Rivers Conservation Camp Accepting Applications

The Cumberland Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited is holding the 22nd annual Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp June 19 – 24, 2016, at the Allenberry Resort in Boiling Springs, PA. The camp begins on a Sunday and ends the following Friday.

The highly structured curriculum is based on college level classes. Students are instructed in ecology, aquatic biology, geology, hydrogeology, erosion and sedimentation control, ichthyology, riparian corridor protection, watershed management, entomology, and much more. Students also participate in a hands-on stream habitat improvement project.

But it’s not all work. There are 10 fishing sessions and fly tying instruction. Over 30 instructors, all experts in their field, teach the various classes.

Admission will be limited to 32 selected qualified students, ages 14 to 17. The applicants must have been born between June 24, 1998, and June 19, 2002. The 32 students will be selected through an application process where they must state why they want to attend camp. The competition for admission is fierce.

The camp tuition is $400 per student for the entire week. All meals and accommodations are included for the residence camp. A student need not be an accomplished fly fisher or a budding aquatic biologist to attend. All the student needs is to be highly motivated and willing to learn.

The Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp was founded in 1995 through the efforts of the late Dr. John R. “Jack” Beck and the late Enoch S. “Inky” Moore, Jr., Pennsylvania Fish Commissioner. Their goal was to select 32 teenagers each year who were the leaders in their class. The thought is that today’s leaders in high school become the leader of tomorrow’s communities. In a few short years, they will be the bankers, lawyers, realtors, municipal officials and the leaders in their communities. If the camp can implant a kernel of knowledge in today’s students about the importance of clean water, when those students become the decision makers in their communities, it may have a positive impact on how water resources are used.

The camp began accepting applications for the 2016 camp on November 1, 2015, and all applications for early acceptance must be postmarked no later than March 31, 2016. For a camp brochure, an application, or for more information, visit the camp website at www.riverscamp.com. Applications or questions may be submitted via US mail or via email to riverscamp@gmail.com.

To Build a Fire – With Apologies to Jack London

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Do you have the skills and tools necessary to start a fire under adverse conditions? A little planning and practice can prepare you for the worst.

Before continuing on with this article go to your bookshelf, the local library or the bookstore and find a copy of Jack London’s short story, To Build a Fire and read it, or re-read it if sometime in the dim past you now refer to as high school English class, you read it the first time.  There are a few important lessons to be taken from this story.  First and foremost among them is, don’t venture outside when it is fifty below zero or colder – especially alone.  The second thing to take away from the short story is ice can crack, water can flow and you can get wet and die when it is cold outside – even if you are prepared.  The third salient point is, don’t build your fire under a tree loaded with snow.  Finally, your dog is not Lassie.  “What’s that you say girl?  Our buddy has fallen in the creek and is freezing to death in -70 degree weather? Show us where so we can rescue him.”  That just isn’t going to happen.

The protagonist in London’s story – we never learn his name – is well versed in the ways of the Yukon. He was not a greenhorn, tenderfoot, rookie, or uninformed about the ways of the wilds of Alaska.  From what we read we can deduce that he knew about being outside in such bitter weather and he knew how to deal with it.  He was a bit cocky to ignore the advice of the old timer at Sulphur Creek but he possessed the requisite skills to survive in the Yukon.  A momentary lapse of judgment rather than a random act of stupidity cost him his life.  From this we should be warned that even the best preparations and planning can lead the well-prepared astray.  Random acts of stupid or purposely committing stupid can be even more challenging to extending your life span.

Chances are if you are out running your trap line, hunting, fishing, hiking or in the outdoors it will not be as blistering cold as the London’s Yukon setting. But it doesn’t have to be that cold to kill you. Thus it is imperative that anyone who spends time outdoors in any season knows how, and is prepared to build a fire.

The lost scenario is usually mentioned when talking about building a fire under stressful circumstances. It is usually stated that the act of concentrating on something  other than being lost, such as building a fire,  will often allow the ‘lostee’ the opportunity to clear his or her mind and deduce with reason where they are and how to get out of the situation.  I can hear the howls of derision now.  “I am never lost!”   “I know where I am!” “I won’t be that far from help!” and my favorite, “I will have my cellphone and I can call for help!”

But another situation, which may be more common, is you know where you are but are not able to do anything about it. You may very well know where you are when you suddenly find yourself in desperate need of life-sustaining warmth. Think about this scenario. You drove a seldom travelled road to hunt for deer during the second week of the season.  It is a three hour trip from home and you told your family not to expect you back before 9 p.m. that evening.  You have done this several times. At four o’clock you come out of the woods to find your truck won’t start.  It is a six mile hike to a paved road and then another ten to a phone.  Your cellphone hasn’t worked since you came through the small town fifteen miles from where you turned off the pavement.  You know where you are.  Your family knows where you are but nobody will even begin to get concerned for five hours.  Now what?  Knowing how to build a fire can save your life.

