Not a few members
of the angling Establishment used to say Charlie Fox was nuts. Charlie refused
to conform to notions. He had ideas. His ideas made people uncomfortable
because he sought to cut through the crepe of tradition and to start over. He
would never accept that a thing could not be done if you thought it through and
maintained perspective. Luckily, Charlie Fox has always been too optimistic to
be intimidated, too romantic to have tunnel vision and too correct to go
Charlie Fox is 68
now and retired; at one time or another he was an editor of outdoor books, a
probation officer and a land acquisition specialist for the state of
He should be
everybody's grandfather. He is an intuitive teacher who will fascinate you when
he talks about the trees and the birds and the sounds of the stream and the
woods—without your realizing it is a lesson. Charlie fondles nature. You sense
it when he finds a clutch of mallard eggs and whispers as if afraid to wake
them, or as he follows a praying mantis across the meadow, his nose barely a
foot off the turf. His humility is inspiring, yet he is impatient with
scientists and their laws, and he detests autocrats. Charlie is unique.
liked indiscriminate stocking very much," Charlie declares, pointing a
liver-spotted hand to a tailing brown trout rooting in the elodea of his
darling little stream, the famed Letort, as it meanders across the Pennsylvania
countryside near Carlisle. He is sitting on one of the benches he has placed
along the banks for observation and contemplation and conversation and, he
hopes, perception. The stream slides milky green before him, and while he
chats, his eyes dart from one to another of the many fish you can clearly see
grazing in the weed beds. "Well, sir, I knew these fish could take care of
themselves if they were given half a chance. So, my neighbor Vince Marinaro and
I, we got together, and we posted the property we owned for fly-fishing only
and a one-trout limit, and we made some people awful mad.
applied to the state Fish Commission, after a change of administration provided
a more enlightened bunch, and we told them we would open up our property as
long as it was administered by them as a special-regulations area. They said
O.K. And that was how it started."
When you look
into the Letort's limestone-rich water, you will find Charlie Fox etched in
every current. He is deep in it, just as it is deep in him, and while Charlie
might not much care to cut grass or weed vegetable gardens, he has sweated over
his Letort as Michelangelo did on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
delightful about the Letort is that it doesn't have the look of a fixed-up
stream. Except for one small stretch in Carlisle, there are no retaining walls
or riprap, or any of those horrible flat stone and masonry dams that are
sometimes constructed on club waters and make you feel that you are fishing on
an uncovered amusement-park tunnel of love. The Letort wanders through thickets
of buttonwoods and tangles of honeysuckle and wild grapes. The branches of old
willows bow over it and shade the spring water. Their roots reach out to drink
and to give cover to the wild brown trout. You would have to be told that one
stretch is a new channel, dug out when Interstate 81 took the old bed a decade
or so ago.
"I had a lot
of meetings with the engineers in those days," Charlie recalls. "I
think they thought I was crazy at first. They knew for certain I was a terrible
pest. But they went over the plans with me, all right, and when it was decided
to dig the new channel, they gave us time to do our work before they put the
water through. I buried some old steel drums open ended in the bottom for
cover. And I toted rock in for channels and to try to hold the current, and the
weeds and the rest of it took care of themselves. It looked like a bad
situation at the time, but by showing them we had some plans of our own, they
cooperated pretty well, and, all in all, I think it worked out better than
could be expected."
problem was gravel. There wasn't enough gravel to spawn the number of fish the
fertile stream could support. So, Charlie bought piles of it, which he has
spread, a bucket at a time, along a stretch he figured would be ideal. And last
fall he inspired the local chapter of Trout Unlimited to add gravel to another
section of the stream.
"Well, sir, I
didn't figure well enough. No, I didn't. It wasn't that easy." Charlie
shakes his head, takes off his battered hat and runs a forearm across his brow.
"You see, the trout are very territorial, and I didn't count on that. Oh,
they'd spawn all right. But did they ever fight.