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How to Ruin a Great Trout Stream


A tear came to the eye of Jim Leisenrings ghost as he watched the children frolicking in the ‘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 upstream half of the “Heritage Section.” … one of eight in the commonwealth…” [1] Oh, that’s right, he almost forgot, the bureaucrats stopped calling it the Heritage section. It’s important to bureaucrats, everything be reduced to the lowest common denominator.

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.

While novices in their colorful clothes and shiny tackle indiscriminanently hurled flies to genetically inferior stocked fish, Jim would stalk the wild ones. He understood the genetic differences between wild and stocked trout.

The Little Lehigh was a test of angling skills. A fly fisher who could catch the wild fish could catch “stockies,” but the casual angler had little chance of catching “The… wild fish native to the stream… born there, not raised in hatcheries. Wild, wiley and smart, they… challenge(d) even … the best fisherman.

“The mile long sector’s wild brown trout lure(d) anglers from Pennsylvania’s bordering states.” “… the intensely managed stretch(was) “one of the most respected fly fishing streams in Pennsylvania, possibly the country.”

“… the presence of wild trout in a suburban setting, made the heritage sector so enticing.” The Art of Fly-fishing, by Ron Devlin, The Morning Call, Sunday, July 27, 1997.

The result is a population of wild fish native to the stream. They are born there, not raised in hatcheries. Wild, wiley and smart, they’re a challenge even to the best fisherman.

See “The Little Lehigh, ,Allentown's Urban Jewell. By Cathy Beck” Mid Atlantic Flyfishing Guide, 1996...

“Under the stewartship of the Allentown park system, the Little Lehigh is a true Limestoner…” This one mile section of water supports an outstanding number of trout…”

It is truly amazing that this quality fishery can exist in such an urban setting. There are problems, to be sure---siltation and development will always be threats—yet this little limestoner continues to be a real success story.”

“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…”

“... it was remamed a heritage Trout Angling water, one of eight in the commonwealth…”

“…It’s the presence of wild trout in a suburban setting, that makes the heritage sector so enticing.” Things started to deteriorate with Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina.

The stretch of the Bridle path from “Big Jims Pool” to “Berkemeyers Run“ followed the stream resulting in conflicts between fly fishermen and other patrons of the “multi use park,” Another problem was floods. Hurricanes and major rain fall 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.

One of Big Jims friends 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 .” To the chagrin of knowledgeable anglers, a city strapped for cash, replaced the bridle path 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. The city let the banks grow so high, the older folks can’t get to the edge of the stream to cast. That wasn’t bad enough, decades of tradition ruined by allowing wading from the “Head Pool” to “Sulphur Lane. Allentown took a stretch of water where older folks who couldn’t wade, could fish for wild fish, undisturbed. 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. . Upon his death poaching and chumming became intolerable.

Then things got worse! Chumley, the” bread fairy” and the “guide” arrived on the Little Lehigh. They brought their gang of other sophomoric geriatrics.

Chumley can’t understand what happened! All the trout are gone! 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 Big Jim watched a skilled angler make a perfect Curve Cast, drifting his fly into a big wild trout’s window. He watches as the angler prepares for the take, but the fish bolts. Chumleys friend the “Guide” is walking downstream along the bank. His orange hat, Kaki clothes, silver reel and orange fly line glistening in the sun. Wild fish after wild fish drifts out of feeding lie to the protection of its sheltering lie.

The colorful “guide” wonders what happened to all the fish as the angler bites through his pipe stem….

...As the “guide” bops merrily downstream, he waves to Chumley and his friend the “Bread Fairy.” They’re happily standing at the end of the bridge throwing bread to the trout. Chum and the Fairy have made a wonderful discovery! The genetic instincts of wild trout to survive are reduced in proportion to the amount of bread you feed them! Brilliant! If you can't meet the standard, lower the standard.

Sometimes Chumley, the “Guide” and the “Bread Fairy” take turns throwing bread or pellets to the fish while the other fishes with a bread fly or a pellet fly. 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.

Point to remember The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to do nothing-Edmund Burke -------------------------------------------------- The deterioration of the Little Lehigh boggles my mind. Apparently this wonderful treasure no longer has any advocates. It’s shameful. The two protagonists involved in the wading debacle are reasonable, intelligent, uninformed public servants. I know them both. I believe if someone had sat down with them and engaged them in respectful, intelligent conversation the disaster could have been avoided.

If that didn’t work, The Little Lehigh Fly Fishers would have had an attorney involved faster than you can say Poacher. Has anyone spoken to the mayor. Did anyone explain to him Allentown is one of the only cities in the world with a Limestone spring creek? He should be marketing it, not destroying it. As you can tell I’m angry and disappointed. The Little Lehigh was one of my favorite places in the world. Resource first eh.


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