Q & A with Shawn Washinger of Susquehanna Rod Company

Many anglers (including myself) dream of one day being able to earn a living working in the outdoor industry, either as a guide, pro staffer, or making products associated with our passion.  Shawn Washinger, is following that dream through his new business – Susquehanna Rod Company.  Recently, I caught up with Shawn and spent some time chatting about his custom rod building company, fly fishing, Pennsylvania trout and beer.

What follows is my interview with Shawn.  To learn more about Shawn and his company, check out SRC’s website www.susquehannarodcompany.com.

  1.  Can you give me a brief bio of yourself?  

My name is Shawn Washinger and I am 35 years old.  I have been fishing for the last 30 years.  I have loved fishing since the first time I picked up a rod and reel.  I have been fly fishing for the last 10 years and almost only fly fish now.  Whether it is for trout, sunfish, smallmouth bass, or anything else I am able to cast to.

  1.  Tell me a little about your company, Susquehanna Rod Company.

I have always wanted to work in the outdoor industry in some facet.  Custom rod building has always been something that I enjoyed so I thought, what better way than to build great custom rods for other people.  Because I am solely a custom builder I have not come up with any product lines or models.  I am currently working on creating an inventory of rods that I will have for sale. However, each rod will still be different and unique in some way.

I not only build fly rods, I also build: spinning rods, casting rods, and I am working on some deep sea rods.  I try to use the best materials I can in rod building and can customize to a specific length, brand, or action.

Something else that I am trying to do at Susquehanna Rod Company is to give children and veterans the opportunity to get out and fish by offering casting lessons, mentoring programs, and information of upcoming events sent out through our Facebook page.  I am actually working with Valley Streams Fly Fishing and we are going to try and bring our two companies together to provide more of these opportunities.  So keep an eye out on both of our social media pages for more news, events, and give-a-ways.

  1.  How did you get into custom rod building?

When I started building rods it was because I was tired of going to stores and always seeing the same rods just by different brands.  Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of good rods available but none with the unique look that I was looking for along with being a great rod.  So I started by building my own rods and loved it. I wanted to bring the joy and uniqueness to other people so I started my business, Susquehanna Rod Company.

  1.  Pennsylvania has a lot of famous trout waters.  What is your favorite water to target trout?  

You’re right there are so many amazing trout waters in Pennsylvania it is very hard to pick just one.  But I would have to say that one of my favorite waters to fish is LeTort Spring Run.  I love the LeTort because it is a small stream that is tough to fish and has some amazing fish. I love fishing small streams for native trout.

Screenshot_20170726-072202
Be sure to follow Susquehanna Rod Company on Insta @susquehannarodcompany
  1.  If you had to choose, what would be your go-to tackle setup in terms of rod, reel, line and flies to chasing PA trout in the summer?  

 My go to rod and reel for PA trout is my 7’6” 3/4 weight fly rod which I custom built with a Taylor Enigma reel.  My 7’6” rod is the very first rod I ever built years ago.  I love it and it has never let me down.  I do still have the ability to make these rods with the same blanks.  It is by far the favorite fly rod that I own.

  1.  Besides trout, what other species do you enjoy targeting on a fly rod?

My favorite species other than trout would have to be smallmouth bass.  I love fishing for bass on the Susquehanna River.  Before I even started fly fishing I was always on the River fishing for smallies.  Although the Susquehanna isn’t the river that it once was it is still second to none when it comes to smallies.

  1.  Can you describe your most memorable fishing experience?

Can I describe just one would be the real question.  I have had so many unforgettable fishing trips it is very hard to pick just one.  But the fishing trips that are always in my heart are the ones where my best friend Justin, his dad, and I would float our canoes down the Susquehanna River for a few days.  We would camp on the islands and fish throughout the day.  We never had a bad trip even though there were rainy trips and blazing hot trips.  Talk about fun. Always trying to figure out what lures to use throughout the trip and then just hammering the fish all week long.  I still talk about these trips at length with friends and colleagues.

  1.  If you could fish anywhere in the world, where would you go?  Why?

Right now a realistic trip I would love to take is to Mosquito Lagoon in Florida.  I listen to a podcast called “Fly Fishing After Dark” (It’s awesome, check it out!) and they are from the Mosquito Lagoon area in Florida.  They run charters for redfish out of the Lagoon. But just listening to them talk about the fishing down there has made me want to go down and fish with them.

But a trip to anywhere in the world is a tie between New Zealand for big browns or a trip to Mongolia for big Taimen.  My New Zealand obsession came from a YouTube video called “Once In A Blue Moon”.  It’s an amazing little video about fishing in New Zealand with mouse flies.  I think that would be absolutely amazing.  I know a few areas around here that I would like to try mouse flies also.  Mongolia has been a trip that my buddy, Dusty, from work and I have talked about for a few years now.  We always thought it would be fun to go overseas and catch the world’s largest Salmonid.

