A French Creek Fishing Trip Catches More Flies Than Fish
by Kathy Warnes
I have the perfect recipe for an inexpensive trip to fishing heaven on a before they grew up Sunday afternoon. Combine two restless grandsons, two raccoon kits a block away, a Rascal in the woods and the South Branch of French Creek about a mile away with a grandmother who loves fly fishing in the creek and walking in the woods. Mix all ingredients well and the results surpass any expensive deep sea fishing trip.
The South Branch of French Creek is part of the French Creek Watershed
French Creek has been part of Northwestern Pennsylvania from the time of the glaciers. George Washington traveled down it to deliver Virginia Governor Dinwiddie’s warning to leave to the French Commandant at Fort Presque Isle at Erie, Pennsylvania.. Settlers coming to Northwestern Pennsylvania used French Creek for transportation, drinking and washing water, and of course, for fishing.
Canoeing, Kayaking, Fishing or Wading Take Place on the South Branch of French Creek
French Creek, part of the Allegheny River Watershed, flows for 117 miles from southwestern New York, through Erie, Crawford, Mercer, and Venango counties to the Allegheny River at Franklin. In fact, run off from French Creek trickles into the Allegheny River, the Ohio River, the Mississippi River, and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico into a deep sea fishing trip of its own. The South Branch of French Creek, my part of French Creek, rises near Corry and flows west to join the main branch of French Creek west of Union City. The water of the South Branch of French Creek is pristine clean and it is home to small mouth bass, large mouth bass, rock bass, pike, and Muskie.
Some fishermen say that on the South Branch of French Creek, wading is the best approach. Log jams and beaver dams make float trips impractical. Wading and fishing in the South Branch of French Creek is exactly what I had in mind. I hurried the boys along, eager to begin, but there are distractions on the way.
Meeting Rascal’s Relatives on the Way to French Creek
The raccoon kits weren't on my agenda. The boys and I were walking down the dirt road that leads to French Creek when some other kids shouting caught our attention. Two raccoon kits, as baby raccoons are called, jostled each other at the foot of a huge tree, each trying to get to the pan of food that the lady across the road had set out.
We all stood and watched the kits eat and from the conversation, I gathered that the family had raised the kits and then sent them back to the wild. They aren't afraid of people and they come back "home" for meals. When we finally tore ourselves away, I found myself telling the boys the story of Rascal, by Sterling North. To make a long story succinct, it's about a boy who raises a baby raccoon from a kit and has many adventures and much fun with him. But when Rascal grows up, Sterling must love and trust Rascal enough to give him the choice to live as a domestic pet or go back to the wilderness.
“I wouldn’t let him go,” Shawn said.
“I’d let him go,” Joey said.
They walked in front of me and argued, while I lagged behind and alternately beamed and gritted my teeth. They were developing independent spirits even though they were alerting every fish within fifteen miles that we were on our way.
Meeting Rascal Himself in the French Creek Woods
Getting to the fishing hole took a little walk along a dirt road and through the woods. After fighting thick brush with three fishing poles (me) and tripping over several tree roots (them) we finally arrived at the bend in French Creek where we were going to fish. But someone was already fishing in our fishing hole. That someone had a broad raccoon bottom and a ringed tail.
“Rascal,” the boys chorused.
Rascal responded to their greeting by gripping his fish firmly in his mouth and dashing off into the woods. The boys followed him. I threw the fishing poles on the creek bank and followed the boys. We traveled at least a half mile into the roads before the boys decided that they weren’t going to catch Rascal. “He chose to be free,” Shawn told me solemnly.
“Do you love him enough to let him be free, Grandma?” Joey asked me with a grin.
I swatted his bottom and we started back to our fishing hole. Then another event struck. “Grandma, I have to go,” Joey said.
“Me too,” Shawn seconded him.
I turned my back while they anointed their respective trees and then two more and then two more. We finally made it back to the fishing hole and I finally had a fishing pole in my hand and was ready to cast.
No Serious Fishing, but Dedicated Swimming that Day on French Creek
I wish I could say our catch was great without telling a fish story. It wasn't. We had a few nibbles, but nothing at all in the form of a big bass or a Muskie. No, a good catch just wasn't in the creel today. Maybe the fact that the boys were much less than quiet had something to do with our lack of big time fish. After I told them to be quiet for the 300th time and untangled their line for the 400th, I finally gave up and sat down on the bank to watch them and laugh to myself at their antics.
Finally, Joey discovered by himself (the most important way to discover something) that French Creek at this point was shallow enough to wade. He plunged in and soon his brother, Shawn, followed him. Their fun drove away the last hopes I had for any serious fishing that afternoon, but I loved them enough to let them chose to fish or not to fish.
I sat there watching them laugh and splash, the sunlight on my back and my fishing pole a solid promise of tomorrow beside me, and I didn't care. There will be other fishing days, but not in any other moment of time will there be boys like the two of them or an afternoon like this one.