Welcome to Eye of the Guide

Part Fourty-three

The Little Lehigh, An Urban Jewel

By George E. Emanuel
Photos by the Author

Little Lehigh

Turning off of Fish Hatchery Road into the Heritage Section of the Little Lehigh on a recent Sunday, I could as easily have been pulling into the parking lot of my church.

Nestled gently within the bosom of the Allentown Park System, this one mile stretch of stream displays the handy work of the Creator as no other place I have visited in sometime.

It's early spring, the day is clear with a golden glow about it. I could not help thinking of the great hand which was responsible for the essence of this place.

Allentown, Pennsylvania lies in what I was taught was the Piedmont, back when I was in school, many years ago. Funny, I never hear that word used much anymore. Guess you could say these are the "foothills," but that just doesn't seem to do the area justice.

On the drive up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I could feel the chains and shackles of the civilization I had left in the rear view mirror slip away.

These were replaced by the spectacle of rural Pennsylvania, one of the prettiest incarnations of peace and tranquillity it has been my pleasure to experience.

The farms are green with their crops newly sewn. And there, and there, and there; all manner of creature in their proper places. Cows, horses, goats, hawks, gophers, geese, and the occasional fish jumping in the pond. Was he inspired by the same joy for the day which prompted me to undertake this pilgrimage? Or, was he simply placed there by an unknown hand as but one more reminder of how lucky I am to be about in this place, at this time?

The "Heritage Section" of the Little Lehigh is approximately a mile long. It begins just below the Hatchery and continues downstream under the 24th Street Bridge to the next overpass.

This is wild trout water. The fish are as wary as any you will find in any place at any time. They are fished often, and hard, by some very good anglers. To say these fish are "educated" simply does not do their character justice. They have their PhD's in survival. You have never had a tougher professor grade any exam you have ever attempted.

Nestled appropriately is "The Little Lehigh Fly Shop," just about in the middle of the "Heritage" area. It is owned and operated by a most exceptional gentlemen, Rod Rohrback.

On this glorious Sunday morning Rod was outside the shop, which is housed in a quaint little building built not long after the Revolutionary War. I am not sure whether it adds character to the place, or takes it's character from it.

Rod Rohrback Sitting at one of several picnic tables over which he erects umbrellas to shelter for those who stop by for a respite from stream side endeavors, he sits, tying flies, and chatting with the few regulars who are here on this day.

The conversation, as is many times the case, turns on the experience of those present, the places they have been, and fishes and game they have pursued.

Deer, bear, raccoons, beaver, heron, osprey, and all manner of creature are being discussed. As most often occurs, some of the experiences are, to say the least, interesting. Like the raccoon that got into one home and took exception to it's customary inhabitants. The story fortunately had a happy ending, and more than one good chuckle as well.

I learned that Beaver do in fact suffer from road kill, though I have never seen one at the side of the road. It seems they have an understanding that when the male of the clan gets aggressive toward his family, they flee in terror. Often they will run for miles and cross more than a few roads where they learn far too late that they are in a blacktop forest with round trees we call tires running them over at 50 miles an hour.

The stream is located, as I said, in a municipal park, and is therefor multi-use in nature.

Today, there is a march for cancer, with many thousands it appears, of marchers.

There is an Indian "Pow Wow," complete with "Tom-toms" and tribal dancing at the far end of the park.

I can see two people astride very large horses, one dressed as a medieval knight, the other as a tavern wench; I have no idea why. They are a delightful pair, and strangely, do not seem at all out of place.

Somehow, it does not seem at all incongruous that fly fishing and other activities can take place side by side quite naturally. I will have to be aware of my back cast however, as the walking path is quite close in some places.

Little Lehigh

There are many large old Willow trees along the banks of the stream, and the grass is manicured regularly. For the most part the stream is perhaps forty to fifty feet wide.

Even with my meager ability with the long rod, I find no place I could not, from the bank, get a cast too. This does not mean that there aren't some difficult places on this stream, just that they are manageable.

Heritage Section

There is a wooden bridge about halfway through the "Heritage Section" just below the fly shop. There is no wading allowed on the upstream side of this bridge; any wading must be done below. If you haven't bank fished for trout recently, give it a shot. It may make you look at things a bit differently.

My attention focuses on a trout busily leaping with the regularity of "Old Faithful," as he launches himself upward, out of the water, taking what I think are caddis. He certainly is a splashy specimen.

The other fish in the area are a great deal more sedate than this fellow. The only thing giving there position away is an occasional "head and tail" rise. Or as the Brits say, "a smutting rise." The water temperature is about 56 degrees, clear, and well supplied.

I selected an eleven foot leader with four feet of 7x tippet. I tried BWO's size 18 to 22, a GHRE size 16, a Lead-wing Coachman size 16, a number of scuds, and a variation I came up with on the North Platte Brassie, with which I was highly encouraged to have had several follows. The usual downsizing however led to no takes, hmmmmm, damn smart fish!

I wish I could report I caught a bunch of fish, but alas, I did not. Neither did I see any landed by the twenty or so anglers also present.

As so often happens, my catch was far more esoteric than the landing of a fish. I have, at least for another week, recharged my spiritual batteries and participated with the finest mistress with whom it has ever been my please to associate; in the pursuit and appreciation of her creatures.

It was a great day! I have made some new acquaintances, whom have the potential to become more, if I mind my manners.

The trout and I have an understanding now. That we must meet on mutually agreeable terms if we are to feel the touch of each other. He will have it no other way, and frankly I would enjoy it not, under any terms he did not dictate.

I will be back here again. I will pursue some fish, drink some coffee, converse with those of like mind, and enjoy the gift that God has set down in this place.

And when my day here is done, I will lift my eyes toward the heavens, and say, "thank you."

Rod Rohrbach and the Little Lehigh Fly Shop are located at:
RD#2 Fish Hatchery Road
Allentown, PA. 18103
Phone 610-797-5599
Email is FLYLEHIGH@aol.com.

If you are in the area, look him up, he is a super individual, who is happy to share his knowledge with interested anglers. ~ George E. Emanuel

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