“Schedule it when I’m not around.”

Meigan and Lucas Bell pestered me for weeks to host a showing of Live the Stream in the national office of Trout Unlimited.

I am glad my assistant didn’t listen to my direction. Live the Stream is a fantastic movie. Its cinematography captures the essence of the “quiet sport.” But it is the subject that makes the film exceptional. Live the Stream is a testimonial to the life of Pennsylvania angler, Joe Humphreys.

As fly-anglers, we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Lefty Kreh, who recently passed away, will forever be associated with the thousands of people he introduced to the sport.

One of our interns recently told me how generous Bob Clouser—yes, he of the Clouser minnow—was in teaching him to tie flies and improve his casting. And, the “First Lady of Fly Fishing,” Joan Wulff, continues to instruct students in casting from her school in the Catskills on the banks of the Beaverkill.

Few people have done as much for the fly-fishing community as Joe Humphreys. He was one of the founders, and the first President of the Spring Creek Chapter in Pennsylvania in 1973. Joe and the other chapter founders were motivated in part by the degradation of Thompson Run, an important tributary of the fabled Spring Creek in Pennsylvania.

The story of Thompson Run is all too familiar. In the 1950s, the state diverted the creek into a pond in order to build a highway. To make matters worse, State College and Penn State dumped their sewage and effluent from the water treatment plant into the creek. The warmer water, phosphorus, chlorine, and other chemicals nearly killed the Run.

Frank Zettle, who wrote the history of the Spring Creek chapter in 1992 described what happened next. “Joe Humphrey, who fished this stream as a boy saw the potential of restoring Thompson Run to its former potential.”

The chapter could not raise the funds, so Joe “employed his charm and tenaciousness to convince the Glenn Hawbaker Construction Company” to build a dike that would separate Thompson Run from the warm water discharge and the effluent.

Penn State stepped up with volunteers and labor. Other industries and local businesses also helped out. Within a few years, Thompson Creek was on the road to restoration.

A classic with the classic

Joe’s book, Trout Tactics, is definitive. His videos on casting, nymphing, and fishing in tight quarters are classics. “The Night Game” is perhaps the best disposition of the subject. It should be. Joe held the state record for a 34” 15-pound brown trout taken on a fly at night.

He is the only person enshrined in both the wrestling and fly-fishing halls of fame. He attributes his success as an angler to something Bill Koll, one of the greatest wrestlers and wrestling coaches of all time, said to him, “The most primary and basic moves, refined and done to perfection, become the most advanced moves.”

Joe is known for his work with veterans and kids.  When I visited him at his home in State College, he regaled me with a story of teaching kids to fish.

“Last year, I was teaching a group of fifth graders to fish. In 30 minutes, they were casting like champs,” he said. “I showed them how to work a section of stream. A second grader came with his older sister.”

“I tied on a black woolly bugger, and fished slow. I missed a fish, and turned around and told the kids I was going to rest him for a few minutes. The second grader yelled to me, ‘Hey Mister, next time set the hook.’”

Joe at ease

Joe leaned back and laughed, something he does easily and often.

Jim Lanning is a Spring Creek chapter leader who works extensively with wounded veterans through the Veterans Service Partnership. At 90, Joe is still active, helping Jim and the chapter with local stream projects. Jim recalled one recent project where a staff sergeant walked out of the water exhausted and said to Jim, “I need a break. I can’t keep up with that old guy.”  

I sat in the front of the room for the viewing of Live the Stream. And I am glad I did, for fear that my allergies may have been mistaken for something else.

My only problem with the film? Its title.

It would more accurately be titled Give Back to the Stream.

Chris Wood is the CEO and President of Trout Unlimited.