The Ship, the Stream and the Angler
I was a ten year old standing on the deck of the SS United States. My parents brought me to say good bye to a missionary friend.
As sailing time approached we returned to the pier and the fastest passenger liner in the world eased away from the pier. There was music, confetti and cheering.
Born in 1944, the Spring of my life was beginning. Spring for the SS United States began with her maiden voyage in July 1952. and the Little Lehigh was being designated as a TROPHY TROUT STREAM.
Longer than the Titanic, the red stacks of Americas Flagship gleamed, her decks glistened. She was at in the height of her glory, I was gaining fly fishing competence and skillful, lucky anglers were creeling one, twenty inch fish per day on the Little Lehigh.
Four US presidents sailed aboard the SS United States: Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Bill Clinton. (The youthful Clinton, fresh out of Georgetown, was on his way to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.)
I was learning fly fishing from my mentor Steve Kracirovic of Anglers Notch and the Little Lehigh was enjoying the highest population of trout in Pennsylvania,
The SS United States carried an impressive roster of luminaries on nearly every voyage. Famous passengers included Marlon Brando, Coco Chanel, Sean Connery, Gary Cooper, Walter Cronkite, Salvador Dali, Walt Disney, Duke Ellington, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Charlton Heston, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
I got to open a fly shop and fish with Gary Borger, Lefty Kreh, Gary LaFontaine, Ernest Schwiebert, Charlie Meck, Barry & Cathy Beck, Ed Jaworowski, Ed Schenk, Oliver Edwards, Bob Clouser, Jack Gartside, Ed Koch, Don Baylor, A.K. Best, Larry Duckwall and others.
While my favorite ship was setting speed records I was wading the fast water looking with disdain at the sweet water fishermen.
I retired from my shop in 2010.
i couldn’t compete with Cabelas on one siide and LL Bean on the other. Jimmy Carter’s
luxury tax put me out of the fly tying business sending the commercial fly tying tradition over seas.
The SS United States was retired from active service in 1969. The age of the great ocean liners had come to a close, doomed by increasingly fast and affordable trans-Atlantic.
The Little Lehigh began it’s decline with the retirement of Parks Director Don Marushak. The SS United States was drug to Pier 2 in Philadelphia and I began fishing and camping my way around North America.
As people started to talk about selling my favorite ship for scrap, I found stream banks getting higher, the water getting deeper and faster, the rocks more slippery, My loss of balance limiting my fishing opportunities in even the sweetest of water and the great days of the Little Lehigh were beginning to be discussed in the past tense.
Often this Trout Bum has to substitute being where the fish are for fishing.
THE DEMISE OF A GREAT TROUT STREAM
A tear came to the eye of the ghost of Big Jim Leisenring as he watched the children frolicking in the Little Lehigh’s Founders Pool.
Jim wondered what would happen if people practiced fly casting in the local municipal pool.
A short time ago you weren’t even allowed to get your feet wet in the fly fishing only area known as the Heritage Section, one of only eight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Most folks knew the Little Lehigh had the highest trout population in the state, but only a precious few knew of the outstanding population of wild fish.
The Little Lehigh was a test of angling skills. A fly fisher who could catch the wild fish could catch stocked fish, but the casual angler had little chance of catching “The… wild fish native to the stream… born there.”
While novices in their colorful clothes and shiny tackle indiscriminately hurled flies to genetically inferior stocked fish, Jim would stalk the wild ones. He understood the genetic differences between wild and stocked trout.
“… The intensely managed stretch [was)] one of the most respected fly fishing streams in Pennsylvania, possibly the country.
The mile long sector’s wild brown trout lure[d]) anglers from Pennsylvania’s bordering states.
The Little Lehigh is actually two streams in one offered Fred Mussel who served as Lehigh County’s waterways conservation officer from 1970-1999. The stocked part and the heritage stretch are totally different waters. …99% of the fish in here are wild brownies…
The presence of wild trout in a suburban setting [made] … the heritage sector so enticing.”
Things started to deteriorate with Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.
Floods, hurricanes and major rain fall always washed the foundation and gravel from the bridle path into the stream causing exorbitant expense to the city and covering the spawning beds of the wild fish.
Don Douple suggested the city leave the washed-out area alone and build a new bridle path around it. The city agreed and did so. It was wonderful! One quarter mile of truly great water where wild Rainbows, Brookies and Browns spawned. No more runners being impaled with an errant back cast and no more expense of replacing the bridle path once a year.
Then, the first of many disasters to Allentown’s “Urban Jewel” occurred. To the dismay of knowledgeable anglers the city replaced the bridle path between Raceway Run and The End of the Line pools and built it higher! All the old problems reappeared. In addition they made it so high, older folks now can’t negotiate their way down the bank to the stream!
Some of Jim’s friends retired in Allentown because they thought they could fish the Heritage Section in their Golden Years. But Allentown let the foliage grow so high at Miller’s Pool, Springhouse Pool and Sulpher Lane older folks couldn’t get to the edge of the stream to cast.
That wasn’t bad enough. Decades of tradition were ruined by allowing wading from the Head Pool to Sulphur Lane. The upper stretch is now a super highway for incompetent waders. So much for older folks being able to fish undisturbed water without having to wade.
Until deputy fish warden Stanley Long joined Big Jim in heaven, the stream had a conscientious advocate and monitor. Poachers and chummers usually met Stan and his citation book.
Without a stream advocate things got worse! A chummer I’ll call Mr. Chumley, Mr. Bread Fairy, Mr. Guide and their gang of other sophomoric geriatrics began abusing the stream.
Before hurricanes Ivan and Katrina, hatchery escapees were all over the place. Fish that Chumley and the sophomores, with their modest skills, could catch!
The hurricanes washed two generations of fish away, leaving big wild fish and stream bred fingerlings. A challenge Chumley and the geriatrics would never have the skills to cope with.
Meanwhile Jim’s ghost watched a skilled angler make a perfect Curve Cast, drifting his fly into a big wild trout’s window. He watched as the angler Sprepared for the take, but the fish bolted; spooked as Mr. Chumleys friend Mr. Guide walks downstream along the bank, his orange hat, khaki clothes, silver reel and orange fly line glistening in the sun. Wild fish after wild fish drifted out of their feeding lie to the protection of sheltering lies.
The colorful Mr. Guide can’t understand what happened! All the trout are gone! What happened to all the fish? The angler bites through his pipe stem.
As the “guide” bops merrily downstream, he waves to Mr. Chumley and his friend Mr. Bread Fairy. They’re happily standing at the end of the bridge throwing bread to the trout.
Sometimes Chum, the Guide and the Fairy take turns throwing bread or pellets to the fish while the other fishes with a bread fly or a pellet fly.
What a wonderful discovery! The genetic instincts of wild trout to survive are reduced in proportion to the amount of bread you feed them. Now the geriatric sophomores can catch them.
Brilliant! If you can't meet the standard, lower the standard.
As Big Jim and Stanley look down from heaven, they pour each other an "Old Grand Dad.” Jim suggests they make it a “double.”
The Little Lehigh was something very special. It should have been treated with reverence, esteem and respect. A fine wild spring creek deserved that.
I know the two men whose decisions ruined the stream. Both are smart guys. They really do care about the stream. I firmly believe if ONE informed person would have thought enough about the BEST DAM TROUT STREAM IN PENNSYLVANIA, to talk with them it wouldn’t have happened.
I can assure you of this, if the Little Lehigh Fly Fishers and the Little Lehigh Fly Shop would have been around, IT WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED WITHOUT A FIGHT!
I’m pissed off. You should be too!
This could happen to your stream.
Point to remember
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing-Edmund Burke