A Brief History of the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited
1964 – 2014
While the Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited was chartered on March 14, 1964, the seeds for it were planted over a decade before.
The story starts in Michigan in the early 1950’s. George Mason, President of American Motors and a Ducks Unlimited member, was also a devoted trout fisherman. After a less than satisfactory day of fishing with friends out of his cabin on the Au Sable River in Grayling, he suggested a Ducks Unlimited like organization for trout be started. After Mr. Mason died in 1954, others, such as Dr. Al Hazzard of the Fisheries Research Institute at the University of Michigan, Art Neumann, and George Griffith continued to discuss that concept.
On July 18, 1959, 15 fishermen met at George Griffith’s home and TU was launched. (See Griffith’s book, “For The Love of Trout” for more details). Dr. Hazzard, shortly after, moved to Pennsylvania to take a position with the Pennsylvania Fish Commission as Assistant Executive Director, taking the TU seed with him.
By April 1961, the first Pennsylvania TU Chapter was founded by Charlie Fox (of Letort fame). Other Pennsylvanians were aware of TU, such as John Alden Knight, Roger Latham, and Dr. Alvin “Bus” Grove, and were writing articles about it.
Now fast forward to 1963 in Williamsport. By then, there were 4 TU Chapters in Pennsylvania-Pittsburgh, Eastern Pa., Lehigh Valley, and Harrisburg. Several fishermen in North Central Pa. were becoming more concerned about the state of trout streams in the area. Proposed stream improvement projects failed for lack of an organization to gather volunteers. Those folks were familiar with TU because of travels about the state and their readings. Additionally, Bob Rinn (surely with Evelyn) had made a fishing trip to the Au Sable in Michigan, meeting with George Griffith and Art Neumann.
Discussions at E. Hille Angling Supply set in motion the process for establishing a new TU chapter. The first formal meeting was on September 5, 1963 where the basic objective of “protecting and reclaiming trout waters” was agreed upon. An application for a charter was submitted to National TU. Another meeting in December 1963 elected temporary officers. Unfortunately, there are no minutes of those meetings available.
The first minutes available were from the February 6, 1964 meeting. From the later minutes of April 16, 1964, the original members were: Keith Schuyler, Dr. Ed Murray, Bill O’Connor, Jim Kennedy, Dick Leaver, Phil Thomas, Ray Secules, Horace Hand, Al Troth, Ernie Hille, Fred Priest, and Bob Rinn. The first officers were: Horace Hand, President; Robert Rinn, Vice President and Recording Secretary; and Ernie Hille, Treasurer and Corresponding Secretary. Dues to join TU were $10. Per year.
One of the initial discussions regarded what were considered acceptable modes of fishing (bait, spinning, or flies). The consensus was that stream improvement was the focus irrespective of how one chose to fish. A reading of the minutes showed slow growth, initially, to a membership of 18 by October 1966.
The Chapter was focused on stream projects to benefit trout habitat. While doing so, they were also building partnerships with like- minded agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Fish Commission, Soil Conservation Services (now Conservation District), State Department of Forest and Waters (similar to DCNR), and other agencies and groups. The Chapter also recognized the need for education, especially of youth.
One of the first projects was members, in June 1964, stabilizing a downed tree along the bank on Slate Run near the Two Mile Dam. Later that summer, with Slate Run Sportsmen, they replaced a wooden dam near the Manor Hotel on Slate Run.
At the October 1964 meeting, committees were established to develop stream improvement projects and education plans, especially for youth. A report the following month detailed programs for Scouts, 4-H Clubs, P.T.A., and church groups.
Early in 1966, John Youngman brought a letter to members from Milton Shapp, Philadelphia industrialist, proposing to underwrite a project using Vibert Boxes to introduce wild trout. The July/August issue of Trout magazine detailed using the French developed boxes to reintroduce trout. As an added incentive, he included a $500 check to fund the project.
The Vibert box is a small, clear plastic box with narrow slots on all sides to allow water to circulate through them. Eyed trout eggs are packed in them before they are buried, in the fall, in gravel in a trout appropriate stream.
Chapter members unanimously agreed to proceed with the project. After securing approval of the Fish Commission, plans were initiated for the plantings. Slate and Cedar Runs were selected because of their good habitat. Rainbows were selected for the plantings as there were none in those streams thus making it easy to determine if it worked.
In early November 1966, after making preparations in the streams, packed boxes were put in sections of stove pipe, filled with small gravel, and buried 8-12” deep in gravel oriented parallel to the stream flow. Mr. Youngman made similar plantings in Antes Creek and Grays Run.