A number of years ago when I was living in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania and was a member of the local fire company, we were called out one morning the second week of deer season to look for a lost hunter. We arrived on a state forest road overlooking the Allegheny Front just as the sun was rising.  The officer briefed us on who we were looking for; a man in his seventies with a heart problem who had come up on the mountain hunting the afternoon before.  Hearing the news of his age and health we were not optimistic of finding him alive.  We made one sweep and as we came out we saw an elderly man walking up the road dressed in his Pennsylvania Tuxedo.  It was the person we were searching for.  It seems that about 3:30 in the afternoon of the day before he spotted a buck and shot it.  The shot wasn’t fatal and the man began to track the deer down over the front.  When he finally caught up to the deer he realized that because of his health he would not be able to get back up to the top of the mountain and his car, or walk out the bottom before dark.  He built a fire and sitting next to it, stayed the night. The next morning at daylight he walked back to the top of the mountain none the worse for wear.  He knew exactly where he was, but he was powerless to remedy the situation right then.  Fortunately he had the equipment and skills that saved his life.  His Woolrich hunting outfit maintained his body heat and a camp fire provided additional heat and light.

Being able to build a fire to dry out after trying to cross a creek and submerging oneself up to the eyeballs may or may not be lifesaving but it can save a day in the woods or along the creek. Finally there is something magical about sitting in front of a campfire, watching the flames dance, hearing the wood crackle and smelling the wood smoke. I like to think it connects us to our past.  Many an hour has been spent staring at the flames of a campfire.


Before venturing afield you need to ask yourself if you are prepared for what you are going to face. One of the things that was drummed into me since I was a little kid is when venturing into the woods was always carry a knife and matches.  I have assiduously tried to do exactly that.  It doesn’t matter if I am going out for an afternoon of fishing in the creek down the road from the house or spending a full day in the big woods, a knife and matches – or fire of some sort – is with me.  Kids I wouldn’t recommend this practice when going to school as carrying both knives and matches will get you expelled in short order and that doesn’t translate into more time to fish and hunt.

The knife doesn’t have to be a fourteen inch Bowie or even a six inch Case. The size will largely depend on what you are planning to do and where you are planning to go.  Certainly the knife you use to skin and quarter a moose will usually be something more substantial than the knife you will need to clean a few trout for the streamside frying pan.  Regardless of your personal preference for knives, it is important that you keep it sharp.  I cannot emphasize that enough.


We have at our disposal a myriad of devices and gadgets that can produce a flame. There are everything from battery operated lighters, butane fired cigarette lighters, liquid fluid lighters, friction strikers and matches.  For my money the best bet is the good old fashioned, tried and true match.


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Matches come in various shapes, colors and types. They can be stored in waterproof containers such as 35 mm film containers and empty shotgun shells.

We are all familiar with matches. They come in three basic types; paper, wooden safety and wooden strike anywhere.  Matches are mixture of chemicals that are affixed to either a cardboard or wooden stick that when scraped across a friction creating surface, cause fire.  Strike anywhere – sometimes referred to as kitchen matches – contain all the chemicals necessary to create fire in the match head.  Safety matches, both cardboard and wooden, require a special striker surface that the match must be rubbed against to create fire.  The striking surface contains red phosphorus and powdered glass among other things to create the reaction necessary for the match to burst into flame when stuck against the surface.  That’s really all you need to know about the composition of matches.  The color of the matches is not significant of anything other than the manufacturer’s preference.  Color does not indicate the chemical composition of the match.

There are specialty matches dubbed hurricane matches, or waterproof matches or storm proof matches and they work. But like everything else that is a specialty item they are more expensive than the standard.  One can even waterproof your own matches.  It is time consuming but it might give you a sense of satisfaction from doing it yourself.

It isn’t that important that the matches you carry are waterproof, but be sure to carry lots of them. You want to find a match when you need it. I usually carry lots of matches and at least some of them are in water tight containers.  The containers I prefer are either plastic 35 mm film containers or a 16 gauge shotgun shell stuffed inside a twelve gauge shotgun shell.  A 20 gauge hull stuffed inside a 16 gauge will also work though it won’t carry as many matches.  Twelve, strike anywhere matches will fit in the 20 gauge and fifteen will fit inside the 16 gauge hull.  These match containers are inexpensive to the point of being free and they float.  After being submerged in a bucket of water for an hour the matches in the 12/16 combination and the 12/20 combinations all fired upon a single strike.  Make sure when selecting the empty hulls they are clean and dry and fit together in a reasonably tight manner.  For an added level of protection they can be wrapped in clear clinging plastic wrap or carried in a re-sealable plastic bag.

