Fly-fishing guide says sport alluring

SPRUCE CREEK – George Coon grew up in Altoona and after dropping out of Penn State and a stint at art school, Coon moved West in 1987, following his passion for skiing.

A self-described ski bum, Coon said he began fly-fishing at the age of 7 so he filled his summers by guiding other fishermen in Montana.

Coon started guiding fly-fishing trips in 1993 and in 2003 began doing it year-round. Coon is now water manager and guide manager for the HomeWaters Club in Spruce Creek.

Coon talked last week about the allure of fly-fishing and what makes Spruce Creek such a special place to fish.

Mirror: What is it about Pennsylvania that allows so many quality fly-fishing streams?

Coon: Limestone gives the water minerals and produces the hatches that in turn give us the best fishing. It’s a destination for fly-fishing. It comes down to the bugs – the hatches. On the Little Juniata (River), grannoms (caddisfly), are just about ready to hatch. They usually hatch between April 14 and 18.

Mirror: The quality of fishing on the Little Juniata River has improved over the past few decades, hasn’t it?

Coon: It’s gone back and forth, and it is certainly one of the best recovery success stories. The Little Juniata (River) is world-class.

Mirror: What makes Spruce Creek such a desirable stream to fish?

Coon: Spruce Creek is one of the home waters of Pennsylvania. It’s spring fed almost exclusively, which gives it consistent water temperatures year-round. The cold water is key for trout fisheries.

Mirror: What is your favorite water to fish?

Coon: Around here my favorite water is Yellow Creek. It’s a great piece of water. A lot of great places out West, but keeping it local is the way to go.

Mirror: How is the sport of fly-fishing doing these days?

Coon: Certainly after what we in the business call “The Movie” – “A River Runs Through It” – there was great interest in fly-fishing. That died down, and it’s been up and down. It’s certainly not growing, but it’s not just the old guys, but younger people who are fishing, too. We have Penn State students who drive down to fish, and there’s people of all ages.

The last few years have been tough for fly shops. The fly-fishing businesses have really struggled with 60 to 70 percent of your local fly shops closing up.

Mirror: How many guiding trips do you do each year?

Coon: At one point, (HomeWaters) did the most trips in the country. We have a guide staff of 22 guys and almost all are on the water all over the state and booked up. We make between 1,500 to 2,000 trips per year.

Mirror: How many fish do you stock each year?

Coon: We stock about 1,500 fish and another 500 to 700 in the fall. We’ll stock fish as far away as Stroudsburg. We stock fish when they are between 12 inches and 14 inches. We try to keep them in the hatchery the least time possible. The earlier you can get them in the stream, the better the quality.

Mirror: What’s the best advice you could give to anyone taking up fly-fishing?

Coon: Being patient is a big thing. Most beginners have done some kind of fishing before. The cast is pretty easy to pick up, believe it or not. It’s the other nuances that are harder. We do get some first-timers that you can tell they’re really not interested, so they usually don’t do as well. Folks who want to do it do well. There’s definitely more to it than putting a salmon egg on a hook. But it’s still fishing; it’s all about having fun.

Mirror: What is it about fly-fishing that attracts you to it?

Coon: You’re just in wonderful places. Fish, for the most part, don’t live in ugly places. You’re out on the water in beautiful surroundings. A great day on the water is when you put everything out of your mind – the bills, your troubles – and focus on what you’re doing. There’s always that next level. There’s always something to learn. Even if you don’t catch any fish, that’s all that’s in your mind. It’s very soothing.

It’s a passion. You don’t have anybody on their death bed saying, “Gee, I wish I would have worked more.” And that’s kind of how I’ve lived my life.

Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458.