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The PA State Fish – The Brook Trout

The Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is the state fish of Pennsylvania. It was designated as such by the Legislature in 1970. The vote was 182-9. Similar legislation had been passed by the House four years prior but died in the Senate. The chief sponsor of the measure was Rep. William F. Renwick, (D-Elk County). While it sounds rather innocuous to designate a state fish it was actually a partisan debate that pitted warmwater advocates who wanted the Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) as the state fish against coldwater advocates who wanted the Brook Trout.

The Brook Trout is Pennsylvania’s only native salmonid that swims in its streams. It is a member of the family of fish that contains trout and salmon. But the Brook Trout is not a trout at all. It is a char, characterized by light spots on a dark background and is more closely related to Lake Trout (Salvelinus namaycush) and Artic Char (Salvelinus alpinus) than it is to the Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) or Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) that have been widely stocked and, in many cases naturalized in streams across Pennsylvania. The Brook Trout is a popular fish being the state fish of Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia as well as the Keystone State. In Dr. Robert Behnke’s authoritative book, Trout and Salmon of North America, he notes the distribution of the fish.

“[The range of the Brook Trout] covers much of northeastern North America. Northward, brook trout are native to the Atlantic drainages of Newfoundland, Labrador and Quebec, and to tributaries of James Bay and Ungava Bay….

Southward, brook trout are native to the Great Lakes basin and in headwater tributaries of the Mississippi River of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northeastern Iowa. In the northeastern United States brook trout are native to all Atlantic coastal drainages southward to Virginia and in parts of the Ohio River System of the Mississippi basin. In the southern Appalachian Mountains brook trout are native to higher-elevation streams draining both to the Atlantic Ocean and to the Mississippi (headwaters of the Tennessee River drainage). The southernmost natural distribution of brook trout (and of any species of the genus Salevelinus) is the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in northern Georgia.”

Behnke further points out one of the mysteries surrounding the Brook Trout. While it is native to the uppermost part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula it did not occur throughout the rest of lower Michigan. Whileit is found in Lake Superior it is not native to any of the other Great Lakes. Brook Trout found in the tributaries of Lake Superior are known as Coasters. They spawn in the flowing water and spend much of their lives swimming and feeding in the lake. Migratorial Brook Trout are also found on Long Island where they will spawn in freshwater and spend a considerable portion of their lives in saltwater. Those particular fish are known as Salters. Sea run Brook Trout in Canada’s Maritime provinces are legendary.

Original acrylic by Dave Weaver.

Brook Trout are amenable to aquaculture and as a result they have been bred in hatcheries across America and stocked indiscriminately. Where they have been stocked in the American West they are often considered an invasive species. This led to a comical incident a number of years ago at the Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. The aforementioned Dr. Behnke was the keynote speaker to the group of teenagers assembled for the camp. Bob lived in Colorado Springs and would come to the camp to talk about fish and in particularly trout. A number of the staff and instructors would sit in the back of the room to listen to Bob’s presentation. After all, when you have an opportunity to listen to the world’s foremost expert on trout, you do.  One particular afternoon I was sitting next to the presenter who was to speak that evening on TU’s Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. During the Q & A session one of the students asked Bob if he ever ate the fish he caught. Bob replied that two or three times a year he would go to a lake near where he lived and catch “a mess of brook trout” which he would take home and have a fish fry. When he said that I thought I would have to do CPR on the instructor sitting next to me. Fortunately, he revived somewhat when Bob explained that the Brook Trout had no business in the lakes and streams of the west and they were out-competing and driving out native species such as Cutthroats and Rainbows. In the West they are considered an invasive species and a nuisance.

An angler looks for Brook Trout in Kettle Creek in the late 1940s

The Brook Trout has long been associated with Pennsylvania trout fishing. Going back through some early sporting literature one can find reference to anglers catching sacks and barrels of fish. This happened everywhere from the legendary limestone streams of southcentral Pennsylvania to the large freestone streams of northern Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania state fish is an aggressive fish and will readily rise to a dry fly.

Unfortunately for the fish, they live in some of the most fragile ecosystems – particularly the poorly buffered freestone streams – where timber, coal and petroleum are also found. The optimum temperature for members of the genus Salvelinus is 50o to 57o F, though as Behnke notes “Brook trout are the most tolerant of warm temperatures; in this regard they are more comparable to rainbow trout and brown trout than to other char.”

As the industrialization of Pennsylvania took place mountainsides were cleared of trees. The hemlocks (State tree of Pennsylvania) that provided shade to the streams where the fish lived were also prized for their bark for the tanning industry. As the hemlocks were cut the shade was lost and the streams began to warm. To add insult to injury, massive log drives down some relatively small streams destroyed habitat. Think of it this way: You are sitting in your living room quite comfortable in the summer when your electricity goes out. Now you are sweltering in the heat of summer. You get through the lethargy of summer and have just about begun to recover by the following spring when a bulldozer comes through the middle of your living room.  The choice is pretty simple; you have to leave or die.

After the timber was removed sediment by the thousands of tons was washed into the streams. Food in the form of insects that the Brook Trout depended on was smothered. Then fires burned unchecked across the mountains. Huge volumes of ash on steep-sided mountains washed into the streams not only adding to the sediment load but also altering the water chemistry, increasing pH and phosphorus levels. Trout populations in many watersheds were fragmented, leaving the fish in only the places where habitat remained marginal. It is unknown but it is widely believed that many populations were extirpated.

But small populations of Brook Trout survived, and as soon as conditions in the stream allowed, they returned. Perhaps not in the numbers they previously existed but they did return.