Roughly 50 strike anywhere kitchen matches will fit in a 35 mm film container. The drawback is the matches must be trimmed at the bottom to fit in the container.  A pair of good garden pruning shears can readily accomplish this task.  Approximately 70 wooden safety matches will also fit in the container.  The downside for safety matches is you must also include the striker from the box in the container.  There are all sorts of commercial containers that will hold matches but as long as you have access to shotgun shells or 35 mm film containers – which are becoming rarer as we convert to digital photography – there really isn’t much of a need.  The film canisters float, even when filled with matches but when held under water for an hour they have a tendency to allow water to weep in and dampen the matches.  For normal circumstances they should work fine though.

Another container that is useful, especially for paper matchbooks are the small resealable plastic bags that so many outdoor products come in. They lay flat in your pockets, are inexpensive and are reasonably watertight.  Paper matches are good to carry for utility matches.  They are inexpensive and oftentimes free especially if you do not mind spending a Saturday evening at Cletus’ and Lurlene’s wedding reception where they may be handed out as party favors.  The matches are compact and you can carry a lot of them.  Unlike wooden safety matches they don’t rattle in the box.  (To prevent wooden matches from rattling fill the box with matches from another box or use toilet paper or lint tinder stuffed in the container).  You can carry paper matches, sometimes referred to as book matches in every pocket and hardly notice you are carrying them.  But take note that they do not stand up to dampness, let alone water.  Once they become wet they are useless.  Once a year it is wise to throw all the matches you carry in your gear into the fire pit and replace them with fresh new matches.  I am as guilty of not doing this as anybody.  Recently while cleaning out some gear I found some matches that have been in my kit since the Carter administration.  It was time for them to go.


The butane lighters that you purchase at the counter in convenience stores and gas stations are good for one thing – lighting cigarettes and cigars – and nothing else. If you hold one sideways or upside down you will get an anemic flame at best and quite possibly burn your thumb or finger while holding the valve open while trying to keep the thing lit.  If you smoke they are convenient but if they get wet they are unreliable and probably useless.  Don’t count on butane lighters in a ‘must build a fire’ situation.  If you are going to carry one of these lighters make sure you have a backup plan.

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The Zippo lighter, a standard for decades. Be sure it has fuel and functions. Photo courtesy of Zippo Corp.

There are some high quality lighters out there that will fill the bill for getting a fire started. Among them are Zippo lighters made in Bradford, Pennsylvania.  These lighters rely on flint and lighter fluid to function.  Newer models are butane fired and they work well in adverse conditions.  They must be maintained if they are expected to work.  Don’t fill a lighter with fluid, throw it in your hunting coat or fishing vest, never look at it and then expect it to work when you need it.  Check it to make sure it works on a regular basis and be sure to keep fluid or butane in the lighter.

Magnifying Glass or Lens

Unless you are tasked with igniting the Olympic flame on Mount Olympus forget about carrying a glass or plastic lens to start a fire. For the weight of a lens you can carry an awful lot of matches.  The two major drawbacks of lenses are they don’t work on cloudy days or at night – the times most to need an emergency fire to save you from becoming the coyotes’ evening repast.  If one is included with your compass or other gear okay, but don’t buy a lens as a special piece of fire starting equipment.

Nine Volt Battery and Steel Wool

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Steel wool and a 9 volt battery can start a fire with ease. Be sure to store them separately until you are ready to use them.

This is a pretty neat way to start a fire on a cold and rainy day. A nine volt battery that we used to refer to as a transistor battery, because they were used to power transistor radios, and a piece of 0000 steel wool make an excellent fire starter.  They must be stored separately in individual plastic bags, otherwise you could start a fire in your coat pocket and that is never a good idea.  If it is going to be cold, damp, rainy, or snowy these are useful items to have along.  This method can work under the most adverse conditions.  Remember though you must carry the battery independently of the steel wool and not in the same container.  To use as a fire starter drag the battery contacts across the steel wool.  It will spark and begin to glow.  Set tinder on top of the glowing steel wool and gently blow on it to create a flame.

Flint and Steel

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A magnesium block with a sparker on the top edge. Store in a tin container with tinder. Duct tape (which also can aid in starting a fire) can keep the container closed.

This is probably one of the most – dare I say it? – surefire methods of starting a fire under any conditions. The caveats are that the person starting the fire must know what they are doing, and the tools must be capable of producing a sufficient spark to ignite the tinder which is discussed later.  There are many different models and varieties of steel and magnesium starters.  The best advice I can give is to purchase one that is made in America.  The foreign ones do not seem to live up to their hype. Oftentimes at sport shows and outdoor events you will see these products demonstrated. That is your best bet.  For these devices I would not recommend purchasing them from the internet.  And again, America made is the way to go here.  Keep both the steel and the flint free of dirt, grime and especially grease.  This is important to remember if you are using petroleum impregnated tinder.