  1.  Every angler I know has a story about “the one that got away”.  Tell me about yours.  

I remember it like it was yesterday even though it was more like 28 years ago.  I used to go to summer camp but I hated it.  Lucky for me there were always plenty of grasshoppers around for me to catch for fish bait so that my dad and I could go fishing later that day.  Pinchot Lake was our “go to” back then and we always had a blast.  I had my jar full of grasshoppers after summer camp and dad had the boat ready to go when I got home.  We put in at our usual spot by the ranger station and slowly motored across the lake to our favorite spot right by a little clump of lily pads that always seemed to be there (even to this day I still go to that spot when I fish there).  I knew exactly which grasshopper I was going to use first because it was probably the biggest one that I had ever caught.  So I hooked it and cast it out as far as I could with no weight, no bobber, nothing.  So needless to say it didn’t go very far.  It couldn’t have been on the water for more than a few seconds when POW!  It got slammed by a huge bass. Now I was only seven so I think I was probably so excited I couldn’t contain myself.  I fought the fish for about a minute when it swam under a rock (I saw it do this because the water where we were in was pretty clear) and the line snapped.  I was devastated!  I tried for another hour or so just thinking that the fish still had to be hungry but to no avail.  We left after a little while because we had to get home, but I always remember that fish.

  1.  Favorite brewery in the Mechanicsburg area?  

There are a couple good breweries in the Mechanicsburg area, but we just got a new one on the Carlisle Pike called Ever Grain.  Right now that is probably one of my favorites due to the great atmosphere and eclectic beer choices.  It is a place that my wife and I go to for our date nights.

 

 

fall-bow-1Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

Advertisements

New Water: Saw Creek

Personally, my favorite type of fishing is going off the beaten path and exploring small

1779
Checking the map after I led us astray

brook trout streams.  This past weekend, my good friend Steve and I spent two days doing just that.  Steve and I met up in East Stroudsburg early Saturday morning, where we discussed a general game plan before heading north to the Thunder Swamp trailhead in Delaware State Forest.  Our plan was to hike the Thunder Swamp trail until it crossed Saw creek.  From that point we would blaze our own trail along the creek, find a suitable place to set up camp for the night, and explore as much water as we could.  We arrived at the trailhead around 9:15 a.m.  After loading our packs, and doing some last minute gear checks we were on the trail by 9:30 a.m.  Following some missed turns and quite a few map checks, we arrived at the creek around 12:45 p.m. and shortly thereafter we found a suitable place to set up camp.

1774Saw creek is a small, high quality-cold water stream in Pike County, Pennsylvania.   It rarely exceeds ten feet across in its upper reaches, where meanders its way through the dense forests, swamps and bogs scattered across this part of the Allegheny Plateau.  When we arrived on Saturday, the creek had flooded its banks and the water had a deep brown color due to the recent heavy rainfall in the area.

After setting up camp, we rigged our fly rods with short leaders paired with bushy dry flies and started up stream.  Most of the water was slow moving and shallow, which only resulted in some creek chubs. We spent four hours fishing a mile upstream, which may not seem like a lot, but when you’re constantly walking through chest high grass and three inches of water, you tend to walk a little slower (especially since you can’t see what you’re stepping on).  By 6:00 p.m. we still had not caught any trout.

1769
Steve showing off the creek chubs

At this point we were both worn out, with soaked and sore feet.  We decided to head back to camp, cook up some food, relax by the fire and put down our fly rods until the morning.  Side note, velveeta + can of chili, paired with single malt scotch = phenomenal camp dinner.

The next morning, I was up early at 5:45 a.m. as the constant yapping of the coyotes behind our camp made for a relatively restless night.  After coffee and breakfast, we were on the water by 7:00.  However, on this day, we decided to explore downstream from camp since the water upstream was not all that promising.  It was not long before we found some nice water and were finally able to see some nice brook trout.  Just after 9:00 a.m. I was finally able to land a solid small brookie on a size 14 prince nymph drifted through a slow moving pool below a long set of rapids.  The no-hitter was broken.

IMAG0171

As we made our steep hike out of the forest later that day, with sore legs and covered in ticks, we both gleaned with a sense of accomplishment – knowing that we achieved our weekend goals…and had a great time doing so.IMAG0167 (2)

 

 

True Religion

The mystic and aura that exists deep in the forest is impossible to replicate anywhere else in life; the sensation of knowing that you are miles from the nearest human yet being fully aware that you are surrounded by life.  0207161417Within the reaches of the wilderness, man has the potential to be both predator and prey, a fact that constantly runs through your mind during your stay.  Yet for some reason, a small number of us frequently return to these wild places time and time again.

Throughout my years of fly fishing, one thing has always remained of the highest importance for me: the experience.  My passionate pursuit of wild trout has led me to some astonishingly beautiful places and provided me with some of the most memorable moments of my life.  I can still vividly remember the first time I heard a coyote’s howl pierce the night air, echoing off the mountain walls in the valley below my camp, sending shivers down my spine.  Or the first time I heard the heart stopping vibrations of an agitated timber rattlesnake that froze me in my tracks, miles from my vehicle in the forests of north central Pennsylvania.  And of course, who can forget their first bear encounter or elk sighting?