So where does the Brook Trout stand – or rather swim – today? According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) the are about 86,473 miles of streams. Of that total number of streams 64% are capable of having habitat that will contain trout in that they are classified as Cold Water Fishes, High Quality Coldwater Fishes, Exceptional Value, and High Quality Trout Stocking.

According to Bob Schott, a longtime biologist with DEP who is now retired,

“Streams can be designated as HQ based on chemistry or biology.  If biology it can either be based on macroinvertebrate scores or Class A designation.  HQ streams do not have to hold a Class A trout fishery.  EV streams have to meet the criteria for HQ plus meet one of the other requirements listed in Chapter 93.4b.

Also, back in the early 70s many streams were designated HQ because the were in “Conservation” areas.  I believe it had to do with watersheds that were public water supplies.

Class A streams should be upgraded to HQ-CWF once the PFBC submits them to DEP.  There is a backlog and I have been pushing for a number of years to get the process moving.”

As Schott points out, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PF&BC) has its own system of designating streams and it sometimes doesn’t agree with DEP. The PF&BC have put together a GIS layer indicating that 15,860 miles of waters of the commonwealth are capable of supporting natural trout reproduction. That’s about 25% of the water DEP says should support trout. Scientists and policy makers don’t always agree.

Acrylic by Dr. Tom Sholseth

To make matters even a bit more confusing to layman, the PF&BC designates streams based on fish biomass. Class A Wild Trout Waters are the highest biomass class given to streams in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. They are considered to contain the highest-quality naturally reproducing trout populations in Pennsylvania. Class A Wild Trout Waters receive certain legal protections. For instance, they are typically classified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as High-Quality Coldwater Fisheries. Most Class A Wild Trout Waters are subject to standard statewide angling regulations by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The official definition of Class A Wild Trout Waters is “streams that support a population of naturally produced trout of sufficient size and abundance to support a long-term and rewarding sport fishery“. These streams are considered to be the best angling streams in Pennsylvania.

There are different total biomass criteria for different species and combinations of species, but for brook trout alone, the minimum is 30 kilograms per hectare (27 lb/acre), and for brown trout alone, the minimum is 40 kilograms per hectare (36 lb/acre).

Before we go any further I want to clarify a point. Scientists use the metric system. A Hectare is a metric unit of measurement abbreviated Ha. A hectare is 10,000 square meters and is based on the basic unit “Are” which is 100 square meters. It is pronounced Heck – tare not “Hectoacre” or “Hecktacre.” An acre is an English unit of measurement and an acre is about 0.405 hectare and one hectare contains about 2.47 acres. If you can count to ten the metric system is easy; certainly more so than perches, rods, chains and feet.

The PF&BC has designated to this point 2,423.23 miles of streams as Class A trout water. The largest share 48% (1174 miles) is Class A Brook Trout. An additional 13.2% (369 miles) is designated as either Mixed Brook/Brown Trout, or Mixed Brook/Rainbow Trout.

Pen and Ink by Mark Sussino for Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited 1995

In addition the PF&BC has designated an additional 415.2 miles as Wilderness Trout Streams. According to the PF&BC, “Wilderness trout stream management is based upon the provision of a wild trout fishing experience in a remote, natural and unspoiled environment where man’s disruptive activities are minimized. Established in 1969, this option was designed to protect and promote native (brook trout) fisheries, the ecological requirements necessary for natural reproduction of trout and wilderness aesthetics. The superior quality of these watersheds is considered an important part of the overall angling experience on wilderness trout streams. Therefore, all stream sections included in this program qualify for the Exceptional Value (EV) special protected water use classification, which represents the highest protection status provided by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).”

Using the Pennsylvania’s interactive mapping system, software such as MapWindows, or you can purchase Mike Gogal’s Stream Map app for your phone to find the best trout fishing experience to suit your needs.

The brook trout is coming back. Thanks to efforts like Trout Unlimited’s Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, local TU chapters doing habitat restoration and watershed groups working to remediate Acid Mine Drainage, seepage from oil and gas wells, and other destructive forces Brook Trout are returning to streams where they have been absent for more than a century. It is important for anglers, foresters and others to keep an eye on our coldwater resources, report any problems you find and keep fire out of the woods.

A Tippet for Toothy Fish

It’s fall and big fish with big teeth are beginning to get active. For fly fishers and hardware throwers alike here is a simple – yet effective –  means for constructing a tippet that will withstand the rigors of pike, muskie, pickerel, bluefish, specks and other fish with major molars – or incisors or whatever.

First you will need a few tools. A good pair of hemostats, a pair of diagonals or wire cutters with cutters at the tip of the tool, a pair of needle nose pliers, and a pair of serrated scissors. If you don’t already have them in your tool box a trip to the hardware store may be in order. As long as you are going to the hardware store, a hammer, anvil, acetylene torch, concrete mixer, a box of 16d nails, and a grinder can be purchased as well. You won’t need them for this project, but didn’t you really want that stuff ? Oh what the heck; throw in the arc welder and a string of Christmas lights.

The next item you will need is the actual leader material itself. My favorite is Rio Wire Bite. This is great stuff but it’s a bit on the pricey side. Don’t expect your nippers to cut it. That’s what the serrated scissors are for. Any knotable coated wire will work, and this tippet method will help you save a few bucks. 

Then you will need some snaps such as those found at the end of a snap swivel. Whether you use the type shown or the all wire snaps is a matter of personal preference.

Now to begin the construction, liberate the snap from the swivel using the diagonals. Carefully cut the wire of the swivel allowing the snap to come free. The snaps can also be purchased separate from the swivel.

