Notes from the Streams

Right on cue

Regional Manager Kerry Messerle and I scheduled a meeting with PennDOT officials concerning a water pollution problem on a small tributary to Mehoopany Creek. I explained my concern for the stream because wild reproducing trout lived in the creek. One of the PENNDOT men chuckled and remarked that the stream sometimes dries up in the summer, doubting there could be wild trout in the stream. Just as he finished his chuckle, two beautiful wild brook trout swam out in full view, as if they had heard the comment and had to prove a point.--WCO Larry L. Bundy Jr., Wyoming/Eastern Sullivan Counties.

Promise to be more observant

While patrolling Kahle Lake in Venango County one evening this past summer, I saw the outline of what I thought was a boat anchored with no lights. It was past the time when lights were required, so I began to formulate a plan on how to get the attention of the boat's occupants and call them in so that I could speak to them. Luckily, no one was around to observe my actions as I tried to wave them in. Then I realized that it was not a boat at all, and that I was attempting to get the attention of the outfall structure of the lake's dam. I promise to be more observant in the future. Imagine my chagrin when, this winter, I was using a telescope to count ice fishermen's devices and found myself counting cracks in the rocks on the same dam as tip-ups, and thinking that the same outfall was an ice fishing hut.--WCO Thomas Tarkowski, Venango County.


Like "Baywatch"?

Over my career as a WCO I have been called many different names and have been known as many different things, and even though I am well-satisfied with my job, I think I must have missed my calling. While paying for an item at a local convenience store, the clerk behind the counter was staring very closely at my badge, and read it slowly out loud, "Con-ser-va-tion Of-ficer?" Looking quite puzzled, the clerk asked me, "Like, what do you do?" I was short on time, and with a line of people waiting behind me, I told the clerk that I worked around the water with fish and boats and investigate pollutions. The clerk replied, "Like with boats?" At this time I realized I was in a "like" conversation. I said, "Yes, you know, like Blue Marsh Lake?" The clerk answered, "Oh, mean like 'Baywatch'?" I just shook my head "yes," and as I was walking out, I thought, "like...not really."--WCO John V. Sabaitis, Berks County.

Worst part of it?

A non-resident recently made the unfortunate choice of fishing spots one dark Monday night in October when he netted five steelhead trout in front of me and Deputy Dave Benincase, who staked out the location. On apprehension of the suspect, it was a happy reunion because I had just cited the unlucky angler the Monday before for the same type of violation. His failure to post bond landed him in the Erie County Prison (clad in chest waders ) for a two-night stay until his wife could make arrangements for his release. In the meantime, his vehicle, which was illegally parked at a nearby health care facility, was towed away and impounded. After the hearing dates were set, the subject called me with several questions and said that the worst part of the entire ordeal was "getting teased by murderers, rapists and prison guards about being incarcerated for fishing violations."--WCO John W. Bowser, Erie County.

Purple Heart recipient

On what I'd describe as an up-to-then uneventful very hot yet beautiful day last summer, I patrolled one of the local trout streams. The fishing pressure there had practically ceased over the last month, and I didn't really figure to see anything happening. To my surprise, I spotted a car parked at an area frequented mostly by anglers. Pulling in behind the car, I noticed that the license plate was issued to a Purple Heart recipient.

About 80 yards down the narrow path, I spotted an elderly man clad in fishing attire sitting on an old sycamore log. He wore a weathered, tan fishing vest and an old hunter-green felt crusher. Both seemed adorned with about every fly pattern ever made. A senior lifetime license also dangled from his hat. Judging its condition, it must have "weathered many battles" itself. He had extensive scarring on his face and hands. I guessed to myself that they explained the Purple Heart license plate. However, something I anticipated was missing. Except for a fly rod, he clutched only a handmade cane.

Wishing not to startle him, I deliberately scuffed my feet along the path. When he looked my way, I waved and greeted him with my usual, "How's your luck today?" He replied that he'd "just landed number twenty-three!" Somewhat baffled by his response, I said, "Twenty-three at this time of year? You must have some sort of secret." He proudly said, "Oh, I'm only reflecting. I got 'em here over the years. Not one of 'em small, mind you."