Alas, high water washed all the plantings away, scattering them all the way down to Pine Creek. No evidence of success there was found. It was reported one of the boxes on Grays Run did produce some hatching. Another attempt on Mill Creek was made in 1967 with reports of small rainbows found there later.
Up to then, the chapter had no income producing ventures. If funds were needed for postage or such, collections were taken up at Chapter meetings. In order to raise funds, educate the public, and get the word out about TU, it was decided to have fly tying classes, starting in February 1967. The cost for the 10 week class was $10 with the person responsible for supplying their own materials. Bill O’Connor was the head instructor with assistance from Horace Hand and Jim Rogers. 18 people signed up for the class. Further sessions were offered in following years. The Chapter resumed tying classes in 2012, this time not charging for them.
At the January 1967 meeting, it was decided to initiate a stream improvement program. Grays Run, a wild trout tributary to Lycoming Creek, was selected. During the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corp built 45 log dams there. Over the decades, these dams deteriorated leading to braiding and debris blockages. The Pa. Fish Commission, after approving the concept, along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, surveyed the stream and selected work sites. The Chapter contacted the West Branch Council of Boy Scouts through Dwaine Gipe, District Scout Executive and Chapter member, about scouts participating in the project. Besides the Scouts, other participants were Pa. Fish Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pa. Game Commission, Pa. Department of Forest and Waters, Department of Health, and Soil Conservation Service. Three work sessions were scheduled-April 2, May 27, and the weekend of September 16-17. Including Scouts, anywhere from 50-200 persons attended each work session. Debris was removed, channel blocks were installed, gabions and rip-rap placed, and log diverters were put in. A follow-up session was held on June 7-9, 1968 as part of a Scout camporee. Work was completed along with fly tying and casting instruction for the scouts. According to records, 40,000 hours were put in by all participants on the project. Subsequent surveys found increased trout populations in the work areas.
For their valuable work, the Scouts were recognized with the 1967 Green Seal Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the 1968 Gold Seal Award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National TU Award for outstanding service to the cause of trout conservation, and recognition from the Pa. Fish Commission. See a display in the memorabilia section for more information.
The Scouts participated in another TU project in 1989 on Wallis Run, a tributary of Loyalsock Creek. The Chapter had received a grant of $1500 from Coors Brewery to put in a mudsill on Wallis Run.
On a hot and humid weekend in September 1989, TU members, Scouts, Fish Commission staff, Bureau of Forestry staff, Loyalsock Men’s Club, Lauchle Lumber, and others installed the mudsill along a severely eroded bank. See pictures in the memorabilia section of the project. Included is a picture of a brown trout chapter member Dick Huggins caught at the mudsill only a few days after it was completed.
Another activity with the Scouts was in the Fall of 2010, when the Scouts had a camporee at Trout Run Park in Lewis Township along Lycoming Creek. The Chapter, in partnership with Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, Williamsport Municipal Water Authority, E. Hille Angler’s Supply House, Seewald Laboratories, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Lycoming Creek Watershed Association, presented an environmental education program.
There were fly casting lessons, a demonstration of water testing, a tour of devices installed in the creek as part of a project, a demonstration of a trout electro shocking survey, and a gathering and identification of aquatic bugs.
Chapter members have been contacted several times, starting in 1966, to show members of the New York Anglers Club the local streams. The Club members have an annual weekend fishing outing, typically in June, to an area within a few hours drive of New York. There have been 4 times they have been to Williamsport, to my knowledge. Chapter members have taken them to local streams for a day’s fishing and to highlight the wonderful area we are blessed with. A good time was had despite some less than desirable weather.
In 1974, it was decided that the Chapter should start a newsletter to keep the membership informed. Bob Rinn was appointed editor and the first copy was issued for April 1974. At first, it was issued on an irregular schedule, usually 3-4 times per year. Bob named it the Susquehanna Ripples, taking the name from Bliss Perry’s excellent book of essays,” Pools and Ripples”. Eventually, its schedule was expanded to 8-9 issues per year, covering everything that the then editor could gather. It was a good source of info about chapter events and stream environmental threats that the chapter needed to address. Reading old Ripples, especially when it included controversial topics, shows Chapter members commitment to stream protection.