Then cut about two feet of the desired tippet material, (24 inches or 61 cm or 0.0003291569 nautical miles) from the spool.

At one end tie a Non-Slip Mono Loop or Perfection Loop. This will enable you to use the loop to loop method to connect the tippet to the leader. At the other end you can attach the snap to the wire by using an improved clinch knot or a figure 8 knot. You may need the needle nose pliers or hemostats to pull the knots tight. Be sure to lubricate the knots before pulling them tight.

The snap will move some but that is okay. It gives more action to the fly and field tests (well actually lake tests) have shown that its effectiveness is not diminished. In fact, it seems to impart more action into the large flies used. Changing flies is simply a matter of opening the snap, removing the fly, replacing it with another fly, and closing the snap. With the Rio Wire Bite, you can tie on individual flies, much as you would with monofilament, but I don’t see the need for it with a leader like this.

An advantage of this over a crimped leader or tippet is that the loop or knot at the snap is not as likely to pick up “lake salad” as a crimp will be.

This tippet can also be attached to the business end of a rod throwing plugs and it works just fine.

Tie up a bunch while sitting in front of the TV before going fishing. Make them in various lengths and test strengths of wire. Then you will have a supply when you are ready to go fishing.

There are some comments from a couple of contributors to the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide that I feel are worth noting:

Ed Jaworowski wrote:

I’ve made numerous trips to northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan for pike, and taken them as well in Alaska, Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador. The leaders you recommend are fine, but here’s another approach. You only need a pair of sharp cutters. Connect the mono to the knottable/tieable wire with an overhand knot in the wire, and a uni-knot in mono. I thoroughly dislike a perfection loop in the wire. The uni-knot connection is much smaller, neater, catches grass and junk a lot less. To the fly, a simple figure 8 works fine. Obviously, a snap on the end has great advantage for changing flies, and I generally use snaps now. But this method is quick, and you can rig up with just a spool of wire and the diagonal cutters in seconds. I’ve taken easily 5-600 pike, many 36-44″ and never had a failure. I’ve also used it for many bluefish, which are far stronger and tougher than any pike.


Bob Clouser wrote:
The leader I use is three foot of 30 lb. Maxima and a 14 inch of 20 to 30 pound bite wire with a snap and swivel.


I like Ed’s idea of “overhand knot in the wire, and a uni-knot in mono. ”  More research is required – I guess I have to go fishing again.











Fish Family Grand Slam

This past weekend I accomplished something that isn’t all that uncommon. I caught a wild brook trout, a wild rainbow trout, and a wild brown trout, in the same county. Granted they were two different streams that provided the fish, but they were all wild. It was the “Pennsylvania Wild Trout Grand Slam” so to speak. The only native that was missing was the Lake Trout, Salvelinus namaycush. As I released the wild brown back into the environment where he was spawned, it got me thinking, how hard would it be to catch all the members of other families in the same county, or watershed or some other geographically defined area? Which county or waterbody would you go to?

To catch three of the four trout in Pennsylvania the answer to the question is relatively easy. Go anywhere there is a stocked stream and you are likely to fulfill the goal. If the brook, brown and rainbows are to be wild, the question gets a little more difficult. To catch all four Erie County – and by extension Lake Erie is probably the best bet, though I have yet to hear of a brook trout coming from Lake Erie.

Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush

Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis

Brown Trout Salmo trutta

Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss

Excluding lakers, the counties where I would go to catch the other three wild trout would be Cumberland, Westmoreland, Franklin and Somerset.

What about the other families of fish?  Where would you go to catch all the members of the sunfish family Centrarchidae?  There are 30 species of sunfishes found in North America. To be sure, not all of them live in Pennsylvania. So I have abbreviated the list, to just those that are common in the Keystone State.

Black Crappie Pomoxis nigromaculatus

White Crappie Pomoxis annularis

Rock Bass Ambloplites rupestris

Largemouth Bass Micropterus salmoides

Smallmouth Bass Micropterus dolomieu

Green Sunfish Lepomis cyanellus

Bluegill Lepomis macrochirus

Redear Sunfish Lepomis microlophus

Pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus

Longear Sunfish Lepomis megalotis

Redbreast Sunfish Lepomis auritus

It might not be possible to find all of the species in one county or one drainage, but the two counties I would consider would be Huntingdon, at Lake Raystown, or Tioga with Cowanesque, Hammond and Hills Creek lakes leading the likely places. The Susquehanna River below Sunbury is also considered.

The perch family, Percidae might be the easiest list to fill. Three species are that you have to consider in this category: walleye, yellow perch, and sauger.

Walleye Sander vitreus

Yellow Perch Perca flavescens

Sauger Sander canadensis

I’ll leave out the other members of the family Percidae which includes the darters. I suspect I would have to go to somewhere in the Ohio River drainage to catch all of them. The Allegheny River on the Westmoreland / Allegheny County line would be a good place to start, or even a little farther upstream where the Kiskiminetas enters the Allegheny in Armstrong County.

The family Moronidae includes Striped Bass, White Bass and White Perch. This could be a tough one as their natural ranges do not overlap.

Striped Bass Morone saxatilis

White Bass Morone chrysops

White Perch Morone Americana

I would be inclined to go to the Delaware River for these.

For shad the lower Susquehanna or the Delaware River would have to be the choice

Shad, the members of the family Clupeidae, are difficult to find in Pennsylvania. The lower Susquehanna River in Lancaster or York county would be my choice to find the two prevalent species, though I wouldn’t rule out the Delaware River.