Bow Drill

This method works. It requires some knowledge of hard and soft woods, a bit of time to construct the device, arm strength and durability and patience.  Go ahead and try to build this device and try it under ideal conditions in the confines of your back yard.  You may be surprised at how well it works and how quickly it works, provided you have built it correctly and have the endurance to make it work.  If it doesn’t work for you under ideal conditions it will probably just frustrate you under conditions that are less than ideal.

Building the Fire


Once you have selected the type of fire starting method you want to carry, how you start the fire is the next critical thing. There are hundreds if not thousands of natural materials that will work as tinder.  Get to know what natural materials may be found in your area.  Collect them when you are out there and then try them in a controlled situation in good conditions.  It won’t do you any good to find a natural material is hard to light or burns too fast to be effective as tinder when you are in the middle of a raging snowstorm in an emergency situation.  Some materials that are readily found are birch bark, the heads of cattail plants, dried grass, lumps of resin from pine trees, bark and bird nests.  Again it is dependent on your area.  The boreal forests of northern Canada offer a different palette of tinder, kindling and firewood than the southern Appalachians. Pay attention to where you are and what is around you.

Then there are some things you can add to your kit that are readily found around the house. If you have a clothes dryer, clean the lint off the screen and save that for tinder.  Make sure though it is not all synthetic as this type of lint will usually melt rather than burn.  Go outside, take a small piece, less than the size of a marble and light it.  If it melts rather than burns, discard it.  Another type of tinder is a cotton ball infused with petroleum jelly.  You may also want to carry birthday cake candles or short pieces of regular candles.  There are also recipes for mixing sawdust with everything from paraffin to turpentine to kerosene to make fire starters or tinder.  If you make any of these materials be sure and try to light them – outside in a controlled condition – before you venture afield with them.  There are hundreds of suggestions out there for you to try.  If you are hunting remember: Petroleum Products Smell!  Find a type of tinder you like and stick with it.

Store the tinder in small plastic bag, plastic container such as a used clean snuff can or one of the tins that mints come in. Any of the match containers previously mentioned can also be used to hold tinder.  When using petroleum products such as paraffin, petroleum jelly, kerosene and the like be sure the container you are using to carry the material will not breakdown because of the petroleum based product.


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Make sure you have enough tinder, kindling and fuel wood before you start the process.

I classify kindling into two types – fine and heavy. Fine I classify as the kindling that can be lit from tinder.  It is between the diameter of a matchstick to a pencil.  You will need a lot of this kind of kindling.  You should have enough to fill both hands.  If fine kindling is not readily available you have to make it from larger sticks.  This is where your knife becomes very important.  Splitting larger sticks with a knife is usually not that difficult a task but may require some time.  Perhaps the most important thing to stress is to move with a purpose and make every move count but do not rush the process.  Be extremely careful when using a knife or hatchet to split kindling.  Wear gloves if you have them.  You don’t need to stop you fire building process to bandage fingers, hands, arms or other body parts because you got in a hurry.  If you practice the kindling collection process often enough you will gain the skill necessary to do it efficiently.

Heavy kindling is the material from pencil diameter to the diameter of a quarter. You should collect a good armload of this size material before attempting to light your fire.  Standing dead trees are your best bet as the wood is liable to be drier than that found lying on the ground.  Again, where you are will determine what you have to work with.  On the North American continent it is rare when you are in a location where there is nothing to burn.

After you have gathered kindling be sure and gather enough large fuel wood to keep the fire going. The fuel wood should be larger than a quarter in diameter and as long as your forearm at a minimum.  A pile that is knee high should be enough to at least get the fire started and a bed of coals started.

Time to Start

You have your fire starting method, be it matches, steel wool or a magnesium striker, you have your tinder, you have shaved fine kindling, gathered an acceptable amount of heavy kindling and have your pile of fuel wood. Now it is time to build the fire.

Select a site that is sheltered – but not under a snow covered pine tree. Clear away all dry debris such as pine needles and leaves until you are at bare mineral soil.  Select a piece of bark, a flat piece of wood or several sticks laid side by side as a platform to build your fire on.  In the past you may have heard of building a fire in or on an old tree stump.  This is a bad idea for a number of reasons.  The first reason is the stump is probably punky or damp and won’t really burn all that well.  The second is if the forest is dry the fire may burn down the roots and ignite the duff and create a ground fire that will require a lot of effort or a sustained period of heavy rain to extinguish.  Either way, it is best not to be using stumps for fireplaces.

You can use the teepee method, the log cabin method or the lean to method to build your fire. Practice with all three methods and find one you are comfortable with.  Practice the methods under ideal conditions at home before venturing afield.

