April 16th, 2007

By Dave Pearson, PA

For years my home water was the Wissahickon. At the time I lived in Philadelphia and was tickled that it was possible to catch trout inside the city limits. The Wissahickon Valley Park is huge 1800 acres. Inside the park the creek flows seven miles from Chestnut Hill at the north end to Manayunk at the south. Forbidden Drive is a large road which parallels the creek mostly from Bells Mills to Lincoln Drive and is closed to motorized traffic save for the city park service and the local constabulary. So you can't drive your car along the creek. But you can walk, jog, ride your bike, or ride your horse. I think of Forbidden Drive as the world's largest fisherman's trail. It certainly makes access easy.

The stream supports a good population of native panfish, catfish, and carp. And the commission stocks trout three times a year; twice in the spring and once in the fall. The native fish have their fans, but most folks fish for the trout. Me included.

Just about every Tuesday I drive from central Pa. to the Philadelphia area to give guitar lessons. If I have a free spot in my day, I'll stop creekside for lunch. If I have a large enough spot, I'll wet a line.

This past Tuesday, I arrived at the Wissahickon at 6:30 in the morning. The thermometer under the car read 28 degrees. This was way too cold for spring.

I put on every bit of clothing I could find in the back of the car and went to the stream. I started with a prince nymph and a downstream swing. Nothing. So I turned the other way and fished upstream. Really nothing, except for ice in the guides. So I switched to a small bucktail and fished a large deep pool with a long slow swing. Ah Ha! There's some interest. I adjusted the retrieve a bit and connected with a fish. Then another. And a few more. All the while fishing my way downstream.

By midmorning it had warmed up considerably. I shed a few layers and was working my way back upstream toward the car when I ran into James. I was on the drive heading north; he was heading south.

"Catching any?"

"Doing well."

"How many?"

"Stopped counting 'bout a dozen"

"Where are they?"

"Let 'em go."


"That a cane rod?"


"Three weight?"

"No, a four." I notice he is wearing a beat up cap with the Sage logo and a Patagonia jacket. He's about my age.

"Looks nice."

"Here" I hand him my rod. He gives it a wiggle.

"This is real nice."

"Go ahead and cast it."

"I don't want to beat up your line on the gravel."

Looks like this fellow left his license at home.

"Go ahead, I need a new line anyway." He strips out some line and lays out a forty foot cast with practiced ease.

"What kind of rod is this?"

"A Lawrence."

"Never heard of 'em."

"He's a backyard builder from upstate...and a good friend of mine." He lays out another cast.

"Got a Leonard at home...bought it new."

I revise my estimate of his age upward. He reels in the line, gives back the rod, and offers his hand.

"Name's James."

Turns out James was well into his 60's, a Vietnam vet, and a staunch advocate of catch and release. Even in this put and take fishery. There's only so many fish and a lot of fishermen. Over the years James has been on many committees to preserve and improve the Wissahickon watershed. He tells me the Clean Water Act of 1971 made a huge impact on the quality of the stream. Before the act, flyline would change color (!) after it was fished a few times in the stream.

Many of the trees along the stream bank sport new wood duck houses. James informs me that the Wissahickon now boasts five mating pairs and more are on the way. Interesting. This stream as I know and love it is as it is in part because of the efforts of this man, and I didn't even know it.

I thank him.

He shows me a couple of tricks for taking trout this time of year, then watches as I fish a pool. After a time I catch a couple more fish. He seems satisfied and wanders off south on Forbidden Drive. I head north to my car. I don't want to be late for my lessons. ~ Dave - (black gnat)

About Dave:

Dave Pearson lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with his loving wife, Gillian, and two dogs, Casey and Booboo. His passion is small mountain streams. He teaches guitar for a living. You may contact Dave at: pdewey2@aol.com

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