Monday, August 30, 2010

Germania

Major Isaac Lyman first came into this country in 1809 after serving in the Revolutionary War. He was the second person of European decent to settle in the newly created Potter County where he joined the first, George Ayers, in proving up against the inconceivable hardships of what was then a dense howling wilderness populated by the Indian, bear, wolf, panther, elk, deer, rattlesnake and maybe even a Thunderbird or two. The nearest resupply town was Jersey Shore and that was an arduous 60-80 miles away as the original Coudy Pike (todays PA44) had not been built yet. A simple trip into town often took 2 weeks by foot, packhorse or wagon and required some 80 crossings of Pine Creek going to and the same 80 coming back. If a winter storm came upon you while en-route then all bets on your safe return were off.

"In the fall of 1809 Mr. Lyman came into Potter County and erected a rude cabin.......there being not a bushel of grain, nor pound of potatoes, nor pound of meat, except wild, to be had in this country.........we lived on leeks, cow cabbage and milk....among other vexations were the gnats, a very minute but poisonous insect that annoyed us far more than mosquitoes, or even than hunger and cold; in the summer we could not work without raising a smoke around us.....We had to pack our provisions 80 miles from Jersey Shore. Sixty miles of the road was without a house; and in the winter, when deep snows came on and caught us on the road without a fire we should have perished.....My courage almost failed and I almost turned back but when I thought of my children crying for bread I took new courage......The want of leather, after our first shoes wore out was severely felt. Neither tanner nor shoemaker lived in the country so I was obliged to work and travel in the woods barefoot."

-Pioneer Life or, Thirty Years a Hunter by Philip Tome (1854)


Mr. Lyman turns out to be quite an interesting study. He built the first gristmill and sawmill in Potter County and helped George Ayers (Ayers Hill) build it's first road too. Married 3 times, his first wife, Sara Edgecomb died in child birth at the age of 28. He left his second wife behind with their first son but she and her then 18 year old son Burrel Lyman tracked him down and demanded that he suffer along with her. In an unusual twist for the times, Sara & son settled down on the same farm just west of Galeton as Isaac Lyman and his third wife. Many of todays modern day residents of Potter County can trace their lineage back to the original Lyman & Ayers families.

To say that life was hard for the early settlers of Potter County would be a colossal understatement. The extreme toil and hardships they faced of a daily basis would be hard to imagine by todays standard of living. Vigorous health and competence would be their rewards. The Norwegians of Ole Bull's short lived colony on Kettle Creek found out the hard way they had neither the stamina nor the constitution for serious mountain travel/living.

"It will be 23 years the 23rd of May, 1834 since I moved to Potter County..........I had nothing but my own hands to depend upon to clear my lands and raise provisions. We wore out all our shoes the first year. We had no way to get more -no money, nothing to sell and but little to eat, -and were in dreadful distress for want of the necessaries of life. After awhile, our clothes were worn out. Our family increased and the children were nearly naked..."

-Mr. John Peat in The Forester, 1834.

The countryside around Germania, PA is notable for it's open fields, meadows and cultivated soils as the traveler breaks out of the Black Forest region of the surrounding mountains and into the open, airy geometric patterns of farm & field. It must have been back breaking labor to wrestle this cultivated land from dense forest 200 years ago using nothing but axe, oxen & plowshare (if you were lucky enough to have those).

The Germania Hotel was built back in 1836 shortly after the first carriage road was punched through the wilderness. Today it is a 3-story building with 20 rooms, a restaurant and a large ballroom. There have been many lively stories and a few deaths associated with the hotel over the years, including one about "Danny the Bartender" who lived at the hotel for many years and died there, ala Jack Nickolson in The Shining. "Danny's always been the bartender around here".

It is still open today and is currently undergoing renovation. I've never had dinner there but their sandwiches are excellent and the portions are generous. Parking is ample.

Serving up groceries, snacks, souvenirs, ice & gas to travelers and locals alike since 1884.

What does all this crap have to do with fly fishing you might ask? All these thoughts rolled through my head as I made the trek up PA 44 (aka The Coudy Pike) to Potter County myself this past Friday for a little R&R, fresh air and outdoor exercise. And no, I would not be pulling up any tree stumps or eating cow cabbage and milk.

A little background would probably be "germane" to the story. By all accounts it had been a brutally hot summer here in the northeast with scant rainfall to boot. Relief came last week when northcentral Pennsyltucky received 1.75" of rain which was soon followed by a full moon and a refreshing cool front. Time to strike while the iron is hot. I loaded up the car and made my way up to Potter County to do a little hiking on the Susquehannock Trail System, I even tossed in some fishing tackle at the last minute just in case. I missed the rain and the full moon by a couple of days but the cool weather would hang around right up till the end of the weekend.