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You get good at starting a fire the same way you get to Carnegie Hall – Practice, Practice, Practice. Use your charcoal grill or fire pit to select the method that works for you – under ideal conditions – and go from there.

Practice really does make perfect. Practice igniting tinder and kindling at home.  You can do this by using your fire starting skills to light your charcoal grill.  This usually won’t violate local zoning codes or fire codes but be sure to check just the same.  When you can light a fire without a lot of fuss and not use paper or lighter fluid, try it again under adverse conditions such as rain or snow.  When you get comfortable with that procedure it is time to try it out in the woods provided there are no such restrictions on building fires in the woods.  Your first foray into the woods should be a reasonably dry day.  Then after you achieved this you will want to try adverse conditions.  Remember it will probably be under adverse weather conditions that you will need the fire the most.  Practice, practice, practice; it’s sort of like asking a New York City dweller how to get to Carnegie Hall.

Fire Safety

Okay you have built the fire and are warm and comfortable and have kept the wolves at bay. In the distance you hear the sound of a motor vehicle and soon your rescuers are standing beside you.  Control the temptation to run and jump in their vehicle and exit stage left.  That fire that you have so carefully built and tended to needs one more thing.  It needs to be extinguished.  Make sure the fire is dead out and all ashes and embers are cold to the touch before leaving.  This is absolutely critical, especially during dry times of the year such as the summer in the west and spring in the east.  You don’t need a cost of upwards of $100,000 for extinguishing a wildfire because you were in a hurry to get out of the woods.


Since I originally posted this the great folks at Zippo contacted me and supplied me with their Emergency Fire Starter.

DSCN3711 (800x736)The device is about the same size as a Zippo lighter but weighs less. It is a sparking flint inside a blaze orange plastic case that also contains 4 wax coated cotton swabs that can be used for tinder. I was anxious to try it out and in yesterday’s misty gray morning I did. The first thing to remember is it is important to spin the wheel the correct way against the flint. There’s a little sticker on the wheel showing the rotation direction. Otherwise it can jam.

I tried it in the damp outdoors and it worked igniting tinder.  The striking wheel is a little hard on an un-calloused thumb as several rotations in quick succession may be needed to get the tinder fired. It might also be difficult to use with numb fingers – but what isn’t?  The small size and light weight make up for the drawbacks and it will surely find a place in my “Possibles Bag” It’s not something that you would necessarily use every day – that’s why it is called “An Emergency Fire Starter” – but it is worth carrying.


The websites listed are a brief reference for specialty items used to start fires. The list is not complete and it does not imply an endorsement of the product.







What Haven’t I Dun: A Fly For All Seasons

This fly originally appeared in CVTU’s Favorite Flies: Fifty-three Productive Patterns From Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited

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Hook – Standard Dry Fly, Fine Wire, Perfect Bend, Turned Down Eye, Size 10 – 20

Thread – 6/0 White Pre-waxed

Body – White dubbing natural or synthetic

Tail – White or very light cream hackle

Wing – White Poly Yarn

Hackle – White or very light cream

Color – Indelible, waterproof felt tip markers (Black, Green, Brown, Orange, Yellow)

Who among us has not been on a stream with a fly box loaded with the wrong patterns? We’ve all done it.  It can be so frustrating.  We have spent years collecting material.  During the past winter as chilled winds blew out of the north we sorted flies and calculated our needs.  Then with the self-assurance that we knew what was going to happen, we proceeded to tie flies for the upcoming season.  Then at last it was time, and we proceeded to the stream only to find Hendricksons had hatched early and March Browns, not normally due for another two weeks were on the water.  AAAAAAAARRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

But relax fellow angler. A solution is at hand.  First a couple of things that you need to understand.

  1.       You can make a dry fly sink
  2.       You can make a spinner from a dun but not vice versa.
  3.       Fish ain’t that smart and
  4.      Liquor doesn’t necessarily help.

Using the materials described above tie at least a half dozen in each size in the Catskill tradition. That is to say tie standard dry flies. You will notice you now have a selection of all white dry flies. Put them in a separate fly box. That was simple enough. In your vest stuff the indelible pens, a pair of fly tying scissors and the white fly box. Incidentally, the flies you have tied will work on the Breeches when the White Flies are on. Now go fishing.

You have arrived at your favorite hole. The fish are taking emergers and after careful observation you have determined what they are but you don’t have that pattern. Get out the White Fly Box. Select one of the proper size. Trim the hackle to make the imitation sink. Use the pens to appropriately color the fly. Fish to your heart’s content.

The emergers change to duns. Again you are caught short. Pull out the WFB. Select the proper size and color appropriately with the pen. There you go Bucky! You’re back in business.

When the duns change to spinners select another fly, trim the hackle and color appropriately. There you have the spinner.

