The drive to central Pennsylvania, once I get beyond the dense suburban areas around Baltimore, is incredibly relaxing. Rolling hills and mountains covered in green foliage of the oaks, sycamore, beech, hemlocks, and mountain laurel are a trigger for me to roll down the windows and breathe deeper. Driving along the Susquehanna River and the Juniata River is a bit distracting for me as I constantly need to remind myself to watch the road and not the river. As the miles roll on, my stress levels recede. Even with some construction on 322 (for my Transportation Engineering friends).
The rituals of preparing to camp start the excitement for me. Planning out and prepping the food, gear, and flies gives me hours of enjoyment and strategizing before the trip. This year I booked a trip with a guide and my conversations before the trip got me even more fired up. Anticipation of time on the river even went into cutting potatoes and tying blood knots on new leaders. Getting out the bins of camping gear with the smell of citronella and campfire smoke floods me with memories of past trips and hope for future adventures.
Rain kept the dust down along the gravel roads, making the drive even more scenic as the deep green colors of the vegetation was intensified by the moist air. Descending from the ridge top into the valley, the small tributaries emerge, chasing a path parallel to the road before escaping away into the forest. As I get closer to the park the stream sneaks back into view leading me to the campground. It feels remote and wild, the smell of pine and wood fires welcome me. Anglers hang their waders to dry on the lantern hooks and gather around picnic tables tying flies and telling fishing stories as I circle the campground loop.
Central Pennsylvania is one of my happy places, no pun intended with Happy Valley. The freestone and spring creek streams are surrounded by beautiful riparian and upland forests, rocky slopes, and wetland seeps. Runoff produces a chalky hue to the cool green waters from the limestone geology. The cloudy waters obscure some of the most stunning trout I have seen.
Each year I try to visit the area to fish a couple times of year, especially in May when the bug life is abounding and there is the chance to see the famous green drake hatch. Otherwise, March Browns, Sulphurs, Cahills, Crane flies, and a variety of caddis make the area one gigantic hatch. Even if you don’t witness overwhelming hatches on the water, at the campfire your lamps will gather a crowd of adult aquatic insects.
On one of those trips, I try to spend time with a guide. The past three years I have been able to spend time with Dominick Swentosky and most recently Bill Dell from Troutbitten. I generate pages of notes from their tips and instructions, and they help to reset my bad habits and lazy shortcuts. After my time with them I feel re-energized to expand my skills and keep growing as an angler.
Some fly fishers feel like once you reach a certain point of knowledge, years into your fishing journey, there is no need to spend money on a guided trip unless you want someone to take you on a float trip. For me, I find the yearly instruction and ability to ask questions of an expert angler with no judgment is invaluable. I hope that as I learn my questions become more intelligent and nuanced. I hope I look competent in front of the guides; my ego doesn’t go entirely away. But the responses I get to my questions contain kindness, humility, detail, and if I need it, visual instruction, and repeated practice. If I can’t translate the instruction after one explanation, they are patient and resourceful to find another way to reach me. I learn from their words and their actions. It’s hard to teach an old angler new tricks, really teaching any adult can be like banging your head against the wall. I would recommend to anyone to find a guide that they connect with and schedule regular trips to help you grow as an angler, if you have available resources.
Spending a few days in central Pennsylvania helped me to reset my soul and be without the distractions of cell service, email, and stress. I read a book, fished, and watched the campfire. No television or watching YouTube on my phone. Much needed downtime from screens and technology. I do however need to apologize for any of my neighbors at Poe Paddy campground who were awakened by me accidentally setting off my car alarm at 1AM on Sunday night. That was not the peace and quiet anyone needed! Thanks to Bill and Dominick at Troutbitten for helping me relax, learn, and find room for improvement!