American Shad Alosa sapidissima

Hickory Shad Alosa mediocris

The pike family might be the most difficult grand slam to achieve in Pennsylvania.

Last but not least, and probably the hardest to catch all four species is the family Esocidae – the Pike Family. This family includes:



Grass or Redfin Pickerel Esox americanus

Chain Pickerel Esox niger

Northern Pike Esox Lucius

Muskellunge Esox masquinongy

I would probably go to northwestern Pennsylvania for this quest. The French Creek drainage would be a good starting point. Also the Allegheny Reservoir (a.k.a. Kinzua Lake) is a likely starting point. I would also consider Tioga County, though finding a northern pike there may be a bit problematic.

I have not included any of the minnow family, or suckers, drum or other fish that may from time to time show up such as Pacific salmon.

I am curious about your thoughts on this. And by the way, all the species mentioned can be caught on a fly. A “Fish Family Grand Slam on a Fly” or a “Fish Family Grand Slam on the Same Fly”; now there is a challenge.

Forty Years of AMD in Cooks Run – Camp Run and Rock Ru

Me, sitting on Dad’s lap with my brother and sister fishing in Cooks Run, 1955

Cooks Run is my “home water.” I learned to fish on Cooks Run and – even though I don’t remember it – I was told I caught my first trout in Rock Run. As the story goes, I was fishing with Dad, my brother and sister, when I caught a small wild brook trout. I was so excited I ran up to the car, where Mother was reading a book. I thrust the fish into the open window of the car, at which point it decided to un-impale itself from the hook, and dropped onto my mother’s lap. That was followed by a lot of yelling screaming. Somehow the fish survived this traumatic encounter and made it back to Rock Run. However, I was the one that was hooked, and thus began my slide down the slippery slope of trout fishing.

As the years went by, I took to trout fishing with abandon. Fishing Cooks Run below Rock Run there was bigger water which made casting easier for this novice fly caster. I had a bamboo rod in my teens. Don’t get too excited, it was a Heddon, with an old single action open frame reel. I still have the reel. I gave the rod to a “friend” to refinish and re-wrap and to this day the s.o.b. claims he never got it. But I digress.

The bounty of Cooks Run c 1976

Cooks Run is one of those wonderful Pennsylvania freestone streams that tumbles out of the mountains. The insects are diverse – in the non-AMD section – and native brook trout and wild browns populate the stream along with stockies put there by the PF&BC as well as the Western Clinton County Sportsmen’s cooperative nursery.

Cooks Run above the AMD impacted area.

In 1974 things changed for the worse. Cooks Run has the unfortunate geological fate to lie just inside the Pennsylvania bituminous coal measures. Crowley Run, the largest tributary that meets Cooks Run about a mile upstream of its juncture with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, has been polluted with AMD for well over a century. Even as a youngster I do not recall ever hearing anyone talking about fish in Crowley Run. The AMD was a result of underground mining that began just before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It was further exacerbated by surface mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Through all of that Cooks Run remained clean and full of trout. In 1974 a permit was issued for two separate sites near the headwaters of Camp Run and Rock Run at the opposite end of the watershed.

At the time the area was about as wild as any place in the Sproul State Forest. Two tracks through the woods led to the sites. Two long-abandoned log cabins were near the site. In my memory one cabin had completely fallen in and the other, though standing, was uninhabitable.

Fran Contracting of Wallaceton, Clearfield County was issued the permit to mine, against the objections of the Western Clinton County Sportsmen and several others. That part of Clinton County has high sulfur coal with high ash content. There is no alkaline material in the overburden to buffer any AMD and the coal lies atop an underclay that is high in aluminum. The underlying sandstone is largely fractured allowing groundwater to travel about anywhere. All things considered, it is a terrible place to mine coal.

Cooks Run downstream of Camp Run following the mining in 1977

By 1977 the effects of mining on the Fran sites were noted downstream. Water that percolated through the backfill on top of the mountain became acidic. As it travelled across the pit floor the acid dissolved aluminum – highly lethal to trout at low pH – dropped into the fractures and came out as base flow in Rock Run, downstream of Wildcat Hollow. To look at Rock Run where the AMD enters the untrained eye cannot tell the difference between clean water and AMD. However, when Rock Run meets Cooks Run, the pH rises allowing the aluminum to precipitate out and coat the streambed with a white precipitate. The discharge from the larger 37 acre site emanates from the toe of spoil, and pollutes Camp Run. It has a more characteristic red-orange color that most people associate with AMD. From Rock Run down, Cooks Run wasn’t just polluted, it was dead!

This was my trout water. I was incensed. I wrote letters to the Fish Commission and DER, as well as my state representatives and senators, as well as the local state reps. Only the Fish Commission responded. Paul Swanson was the Regional Law Enforcement Director for the Fish Commission, and he put me in touch with Harry “Snakey” Snodgrass, of the WCCSA.

In June of 1978 Snakey organized a meeting to be held on the stream to see the effects of AMD. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember who all were there but in addition to Snakey and me, there was Jay Johnston, WCO of PFC; Jack Paulhamus, District Forester; Harry Anderson, retired Forest Ranger; Bryce Putnam and D.R. Thompson of DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation; Dave Wolf, a writer at the time for the Potter County Enterprise; and a few others.

While standing on the bridge at Camp Run, either Putnam or Thompson made the statement that the stream had been polluted before the mining. At that point someone said, “Let’s throw them in the creek!” The two mining officials ran back to their car and refused to get out for the rest of the trip.

Fran Contracting and their consultant made a few half-hearted attempts to treat the AMD but it was futile. AMD continued to pour out of the site.

