? Catching started very quickly with a couple of foot-long wild browns born in the stream and this catching continued on into the afternoon. My simple bucktail streamer was pursued relentlessly as I ripped it through the muddied water or eased it out of shadowed edges into eddies.
So, I’m sorry if you’d like me to tell where this was – it won’t happen. This would deprive you of the opportunity to take fly rod, map and maybe a lunch in hand to scour the countryside yourself for the prolific watercourses that you’ve never heard of but which wait for you just off the beaten track. Nigel and I won’t fish that one again anytime soon either. I have my eyes on four miles of inaccessible stream I’ve found on the map in a completely separate river system fifty miles to the south. I know virtually nothing about it at present but I’m jittery with angling anticipation.