Now a couple of key points.

  • Do not color the flies beforehand as the colors when they touch in the fly box may bleed together.
  • Do not place colored up flies back in the WFB as they may stain the white uncolored flies
  • Check beforehand to see if your dry fly floatant will make the colors run.
  • A full color spectrum of pens is not necessary but go ahead if you feel compelled to have absolutely every color for every situation.
  • Pick materials that you find easy to use and tie with. I prefer poly yarn for wings and white rabbit fur for the body.So there is one solution to making sure you have the right fly in the right situation. It’s not as much fun as collecting material and tying all those patterns, and while that is still encouraged this might make life just a bit easier.

The Cumberland Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited has compiled and published two books, CVTU’s Favorite Flies: Fifty-three Productive Patterns From Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited and More of CVTU’s Favorite Flies. Both books are indispensable references for anglers who are planning a trip to the Cumberland Valley and want to know what flies to tie or buy.

When Fly of the Month was inaugurated in our monthly newsletter, members were challenged. “Do you have a secret weapon that you want to share with your fellow CVTU members? Do you have an invention that the trout just can’t resist? Submit your favorite pattern…”.

The members responded, and these books are a compilation of over 11 years of Fly of the Month patterns. Some are classics, some are flies adapted from other areas that have been successful here, and some are inventions of the contributors. All are proven patterns that will be worthy additions to your fly box. Books may be purchased at monthly members meetings. The books are 6″ x 9″, and spiral bound to lay flat on your tying desk. Books are now in stock! To order either or both by mail, click on http://cvtu.homestead.com/

CVTU’s new book, More of CVTU’s Favorite Flies is now available. A sequel to our popular CVTU’s Favorite Flies, this new book follows the same format, but is in full color.


A Spatial Look at Wildfire Statistics in Pennsylvania

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When I began this project I turned to digitized newspapers to find information on historic forest fires in Pennsylvania. One of the best sources I found is the Library of Congress. Newspapers from 1836 to 1922 can be found at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/  It is a free resource, available to anyone.  I downloaded roughly 500 accounts of forest fires in Pennsylvania and as I did, I noticed repetition among the newspapers. For example the burning of Osceola Mills was noted in at least four different accounts in four different papers.  After sorting the data and winnowing down the information I produced a rudimentary GIS layer showing the approximate locations of the major fires. The data set shows 226 individual fires before 1900, and 147 fires from 1900 to 1922. Figure 1 shows the locations of the fires as best as could be guessed from the descriptions provided in the newspaper accounts. Oftentimes those accounts are sketchy and give little detail.

Figure 1 – Early Fires In PA to 1922 Red Triangles before 1900 Yellow Crosses 1900 – 1922

The map does certainly not show all of the fires. The historic fire records show that from 1913 to 1922, 16,322 fires were recorded by the Department of Forestry (yes that it what it was called then). What the map does show is a statistical sample of fires in Pennsylvania. Bias is in the sample as not all newspapers published at the time are available for review, and not every wildfire was reported in those papers that were available for review.  Mostly the fires that were reported destroyed significant property such as the towns of Cross Fork or Brisbin; covered significant area; or took lives, such as at Moores Run.  But the map above does give a picture of where major fires were located.

When the Act 353 of June 3, 1915 became law, it gave the Department of the authority to fight wildfires on all lands – public as well as private – in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Figure 2 and Figure 3 show the number and acreage burned by year statewide from 1913 to 2015.

Figure 2 – Number of Wildfires 1913 to 1915


Figure 3 – Acres Burned 1913 – 1915

Pennsylvania was divided into Forest districts that were responsible for wildfire protection in their geographic area regardless of landownership. Through time the protection boundaries have morphed and changed. Names have changed – for example the recent change of Lackawanna to Pinchot. Today twenty forest districts are responsible for wildfire control in Pennsylvania. Currently wildfire statistics are available by forest district from 1979 to the present.


Using GIS software I applied the fire statistics from 1979 to 2015 to show fires and acreage burned by district. One must be careful when using statistics. The old adage about hiring an accountant is to ask him what is 2 plus 2. If he says, “What do you want it to be?” hire him. That is sort of like fire statistics. What do you want to show? Statistics in and of themselves are not a predictive model for the future. They are just the historic record.  There are a few caveats in the statistics I used pulled from the DCNR website at http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/forestry/wildlandfire/index.htm

For three years, 1993, 1994 and 1995 there is no data available. For the year 2015 the numbers had not been finalized. And finally borders have changed in some of the districts. But for what I am doing here the dataset works.

Number by District
Number of Fires by District 1979 – 2015

Inspecting the data for the 34 years shows the Weiser District and the Moshannon District had the most fires with 4,690 and 3,251 fires respectively. The Tiadaghton District had the fewest with 395 fires. Half of the districts had between 1,133 and 2,747 fires.

