This post was written by Andy Wagner, a good friend and fishing buddy.
My informal education began the day after Thanksgiving in the first year of the new millennium. It was my senior year of high school, and as my formal education was coming to an end, I was unsure of the future, and what career to pursue. That Thanksgiving a friend of mine, knowing that I had been fishing for some years and that I had recently purchased my first fly rod, invited me for a day of fishing on Penns Creek. He warned that the fishing would probably be slow but that I might enjoy the river and the surrounding landscape regardless.
We took off sometime around noon and drove north over the rolling Pennsylvania mountains as a light snow dusted the higher elevations. These same mountains have junked 3 of my vehicles and countless sets of brakes since that first trip. We put on our waders and warm clothing and trudged upstream to a few of his favorite sections of pocket water. I was unprepared for a stream of this size and more than a little intimidated as I waded in and began throwing weighted nymphs into the icy runs. The stream bottom was terribly slippery and to be quite honest, I saw no fish activity as I peered through the surface of the stream. He spoke of strange insects, patterns that represented the bugs, and unfamiliar techniques to catch trout. These were things of which I had never heard of, let alone could possibly understand at that point.
I struggled throughout the entire day and never managed to land a trout, but the scenery was captivating, and the valley was beautifully remote. I was sucked in by the hills, dark oak forests, and minty green flow of the river. In the fading light of late afternoon, my friend and guide for the day hooked, then landed a fat wild brown trout and held it up for me to admire. It was a beautiful fish, maybe 15 inches, and was painted with colors I had never seen before. The fish looked nothing like the stocked trout that I had mastered in the streams near my home. The gold flanks, creamy underside, and red spots with bluish halos were unreal.
I believe that was the very moment wherein I began my new education. Standing there knee-deep in that icy flow of water, I took the first step that would change the rest of my life. That day, scared and trembling like a 5-year-old, I left the familiarity of home and stepped into the classroom like it was the very first time. I enrolled in the elementary school of fly fishing, and there was no turning back. For the first time in my life, I loved learning, and there is no better place to learn than Penns Creek. It is a school that has been rated by many as one of the more difficult places to learn, but there is also the argument that it turns out a better class of students. We are students that understand things like wild trout, insects, and techniques, as well as the deeper meanings of a life spent angling. Now, as I finish the end of my 15th year on Penns, questions about the future seem to be coming to the forefront as they did in my formal education. Questions like “What do you want to do with your life? and Will you continue your education?” seem to be pending, waiting for my answer. Just like my senior year of high school, I am nervous about the future, but things are slightly different now. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what I want out of life. The truth is that I simply want to be a life-long student. You know, that guy you see semester after semester walking around campus. He doesn’t really fit in with his graying hair, out of date clothes, and 1992 edition Jansport backpack. He doesn’t talk much but always seems to be on his way to some important class or lecture. Everyone thinks he’s a little strange, and the comments about him are always the same. Everyone agrees that, He should probably grow up someday and get a real job instead of bumming around like some kind of kid for the rest of his life.