The Pocono Mountain Fisheries - The Birthplace of American Fly Fishing?

The Pocono mountain region encompasses over 2500 square miles of land located primarily in Monroe and Pike Counties of northeastern Pennsylvania. According to the Monroe and Pike county watershed websites, the state of Pennsylvania is home to over 83,000 miles of streams, 6700 of which lie in these two counties. Of all the streams in the state, only 2% are classified as high quality (HQ) or exceptional value (EV) waters. 80% of this HQ/EV water lies in the Pocono mountain region. If you crunch the numbers, that means there are over 1300 miles of HQ/EV streams located in the Poconos. In fact, nearly all the streams in Monroe County boast HQ/EV quality.

 

The presence of such a remarkable fishery was recognized by fly fishing pioneers as far back as the 1800’s. The website Flyanglers Online has posted an article that illustrates this and asserts the claim that American fly fishing actually originated on Pocono waters, if such a claim can be made. Honestly, I don’t believe that laying claim to the title of first is the relevant issue. I feel it is far more important to recognize the contributions that have been made to our sport, those efforts and events that have come to shape fly fishing into what we know it to be today. From that perspective, recognition can effectively be spread to all who have played a role in this evolution, as it should be. Be that as it may, I found the story of the fabled Henryville House of Henryville, Pennsylvania fascinating. Living in the area, I of course had heard of the Henryville House, but I had no idea of the role it played in shaping our beloved past time. The following excerpt posted in an article on Flyanglers Online states it best:

 

“While most fly fishermen consider the Catskills the birthplace of American fly-fishing, the folks around Henryville, Pennsylvania might have a different view of history. Located in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania, Henryville and the surrounding area just might have a justifiable claim as birthplace of American Fly-fishing. The area has always been known for the abundant trout producing streams. When Captain Daniel Brodhead purchased his 1500 acres in 1737 the cold flowing waters had been known by the Indian name of Analomik but it was not long before people started referring to it as Brodheads Creek. The beginning of the angling tradition begins almost a century later with a log cabin or Halfway House built by Arthur Henry along the freight road between Easton and Scranton Pa. At first, Halfway House was used primarily by the muleskinners and freighters with the occasional trout angler. In 1836 the log cabin was expanded and became known as Henryville House. The Brodhead was already developing a following of visiting anglers with the help of glowing fish stories written by the visiting newspaper columnist. A special section was devoted in the 1848 edition of "The Complete Angler" of fly patterns specifically for the Brodhead and surrounding streams. With the expansion of the railroads came the real invasion of fly fishers into the area.

Around 1851, Thaddeus Norris noted fishing author was one of the early Brodhead apostles whose signature is found in old registers at Henryville House. That same year Norris experimented with a "dry fly method" as he describes it in detail in his "American Angler's Book" of 1865. His efforts were made with hardly more than a heavily hackle wet fly that would land softly, float and be taken by a trout before it would sink. This primitive dry fly method was practiced on the Brodhead almost 25 years before the innovations of Theodore Gordon on the Beaverkill. Joining Norris at Henryville House was Samuel Phillippe the noted gunsmith and violin maker from Easton Pa., who, working with Norris developed the modern bamboo rod construction method. Mixed in among the fly fishermen the names of noted celebrities from the world of sports, entertainment and politics could be found on the pages of the register such as John L Sullivan and Lily Lang-try. Presidential candidates Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison were registered at Henryville House simultaneously for a week of fishing just before their campaign in 1880.

 

(On a side note, several other celebrity names graced the pages of the Henryville register, including Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley, according to Treasurenet.com.)


By 1890 the little river started its decline. Years of abuse from farming and logging had ravaged the landscape leaving the water shed vulnerable to the summer heat making the water too warm for the native Brook trout. The opening week end of 1897 was an historic event in the history of Henryville House for it marked the last time a group of wealthy fly fishermen known as the Brooklyn Fly Fishers held their annual ritual at Henryville House. They would move to the North to the Hardenburgh Farm on the Beaverkill where these early Brodhead fishermen would play a major role in the development and reputation of the Beaverkill and Catskills. Their departure marked an end to an era; the Brodhead and Henryville House would never be the same. Gone are the freight wagons and steam driven trains and native Brook trout, today anglers drive into the Poconos from Philadelphia and New York for a chance to land one of the stocked Brown or rainbow trout that have since replaced the Brook trout. I supposed very few of these fishermen know the importance these waters played in shaping the direction of our sport.

 

I'm not really sure if it is safe to give all the credit or title of birth place of fly fishing to just one place, either the Catskills or Henryville.  It is clear that the Catskills benefittted from the progressive thinking and fly fishing innovations resulting from the work by the early Brodhead fishermen.  But the Catskills has produced innovations and contributed to the sport also and has maintained the high quality fishing longer.  Perhaps the Brodhead dropped the ball and lost the title when it allowed it's outstanding fishing resource to be reduced to that of only ordinary. 

 

I hope that perhaps the most important lessons the Catskills or any other fishery could learn for Henryville is to keep in mind just how important it is to protect this valuable and treasured asset."


(Please note that Flyanglers Online credits their sources for the above passage from the following:

The Beaverkill by Ed Van Put; American Trout Fishing by Theodore Gordon & a Company of Anglers; Homage to Henryville by Ernest Schwiebert; Universal Fly Tying Guide by Dick Stuart)

 

Perhaps this is the reason why the once prominent Brodhead is no longer mentioned during conversations about the origins of fly fishing in America. The Henryville House was abandoned in the 1970’s and, sadly, torn down in 2004, marking the end of an angling era. The demolition of the Henryville House is like a resounding exclamation point on the lack of effort to preserve the fly fishing heritage of the Poconos. I can’t help but to think what a wonderful historic site the House would have been had it been preserved and curated.

 

The statistics reported above, however, attest to the fact that the Pocono fisheries still remain some of the best (albeit overlooked) water around, and local contemporary anglers have grown to appreciate this and are now working hard to preserve it. Don Baylor, highly respected local aquatic biologist, has devoted much of his efforts to preserving the high quality of Pocono’s waterways. His book, Pocono Hatches, thoroughly details the rich insect life that inhabits these waters and is a must read for anyone planning a trip here. Don also produced a 3 DVD set entitled Entomology for the Fly Fisherman, an equally invaluable asset, not only for anglers here but anywhere. Additionally, guides such as Ben Turpin are available to lead you through these waters to all the right spots. Ben’s knowledge of Pocono waters is as impressive as the quality of the fishery itself and he, like Don, is willing to teach and share this knowledge. The area also boasts several exceptional fly shops such as The Evening Hatch and AA Outfitters, both of which are able to supply you with all the tools you need to succeed on Pocono streams. And a Google search for bed and breakfasts will quickly reveal that the lodging here is on par with the other resources as well.

 

 

Sources:

http://www.mcconservation.org

http://www.pikeconservation.org/Forms/Water%20Wonders%20FINAL.pdf

http://www.flyanglersonline.com/articles/oldflies/2009/oldflies20091102.php

www.benturpin.com

www.eveninghatch.com

www.aaoutfitters.com