He asked me if I had a minute to talk. Then he went on to recount in great detail several catches he'd made at that spot. I soon learned that he was a retired World War II and Korean War veteran who'd recently been told by his doctors that he was losing his battle to cancer and that he had only about three months to live. His grandson, who had driven him to the stream, was "trying to fish just upstream, but he's too busy with all this modern stuff to really appreciate fishing!" His recollections were so vivid that you could almost see the trout bursting out of the water.

His grandson returned 15 minutes later, saying he hadn't had a bite and, "See, I told you this would just be a waste of time!" The old fellow's facial expression betrayed his disappointment. I bid the man farewell, knowing full well "his" fishing trip had been anything but a waste of time.--WCO James M. Vatter, Westmoreland County.

New buoy tool

During my field training, I had the pleasure of being assigned to the Snyder/Union County district for boat-law training. This assignment had me working under the tutelage of WCO Steve Boughter, the district officer. The work included boat patrol on a section of the Susquehanna River. One day during the week that I worked with Steve, our job included placing five no-wake buoys along the public docks at Shikellamy State Park.

Everything went well with loading the buoys on the boat and placing them in the river until we noticed that one of the buoys was out of line. Ever the perfectionist, Steve indicated that he wanted the errant buoy moved back into the proper position so all of the buoys would be in a nice, straight line, thereby attesting to our professionalism and attention to detail.

As he maneuvered the patrol boat into position, I inquired about what state-of-the-art buoy tool the Commission had issued to its field officers for the specific purpose of moving a 40-pound block of concrete on the bottom of the river, attached to a 35-foot chain that is secured to a no-wake buoy. I figured it was some sort of hook/tow device that a highly trained and motivated cadet like me would have the opportunity to use.

Steve chuckled. He then proceeded to instruct me in the theory of the bear hug technique of moving buoys, followed by my hands-on portion of the training. Ten minutes later, there I was, highly polished boots, sharply pressed uniform completely covered in river slime, ready for the day's patrol.--WCO Bob Wheeler, Western Allegheny County.


Sore feet

Upon my assignment to Forest County in June 1998, I knew little about my neighboring officers to the south and north of the county. I was aware that they both had very good reputations as hard-working, fair officers. As time passed, I learned that each had served in the military, as I had. I also learned that their particular jobs in the military had possibly affected the types of officers they had become, and that their military experience furthered their reputations. You see, one of them was a fighter pilot, and he is known for being independent and daring. The other worked in an office, and he is known for his discipline and attention to detail. I was just a grunt in the service, so I hope I don't get a reputation for smelling bad and having sore feet.--WCO William Crisp, Forest County.

Las Vegas, PA

While patrolling a lake in a neighboring district, I came upon a path that led away from the lake momentarily and into the woods to a secluded fishing spot. As I began to move farther into the wooded area, I could hear a woman almost shouting, "Hit me, hit me." Intrigued, I continued to move cautiously along the path toward the lake, expecting I'm not sure what or worse. As I came nearer to the lake, I spotted a woman holding a fishing rod with the line in the water. With relief and amusement, I observed from a distance. Each time she was unsuccessful and the bobber broke the surface, she called out, "Hit me again."--WCO Martha A. Mackey, Southern Allegheny County.

Toll bridge

With warmer weather the ice had melted near the shore on the Lower Lake at Promised Land State Park. The melting had created a gap of open water between the shore and the lake's thicker ice. The situation made it difficult to get out on the lake for ice fishing. One angler solved this problem by bringing along a heavy wooden plank and using it to bridge the open water. Seeing an opportunity to profit from his efforts, he wrote on the plank "donations accepted." His enterprise seemed to pay off. When he returned from fishing, he picked up a dollar bill that a grateful angler had placed on the wooden plank.--WCO Donald E. Heiner Jr., Southern Pike/Northeast Monroe Counties.

Other side of the fence

It's not uncommon sometimes for people to lose perspective. However, one day while on patrol I met a gentleman who could set things straight. This angler was fishing the Schuylkill River near Gladwyne. He spoke with an accent and told me he was born and raised in England. He took the time to explain that in his home country, fishing is a rich man's sport. Fees must be paid to gain access to streams, and more fees are required to keep fish. He was overjoyed that he could pay a small cost for a license and fish year-round. I wonder if those people who complain about the cost of a license know just how good they have it?--WCO Gerald B. Barton, Southern Montgomery County.


September/October 2000 Angler & Boater

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