Acres by District
Acres by District 1979 – 2013

During that time period the Loyalsock District had the most acres burn with 26,992.6 acres going up in smoke. The Bald Eagle District had the fewest acres burn (2374.5) followed by the Michaux District (2869.9), Rothrock District (2873.5) and Tuscarora District (2937.5). What do these numbers tell us? The reality is that they do not tell us much other than how many fires there were and acres burned in a particular district. These are, to paraphrase what Sargent Friday  used to say on Dragnet, It’s just the facts ma’am.


Average Acres
Average Size of A Fire by District 1979 – 2015

Considering the average size of a fire for the past 34 of 37 years some interesting things are shown. The Michaux District (2.1 acres per fire) and the William Penn District (2.3 acres per fire) were the lowest in the state while the Sproul District had fires that averaged 35.3 acres per fire and the Tiadaghton District was second highest with 29.4 acres per fire. The William Penn and Michaux Districts are two of the most populated districts in the state. Cell phone coverage is common now and before that telephone communication by landline was readily available. There are also hundreds of local fire companies in the districts and as a result of those factors, fires tend to be reported quickly and responded to quickly.

50.9% of the Sproul District is State Forest. 30.3% of the Tiadaghton District is State Forest, and vast tracts of land held by either the Pennsylvania Game Commission or is privately owned are also woodland. The two districts are some of the most remote areas in the state. Permanent habitation is clustered, seasonal dwellings are often unoccupied and cell phone coverage is spotty at best. Fires started in the more remote areas can gain much greater headway in the Sproul and Tiadaghton districts before a crew arrives to combat the blaze. Another fire that contributes to the size of the fires in those two districts is transportation. In the Sproul District a fire may be spotted but you can’t get there from here. You have to go someplace else to start.

The data can be parsed and dissected any number of ways such as acres burned per 100,000 acres of protection area, or average fire size per 100,000 acres protected, or the number of fires per 1000 people living in the district. One of the things not considered here is the fire cause. This data does not show fires in the Allegheny National Forest that were fought by ANF staff with no intervention by the Bureau of Forestry, nor does it show those fires that were responded to by local fire companies that did not necessitate the call of the Bureau of Forestry.

As for prediction, there are several other variables that play into it. Weather is the one of the biggest if not the biggest factor. Fire codes and prohibitions against open burning, or lack thereof, is another factor. Recreational use of an area can be a consideration. And of course there is the “social factor.” Arsonists can be (and have been in some places) a huge problem.

So what do these records tell us? Since record keeping began the acreage burned has decreased. Some years are worse than other years but overall the fires are decreasing in number and size but it is doubtful that the numbers will ever reach zero.

 Below is the data used to develop the maps.

Number of Fires 1979 – 2015

District Number Average Median STDEV Minimum Maximum
1 1457 43 32 37 2 151
2 831 24 21 16 2 68
3 1299 38 17 50 1 213
4 1656 49 44 30 7 119
5 635 19 19 10 0 41
6 2205 65 54 51 5 188
7 562 17 15 10 0 43
8 2358 69 58 64 2 211
9 3251 96 91 45 9 190
10 768 23 18 20 0 74
11 2747 81 69 79 12 491
12 395 12 8 11 0 44
13 517 15 13 11 0 43
14 610 18 15 14 1 59
15 1133 33 18 33 2 103
16 926 27 16 26 0 111
17 2379 70 60 46 20 233
18 4690 138 137 54 29 259
19 1882 55 58 33 7 140
20 2611 77 57 61 3 246
Total 32912 968 873 454 202 1863
Average 1646 48 41 35 5 151
Median 1378 41 27 33 2 130
STDEV 1121 33 33 21 8 109
Minimum 395 12 8 10 0 41
Maximum 4690 138 137 79 29 491