0618161909
A young bull elk checking me out in Elk state forest.

Aside from the personal impacts of loved ones, these are the moments that will remain etched in my memory until my last breath.  Truly remarkable days, days which mold our memories, are becoming difficult to find in a society entrenched by the never ending rat race for wealth.   But I have every intention of amassing a different type of wealth…a wealth of remarkable memories.

I’m not much of a religious man.  But I do believe in a greater force that only exists deep in the mountains, among the miles of untamed trout streams and wildlife free from human intervention.  This is a place designed to rejuvenate and enrich the human soul, with each new heart racing experience marking a wilderness baptism.  This is my temple, and the unexplained desire to return is my true religion – with fly fishing being the path that lead me to my faith.

Find your next adventure.

thCAX4SC3T

New Water: Little Schuylkill River

Lately I’ve fallen into a predictable routine of fishing the same few limestone creeks that are the closest to me.  These streams only have a limited amount of public water, so I end up fishing the same runs and pools time and time again.  Sure my methods might change from time to time depending on hatches (or lack thereof), water clarity, water level, etc.  But overall, my fishing had become stagnant.  I wasn’t advancing as a fly fisherman.  I wasn’t reading new water, identifying unfamiliar aquatic insects, placing myself in new/uncomfortable casting positions or simply enjoying some new scenery.  Hence the birth of my “New Water” series.  The New Water series is designed to push me to explore unfamiliar streams in unfamiliar parts of the state, outside of my home stream comfort zones.

Over the holiday, I was able to get out and wet a line in some new water: the Little Schuylkill River.  schuylkill countyThe Little Schuylkill is a picturesque stream located in Schuylkill County, that averages about 30-40 feet in width (at least in the DHALO Section).  It begins in the lower Pocono mountains around the town of Tamaqua and flows for about 25 miles before joining the Schuylkill River below Port Clinton.  This region of the state was once an epicenter for coal mining.  And like many streams in the area, the Little Schuylkill suffered tremendously from the ill effects of the mining industry.  Silt, and acid runoff polluted its waters and decimated the stream.  In the 1960’s, a stream survey showed that the Little Schuylkill was completely devoid of aquatic life.  Thanks to the dedicated efforts of outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists and concerned citizens, sixty years later the Little Schuylkill is once again full of life.  The stream boast a healthy population of both wild and stocked trout, a steady supply of caddis flies, otters, minks, blue herons and supposedly harbors some bald eagles as well.

Early in the morning on July 4th, I loaded up my waders, fly rods, and chest pack, grabbed a cup of coffee and headed up to Schuylkill County.  I originally planned on fishing just above Port Clinton, as I had driven by the parking lot for this area dozens of times before.  However, when I got there, the parking lot was full.  So, I decided to continue to drive upstream until I found an access that was less crowded.  Eventually I reached the Delayed Harvest section of the water around 8:45 a.m.  To my surprise there was not another soul in the parking lot, despite it being a holiday.

Apparently, that area had gotten a fair of amount of recent rain because the ruts and holes in the gravel parking lot were full of off colored rain water.  Before putting on my waders and rigging up, I took a walk down the water’s edge just to take a look.  The water level was slightly above normal, with just a hint of murkiness.  Clear enough to see the bottom in three feet of water, but skewed enough to make the finer details invisible.  There was a small island to the right of where I was standing, blocking my view of the upstream landscape.  After putting on my waders and rigging my 9 ft. 5 wt. St. Croix Rio Santo, I made my way around the island via the near bank.  When I rounded the tip of the island, I found a long, deep, fast moving run that extended upstream for about 40 yards where it met a set of shallow rapids.  On the far side of the rapids, was another long, deep, fast moving, picture perfect run that had my mind racing about the number of trout contained therein.  IMAG0094Initially, I had a size 16 tan deer hair caddis tied on, but upon seeing the deep runs, I decided to tight line my way upstream and switched to a tandem nymph set-up with a size 14 hare’s ear on top and a size 16 caddis larva dropped off the bend.

The fast moving, broken water combined with the tinged water clarity allowed me to stand fairly close to the runs without spooking the fish.  On the second cast, I brought a 12 inch rainbow to net.  As I slowly worked my way through the first run, the fishing got better.  By the time I got to the end of the first run I had already netted 10 trout, about half of which were wild browns, and I probably lost just as many.  The second run provide to be almost as fruitful as I netted more browns, all between 10 and 15 inches.

By 11:45 a.m. I was getting ready to call it a day.  While I would have loved to stay and fish till dark, I unfortunately did not have that luxury.  As I was walking back downstream, I decided to make a few more casts into the tail end of the first run.  At that point the Little Schuylkill offered up her finest treasure of the day, a stunning wild brown with some spectacular coloration. IMAG0137

IMAG0131

 

With this royal farewell, I made my way back to the truck, whistling Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and wondering what new piece of water I’ll explore next.

Happy Birthday America.