On February 27, 1977, the Chapter held its first Trout Kickoff at the then Williamsport Area Community College. It was a one day event that had about a dozen exhibitors and over 1200 attendees. The Chapter chose the time to be just before the season started when peoples’ interest was at its highest. The purpose was to raise awareness, have fishing information and equipment available, and raise money for TU projects. Because of the success of the first Kickoff, it was moved to the Penn Street Armory, in 1978, and had over 30 exhibitors with a large increase in attendees. The Kickoff was one of only a few such events, at the time, and was a great venue for the public, Chapter, and vendors. Some of the proceeds of the first Kickoff’s went to such things as buying books for the Angler’s Alcove at the J.V. Brown Public Library. (More on that later)
Over the years, the Kickoff moved to different venues, such as: Roosevelt Middle School gym (which required covering the wood floor with large, heavy tarps and taping the seams), Sheraton Inn, Montoursville Fire Co. Social Hall, and the Pickelner Arena.
As the years passed, the show grew in both exhibitors and audience. Many shops selling fishing and other outdoor gear were there along with clothing and book sellers, artists, taxidermists, guide services, and public conservation agencies. Fly tying and casting demonstrations were held. One of the most popular additions was a kid’s fish pond, conceived and run by Ed Danneker along with his friends John Mosher and Jack Culver. Chapter members erected a pond and purchased trout from a private hatchery to stock the pond. All the gear for the kids was supplied and they had their choice of keeping or releasing their fish. Each year, a few 18-20” trout were put in the pond. The Chapter had a raffle and Chinese Auction with some great donated prizes for anyone, fisher or not. Many individuals and businesses generously contributed valuable prizes. The list of them is extensive and no offense is intended by their omission but one deserves special mention. Tom Finkbiner, Slate Run Tackle Shop, donated a complete Orvis rod, reel, tube, line, and backing every year for as long as I can remember. This was the major fundraiser for the Chapter, allowing funding for stream projects and supporting environmental initiatives.
There were many distinguished program presenters at the Kickoffs. Some were- Lee Wulff, Sam Slaymaker, Lefty Kreh, Joe Humphries, Barry and Cathy Beck, Curt Gowdy, and Jay “Fishy” Fullum.
Eventually, the Kickoff evolved to a 3 day event (Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday PM). A partnership with Backyard Broadcasting developed in the latter years, adding to the advertising and exhibitors.
By 2011, though, the numbers of exhibitors and attendees had dwindled to the point that it was no longer feasible for the Chapter to continue the Kickoff. After the 2011 show, the Chapter sadly ended a 30 plus year tradition.
For most of its history, the Kickoff had been financially successful for the Chapter. The funds from it enabled the Chapter to fund many educational programs, stream improvement projects, and support legal challenges.
In 1995, the Chapter contributed $2500 to the Penn’s Creek Defense Fund. A limestone quarry was planned on Elk and Pine Creeks, tributaries of Penn’s Creek. The concern was that the quarry would disrupt the water table and introduce sediment to the streams. The contribution, added to many others, provided the dollars to gather scientific data and mount a legal challenge. While the quarry permit was approved, it was the most restrictive one issued by DEP.
The Chapter contributed funds to the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs to support a suit they filed for an angler being charged with trespass by a private fishing club on the Lehigh River. The Courts found for the angler.
In 1997, the Chapter contributed funds to the Lloyd Wilson Chapter of TU for their fight against the construction of municipal sewage treatment plant with a discharge to Fishing Creek in Clinton County. DEP was requiring townships along the Fishing Creek corridor to provide treatment for their residential sewage. The initial plan was to construct the treatment plant on Fishing Creek. The challenge, using an attorney from State College, revealed that the Lock Haven treatment plant had ample capacity to treat all the waste from the townships. An agreement to pipe the effluent to Lock Haven was reached. Additionally, residents of the townships were not burdened with the cost of a treatment plant.
The Chapter also financially supported many environmental programs in our community of Lycoming County. In the mid-1990’s, initially through a watershed specialist at Endless Mountains RC&D Council and, later, through the Conservation District, the concept of local watershed associations started. Chapter members were active in establishing the first one, Muncy Creek Watershed Association. Lycoming Creek soon followed. The Chapter provided seed money grants to assist watershed associations with startup expenses until they could secure Growing Greener funds. Many of the stream projects, formerly done by the Chapter, are now done by the members of the watershed groups. You still see many Chapter members involved in those projects as members of the associations.
In 2006, the Chapter budgeted over $9,400 to the following: PSU Conservation Leadership School, Allenberry Fly Fishing School, Lycoming County Envirothon, Trout in the Classroom, North Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, Pennsylvania Council of TU Newsletter. Lycoming Creek Anglers, Muncy Creek Consolidated Sportsmen, the Watershed Associations of Muncy Creek, Loyalsock Creek, Lycoming Creek, Nippenose Watershed, Black Hole Creek, Pine Creek Preservation Group, Upper Pine Creek Headwaters Group, Rose Valley/Mill Creek plus J.V. Brown Library, Casting For Recovery, and Kid’s Fly Tying and Fishing.
