Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Growing up on 'different world' of Waterford's Lake LeBoeuf
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

About 11,000 years ago, the great glaciers of the last Ice Age were in full retreat as the climate warmed. Huge chunks of ice broke off the glacier and were covered with mud and gravel as meltwaters raged over them. As these giant ice cubes melted, depressions in the earth were left. The depressions, like great amphitheaters, filled with water, partly from streams whose courses were defined by the melting glaciers, and partly from springs. These water-filled depressions are called "kettle lakes." The one at Waterford is Lake LeBoeuf.

Lake LeBoeuf is almost round, in a triangular sort of way. There is a wooded island in the center, very swampy. The lake is fed primarily by LeBoeuf Creek, which has its beginnings north of Waterford and winds its way through Gameland 109 under the covered bridge, past the spot where the French built Fort LeBoeuf, and then into the lake. We always referred to the lower portion of the creek as "The Inlet."

Several smaller streams also empty into the lake, and springs under the lake feed it as well. South of town, "The Outlet," also LeBoeuf Creek, carries water from the lake to French Creek near Hughes Corners.

Lake LeBoeuf is known for Muskie fishing. Fishermen really devoted to the sport will spend hours on the lake in hopes of landing the legendary Muskellunge. Many leave empty-handed, but a few are in the right place at the right time.

My uncle, Stanley "Pete" Walden, loved fishing above anything else. He practically lived on the lake.

One summer, Uncle Pete got a small kayak. It was just the thing to paddle around easily catching panfish. He was doing just that one day, using a light fly rod, when he hooked a large Muskie! That presented a predicament. He couldn't boat the fish because there wasn't room in the kayak. What's more, Muskies are very ill-tempered when irritated by a fishhook. A Muskie has a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth. An angry Muskie is not a fish to cuddle up to!

Uncle Pete did the only sensible thing: He let the Muskie tow him around in the kayak until it finally tired and gave up. Then he towed it to shore. It was more than four feet long!

When I was a little kid in the '40s, Dad went Muskie fishing at night. Mom and I would met him at "The Inlet" at a predetermined time, quite an adventure for me.

The boat livery and the bait/refreshment stand were at "The Inlet" in the area known as Porter Park and were presided over by Chet Comer. Boat houses and summer cottages were along the creek just before it entered the lake. A string of lights illuminated the footbridge one had to cross to get to the boat livery. In the summer there were always people around in the evenings. Some folks were there to see the fishermen come in, some were summer campers, and still others came just to sit and talk.

Sometimes in the early evening, Dad would take Mom and me for a boat ride. No motor boats were allowed; just rowboats and canoes. Mom was always nervous, but I loved every minute of it. I remember rowing through the lily pads to see the white water lilies up close and the yellow spatterdocks nearer the shore. What a different world!

When I was older, Dad and I went fishing on the lake quite often. The best time was at daybreak. We'd get to the lake when the sky was just graying in the east. Most often there was a thin layer of fog over the water. We'd row silently out to the island, our favorite spot, and anchor just as the sun began to rise. It seemed so quiet, yet there were plenty of sounds around: a squeaky oarlock, water dripping off the oars, a few birds tuning up for the morning, and thousands of frogs calling in an unseen chorus. The glassy smooth water looked almost thick.

As the sun rose higher, birds sang louder and a slight breeze would spring up. We'd have our hooks baited with minnows, and on a good morning would be hauling in crappies as fast as we could.

Around 10 o'clock, the fishing would slacken, and as the temperature increased, the birds would quiet down only to be replaced by buzzing insects. I got drowsy about this time. Usually I'd slip down onto the floor of the boat so I wouldn't doze off and fall overboard.

About noon, we'd pull in our lines and head for shore. Sometimes we had a stringer of fish; sometimes not. It didn't really matter.

Most folks preferred to fish in the evening, and Dad and I did a lot of that, too. It was fun because as we rowed along, it was like walking down a street, running into old friends here and there. We'd pass the Zewes and the Boyers and many others. We'd wave and say hello, and I'd always marvel at the way Mr. Boyer could fly-cast. It was a grand time.

One evening, as Dad and I started out for a couple hours of fishing before dark, Dad decided we'd go clear across the lake instead of the island.

I was rowing, a newly developing skill, and that probably influenced his decision.

It was cloudy, but Dad said it wouldn't rain. And it didn't either - not until we got our lines in the water. Then it started! A deluge. After a short time, Dad thought maybe we ought to go back.

We pulled up the anchor, and I started rowing, even though my shoulders weren't quite back in their sockets from the trip out. When we got to the island, about half way across, Dad dumped the worms and started bailing water out of the boat with the worm can. It was raining so hard we couldn't even see the boat landing. No lightning. No thunder. Just rain!

A little further, Dad spotted a female mallard just ahead of the boat. She was just paddling slowly around as if it were a bright, sunny afternoon. And then, Dad surprised me. He said: "Let's follow her!"

I asked if he thought the duck would lead us home through the storm. He said of course not; he just wanted to see how close we could get to her. With the rain coming down in buckets and roaring on the water, we started following the duck. When we'd get about three feet from her, she'd speed up a little and change direction. We'd do the same. We followed that stupid duck around for twenty minutes or so in a cloudburst. (The duck might not have been the stupid one!)

Eventually we quit playing duck tag and made it safely back to the boat landing. I never had been wetter. I never had more fun. Dad and I laughed all the while as we became water-logged, especially while following the duck. We laughed about it for years after.

Dad and I never caught a great many fish, certainly never anything to brag about. But we always had a good time, and we always laughed.

My only regret: Those mornings I slept in and let Dad go alone. Wish I hadn't.

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