Contest Winning Entries
Streams of Memories

by Lou Wentz

WaterfallA young angler's first fish is always entrancing. Mine was enthralling because I didn't catch it, but rather saw it vanish as I tried to scoop it up with a plastic bucket one warm afternoon while wading in Neshaminy Creek. I was a curious eight-year-old who had never fished, or even held a fishing rod, before that pivotal day. That fish caught me instead, as did the many that eventually surrendered on line and bobber, lead shot and leader, nightcrawlers and spinners. White perch hit first in the spring, then the mill roach, followed by smallmouths and sunnies. Along the way, hand-me-down copies of outdoor magazines made their way under the blankets, read with trembling flashlight until I was too tired to dream. The faraway places that Ted Trueblood described, the high mountain lakes in the Rockies where golden trout offered sporting fun, or the Ozark hills that harbored brawny smallmouths, were filed away as mental brochures. All my serious fishing would have to take place here in Pennsylvania.

In a peculiar way, it's easy to take your home streams for granted on one hand, yet marvel at their resilience to produce fish, and memories. These memories tease a fabric of experiences into a texture of interwoven images that you rely on for the rest of your life. You remember the firsts&shyp;the first trout, a clutch of wild brookies in an unnamed Tioga County tributary; the first soaking from lunging to rocks just beyond your longest step; the first trip to Penns Creek as a fly fishing novitiate 20 miles downstream from the dream water, flogging haplessly at skittish chubs.

Then you lean back and remember the bounty. The really big fish were few and far between, though bruiser Susque-hanna smallmouths come to mind, as well as rotund, trico-sipping rainbows on the Tulpehocken that dazzled onlooking spin fishers.

But the fish didn't have to be big to be enjoyed or recalled for a momentary pleasure. A pair of butter-bellied browns that barely stretched 10 inches made a short evening on the Perkiomen dreamy, just because they were there, and I happened to be lucky.
If fishing were just for the catching of fish, then our memories would be nothing but lists or file cards. The backdrop of those special places, the hidden ones that you treasure only for yourself, make the picture complete. A great horned owl standing sentinel on an old oak over Shermans Creek turned an ordinary day into a haunting recollection. The return of bald eagles, circling over our canoe on the Delaware, compelled my friend Bob and me to hold our caps over our hearts as we gave a special allegiance. The river otter that quieted the rising trout on the mill pool stirs my mind frequently.

AnglerWhen I open my topo map to plan an excursion, it becomes obvious that our waters held a cherished heritage long before the European settlers staked claims in the territory. Our native people designated descriptive phrases for the waters after searching their souls for those influences that characterized the stream. Lackawanna, Aquashicola, Mahantango, Chillisquaque... the names ripple off my tongue and the places imprint a scene that frames a lasting impression. Each has its own reputation. Each beckons in a different way.

You know that memories of fishing Pennsylvania streams are not mine alone. Mine are but a tiny fraction of the collective recollection of so many anglers who've had the privilege of fishing here. They all have anecdotes, each giving myth and legend to hallowed or neglected streams that have shaped their lives. They start in childhood, and expand with every outing from the waters close to home to the strange new streams that called you to come to their edges. They all leave their imprint when that moment of stillness precedes your leaving, when you take in the essence of the place.

When I see young boys or girls by a stream, whether fishing, just catching tadpoles, or rocking a creaky row boat, I think of how inconsequential their moment must seem to them, but realize how important it will be someday. Their time is just beginning, and when they look back, they'll be just as thankful as those before them. For all of us, Pennsylvania waters reflect an endless season. The streams go on forever and the memories never end.

July/August 1998 PA Angler & Boater

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