December 01, 2011
By Paul Weamer
Central Pennsylvania's Little Juniata River has a long history of pollution and abuse from the many towns along its course and the railroad line that parallels it. But to me, this river is special. It begins near my home town, Altoona, and its close proximity made it a great classroom when I was learning to fly fish with my father. I was born in 1972, the year Hurricane Agnus' great flood scoured the Little Juniata, removing a 100 years of pollution and giving birth to today's trout fishery. Perhaps our shared birth-year is one of the reasons I feel so connected to this river.
But sadly, destruction from pollution events didn't end in 1972. Another flood in 1996 washed toxins into the river destroying the aquatic insect population for miles. The large fish I caught in 1997 looked more like eels than brown trout. The fish were starving. When I moved to New York in 1998, it was rare to catch a big fish in the Little Juniata. Trips to the river usually produced small fingerling browns that the state was stocking by the thousands.
But then Bill Anderson got involved. Bill and others began to monitor the river's macroinvertebrate population. They invested their time when they could have been fishing to protect the river, to make the fishing better for everyone. Bill knew that the river needed someone watching, someone who cared to give voice to a river that didn't have one, so he started the Little Juniata River Association (LJRA).
The LJRA'a Mission is to: "Monitor, Preserve and Improve the Little Juniata River and its tributaries as cold water resources". And they fulfill their mission better than any organization I know.
Today, the LJRA is one of the most accomplished fisheries conservation organizations in the country. Through their work, the Little Juniata has been designated a class A wild trout fishery and is no longer stocked. Redd counts are conducted each year to monitor the wild trout. Miles of stream access have been procured for the public's use, forever. Cold, limestone tributaries have been purchased so they can be protected from development. No-kill regulations have been put in place to stop the removal of large breeder fish. A stream clean-up is conducted each year. Stream banks are being restored and protected from erosion.
The Little Juniata River is now one of Pennsylvania's shining gems and one of the best trout streams in the East. And if you ever fish it, or even if you just care about the existence of wild trout in our modern age, you have one man and one organization to thank.
I'm not much of a "joiner," and I know of too many supposed conservation groups that want my money for dubious reasons. But I am a life member of the Little Juniata River Association. Maybe you should be too.
Below is the link to the LJRA's web site:
By the way, I often hear the Little Juniata's name butchered by those from outside Central PA. The proper pronunciation is Ju-nee-a-ta, not Won-ee-ta. Though Won-ee-ta does make me smile every time I hear it.