In 1981 I transferred to the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation’s Hawk Run District Office. The area encompassed by office included in Clinton County. Among other things I sampled AMD across the region, reviewed permits and talked about solutions to cleaning up Cooks Run.

Late summer morning on the site, with fog lying in the West Branch valley

By then the company had given up and its bonds posted on the site were forfeited. The $11,000 was not near enough to develop a detailed plan to clean up the site or treat the discharge. The Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania pointedly states that in the event of a discharge that does not meet effluent standards the landowner is ultimately responsible. In this case the landowner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the area is in the Sproul State Forest. This nuance in the law caused the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (now the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) to threaten to sue the Department of Environmental Resources (of which the Bureau of Forestry was then a part) for allowing a discharge of AMD to a stream. Paul Swanson, along with a young biologist for the Fish Commission named John Arway went into District Forester Butch Davey’s office and told him in very pointed language of their intent. Well that went over like finding a turd in a punchbowl.

Inter-agency warfare was not something anyone wanted, yet the PFC and DER were ready to go at it. Sampling and studies were conducted. Meetings were held. I was involved in my work as a Mining Permit & Compliance Specialist, and that is how I came to know John. Plans were brainstormed and discarded as being unfeasible, too expensive and just plain stupid. We considered passive treatment – then in its infancy, active treatment, driving the reaction to endpoint, burning the carbonaceous material in-situ and on and on.

After transferring the Harrisburg in 1985 I began to work with Joe Schueck, a hydrogeologist/engineer. At the time Joe worked for D.R. Thompson, mentioned previously who never said much about Cooks Run. Joe was into the “magic toys” of technology. Terrain conductivity, resistivity, magnetometry and whatever other tools or technology Joe could find, we ran on the site. We drilled water sampling wells and collected hundreds of samples. In addition Joe worked with Terry Ackman from the technology side of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Terry had developed a technique where concrete grout was pumped under pressure into backfill to seal AMD producing materials. The technique looked promising. Another key player that entered the picture was Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor in materials handling and an expert in concrete at Penn State University.

Joe and his “Oh shit! moment at 3 a.m. in September 1992 right after the first load of fly ash was delivered.
Fly ash in the storage bin, being moved to the mixer loading area, 1992

A plan was developed to map the site using the “magic toys” to determine where the AMD was being produced. Then a series of holes would be drilled into the “pods” and a concrete grout would be pumped into the ground. The grout would be made with Fluidized Bed Combustion Fly Ash (FBCFA) which would produce a low tensile strength, high compressive strength grout. Bureau of Mining and Reclamation Director, Ernie Giovannitti was enthusiastic about the project, and somehow we found money to try the experiment.

One of the vagaries of the project was people; we couldn’t hire people to do the job. Mining and construction companies were loath to take on the project because of the remoteness of the site and the questionable technique. Even though the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) has a construction crew, that bureau wanted no part of the experiment. We would get fluidized bed combustion fly ash from Fort Drum for free, but paid the trucking costs, we could rent any of the equipment we needed. This included concrete mixers, an auger to load the ash and various other things. The Bureau of Forestry loaned us a skid loader and water tank truck. Now all that was needed was people to operate the equipment.

With Ernie’s blessing we put out a call across DER to find volunteers to come up to Clinton County for a week and run equipment. We thought we might get ten or twenty. We got scads of volunteers from all across the department – except BAMR.

John Meehan running the drill, 1992

In the summer of 1992 the project began. Joe Schueck was the man in charge and I was involved as a loyal assistant. I had bitched and moaned for so long about something needing to be done that it was put up or shut time and it was time to put up.

The drilling crew, August 1992, intern Angie, Joe Schueck, Me, the drillers, Jim and Denny
Casing a hole. Me, Joe and Denny

Through August we drilled 545 holes into the backfill. The holes were cased with 4 inch PVC electrical conduit. The lowest section of conduit was perforated with ¾ inch holes to allow the grout to flow out of the casing into the backfill. At the top of the casing was a threaded coupling to allow for the hose of the grout pump to be attached.

At the end of August we were ready to begin pumping grout. The first loads of fly ash arrived on site at about 2:30 in the morning, and Joe and I were there to meet them. Talk about an “Oh shit!” moment. We were now committed.

A pod of AMD material that has been drilled and cased. The casing was cut and a fitting glued to the top. This field was called “Snake City”
A drill field before the pipes were shortened and the threaded coupler was attached. This particular field we called Snake City. The white tubes are monitoring wells.
The fly ash was nasty stuff to work with – either dry or wet. We called the fine powder “Fairy Dust”
Loading fly ash to the auger bin that would load the mixer. 1992
We refined the operation in 1993 and used a closed cab backhoe for loading. Much better for the operator.
The Pozzolanic reaction created quite a bit of heat and on cool mornings water vapor streamed from the mixers.
Pumping a field. Roger Bowman moves the water hose used to flush out the holes before injecting the grout.
A completed hole. The grout in this case flowed up and out around the casing.

Later that morning we began to pump grout. We hauled water to the site via tank truck and dumped it into a collapsible pond. Using a grain auger we loaded fly ash into the concrete mixer and added water with the help of a portable pump. The ratio was 1 part water to between 1 and 1.6 parts ash. The resulting grout slurry was about the consistency of thin pancake batter. Then we drove the mixer to the designated injection field, selected the injection hole and using a concrete pump, pumped the grout down the hole until it would not take any more grout. This was usually expressed by the grout coming out of the ground near the hole or the cap blowing off the top of the casing. Some holes took more grout than others. Some would take more than one mixer while other holes would take only a part of a mixer.

