The dance of a struggling Sulfur mayfly drifted past my waders as I watched the display in anticipation. To the unaccustomed eye one would think it was merely a bug struggling in its death throes, but to the trained eye it was the emergence of life. The diminutive mayfly's wings were bent and wrinkled at first, yet beginning to unfold like the canvas of an age-old clipper ship catching its first wind as it left the Philadelphia harbor. Life's metamorphosis was beginning amid the humidity of a 90degree July day that was slowly waning. An ecosystem born of the rich 58 degree limestone water was providing the hatch pursued by so many fly fishermen like myself.
A child of Pennsylvania, my ancestors arrived in Philadelphia in 1734 and settled with their Pennsylvania Dutch heritage in the Red Hill area north of Conshohocken, PA. They would move North and West some, but most would never leave the limestone waters of Pennsylvania. As a result, two-hundred and forty-four years later a 7year old boy would hook his 1st trout in the cold waters of Fishing Creek in Columbia County. From that point forward those waters would course through my veins, drawing me back again-and-again. As life and its pursuits would pull me elsewhere, I would always find time to visit. Yet a journey through Pennsylvania's storied trout waters can take more than a lifetime. There is a long heritage among their many hatches and crystal clear pools, where trout are found often and fishermen are said to lose themselves. The white-lined fins of a native Brook trout in the headwaters, and the buttery gold-hued belly of a wild brown from the tail-out of a plunge-pool all hold an allure that has remained unmatched no matter where I found myself. It's the Great Blue Heron standing guard as the sentinel of these waters and the Blue-winged Teal whistling their song as they pass overhead. The cackle of a roosted gobbler in the morning dew and the call of a great horned owl announcing its evening hunt as dusk falls are like book-ends to the pages of time. From the mountain streams of central Pennsylvanian north of Interstate #80 to the spring creeks of Dutch Country, a symphony of countless waters played over limestone and slate has defined much of my 50 years both on the water and at the tying bench.
The plethora of hatches encountered offer the flytyer countless opportunities to apply their skills at the bench. Though decades of modern tying have produced an unimaginable list of patterns traditionally used with success each season, I would find myself deliberating at my vise, trying variations of both design and materials to new and existing patterns. The many years have seen - plenty of patterns come-and-go, yet a steady handful have remained as a reflection of my time spent. Most are specific patterns that have been time proven on particular waters, while others have been born in limestone, but fished coast-to-coast. A testament to the class of water waded and the flies they have spawned. While Pennsylvania has been the piscatorial hunting grounds of many a well-known fly fisherman, with countless books and the colorful histories of some of the most well-known waters. It is also a haven for the layman, content only to work the day with the hopes of plying their skills for an evening escape. Its rich outdoor heritage is what I grew up with, and it is that characteristic of the state that keeps its eyes on the future of these precious waters.
So it is that I found myself standing thigh-deep in one of my favorite haunts, watching the mayflies as they struggle skyward toward the haven of branches overhead. Swallows, in elegant fashion, swoop in for their evening meal to the dining music of Cicada's serenading their feast. Rise-forms are beginning to show as well, as if the trout had been queued to join in the orchestra. Their steady noses identifying pods of fish staged in their feeding lies across the pool, staking claim to their seats for the evening's banquet. Concentrating on a single steadily rising fish I drop my offering of thread and feather upstream of its lie and watch as my fly slips away in the swirl of a disappearing nose. The lift of my rod brings the weight of a fish to hand and I know in an instant the familiar dance as I naturally follow. The lead of which is 14 inches of stream bred brown trout. I am at home.