In 1998, the Chapter, along with Susquehanna Longbeards Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, Lycoming Audubon Society, North Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, and the Ruffed Grouse Society, contributed money to the Pennsylvania Game Commission to purchase a 6 acre parcel from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The parcel was originally purchased by Penn DOT when the new RT. 15 N built. Since the parcel included Daugherty Run, a wild Brook Trout tributary of Lycoming Creek, the Chapter participated.
The flood of 1996 resulted in tragic loss of life and property along with extensive stream damage. One of the streams was Gray’s Run, a wild trout tributary of Lycoming Creek. The Chapter had “adopted” Gray’s Run in 1986 under the Fish Commission’s Adopt-A-Stream program. In September 1997, the Chapter, with Fish Commission staff, Bureau of Forestry staff, and Lewis Township staff, repaired damage by building 3 channel deflectors to create pools and stabilize the bank. They are still there and functioning as designed.
As mentioned earlier, with proceeds from the first Kickoff, the Chapter bought books to “stock” the Angler’s Alcove at James V. Brown Public Library. A distinct section was established along with cabinets displaying fishing equipment and fly tying materials.
The Chapter continued to purchase books for the Alcove over time. In the early 2000’s, when the Library underwent a renovation, Howard Giles, a Chapter member and Library volunteer, persuaded Library staff to relocate the Alcove to the Rotunda on the first floor. It now occupies a large section near the Library entrance. As they say at the Library, “Check it out”.
Howard was member who established the Chapter’s Casting For Recovery Program. Working with the Brown Library, Susquehanna Health Cancer Treatment Center, and Lycoming Creek Anglers, a one day event was held, usually in June. It would start at the Library with a catered breakfast followed by fly tying instruction. Before leaving the Library, there was a random drawing for a donated fly rod outfit for one of the ladies. The group would travel to a site on Lycoming Creek for casting instruction followed by fishing over trout planted by Lycoming Creek Anglers. Each lady had a Chapter member as her “gillie”. By mid-afternoon, a break was held for a catered lunch. Many of the ladies would then resume fishing. A good time was always had despite the weather or catching.
Chapter member Dick Huggins monitored PH on Lycoming Creek and its tributaries on a monthly basis for over 20 years. In 1990, Dick’s testing results were used by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) in a decision regarding a water withdrawal from a local stream. A proposed cogeneration plant in York County was going to withdraw water from the Susquehanna River to provide cooling. This withdrawal had to be offset by an equal replacement to the Susquehanna. They proposed damming Red Run, a tributary of Lycoming Creek which runs into the Susquehanna. They would use this backed up flow for replacement. The drawback was that Red Run’s PH is 4.0-4.5 with a high concentration of metals. This discharge to Lycoming Creek would severely impact that water quality. Dick’s data, along with other information, was used by the SRBC to deny the permit to use Red Run water.
Starting in 1991, the Pennsylvania State Council discussed the impact sediment washed from dirt and gravel roads was having on streams. In 1995, several Chapter members responded to a request from Council to survey dirt and gravel roads along High Quality and Exceptional Value streams for evidence of sediment washing into the streams. The data collected by TU members across the state led to passage of Act 3 of 1996, authorizing $4,000,000 for dirt and gravel road improvement. These funds would be allocated by County Conservation Districts to local municipalities.
In the years since Act 3, significant improvements have been made to dirt and gravel roads with a marked decrease in sediments discharged to streams. Additionally, municipalities have decreased annual maintenance costs on the improved roads. In 2013, part of the increase in the gasoline tax raised the amount for dirt and gravel roads improvement to $28,000,000 annually. The program has been expanded to include low volume (less than 500 vehicles/day) paved roads.
In January 2006, the Chapter held its first Watershed Conference. All County watershed associations were invited to make presentations of their activities of last year and what was planned for the upcoming year. Also participating in the Conferences were the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, DCNR, County Planning Commission, County Conservation District, County Commissioners, State Legislators, local colleges, and the public. These Conferences continue.
The Chapter has been blessed to have many dedicated members who have worked to preserve and enhance our lands and waters. One person who stood out was Bob McCullough, Jr. A brief paragraph is insufficient to highlight his numerous accomplishments. Bob was one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF), a group that has led many legal charges to preserve and restore our waters and lands. He served as a Director on both National TU and State Council. One of his most significant accomplishments was, with his fishing friend Jim Barr, restoring Babb Creek, a tributary of Pine Creek. For over 100 years Babb Creek had been dead because of acid mine discharge. Bob, through the PEDF, secured a legal settlement that was applied to Babb Creek restoration. He enlisted Chapter members along with many others to build liming devices that raised the PH level such that it now supports native Brook Trout. The Chapter also donated $2,000 to purchase lime.
