Golden rainbow trout, a stunningly beautiful mutation of the rainbow trout, was first bred in West Virginia hatcheries and has been a prized game fish here since the 1960s. This one was caught by a senior guest at the Leetown Science Center’s fishing pond (photo D. Pifer).
Picture a pavilion on the shore of a beautiful pond. An osprey passes overhead against a bright blue sky while half a dozen volunteer fishing guides cast baited lines into the water. When a fish grabs the bait, the skilled guide jerks the line to set the hook and then deftly hands the rod to a waiting guest. The excited guest reels in the fish. Just as the snagged fish reaches the shore, the guide scoops it into a specially coated net and shows it to the beaming guest. Carefully disconnected from its line, the fish is then released back into its watery habitat.
This scene was repeated over and over on a recent morning at the Eastern Ecological Science Center in Leetown. The guests were senior citizens and staff from two local nursing homes. I was there as a staff recreation assistant. We spent a wonderful morning sharing smiles and laughter.
Joseph “Frank” Roach, Fishing Area Coordinator, has led this fishing program for over 20 years. Now retired from the US Geological Survey, Frank and his cadre of volunteer fishing guides started out working with groups of residents of nursing homes and disabled veterans from the local Veterans Administration Hospital. The volunteers also support an annual Fishing Derby for Special Needs Children from schools in Jefferson County, sponsored by the Charles Town Kiwanis Club. An organization called Healing Waters conducts fly-fishing classes for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and just completed a day of fishing at the pond.
Frank, a Marine Corps veteran, is dedicated to maintaining the fishing pond as a first class recreational and educational facility. A wheelchair accessible pier allows guests more access to the pond and a large pavilion next to the shore offers shade and shelter to recreational anglers young and old.
Frank says the best part is “watching seniors and veterans relax and enjoy themselves. Maybe it brings back memories of childhood or a past fishing trip. Even if you’ve never gone fishing before, just being there is good for the soul. Yesterday I watched a couple of veterans who came here just riding around the pond in their wheelchairs.”
I watched a smile brighten a nursing home resident’s face as a volunteer carefully netted her catch. After watching her fish‘s release, she turned to me and said, “This is just the most wonderful experience.” Guests feel they found a real treasure if they catch a rare golden rainbow trout, a bright yellow mutation of the rainbow trout that was bred and first introduced in West Virginia in 1962.
The pond was built on a parcel of land purchased by the federal government. Under the direction of Senator Robert Byrd, the site was designed specifically for recreational use by nursing home residents, veterans, and special needs groups. All these groups need to do is schedule a trip and show up. The fishing volunteer program furnishes all the tackle, equipment, and bait. Stocked fish in the pond are provided by the US Department of Agriculture’s Cold and Cool Water Fish Hatchery located nearby. They include rainbow trout, brook trout, largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie. A pavilion with restrooms, picnic tables, and grill are available to fishing groups who want to include a cook-out. Frank says he enjoys the full support of Tom O’Connell, Director of the US Geological Survey Science Center.
The woods and meadows around the fishing pond support abundant wildlife. The morning I was there, Frank told me he just saw a bald eagle standing on the ground beside the pond eating a fish. Volunteers regularly glimpse otters, herons, kingfishers, mink, and various waterfowl that frequent the area. The Potomac Valley Audubon Society conducts monthly bird walks at the center, accompanied by USGS staff.
Frank said he hosts a special day each year to honor and thank his fishing guides and volunteers for their time spent working with these groups and maintaining the pristine grounds of the facility. “We volunteers enjoy it as much as our visitors do.”
Izaak Walton, author of “The Compleat Angler, “ said, “God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”
Doug Pifer is an artist, naturalist, and writer. He has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Penn State and has been an editor and art educator. His illustrations have appeared in various books and magazines and he has been a contributor to The Observer for several years. He lives with his wife and assorted animals on 5.7 acres in a historic farmhouse near Shepherdstown, West Virginia.By Doug Pifer