For me, the joy of fishing arises from its variety.
First, there is great variety in the species of fish themselves, especially here in Pennsylvania. Our fishes largely adhere to our major watersheds, the Ohio and Susquehanna but then also the minor watersheds: Lake Erie, the Genesee River, Delaware River and Potomac River, though there’s a great mixing of species between them. Our greatest diversity of fishes is found in the far southwest of the state, within the Ohio River drainage, but enormous diversity is also found in places like the French Creek watershed and upper Allegheny River.
The variety here is awesome but underappreciated by all but a very few ichthyophiles. In more watersheds than you’d expect, eels are found at night, having migrated from the Sargasso Sea. Brook trout, those lovers of the cleanest, clearest mountain brooks, populate our highlands. Green sunfish, redbreast sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, bluegill sunfish and more await in our weedy ponds. American shad don’t run hundreds of miles up the Susquehanna anymore but they can still be found, crowded at dams seasonally and throughout the Delaware River. Fallfish, which I describe as our freshwater bonefish, wait to thrill on light tackle, including the fly rod.
But the fish themselves are only one aspect of the diversity we enjoy. We enjoy an even broader diversity of locations to fish and while our Fish and Boat Commission advertises only 21,000 miles of trout water, savvy fishermen know that there’s very little water here that doesn’t serve as a home to fish. Mountainous freestone streams await, draining the ridges of the Alleghenies. Our largest rivers, such as the Monongahela, offer shots at massive catfish. The southwest offers a number of large streams or small rivers with deep scour holes and undercut clay banks, again ideal for cats and a range of other species as well. Small impoundments with easy access are scattered across the state, stocked with a wider variety of sportfish than you might imagine. Musky, giant cats and 8 lb. bass have come out of some unexpected places.
But there’s another dimension to fishing’s variety and that’s the range of methods we might employ in our fishing. Sometimes I feel like I’ve tried it all but I know that’s not really true. For starters, anyone claiming this feat would have had to try:
- Fly fishing
- Ice fishing
- Baitcast fishing
- Overnight fishing
- Set line fishing (not legal in Pennsylvania)
- Great Lakes trolling
- Kayak trolling
- Pole and line fishing
- Primitive fishing
- Groundbait fishing
- Lifelist fishing
- Tournament fishing
- Tenkara fishing
- Campout fishing
- Pier fishing
- Belly boat fishing
I’ve enjoyed trying just about all of these in my lifetime but my most recent experiment is the one I’d like to mention today – the last on my list, the “belly boat” or float tube. I’d always wanted to try this and so, this summer I have. Over the winter I’d acquired two of these smallest of inflatable boats (on clearance at Cabela’s) and so, after also buying matching swim fins, I got in the water, tentatively at first. This was the first “boat” I’d fished from in which I was not fully contained but kind of dangling like an engorged floating bull frog maybe, webbed feet and all. It wasn’t immediately comfortable and I found it incredibly hard to change direction or to move myself off of the wide mud shoal I’d launched onto.
But I’ve done it a few times now along with my friend Nigel, and it feels almost natural. I don’t really have to think about changing direction now, I just do it automatically, as though the tube were an extension of my body. I have a favorite place to tube in the upper reaches of a nearby reservoir and I’ve developed a special tube fishing technique involving a ten foot pole, a special bait and vertical jigging. I’ve been pulled around by catfish already on one day and took 40 bass on another with the fly rod. I’ve drifted aimlessly, morning sun on my shoulders, waiting for the next sudden peck on the line. What more could I ask for?
It just fits very well with the way I love to fish: with as little as possible coming between me and the fish. No motors, no sonar and often no reel. I also like to occasionally get a boat in to places off the beaten track with no road access or boat launches. I want simplicity and the feeling that I’m not an alien intruder but a part of my surroundings; a more clever than average predator; a big bloated bullfrog.
Here’s the best part though: now I get to take the tube and apply it to every kind of fish I know how to find and every place I know to fish. Maybe some new fish and new places as well. I have some gear innovations yet to introduce. Prospects for adventure abound – the same as always.