Chapter members have also been active participants in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s “Unassessed Waters Initiative”. There are thousands of miles of streams in Pennsylvania that have not yet been assessed for trout populations or water quality. It would take decades for the Fish Commission to finish such a project so they started the Initiative. Chapter members are given a list of streams in the area along with GPS coordinates. They are tasked to go fishing! After fishing the stream, they complete a 1 page form, noting whether any trout were caught or observed. This is given to The Conservation District to relay to the Fish Commission. Most of these streams are either 1st or 2nd order and over 50% have been found to have native trout. Those streams with trout populations and are under threat for development’s impact are then fully assessed to gather detailed data.
Several Chapter members, in November 2012, completed a project at Trout Run Park when they built a deck on a fishing platform beside a rock and log structure on Lycoming Creek. It was part of the ongoing rehabilitation of the Park in Lewis Township. A dedication ceremony for the Park was held in August 2013 with Chapter members there with a casting instruction program.
When the Kickoff was discontinued, the Chapter had no source of income to continue projects. After some fly tying and fishing materials were donated, the Chapter started looking into a yard sale. When more materials were bought at an estate sale, plans moved forward. At that point, Don Neyhart, a Chapter member and long time fisherman, asked the Chapter if we were interested in a donation of fishing gear and tying materials to use to raise money. Don had a large and extensive array of gear for almost any fishing interest. We gratefully accepted his generous offer. Coincidently, the Pennsylvania Outdoor Life Expo at the Lycoming Mall was being planned. When Don Jacobs, host of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Life Show was contacted, he arranged for the Chapter to have a prime location at the Expo. Over 4 days in April 2013, enthusiastic anglers supported the Chapter, netting over $6,000. The Chapter is accepting any donations of fishing material for our next yard sale venture. This will allow us to continue our support of environmental projects and activities.
The Chapter also had events for members and their families. There were summer picnics. There were yearly fishing weekends for members. The Chapter would rent a large cabin on either Pine or Fishing Creek. With everyone chipping in to cover rent and food, it was a cheap weekend. There were even some fish caught though some of the stories were unverified as it pertained to size.
The Chapter also had a Christmas dinner at a nice restaurant or with it catered. A few dinners were even prepared by Chapter members, led by a member who was a chef. Families would join together to share the joy of the season. It was the custom to award the Order of the Tie at the Christmas dinner.
The Order of the Tie was presented to a Chapter member who had performed an outstanding duty or service for benefit of the Chapter or TU as a whole. The previous winners would select that year’s winner and was normally presented by the last winner. The award was conceived by Ernie Hille in 1968, modeled on the Harrisburg Fly Fisher’s award. The Directors approved the motion and a 3 member committee was appointed to select the first recipient.
Winners of the award:
1968-Bob McCullough, Jr.-President
1969-C. William O’Connor-President
1972-Richard Williamson-Corresponding Secretary
1973-Bruce Smay-Recording Secretary
1976-Horace Hand-Past President
1977-James Collins-Vice President
1980-Donald Bastian-Vice President
1984-Richard Huggins-Vice President
1992-Bill Higgins-Director/Kickoff Chairman
1994-Chris Herrman-Director/Kickoff Chairman
1995-Jim Latini- President
1996-Dave Colley-Director/Kickoff Chairman
1999-Rick Kinzer-Director/Kickoff Chairman
2000-Tom Person-Director/Kickoff Chairman
2002-Mabel Huggins-Outstanding Member
2014-Bob Baker-Treasurer, Newsletter Editor and Webmaster
This concludes the history of the Susquehanna TU Chapter and begins the future. Many challenges and opportunities, some beyond anything we have thought of, await us. Above all, keep your focus on preserving and enhancing our cold water fisheries. An individual can’t do it all but collectively, and with our many partners, we can prevail. Tight lines.
The preparation of this history would not have been possible without assistance of many good people. There is a scarcity of records from the 1970’s and 1980’s(if anyone has minutes or Ripples, contact me if you could donate them for the archives) so memories were tapped. However, any errors should be laid on my doorstep. I know some things were omitted-such as Sandy Bottom purchase and Rock Run area wild designation because of insufficient information-and I apologize for that. Thanks to the following: Bill O’Connor, Bob Rinn, Dave Craig, Bob Baker, and Mike Klimkos for permission to use information from his book “A History of Trout Unlimited and the Environmental Movement in Pennsylvania” .