By Neal Hoffberg WSC Board of Directors
Many of us have done it; fly long distances chasing a hatch that may or may not materialize, to which the trout may or may not rise. But once in a while some of those trips take an unexpected turn to become an experience of a lifetime. That was my latest trip with my brother, David.
I flew from Seattle to Newark and David flew from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, but our true destination was State College, PA. What? Sorry to say, but you must fly to New Jersey or Philly to get to State College trout rivers. That wasn’t the only odd thing. By tradition, most restaurants in State College are closed on Monday! Fortunately, every college town has an abundance of pizzerias. And State College is no exception.
We are scheduled to meet our guide at 11:30 the following morning. Yes! Guided fly fishing that doesn’t begin at 7:30 a.m. My circadian rhythm can catch up to my watch that is running three hours fast. How sweet it is to be able to sleep in! Our guide for the week is Paul Rebarchak. Paul is one of those guides that knows the local waters and hatches better than he knows Penn State football. And that’s saying a lot!
Over a country breakfast, we discuss our fishing options. Penns Creek, Spring Creek, Bald Eagle Creek? Bald Eagle it is. I have two more cups of coffee. No need to rush. We will fish from mid-afternoon until dark, dry fly only. Gotta love it. At this point I could go into detail about the fishing, but why bother? That’s like watching another fly-fishing video; park the car, walk to the water, observe, cast, miss the hook set, cast again and again and again. You get the idea. Suffice it to say that if you’re a numbers angler, this isn’t the place for you.
Lots of green drakes and sulphurs doesn’t mean that the fish are rising to those bugs. Even the sub-surface guys found the going tough. Paul’s favorite expression is “welcome to PA spring creek fly fishing.” I respond with, “Paul. Have you seen my wallet? Your tip is in it.” A guide with a good sense of humor makes a week of tough fishing easier to accept. Paul is that and more. Since our fishing didn’t begin until early afternoon, most mornings were spent checking out the local fly shops browsing the aisles like our mother used to do at Hermes and Gucci.
Ultimately, this trip became much more than admiring beautiful country and casting size ten green drakes to finicky trout. Years ago, David took a series of classes from the great Joe Humphreys, “who was a frequent competitor in the World Fly Fishing Championships and respected instructor who spent more than 30 years teaching fishing skills along with his good friend Ed Shenk.” The classes were held during The Fly Fishing Show held in Ontario, California. David didn’t think that Joe would remember him, but it would be great if David could say ‘hello’ and spend a few minutes reminiscing with Joe. It turns out that the wife of our guide is related to Joe. That makes it easy to set up a visit.
We meet Joe at his home, a 200 year old former grist mill, on 10+ acres with a mile or more of Spring Creek running through it. Joe is as friendly and welcoming as you could imagine. He invites us in, offers us something to drink and the next two hours become the most memorable two hours of any fishing trip that we have taken.
At ninety-four years young, Joe is as sharp as a tack and witty to boot. He reminisced about his time at Penn State. Learning from fly fishing legend George Harvey and eventually taking over the fly-fishing program when George retired. As we sat in his living room, we watched orioles fly in and out of the bird feeder while Joe talked about all things fly-fishing. Joe told us how much he has received from our sport. The waters that he has fished, the tournaments he has competed in, and the people that he has fished with; Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney, and Bobby Knight to name a few. Joe graciously showed us his “trophy room” with all the awards and photos, and the basement where Joe does his fly tying. Spring Creek runs through Joe’s property. We wrapped up our visit walking the bank, tossing pellets to Rainbow trout, three feet in length, protected from predators by the overhanging trees and Joe’s ‘NO PUBLIC FISHING’ signs.
That evening, my brother and I were back on the river fishing. The hatch was small and feeding sporadic. But our time spent with Joe Humphreys gave deeper meaning to why my brother and I take trips chasing a hatch that may or may not materialize, to which the trout may or may not rise.