We’ve been blessed this entire trip in meeting and being befriended by so many people…. From Jimmy and Kathy Harris and Ron Thomas in Helen, GA to Tom and Deb Finkbiner in Slate Run, PA… to all our guides we’ve enjoyed and who’ve taught us so much about fishing and the incredible places where their local trout live… to the musicians who’ve shared their songs and stories with us… all of the fly shops and their staffs who’ve put us on the flies and fishing spots for fun and successful fishing. While you might think our journey is about fishing the TU Top 100 Trout Streams, it really isn’t. As Andy Wagner, our guide on Spruce and Penns Creek says, “fishing is just an excuse”… an excuse to get together with old friends, make new friends, break bread together and be a part of a community of people who share your same “excuse”. This has been our biggest “aha” moment of the trip and it was really brought home when Andy took us on a side trip at Penns Creek.
There are many fishing, hunting and “sportsmen’s” camps dotted along the streams we’ve fished in Pennsylvania. After we’d spent the morning on Penns Creek, Andy took us to one of these camps which is known as “The Shanty”. Imagine a small, one room cottage with no electricity, no running water, no phone and the nearest road is at least 1/4 mile away. Inside is a wood stove, a sink, two sets of bunk beds, a sofa, a few chairs, a propane stove, a kitchen table, several kerosene lamps, some books and other items. Food, supplies, water (beer), propane, wood, etc… all have to be brought in via lawn cart along a path left by the railroads that runs along Penns Creek. That is the “physical” characteristics of “The Shanty”. But kind of like “its not about the fish”, its really not about the physical characteristics of this camp. Its about the people who built it and the people who now occupy and care for it and its history.
Thanks to Andy, we were honored to have met one of those people, Jeff Zim, a retired teacher and school principal. Jeff shared the history of The Shanty from when it was originally built to its current set of characters who inhabit it. The real history of the camp is in the hearts and minds of the people who’ve been fortunate enough to have stayed there, shared a drink and a cigar on the porch and fished with Jeff and the “Shanty Posse”. It’s in the stories experienced and shared. Barb and I were privileged to have spent a while sitting with Jeff and hearing some of those stories. Most of them didn’t involve fishing at all, but the characters who share our community “excuse” of fly fishing.
Many of Jeff’s stories included one of his primary “posse” members, Bob Ranck. We laughed so hard at some of the stories centered around “Ranck”. What seemed to emerge from all the stories was that Bob got it more than the rest of us, meaning he really knew and lived the saying “it’s not about the fish”. From all the stories it was clear, “Ranck” was a character. I wish we’d have had a chance to meet him as well and he could have been there to share his side of the stories being told. They were priceless!
Places like this, and more importantly, people like this are so very special. Barb and I want to thank Andy for bringing us up to The Shanty and introducing us to Jeff. HUGE thank you to Jeff for opening his heart and his stories to us. It meant the world to us both. And even though he wasn’t there in person, he seemed to be there with us in spirit… a special thank you to Bob Ranck for creating this incredible place and keeping a warm and welcoming front porch for passers by to become friends.