There was a time, and not long ago, that a trip to State College/Happy Valley in early June would involve golf, golf, and more golf. Rounds at Penn State’s Blue and White courses, followed certainly by a trip out to Toftrees Golf Resort for another 18, and maybe some time on the practice range in between, which was always necessary to grind my game down to a solid 6 handicap.
But those days are gone, a concession to a wonky back but also to my love of fly-fishing, hiking, training our two Labrador retrievers, and camping.
So it was, instead of fairways and greens, an 8-night visit to Black Moshannon State Park, an ideal base for everything Paula and I were looking for – a little fishing, some hiking, birdwatching, swimming the dogs, slipping into State College for some ice cream, and beyond that working on perfecting the art of doing very little. Reading, eating, napping, and staring at a campfire each evening. The dogs – 7-year-old Finn and 18-month-old Riley – were on board with all of that, too.
Black Moshannon State Park had everything we were looking for, and our 24-foot Jayco camper tucked into a full hookup site that offered seclusion, with even more solitude – and trout – to be found within the 43,000-acre Moshannon State Forest. The park’s 250-acre lake served as a morning swimming spot for Finn and Riley, as the older dog entertained anglers and paddlers with her dock-flying exploits. From there, we shuttled the dogs up to an open area within the state forest, where they zoomed around with speed that served as some additional drying time.
I had countless options for my evening fly-fishing forays, including famed waters like Spruce Creek, Spring Creek and Penns Creek, which have an indelible place in the Keystone State’s fly-fishing history. But I instead stuck close to the campground, targeting the Delayed Harvest stretch of Black Moshannon Creek, where the special regulations prohibited keeping trout until June 15 and assured fine fishing for both stocked and wild trout.
I was pleasantly surprised to find few anglers on the water each evening, and my relaxed mode carried over into my casting, as I made some near-flawless offerings to rising trout, my drag-free drifts of an Elk Hair Caddis interrupted several times by feisty, acrobatic rainbow trout – as well as a couple wild browns. It didn’t matter, at least not much, that a huge golden rainbow cruising the pool couldn’t be tempted to take my artificial offerings. These were exactly the kind of fishing evenings I was looking for.
When I wasn’t fishing, Paula and I headed into the state forest, where she focused on sorting out the various bird sounds while I donned my weighted-down Stone Glacier pack for a three-mile workout ahead of the fall hunting season. Along the way I sighted all three of Pennsylvania’s major hunting species – white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and a lone black bear slipping through the mountain laurel that was beginning to explode into breathtaking bloom.
Midweek, Paula and I made the 25-minute drive into State College for a mandatory – at least in our minds – pilgrimage to Penn State’s Berkey Creamery, where I devoured a sizeable cup of “Scholar’s Chip” while Paula opted for the “Crazy Charlie Sunday Swirl.” And of course, we had to grab a couple boxes of Ye Old College Diner’s famous Grilled Stickies to go.
Content with my fishing success on Black Moshannon Creek, for a change of pace I did some exploring for wild trout in more remote settings. It’s the kind of fly-fishing that’s rarely easy but usually memorable, and I located a couple mountain trickles – which shall remain anonymous – that held good numbers of colorful brook trout. Many of my bow-and-arrow casts – a method taught to me by Penn State’s legendary Joe Humphreys – failed to find their way through the tangle of brush, but enough did to catch several fish and label the excursion a success.
Our nightly dinners were a product of our outdoor lifestyle – venison steaks, Lake Erie walleye filets, Lake Ontario salmon, and pheasant burgers were just part of the menu. And it all tasted better out here.
Sure, I’ll come back for a Penn State football game (or wrestling match or women’s volleyball match), but there’s so much more to Happy Valley. And it’s out there waiting to be discovered.
And for the record, when we drove past Toftees and I spotted the golf course, I only thought briefly about my past rounds there, instead wondering where I would be fishing that evening.