Growing Up In Waterford, PA


Gone fishing in Waterford
by the late Herb Walden

Fort LeBoeuf Class of 1956

I'd rather go fishing then just about anything else. I don't catch many fish, but that's only a small part of fishing, anyway. At least, that's what I tell myself.

If I have a choice, I prefer to fish from the shore. I've fished from boats lost of times and almost enjoyed every minute, but there's something about sitting in a little container completely surrounded by very deep water that makes me uncomfortable. It may be because my swimming ability leaves something to be desired. The terms "thrashing about" and "swimming" are synonymous to me. I can, however, wade with the best of them. I am an expert wader! I love wading! You just show me some water, and I'll wade in it every time! In fact, if wading was an Olympic event, I'd surely medal in it. Of course, wading only works well in water up to about four feet deep, and most lakes I know about are a tad deeper than that out in the middle. So I stay out of boats and stick to the banks and shorelines.

Back in the 1950s in Waterford, there were places where I fished with both feet planted on the ground. Oh sure, the ground might have been something akin to quicksand or under a couple feet of water, but it was terra firma nevertheless. Well, maybe not so firma.

One of my favorite places to fish was along the shore of Lake LeBoeuf. Just a little way south of Waterford, Routes 19 and 97 separate at what was always called "The Y." If you follow Route 19 past The Y, you come almost immediately to Lake LeBoeuf.

When I was a kid, the roller skating rink stood along the lakeshore (the building burned several years ago), and the "Showboat" nightclub/dance hall was just beyond. We fished behind these two buildings. The "we" usually meant my cousin Howard and me. The fish we caught were mostly bluegills and sunfish, but they were huge and they were plentiful. Once in awhile, we'd catch a bass, and although we often saw muskies jumping way out on the lake, we never hooked any.

Dad and I used to go bullheadin' near Waterford's covered bridge. (Editors note: That covered bridge is still there. It has been rebuilt, but is pretty much the same as it was when Herb and I were kids.) Bullheads are fun to catch, even though they're ugly and have very nasty dispositions. They really resent being caught, and given the chance, they will jam one or more of their sharp fin spines into your hand or clamp onto a finger with jaws like a bulldog!

Even so, Dad and I loved to catch them.

We would get to the bridge just before sunset and set up a few yards downstream. "Set up" meant gathering twigs, sticks, and dead branches for a fire. You can't go bullheadin' without a little campfire. It's a rule! I'm pretty sure it is so stated in some important document.

As our fire got going and dusk changed to darkness, we would start catching bullheads -- big, fat bullheads! Sometimes we'd stay until midnight. It was wonderful! Even if the fishing wasn't good, we would sit and listen to the crickets and frogs and watch the fire. No summer night was ever better than that.

My friend Ted and I used to fish just below the Town Bridge in LeBoeuf Creek. There wasn't much to catch there, but it was handy for us when we were still of non-driving age. Mostly we caught little chubs and shiners, but one time Ted caught an enormous perch, and it was there that I lost the biggest sucker I almost ever caught!

My all-time favorite fishing area is near Benson's Bridge northeast of town. When I was a kid there was no bridge there. A gravel truck had gone through it, and it was a long time before it was replaced.

There was a path that led upstream, from where the bridge should have been, through a wooded pasture where most of the trees were big hemlocks. A little way further, the woods opened up into a grassy meadow with clumps of joe-pye-weed growing here and there. Beyond this, the woods started up again, but here the trees were hardwoods.

The creek was wide and deep in this area, and fishing was good any place one cared to drop a line. And everything was there to catch: sunfish, bass, suckers, bullheads, and even an occasional musky. Of course there were times when the fish just weren't biting, but there were always other things to do.

There was an entire woods to explore with grape vines to swing on and plenty of mud along the creek for mud fights and slides. And of course, there was the creek itself to thrash about, er, swim in.

The woods and creek were so secluded that a kid could safely go skinny-dipping if he wanted to. Of course, I never did that -- much.

On a few rare occasions, Dad and I fished in French Creek.

When I was about 12 years old, I wanted a fly rod. With very little money and an equal amount of common sense, I bought a telescoping metal rod and plastic reel. Perhaps you've heard of ultra-light rods. Well, this was ultra-heavy. And I can tell you now that a telescoping metal rod is suitable only to hang curtains on. It should never be considered a piece of fishing equipment.

Dad had a short casting rod with all the flexibility of an axe handle, but he liked it and used it well. Thus equipped, we showed on the bank of French Creek one summer day. One couldn't ask for a more ideal place to fish. French Creek was wide there, deep in some places, shallow in others. The whole area looked like a picture on a calendar.

Dad started fishing a little way upstream from me while I rigged my new rod with a large, homely fly having enough feathers on it to re-upholster an owl. No self-respecting fish would have come within 50 yards of it, but it looked good to me at the time.

I finally began "fishing," doing much unnecessary false casting and ripping great quantities of leaves from the overhanging willow trees. Sometimes I actually got the fly in the water. It may not have been more than three feet from where I was standing, but at least it go wet. And the wetter it got, the heavier it got, and the less inclined it was to be cast. It was a little like having a soggy feather duster on a string attached to a length of galvanized water pipe.

Within about 10 minutes, my arm was so tired I could hardly get the water-logged monstrosity off the ground!

I was also about to lose my temper.

In a fit of desperation, I summoned all my strength and flailed away faster than ever! The last cast sent the sopping fly, traveling at near-light speed, whizzing by my ear, missing me by only a millimeter or two!

Well, that did it! Grunting and growling (because there were no words to express my feelings), I broke the plastic reel off the rod and stuffed it into my pocket. Then, I neatly folded -- not telescoped -- the rod many times until it resembled a carpenter's rule and threw it half-way across the creek. If my arm hadn't been so tired, I would have thrown it further!

Calmly, but tearfully, I climbed the bank and retired under one of the big, now leafless willows.

I glanced over at Dad. He was just standing there watching me. He never said a word. Reasonably sure I wasn't going to exploded, he left me alone to finish smoldering and went back to his axe handle for a while.

I don't remember for sure, but I don't think we caught anything that day.

Dad had pointed out many huge tadpoles in shallow water at the edge of the creek. "So when my blood pressure and heart rate returned to normal, I splashed around and caught tadpoles for the rest of the afternoon. I got wet. I had fun. It was a good time ... and after all, that's what counts!"

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