Fishing: Adventures along the Allegheny
The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 0825/02 By Deborah Weisberg

Special thanks to The Pittsburgh Post Gazette for allowing this story to be posted


Dick Krear: Certified river boat captain, falconer, naturalist and outdoors education.

Dick Krear settles behind the wheel of his 24-foot jet-driven johnboat and rolls himself a cigarette.

"I toyed with this idea for years," he says of the eco-adventures he runs on a rugged stretch of free flowing Allegheny River, midway from Pittsburgh to the Kinzua. "I had to get over the idea I was selling out. That this was my river. People are already here, so I may as well educate them. If I didn't have to pay off my boat, I'd probably do it for free."

Krear began reading the river at 10, when he made his first float trip, alone. And though he has worked the resources that give Oil City its heritage -- from logging to drilling to mining coal -- none sustains him like this one.

This year, Krear has logged 750 miles on the water he calls home -- from Franklin or Kennerdell to Foxburg. He takes birders and Boy Scouts, photographers and fishermen, and gives them in a day what he has gleaned over most of his 51 years.

"I'll be darned," he says, pointing to the sky at two soaring birds. "A bald eagle and an osprey putting on a show. The eagle was probably bullying the osprey's prey away. See the white on his head and tail? They get that in their fifth year."

Because his boat has a jet outboard, he can maneuver in low water where others can't go. Depending on river flow, he can carry 19 people, often the number on his Audubon trips, though in low flow, it's eight or fewer. The boat's flat bottom makes it stable, good for fishing, and the wide bow is a perfect angling platform. Though he provides no tackle, Krear knows where the fish are.

"Over there," he says, pointing to a deeper pool beyond the mouth of Little Scrubgrass Creek, "are some nice walleye. They catch them over 30 inches."

Another mile downstream, beyond the mouth of Shaull Run, is a big eddy, where the fishing is good.

In fact, 75 types of fish have been found in the habitat of the middle Allegheny, including popular game fish like smallmouth, walleye, and flathead cats, said Allen Woomer, the state's acting area fisheries manager. The primitive bowfin, a candidate species, has become less rare, and freshwater drum, a river native, is making a comeback. Muskie fingerlings and walleye fry are planted in various pools.

There are nine stocked trout streams from Franklin to Foxburg and wild trout waters, too, though many are on private land.

One, with a spectacular falls, is the highlight of some Krear sojourns. He anchors his boat and leads his guests 150 yards down an old logging trail--imprinted this day with fresh bear tracks and nearly overgrown with native rhododendron and fruit-bearing shrubs. Raspberries, called thimbleberries for their shape, are so velvety and sweet they melt in the mouth.

And then there is the stream, with its mossy grotto. Water striders walk the surface. Minnows dart below. Krear searches the underside of rocks for stonefly and caddis nymphs. There are brookies and, maybe, brown trout in the deeper pools. A couple of hundred yards away, in Coon Cove, a backwater channel Krear named as a kid, is a rock etched with a raft, signed and dated 1847.

"They must have been stranded here one winter and gotten bored," says Krear. "The iron furnaces were operating then. Oil drilling came later."

Krear grew up in Emlenton and learned to love the water from his father, who ran a sporting goods store. When he talks about his life, it often relates to times on the water. In 1977, the year of "the big brutal winter," he remembers finding a small opening where he could put in a canoe and paddling downstream between two 10-foot walls of ice. "I must have been nuts. I never felt so alone as then. But it was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen.

"When my kids say something is awesome, I tell them, 'You don't know what awesome is.' "

Leather-back turtles, sunning on rocks, slip into the water as they sense our approach.

"They've very aquatic. Very wary," says Krear.

On the face of other, overhanging rocks are what look like patches of fresh snow. "Those are cases of hellgrammite eggs," he says. "They lay them there so when they drop off, they'll fall in the water."

They provide a feast for bass and are more plentiful this year than usual, which is another positive sign. So, too, the preponderance of damsel flies and dragon flies, which hop a ride on Krear's boat as his journey progresses.

The eagles have returned and the wood ducks, too. "They're a wonderful comeback story," Krear, a falconer, says. All point to the river's transformation.

The clean-up is amazing, says Krear, who has been honored for organizing efforts to build nesting facilities for ospreys and peregrine falcons.

"I like teaching kids," Krear says. "It empowers them to know that this is their river. It's not owned by the state. It's not owned by industry. It's owned by citizens. It belongs to us."

For details about Krear's tours, visit www.csonline.net/rkrear or call him at 814-498-2100.