Anyone that has ever worked with fly ash knows that it is fine and dirty. Loading the hopper of the auger at the loading site with a skid loader was dusty – sometimes to the point of blotting out the sun. When the ash was mixed with water the slurry was muddy. There was just no way around it. Through September and into October we mixed and pumped grout. As the weather turned cold

BOF converted Deuce and a Half we used to haul water.
A load of grout heading for a drill field.

we had to abandon the project for the year.

Me, Joe Vatter (a volunteer) and Joe Schueck. Joe is holding one of the perforated casings.

Through the winter we plotted and planned on how to improve the efficiency of the project. Early sample results from the monitoring wells were encouraging. In May of 1993 we re-started the project. That year we had two mixers. The one from the previous year had been worn out when we began and by the time we were finished with it, it was completely shot. The two we got in 1993 weren’t much better. We also rented a closed cab back hoe to load the ash. This was a great improvement over the open skid loader. By the end of August we had completed grouting. Altogether we pumped 2007 cubic meters of grout into the 545 holes and used another 765 cubic meters to cap overtop of some of the particularly bad or “hot” zones.

This is what happens when you drop a tool near a grout hole.

We returned to Harrisburg, convinced we had done what we could and we would see success of the project. We knew that we hadn’t been able to get all of the AMD producing backfill encapsulated but we thought we had made a significant difference. Water sample results were initially encouraging. We were certain we had made an impact on Rock Run.

Through the rest of the decades we continued to sample. The results seemed to diminish. Joe moved over to BAMR to head the AMD Division and in 1999 I too went to BAMR. A change in leadership in that bureau had begun to make it more than a “put the dirt back in the hole” organization.

Joe Schueck (in coveralls) testing one of the anoxic passive treatment bench test systems.

Passive treatment had advanced and Joe formulated a plan to use an anoxic method where sulfates in the water would be converted back to pyrite in a stable form. There’s actually a lot more to the chemical reactions but that’s the gist of it. He began the work on a large scale bench test in late 2000 and by 2002 we saw the results. It was not what we had hoped for.

By 2009 both Joe and I had retired. The sites were still producing AMD but we had tried our best to bring about positive change.

Techniques in passive and active treatment in AMD had advanced exponentially since the grout injection project. In the early 2000s BAMR had tried to collect all the water coming off the site and run it through a treatment system but because of the amount of water and the highly fractured rock, collection of all the water was deemed impossible.

Remining on the small site to the east of the injection site.
The injection site in 2017 ready to be remined.

Further investigation of the site began about 2011 and it was decided to re-mine the small site to the east and mix the backfill with limestone dust. The project began in 2012. All of our previous geotechnical work had not shown significant water on the small site, yet when excavation was begun, significant groundwater was found. Following completion of the site, water was sampled and the results were extremely encouraging.

In the spring of 2017 bids were let to re-mine the 37 acre injection site using the same technique and that brings us to today.

September 28, 2017

Work progressing on site. Baghouse lime was hauled in and underdrain rock was expected the next day.

Two dozers on site but both broken down. A trackhoe was grubbing out stumps. A loader and water tank also on site. 

Four Flies

About a half a century ago when I was beginning my journey down the slippery slope of fly fishing, a wise old fly fisherman gave me a bit of advice. He told me that if I was going to fish dry flies I only needed four patterns. They are Adams, Hendrickson, Light Cahill and Yellow Adams. He said with those four flies in various sizes from 10 to 18 I could dry fly fish for trout anywhere and any time.

I have remembered his advice and have tried to keep it simple. But new and fancy materials came along. Genetic hackle and sparkly stuff that wasn’t even dreamed of then (the sparkly stuff incidentally is a spin off of the space program – really it is!) came about with other materials, tools and techniques. Like all fly tyers I delved into the mysteries and artistic realms of creating new a better patterns.

Not only would trout be a target of my thread – tinsel – fur – and feather masterpieces but other fish would be sought as well. Colors would range from black to bright florescents that might seem more in place at some modern punk music festival.  Recently I read about a material that absorbs so much black it is totally black. It wont be long until it comes to a fly tying shop near you.  So as I prepare for an upcoming trip to a Laurentian Shield lake in search of northern pike and walleye, I dumped the fly boxes on the table and began to sort through them. I wondered if I had too many. Nah!

But on that lake in Canada I will probably be asked what I am using to catch the fish. “Black Wooly Bugger,” is most likely going to be my answer if not “Chartreuse and White Clouser Deep Minnow.”

I just looked in my fly box again. I guess I better tie some.

23rd Rivers Conservation Camp Concludes

The 23rd Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp concluded at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg yesterday. The students, staff and the folks at Messiah did an outstanding job in bringing about the success of the camp. For an overview of the camp please view the slide show prepared by staff member Kelsey Miller at

PA Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp

This week is the 23rd Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. Our venue this year is at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg.

We have a great group of students and they are learning a lot. For many it is their first experience at what college life might be like. What a great group to work with.  They are learning the sciences behind coldwater conservation, doing habitat repair, learning to tie flies and so much more. As I type this they are learning advanced fishing techniques. For more information go to

The Pennsylvania camp is the oldest in the nation and now there are 22 modeled after this one.

Be Safe and Wear Your Life Vest

It seems over the past few months every time I pick up a newspaper, watch the TV news, or read the news online, somebody, somewhere is drowning. Sometimes it is the person not knowing the dangers of the water, sometimes it is experienced people testing their limits, and, sometimes, not surprisingly, it is “Hold my beer and watch this!” that causes the accident.