Trouble was, as I dropped down off the mountain and drove across the West Branch of Pine Creek I was pleasantly surprised at how well the watershed had benefited from the recent rains. I then made the mistake of proceeding to fish Lyman Run after setting up camp. The fishing was good enough that my hiking pack never even came out of the car the whole weekend.

Fridays high temp: 75F
Overnight low temp: 42F
Stream temp. at noon: 52-54F
Skies: Bright & sunny

I first came into this country as recently as Decoration Day 1979 and I remember it like it was yesterday. We camped that weekend at Colton Point State Park on the rim of the Canyon and I caught my first trout on an Adams dry fly over on Lyman Run. I fell in love with the delicate beauty of Lyman Run right then and there and to this day it remains my favorite brook trout stream anywhere. 30 years a dry fly fisherman, indeed.

Lyman Run is a small freestone tributary to the West Branch of Pine Creek. It rises high on the Allegheny Plateau, born from several even smaller tributaries and many riparian springs and seeps. They all hold brook trout. Walking around the riparian forest is like walking on a sponge that's covered with fiddlehead ferns and dotted with moss covered rocks.

Splash Dam Hollow marks the beginning of the PFBC's Wild Brook Trout Enhancement special regulations water which extends downstream 3.9 miles from the beaver dams to the backwaters of Lyman Run Lake.

Lyman Run
While I missed the best part of the high water event earlier in the week flows were still pretty decent for a freestoner in August. As I mentioned earlier, the water temperature was between 52-54F around noon depending where you were on the stream. Hatches? Sparse to non-existent as expected at this time of the year. I think I caught fish on every pattern I threw at them.

The fishing itself was surprisingly good given the time of the year and the bright sunny skies. It obviously was not sulpher time on the limestoners but it was good enough to keep your mind engaged and moving upstream. I didn't catch any Labrador sized trophies but what they lacked in size they more than made up for in numbers and sheer tenacity.

And besides, I just love the lay of the land up here in Potter County. Of all the valleys in the Big Woods Country the one I would have most like to have seen before the virgin timber was cut out would have been Lyman Run. The second would be the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning.


These dudes, and dudettes, do good work. Don't be too surprised if you see them hugging a couple of trees.

The campground itself has undergone some major renovations since I last camped here back in 1997. I camped in the lower loop where all of the sites have received a face lift complete with new gravel pads, electric service and lantern poles with the usual picnic table and fire ring. The former odoriferous pit toilet latrine has been replaced with a new modern tiled, heated bathroom/shower with fully automated lighting & faucets, composting toilets with a negative pressure ventilation system, diaper changing stations, hot air hand dryers, 110 volt outlets and a vending machine.

I won't miss those pit latrines. In hot weather they were always 50 yards too close and in cold weather they were 50 yards too far.

Those new electric outlets in the campsites sure came in handy when it was time to recharge my camera batteries.

Sausage & sirloin tip Shish-k-bobs on the grill for dinner - Jack Daniels out of a tin cup.

I washed my face in a frying pan.

I've always wanted to try these and this is my first attempt at star trails. I'm already pretty good at taking blurry unsharp photos so I figured I would make it work for me instead of against me. And yes I already realize I used too high of an ISO setting and it would be nice to have something in the foreground like Stonehenge or something so you don't have to point that out. I didn't have Stonehenge at my fingertips so this is shot looking straight up from my campsite. The orange glow in the trees is reflected light from my campfire. Exposure time was 30 minutes at f11 ISO 400.

Saturday morning, 0800 hrs., 45F. This was the view from my campsite while I drank my morning coffee. Folgers thank you very much, not those Frapps or that french vanilla flavored yuppie coffee that Glen G likes to drink all the time.

On Sunday the fishing finally got a little tougher as the water levels continued to drop, the sun continued to shine and the air started to heat up. You won't catch a lot of big trout in Lyman Run but I did spy a rather large brown trout beneath some deadfall in one of the deeper pools. Looked like at least a 14 incher to me and that's a monster for such a small stream. He was in a lie that was impossible to fish to with flies and he knew I was there on the bank above him the whole time.

Honestly, that's what the name on the sign says. The valley upstream of the state park is undeveloped except for a couple of your quintessential Potter County hunting camps/old ladies homes. Lyman Run passes right behind this camp.

Stars aren't the only ones who leave trails in the area. The entire region is a hikers paradise with trails that circle and radiate out from the park like spokes on a wheel. The Susquehannock Trail System spurs right into the park in a little under a half mile.

Star Trails & Trees
I haven't had such a kick ass great weekend of camping & fishing all summer so I was long overdue. Still I can't help but wonder what the Lyman's would say if they could see their valley today, complete with state park, modern toilets and special regulations fishing?

Ich bin ein Germania!