The annual McFarland Gathering in Coburn, PA is a sacred ritual — a place where fly rod enthusiasts have met to cast, fish and enjoy each other’s company dating back to 2007. Members of the gathering range from 14 years old to over 80, and come from diverse backgrounds in consulting, teaching, IT, healthcare, and marketing. We all have one thing in common: the belief that the little hamlet of Coburn is proof of God’s benevolence in our busy lives.
Last year was my first experience with the McFarland Gathering, and it didn’t seem possible that an entire year had gone by, and it was time to pack the fly rods again. Despite gray, wet, chilly weather I knew that this weekend would offer everyone a memory, more like a tattoo – of uncommon fellowship, great food, and casting incredible works of art in bamboo, graphite and fiberglass fly rods. Combine that with cocktails and cigars on the porch, and it would stand out as a highlight for every single member. And the drive against today’s murky backdrop, the landscape still boasts memorable scenery – farms, and budding trees donning the crests of the corduroy ridges that form the edges of Penns Valley highway, already in color motion for the arrival of Spring.
I was initially invited to the Coburn Gathering by Bob Hallowell, and have since gotten to spend time with Mike McFarland at his custom rod shop, McFarland Rod Company, in Bellwood, PA and on the streams of Clinton County and I’ve enjoyed it very much. For Mike and the group, it’s the 16th gathering in Coburn, and I totally understand why the anglers return year after year.
The gathering is at the Feathered Hook, a top-notch fly shop, guide service, lodge and bed and breakfast on Main Street. Penns Creek flows just across the street from the bed and breakfast, and it is therapeutic to sit on the deck and smell the clean Spring air and hear the sounds of the stream and songbirds, and experience truly rare tranquility. From morning till night, members of the gathering flock to the grassy area alongside the Feathered Hook, to Main Street, and Penns Creek to cast each other’s rods and talk about tapers, materials and techniques in rod building.
I drive past the lodge and see I see a full lot, so I know that I’m late. As I walk in, most of the 16 or so guests are already here, engaged in hearty conversations. After receiving warm greetings, handshakes, hugs and pats on the back, Bob points out the table that’s the weekend lab for a cocktail, glass of wine, or whatever suits one’s fancy. The island table in the kitchen is laid out with cheeses, sausages and snacks for all coming in from east and west. I suspect this is going to be a gathering of great promise … maybe even better than last year.
"I knew that this weekend would offer everyone a memory, more like a tattoo – of uncommon fellowship, great food, and casting incredible works of art in bamboo, graphite and fiberglass fly rods. Combine that with cocktails and cigars on the porch, and it would stand out as a highlight for every single member"
- Ray Hunt
I knew that dinners for the weekend would be world-class! Ray Schon (aka Rayschon), an unassuming State Farm Insurance agency owner from Pittsburgh, is a grill master. Friday night’s feast is grilled and barbequed chicken with assorted vegetables, potatoes and shrimp. Saturday it’s Delmonico steaks with all the trimmings. These are truly some of the best meals I’ve had in my three years in PA. Thanks, Rayschon!
After dinner, it’s time to get out casting these amazing pieces of art, and the gathering continues into the night. We survive the night’s late conversations, casting and cocktails, and in the morning Jonas Price (owner and chef of the Feathered Hook), makes each a king’s breakfast for the gathering. Price is a transplant from Bellevue, near Seattle, WA and he’s become a Central Pennsylvania icon. The breakfast is hearty and personally made to order for every member. Jonas came here and bought the Feathered Hook 25 years ago, at 27 years old. He got lucky, and so did we. His breakfast and wit alone are classic and worth the stay!
Now it is time to fish. I got to cast a beautiful 3-weight bamboo rod crafted by Bob. It’s a beauty with a soft rhythm and will be a dream for tossing flies for Brook Trout fishing here in Central Pennsylvania during May and June. It’s gorgeous. I cast Mike’s fiberglass fly rod, and Tom’s EF Payne bamboo fly rod, built probably 60 or more years ago – superb craftsmanship and extremely collectible. EF Payne Fly Rod Company built rods from 1898 until 1968 and this one is gorgeous! And Munsey brings some rods from North Carolina and his attention to detail and the casting motion of his rods are amazing. I bought a 4-weight from Munsey at last year’s gathering.
At McFarland’s 2023 Coburn Gathering, I leave with the Hallowell 3-weight, which, like every single rod I cast at the gathering, is art. The reel seat is a polished spalted curly mango. It’s blond and brown with some reddish tones and matches the guides which are threaded with honey-colored thread. The ferrule which connects the rod sections isn’t made of metal like conventional rods but of fiberglass patches fashioned into a connector (tube) and epoxied into ferrules with a beautiful maple color. The glass ferrules offer more even weight distribution during fly casting and provide a smooth and rhythmic feel. This will be a great tool for fishing small streams for brook trout this spring and summer.
I’m especially grateful that before I left Mike mentioned to me to make sure April 5th and 6th are clear on my calendar for next year. Hell yes. Is there another answer?
The McFarland Gathering is by invitation only, and if you aren’t lucky enough to wrangle an invite, we suggest that you start your own annual tradition and sacred ritual fishing Happy Valley’s waters. You can start your event by contacting The Feathered Hook at thefeatheredhook.com.