I just finished the book, A Speck In The Sea. This is a true story of two experienced watermen, and is a riveting account of what a lapse in judgement for just a moment, can cause. Toward the end, one of the watermen tells of throwing a bait box overboard and in just 17 seconds it disappeared from sight. 17 seconds!

The Ocean’s your mother, your bitch and your lover

And nobody gets to ride free

It’s a roll of the dice if she’ll let your survive, bow

down, boys to the Queen.

                                      The Tale of Johnny Load, by The Nancy Atlas Project

After reading the tale of what happened on the Anna Mary, if nothing else you will remember to wear your life vest. I highly recommend this book for any angler, or person who spends any time on the water – whether it is the ocean, the bay, a lake or a small mountain stream.

A Speck in the Sea

John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski

Weinstein Books, New York, NY, 2017

Interconnectedness – Brook Trout in Pennsylvania and Stripers in The Bay

A day after fishing for trophy size stripers I was fishing for these Pennsylvania natives.

I cast the fly into a small pocket of still water against the bank, and almost immediately a small brook trout came up and hit the size 14 Adams. It wasn’t much of a battle. As soon as I raised the nine foot fly rod the fish came immediately to me. I wet my had, picked the fish up and removed the fly. It returned to the water in in less than a minute, none the worse for the battle. It was just one of many I landed last Thursday afternoon.  I was fishing on a small stream that tumbles out of Pennsylvania’s mountains. The weather was warm and sunny. The morning fog had burned off. The water was clear and 46oF.

Twenty-four hours earlier the tackle in my hand had been more substantial and the fight was a bit more intense. Three colleagues and I were guests of the Calvert County Department of Economic Development, represented that morning by Heather Skrym. We were aboard the Patience, owned, operated, and built from the keel up by Captain Tom Ireland.

The bright lures were in sharp contrast to the water and sky.

It was overcast on the Chesapeake Bay, but the weather was not as bad as the day before when we were forced to cancel our trip on The Bay. Tuesday had seen four foot waves and strong winds that would have made fishing with planer boards next to impossible. On Wednesday the waves were in the two foot range and the wind had calmed. The water was the color of new steel and the sky had the color of weathered aluminum.  The sky and water were in sharp contrast to the fluorescent chartreuse and bright white nine inch lures that were being trolled behind the boat.

Captain Tom Ireland of the Patience

At 5:30 that morning, Captain Tom piloted the boat away from its moorings at the charter docks in Back Creek at Solomons. As we rounded Drum Point and headed into The Bay, Tom pushed the throttle forward and the twin Cummins diesels’ growl increased, pushing the 42 foot, 33,000 pound Chesapeake Bay Deadrise toward our fishing destination. We asked Captain Tom about the boat, and his pride in the Patience was obvious. He had built the boat working only from a stem and rib pattern. It has white oak beams and juniper cedar planking overlaid with glass. It is capable of carrying fourteen passengers. He had become a licensed captain in 1973 and the boat was completed in 1975. It was a labor of love for him to build, and now captain the boat.

As we headed up The Bay we talked of fish and fishing. Reports of large fish last fall in the Atlantic had not materialized in The Bay this spring. Captain Tom blamed it on over-fishing by commercial fishermen. On April 25, 2017 a press release from Stripers Forever, a conservation group that has a focus on Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis), warned that commercial interests are demanding higher kill limits on the fish. According the press release, “They want to roll back the modest conservations measures put in place during 2013 and return to the harvest levels that contributed to coast-wide recreational catch declines of up to 90%.” The Atlantic States Marine Fishery Commission is scheduled to meet on May 9, 2017 to consider the issue.

This was not my first trip on the Chesapeake. That occurred almost ten years ago when I fished out of Kent Island farther north on The Bay. I have since made several trips to fish the storied waters, but for the past forty years I have been intimately involved with The Bay. Working for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Resources that morphed into the Department of Environmental Protection, most of the work I did was in the Susquehanna River basin, whether it was dealing with acid mine drainage or dirt and gravel roads. As we dealt with water quality problems in Pennsylvania we were consistently reminded that we were upstream of one of the greatest estuaries in the world and there were problems in The Bay. We worked hard to keep clean water clean, and remediate past problems.  In 2007 I decided to see for myself what The Bay was all about. When that first bluefish hit my fly I was captivated. Trips followed for bluefish, stripers, shad, and the occasional goose hunt.

An umbrella rig with a 9 inch plastic shad tail
23 rods were in various holders around the boat.

Now I had a chance to fish for the top prize fish of the Chesapeake Bay. We heard rumors of a 54 inch fish landed a few days earlier. As we passed the Gas Docks, Mate Bobby Thomas began to arrange the gear onboard the Patience and get ready to fish. Planer boards were put out on each side of the boat and fishing lines were attached to the cables. The lures, certainly larger than anything I was used to fishing, were set out at various lengths and depths. Then the boat rods were set. By the time the last rod was set there were 23 rigs in the water. We trolled the east side of the shipping channel at 2.5 MPH waiting for a hungry striper to grab the 5/0 hooked lure.

Tom and Bobby have been on the water for more than 40 years each. They talked of how the fishing used to be. One particular sore point is the unmitigated harvest of menhaden by large commercial interests. Removal of the base of the food chain, coupled with greater commercial harvest of stripers can only result in the destruction of the fishery. They talk of over-harvest of spot to be used as bait out in the ocean. They both agree that The Bay is not what it used to be.

