The members of Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited love fly fishing, but that's not the only thing that brings them together. Fishing is their sport, but cold-water conservation is their mission.
On Sept. 21, PWWTU will celebrate 50 years of cold-water conservation efforts at Grazie! Restaurant in Wexford with cocktails, dinner, dancing and raffles. The celebration is open to the public. Tickets are $25.
Founded in 1963, PWWTU was one of the first branches of Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited. Approximately 20 fishermen who had been recruited while fishing on the LeTorte Spring Run in Cumberland County showed up for the first meeting. Chapter leaders were chosen, and the group discussed the issues facing trout fishermen.
In 1964, talk turned to action when the group undertook one of its first stream improvement projects at Whites Creek in Somerset County, where members worked with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to modify stream flow.
More projects followed and membership rose as the group tackled other trout waterways, including Dunbar Creek, Loyalhanna Creek, Mills Creek and Little Sandy Creek.
"There are a lot of streams in Pennsylvania that we've worked on and made fishable that at one time ... were at a loss," said longtime group member Nicholas Kratofil. "TU is responsible for doing rebound on a lot of the streams."
Trout require clean, cold water in order to survive. But with rising temperatures, pollution and development, there is still much work to do in restoring and maintaining cold-water resources.
"Streams in general have been abused," said Malcolm Seaholm, a PWWTU board member and participant throughout the group's half century. "People use them as dumping grounds for all sorts of things: chemicals, waste, garbage, and all of that contributes to warming the streams."
Raising awareness about the environment and the dangers to cold water has been one of the group's biggest challenges, Seaholm said. Using fly fishing, the sport that ties them together, the group raises awareness to the issues facing cold-water resources and recruits more members to its cause.
The TU chapter holds fly tying classes, sponsors two or three children each year to attend the Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp, and presents the annual Cabin Fever trout fishing expo that attracts vendors and hundreds of participants.
"People that fly fish tend to be, as a group, more passionate about the resource because they're just more involved. They've chosen it," chapter president Walter Reineman said. "If you've made the effort to become a fly fisherman, then you're very involved in the resource, too."
Currently, the group is involved in a long-term project on Pine Creek in Hampton. In collaboration with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and other organizations, members have been working for 10 years on stream improvements to enhance riparian cover and create pools for fish, implement anti-erosion methods and re-vegetate the creek valley.
PWWTU is also monitoring Allegheny County's Deer Creek, Bull Creek and Pine Creek, establishing a water quality baseline before potential Marcellus Shale activities take place.
"That way if a well is eventually put next to a watershed, we'll have a historical record of what the stream was like before the well was there in case there is some sort of environmental oil or gas or fracking spill," Reineman said.
There are 48 chapters of Trout Unlimited in Pennsylvania, but PWWTU remains the largest in the state and is among the largest nationwide.
"It's the only organization in the eastern part of the United States that's really sort of been a pioneer in conservation and trout fishing, and the result is trying to preserve clean cold water," Seaholm said. "It's good for the trout and it's good for people."
PWWTU meets at 7 p.m. on second Mondays September through June at Brentwood VFW Post 1810, 3801 Clairton Blvd. (Route 51), Brentwood, 412-881-9934. Details: www.pwwtu.org.