Pennsylvania set to have its first game wardens

Starting Monday, the law-enforcement officers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be officially called “state game wardens.”

I suppose many folks are thinking to themselves, “Weren’t they always called game wardens?” Actually, no. The wildlife law-enforcement personnel in many states are called “game wardens, but never in Pennsylvania. Since the Pennsylvania Game Commission was established in 1895 and until the mid-1980s, its law-enforcement officers were known as “district game protectors.” In 1987, their job title was changed to “wildlife conservation officer.”

So why bother with changing the title yet again? According to Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans, “The word ‘warden’ is America’s oldest title for the men and women who serve wildlife in this capacity.”

As a writer, I’ve been getting paid to string words together for about 30 years and have even been told a few times that I am pretty good at it. I always thought that “wildlife conservation officer” was an apt job title for our Game Commission law-enforcement personnel here in the 21st century.

The term “warden” is not just old, it strikes me as being hopelessly antiquated and a giant step backward. Incidentally and ironically, the first law-enforcement officers for Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in the 1870s were known as “fish wardens.” That title was changed to “waterways patrolman” in 1968, and then to “waterways conservation officer” in 1984.

I suspect the real reason for this bit of formal nonsense from the ivory towers of Elmerton Avenue is for some of higher management to justify their salary and benefits packages that cost us hunters well into six figures. What a great way to start the new year. Cook up an obsolete title for the guys in the field who actually do most of the work. It’s not like we have something as insidious as chronic wasting disease threatening our wild deer or West Nile virus wiping out our remaining ruffed grouse populations. Just another day at the office, I suppose.

Fly-tying classes scheduled

Two new Orvis fly rods and reels found their way into my tackle closet over the Christmas season, and needless to say I am enthused about trying out those sweet outfits. The recent bout freezing weather has put those plans well on hold, of course, so I will have to amuse myself with other pastimes until the weather becomes more hospitable to outdoor activities that involve getting your hands wet.

One of my favorite winter diversions is tying flies. Somehow, tying flies during the winter when the weather is too brutal to be on the stream seems especially satisfying. And this year, I have a bunch of new fly patterns and ideas that I want to get done in time for the primetime of spring fly-fishing. Along with those, I also will need to restock my fly boxes with all the tried-and-true patterns that were depleted last season. It will all be a labor of love, however, as nothing so compliments a passion for fly-fishing as tying one’s own flies.

For anyone interested in learning the wonderful craft of fly tying, the John Kennedy Chapter of Trout Unlimited will once again be offering its regular series of free beginner fly-tying classes this winter. The course will consist of eight sessions beginning on Saturday, January 13 and continuing every Saturday through March 3. Classes will be held from 8:30 until noon at the United Way Family Resource Center located in the Eldorado Plaza at 5414 6th Avenue, Altoona. The chapter will supply all the necessary tools and materials for the classroom instruction. Class size for the course is limited, so register as soon as possible to ensure your seat in the class. For more information or to register, contact Dan Beck at 942-6971 or; or Jerry Green at 934-7046 or

I was one of the instructors when this local Trout Unlimited group held its first fly-tying classes about 40 years ago, and it’s great to see they continue that worthwhile tradition. When I started tying flies in 1964, finding any kind of meaningful instruction was rare. There were a few books and the occasional magazine article about tying flies, but getting any personal teaching or advice from an experienced tier was rare back then, especially for a twelve-year-old boy. I remember approaching a fellow who was supposed to be an accomplished tier for advice, but he merely smirked and proved evasive.

Nowadays, there is almost too much information out there for the novice tier, from books and videos to the Internet and in-person classes like our local Trout Unlimited event. Even better is the availability of first-rate tying materials, both natural and synthetic. When I started, just finding suitable feathers, fur, hair and hooks was a continual chore on my limited teenage budget. I hate to keep sounding like such an old time about it, but since this spring will begin my fifty-fourth year of fly tying, I guess I am. But take it from this veteran fly tier, there never has been a better time to learn to ties flies.