During the second week in March I had attended the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers annual conference at Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. We had toured a laboratory and an oyster farm. Their news had been encouraging. Crab numbers were up and oysters were again returning in profitable numbers. On April 27, 2017, the day after our trip, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a press release touting the increase in submerged aquatic vegetation.  “The Chesapeake Bay Program today released the results of the 2016 Bay grasses survey, which found a new record number of acres of habitat essential for many of the Bay’s living creatures,” said the press release. There are some successes but there is still a long way to go.

Heather Skrym with her first rockfish.
Tom Tatum shows his expertise in fighting a heavy rockfish.
Tom Tatum with his fish.

Before we left the dock, we had agreed that the oldest member of the party would battle the first fish . With the arrival of Heather, we agreed that since she had never fished for, or caught a rockfish – as stripers are called in The Bay – she would get first chance at the fish. At quarter to ten a rod dipped and Thomas said, “Fish on!” The rod was removed from its holder and handed to Heather. She battled the fish with encouragement from the four of us as well as Thomas and the captain. Five minutes later the fish was brought to net. It was 38 inches long, well above the 35 inch minimum needed to be legal. It was another 45 minutes before the next fish hit. Tom Tatum was handed the rod and he reeled in the fish, showing his years of expertise in fighting saltwater fish. This fish passed the 40 inch mark.

Harry Guyer leans into a fish.
Harry was exhausted after the fight. But he found Patience pays off.

A few minutes later another fish struck the lure farthest from the boat. Harry Guyer was handed the rod. Reeling in 300 yards of line can be tiring without a 37 inch striper battling for its life at the end of the line. Mate Bobby Thomas performed a sort of ballet with the other rods to keep them out of the way as Harry fought the fish. Finally it was brought to net. After landing the fish Harry admitted his arms felt like rubber.

My largest striper.

We troll on. At 11 a.m. a rod dips and it is my turn to take the rod. I crank on the Daiwa level wind reel mounted on the 4.5 foot rod. I lean back into the rod and slowly gain the 80 lb. test line back on the reel. Soon the fish is in the landing net, and I agree with Harry about my arms feeling like rubber. It is clearly the largest striper I have ever landed, just short of the 40 inch mark.

My fly fishing brethren may scoff and snort in disdain at this type of fishing, but this is the way it is done. I asked Captain Tom if he ever takes clients fly fishing. He says he can, but he never has. To fly fish for stripers one would have to search for breaking fish, an opportunity that may not be found in a day.

Dana Troutman had his hands full as he fought this rockfish.

It is almost two more hours before the last angler in our group is rewarded with a fish. Dana Troutman takes the rod and begins the intense battle. This fish was stubborn but Dana was rewarded with a 40 inch fish.

One day later I am in a hemlock lined valley flipping a fly into small pools, and I found myself laughing as the brightly colored brook trout came to the surface and nipped at the fly. My arms certainly don’t feel like rubber after landing them.

The day’s catch. (l-r) Troutman, Klimkos, Guyer, Tatum, and Skrym
Ron Dietch, Captain and owner of the Omerlea.
A lead slip sinker above a 3 way swivel, a shad dart and a flutter spoon.

At six o’clock Saturday morning I find myself again at Solomons. This time I am aboard the Omerlea, a 22 foot Grady White. I am with my friends Ron and Roy and we head toward the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.  Fishing offshore of the power plant we begin to hook up with stripers; not the legal size spawned out “cows” we had found on Wednesday but smaller “schoolie” stripers that were mostly below the 20 inch mark. We also pick up an occasional American Shad (Alosa sapidissima). Regulations prevent harvest of either species. We fish with 6’6” medium action spinning tackle, using shad darts and flutter spoons, or ¾ ounce jigs tipped with white twister tails.

Roy Richardson hooks up with a striper.
Roy with a schoolie striper






It is great fun to hook these fish in the swirling currents of the power plant discharge – The Bubble as it is known.

A schoolie striper, not near as big as the previous Wednesday’s but more of them.

Until we decide to leave at mid-afternoon we have boated 54 fish.  As I watched the water of The Bay break off the bow of the boat as we head back to the launch ramp, I couldn’t help but wonder if the water I had cast my fly into two days before was now flowing away from the boat. Three days fishing had resulted in the largest, the smallest and a bunch of fish in between, as well as reinforcing the sense of interconnectedness between the headwaters and The Bay.

If you go to Solomons there is a lot to do. The Flag Ponds Nature Center at Lusby is worth a visit. One of the primary attractions is searching for fossilized shark teeth at the park. Other attractions include the Drum Point Lighthouse and the Calvert Marine Museum. History abounds in the area. For more information about the area visit the Calvert County Economic Development website at , or the Calvert County Tourism office at .

And of course no trip to Solomons can be complete without sampling the cuisine – seafood. Stoney’s Kingfishers Seafood Bar and Grill, the Ruddy Duck restaurant, the Charles Street Brasserie and my favorite, the Anglers Seafood Bar and Grill are all worth visiting. Anglers was so good I took Ron and Roy back there Saturday after our fishing adventure.

Hotels abound in the area, but become quite busy during the summer, so advanced reservations are advised. We stayed at the Holiday Inn and the accommodations were excellent.

The Gas Docks. When they say stay out they mean it!
The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. You cannot get much closer than this.

A note about fishing: Fishing inside the clearly marked restricted area around the Gas Docks or the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station is really frowned upon by the people who operate those facilities. You will be severely chastised and may end up in the hoosegow, being towed there by people with no sense of humor and automatic weapons.

Keeping shad in the Chesapeake is not allowed.

There is no open season on shad in The Bay. Regulations on Striped Bass vary from place to place and time to time in The Bay. Make sure you, or your charter are properly licensed and know the rules for the place and time you are fishing.  Go to for the current regulations.