Getting Schooled in Pennsylvania

On June 13, PVFF Club President Andy Mekelburg and I went to school in Pennsylvania — almost literally. Earlier this year, Andy had been the winning bidder on a guided trip generously offered by fishing guide Tom Baltz as part of an effort to raise money for the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association (, which is located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Our education began almost as soon as we met Tom in the parking lot across from the TCO Fly Shop ( in Boiling Springs. As soon as we had concluded introductions, I proudly showed Tom the loop-to-loop connection I had tied only to learn that the loop knot I had tied on my fly line was incorrect and I had not inserted the fly line loop into the leader loop, which is the correct way to make that loop connection. Tom also explained how he uses bobbin to fasten the fly line loops he ties.

We proceeded to the Yellow Breeches Creek to fish. I started with a fly Tom created that he calls a “Bronze Back,” with a Frenchie attached to it with about a foot of tippet. Eventually, that rig produced a nice rainbow trout, who found the Frenchie irresistible. While fishing that hole, Tom taught me how to use a roll cast to set up a side cast to reach under cover overhanging the water.

At the next hole, I had the great satisfaction of catching a brown trout on a Prince Nymph that I had tied. In fact, it was one of the first I had ever tied and proof that the artistic attributes – or lack thereof – of a fly are not necessarily the determining factor for success.

Andy was fishing below me and after he caught a very nice rainbow, I moved downstream about ten yards of so to another promising hole that was between us. Here, I caught another nice brown on a Zebra Midge that I had tied myself.

Mike Holland and Tom Baltz on Yellow Breeches

We broke for a lunch of sandwiches and chips at a Children’s Lake Park in Boiling Springs and then headed to the last stretch of water we fished. Here we fished dry flies and I was very happy to catch a brown trout on a Royal Wulff. It was particularly pleasing as I have not caught too many fish on dries and the Royal Wulff is a fly that my father loved to fish back home in the Adirondacks. Here I worked on my cast and at keeping my elbow in and not throwing the line. I also worked on keeping my line tip ahead of the fly line to avoid drift.

Other items we worked on throughout the day were mending and setting the hook. Tom reminded us that fish feed facing into the current and that setting the hook downstream and low will prevent you from pulling the fly out of the fish’s mouth and help you avoid streamside vegetation if you do not hook a fish. At one point, I was pleased that Tom complimented me for putting my flies in the fly box properly – pushing the bend of the hook into the slot. He also explained the importance of having enough room between the fly box cover for dry flies, so they are not crushed. Finally, Tom was passionate about picking up trash that he saw and making sure that excess tippet was not left in the environment by using a PIO (pack it out) pod. He explained how he had found a dead duckling one time wrapped in tippet and what a sad sight that was.

I am thankful for the time we were able to spend with Tom and for the many insights he shared. I plan to try to go out with him again next year to continue my education. If you would like to book a trip with Tom, the best way to reach him is via email at

By Mike Holland