A Touch of Graystones
If Pennsylvania is the bedrock of American fly fishing, that bedrock is folded and wrinkled like the fishing clothes stuffed into my luggage.
Sandstone, shale and limestone create the landforms, and shape the watersheds and streambeds of the creeks (pronounced cricks) and runs (local vernacular for a faster stream) that hold brook trout, rainbows and some very sizable brown trout.
Mud Run and Hickory Run
My next stop was the Poconos, where my college friend (and co-author) Ed Baldrige belongs to a club called Graystones Preserve, nestled in a nook next to the 16,000 acre Hickory Run State Park, with a small stream called Mud Run.
The entire State Park and neighboring Preserve were once land owned by Ed’s great-grandfather’s brother, industrialist Henry Clay Trexler. Trexler was a founder of Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) and created Lehigh Portland Cement, at one time the world’s largest cement producer, among many other enterprises.
Trexler was also a noted philanthropist, supporting many organizations including the Boy Scouts, hospitals and universities. He was also an outdoorsman.
According to the Lehigh County Historical Society and PA DCNR, Trexler purchased the land starting in 1918 specifically to provide recreation opportunities for nearby communities. In his words:
"We are only a short distance from the anthracite coal region where there is scarcely a blade of grass growing. In the not too distant future, the men will be working shorter hours and they will have more leisure time. Rather than have them loafing in pool rooms and saloons fomenting anarchism, I would like to see Hickory Run developed into a state park where families can come and enjoy wholesome recreation."
As he purchased the land, he opened it to the public for hunting and fishing.
After Trexler’s death in 1933, the land was acquired by the National Park Service, before becoming a Pennsylvania State Park. An adjacent tract, around a stream called Mud Run, was sold to the Bronstein family, who in 1934 founded Graystones as a private preserve. The club still leases the land from the Bronsteins.
Mud Run is so-called because long ago when the steep sides of the valley were heavily logged, the stream would run brown with mud before joining the equally murky Lehigh River. Today, the name Mud Run is a misnomer, as the stream that flows through the preserve is very high water quality, holding both wild brook trout and stocked rainbows and brown trout.
Fishing Club Legacy
This type of private fishing club is common throughout the Poconos and much of Pennsylvania and the Catskills.
The first time I ever fished in Pennsylvania was with a friend at his club on the Tobyhanna River. My reaction at the time was that the fishing "preserve" was like a golf course, or even Disneyland for fly anglers. The engineered streams had carefully placed rocks with perfect pools and cascades. You didn’t have to worry about your back cast because the vegetation had been cleared and manicured to remove all obstacles behind you. I caught fish and had fun that trip, but it was not exactly my cup of tea. I prefer things a little wilder and woollier.
Like other clubs, Mud Run in Graystones Preserve has been “improved” over the years, but it is much more subtle (except for the concrete dam.)
There are clear openings in the underbrush in places (and some nicely mowed paths, and well-placed Adirondack chairs), but there are plenty of overhanging branches to steal your fly. And there are some nice lawns around the cabins. But the upper and lower portions of the stream are left mostly wild.
A few of the bigger pools are stocked and have some very large, feed-fattened fish. In most places, though, the fish have grown accustomed to the natural food sources. They can be quite picky and well educated on which flies are real and which are not real.
And there is plenty of unimproved wild pocket water up and down the three miles of stream with wild fish.
These clubs certainly protect and improve the water quality and the habitat, so the entire watershed, for miles downstream, will benefit.
Hooking Up With The Boys
I rolled in about 9:00 on Wednesday night to our rented camp at Graystones. I thought for a minute that I was at the wrong cabin, because there was a bunch of gray-haired guys sitting around the table. But then I realized that these were my college classmates who had come down to join me for this stop on the Storied Water tour.
My reflection in the window reminded me that I am no longer the strapping young dark-haired dude I sometimes imagine myself to be. Despite our advancing age, I like to recall something I heard Andy Rooney say; “I am every age I have ever been.” We are still young at heart, even as our joints complain.
Ed had been fishing that evening with two of our classmates, Norm Richter and David Klinges (aka Klingon), and my longtime fishing buddy from Maine, Lou Zambello who would be fishing with me for the next few days.
Ed, Norm and Klingon are all co-authors of The Confluence so we also had four of the seven Boys of the Grant for this stop on the Storied Water tour. Lou, a Maine guide, fly fishing author and celebrity in his own right, had written the foreword to our book.
It was good news to hear that the fish were rising, and they had caught a few. Given the heat wave we were experiencing, Ed suggested we get out early the next morning before the sun hit the water.
Up and Out
At 5 am, some damned bird I didn’t recognize was chirping incessantly outside our open window, so we were up and finishing our coffee by 6 am. Lou was already on the stream by 6, as he doesn’t drink coffee like the other Boys. We headed out into the morning mist.
Ed had the first fish of the morning, a 14” rainbow trout. Norm whooped when he got a strike but couldn’t get it hooked.
We then saw some rising fish in the long glide below the dam, so we started to toss some dry flies out. We had little luck for a while, but as the others started to head back for breakfast, I landed a 17” brown trout on a parachute quill mayfly pattern.
We all spread out during the day, upstream and down. Lou walked a long way up to the wilder pocket water and had some success. Klingon and I fished a couple nice shady pools where I hooked a big rainbow that threw my hook on the fourth jump. I still call that a success, an LDR (long distance release). Shortly thereafter, Klingon had to head home.
After lunch the day grew very warm. Ed, Norm and I headed down to see where Mud Run enters the Lehigh River, under an old limestone arch bridge. (Lou, the ultimate Power Fisher, had never come back for lunch.)
The Lehigh River’s story is a happy one, a success story for the Clean Water Act, as it was once highly polluted from municipal sewage, industry and coal mine waste. Today it is clean enough to get heavy use from rafting, canoes, and kayaks. According to Tom Gilmore, author of the recently updated Flyfisher’s Guide to Pennsylvania, it has some fabulous trout fishing.
The evening hatch on Mud Run was frustrating for all, giving us all a few more gray hairs.
The fish were rising steadily to what we finally determined to be small midges. I couldn’t get them to take a fly, no matter how small. I had one or two short hits.
Later during dinner, Lou said he had finally figured out that they were keying on motion, so a tiny twitch could result in a strike. He managed to hook a few, but wasn’t able to land more than one or two.
By dark and dinner, we were all exhausted. Lou and I had to be up and out fairly early to get to State College for the next stop.
It was a pleasure and privilege fishing this gem of a stream. Yes, it is private water for club use only. But it was a comfort to learn that the surrounding area – all 16,000 acres - had been acquired and donated by Ed’s great uncle for the public to enjoy.
Now that is quite a story!