Acres Burned 1979 – 2015

District Acres Median Average STDEV Minimum Maximum
1 2,869.9 84.4 66.2 74.1 0.7 323.0
2 4,595.9 135.2 63.0 203.4 4.7 964.0
3 2,937.5 86.4 43.6 123.9 0.1 616.0
4 9,242.0 271.8 148.7 310.8 7.6 1,348.0
5 2,873.5 84.5 50.1 115.2 0.0 589.9
6 10,950.9 322.1 263.3 307.2 18.3 1,493.0
7 2,374.5 69.8 45.8 116.8 2.6 670.0
8 10,486.9 308.4 255.8 250.1 18.9 1,099.0
9 12,695.1 373.4 241.5 435.4 28.8 1,972.7
10 23,126.0 680.2 157.9 1,734.1 0.0 9,797.0
11 20,917.3 615.2 503.0 554.5 90.0 2,640.6
12 8,943.9 263.1 61.4 644.8 0.0 3,104.6
13 3,402.3 100.1 62.5 97.9 0.0 380.9
14 3,131.2 92.1 53.7 136.9 1.5 772.0
15 3,094.4 91.0 78.7 85.0 2.0 434.0
16 9,117.9 268.2 109.0 696.0 0.0 4,087.2
17 4,731.4 139.2 124.1 138.7 20.8 834.2
18 22,368.4 657.9 428.8 726.9 40.7 3,308.0
19 9,377.5 275.8 216.4 249.9 12.0 1,121.8
20 26,992.6 793.9 391.7 1,088.2 0.5 5,497.0
Total 194,228.9 5,712.6 4,607.6 3,901.7 579.2 16,193.0
Average 9,711.4 285.6 168.2 404.5 12.5 2,052.6
Median 9,030.9 265.6 116.5 250.0 2.3 1,110.4
STDEV 7,772.5 228.6 139.5 417.0 21.6 2,299.1
Minimum 2,374.5 69.8 43.6 74.1 0.0 323.0
Maximum 26,992.6 793.9 503.0 1,734.1 90.0 9,797.0








A Reminder of What Fly Fishing Can Be

Cook's Run1 (1024x728)

Cold winter days are good for contemplating fly fishing and warm spring days to come. So you do not get too comfortable I felt a need to remind the reader of what fishing can be truly like.

Here are some theorems and postulates relating to fly fishing. These have been developed over the course of years and they have been found by many researchers to hold true.

The Dry Fly Theorem: Dry flies do not float, wet flies do.

The Last Fly Theorem: The fewer patterns of a fly an angler has in his box, the more likely he is to lose the fly.  The corollary is the odds will increase on how soon the fly is lost based on the intensity of the hatch.

The Hanging Gear Theorem: The more stuff you have hanging from your vest the less likely you will be to use it.  The Sunglasses Corollary states: Sunglasses hanging from a cord around your neck are useful for catching cigar ashes from falling down your wanders.  This is actually a useful trait if you are using gasoline-based dry fly floatant.

Traveler Theorem: How can we ever forget this oldie but goodie?  You should have been here last week.  Variants of this theorem involve yesterday, a couple of hours ago, St. Swithin’s Day and so on and so forth.

The Hook Point Theorem: Hook points on flies now matter how you sharpen them are so dull you can’t set them in a fish by pulling on the rod with two hands.  The corollary is a fly that you try to catch when it is falling out of your fly box will bury itself in your finger up to the shank no matter how dull and rusted the hook appears to be.

The 2nd Hook Point Theorem:  The likelihood of you sticking yourself with a hook is directly proportional to your distance from a doctor and a tetanus booster.  The corollary would indicate that the likelihood of you sticking yourself with a hook (or being stuck by an errant cast) is directly proportional to the intensity of the hatch and the rustiness of the hook.

The Wrong Fly Theorem: No matter what is hatching you will have the wrong fly in your box.  The corollary is if you have the right pattern it will be the wrong size.

The Spouse at Home Theorem: The more demanding your spouse is that you stay home and paint the house, wash the car, weed the garden, or create more offspring  (pick whatever chore you like) the greater the intensity of the hatch will be.  The corollary is the trout will all be rising within easy casting distance as you perform the necessary domestic chore(s).

The Demon Rum Theorem: One glass of scotch (insert any other palatable alcoholic beverage here) will make you think you are a better caster. Two glasses will make you know you are a better caster.

The Knot Theorem: The knots you painstakingly tie to join tippet to leader or tippet to fly are more likely to come undone as the size of the fish taking your fly increases.  The corollary is that when your fly hits your rod (a result of Demon Rum Theorem – See Above) it will tie a knot around the road that is simply Gordian in structure.

The Clean Reel Theorem: When disassembling a reel for cleaning it is best to have an empty egg carton handy to put in each part removed from the reel. This will make it convenient to throw away the whole mess when you realize you have neither the mechanical aptitude nor the willingness to re-assemble it. The corollary is the only time you will have a clean, perfectly functioning reel in your hands is before you pay for it in the fly shop.

The Leaking Wader Theorem: The quality of the patch job you did on your waders is proportional to the temperature of the water.  The corollary often called the Crotch Factor in the east and the Soprano Factor in the west, and just damn foolish in the Maritime provinces, states that the quality of the patch job becomes worse as it gets closer to the crotch.  A mathematician friend has worked out several possible variations with variables and cosecants and Eigenvectors and the like.  It relates to distances from sporting goods stores, age of the patch material and how long it sat in your hot car, and whether or not you are looking for an excuse to buy a new pair of waders.  Until he figures it all out I think I’ll tie a few dun variants and patch a martini together.