Trout Boomer and the Little J — Bill Anderson and the Little Juniata River

by | Apr 27, 2017 | 5 comments

“The river with all those railroad bridges.” That’s how many anglers identify the Little Juniata River. Ten massive, stone arch bridges sandwiched into five miles of the middle river are surely the identifying mark for the Little J. These impressive 19th century creations continue to stand up to the best and worst that time sends them. Thankfully, the cool shade under each bridge holds gorgeous wild brown trout in excellent size and numbers. But it hasn’t always been that way.

The wild brown trout fishery of the Little Juniata River is better than ever, and one man has had a remarkable impact on the superb fishing that anglers travel to enjoy. His name is Bill Anderson.

Bonus points if you can identify this bridge. — Photo by Pat Burke

Trout Boomer and the Little J

Bill Anderson is the author of “Trout Boomer and the Little J.” It’s a guidebook in unusual form. Bill weaves an education of the river through stories and first-hand tales. It’s like walking along the stream with Bill while he shares decades of experience on the water he loves.

The book includes a review on the history of the Little J, about the struggles the river has faced and the catastrophes that have beset the trout population. It’s also a solid breakdown of the Little J from the headwaters to the mouth — all thirty-two miles of trout water. Bill details it all. He highlights the popular miles as well as the impaired sections that need help from concerned anglers willing to make a difference.

Trout Boomer and the Little J also includes info about aquatic life in the river. Bill covers the hatches, and details many of his own truly unique patterns for the Little J, like his Crippled Emerger Transformer dry flies. For something a little different, check out the Black Kat, Bill’s favorite summer terrestrial pattern tied on a #6 streamer hook!

In Part One of the book, Bill shares his own story and how it mixes with the waters of the Little Juniata River. With humor and wit, his writing style is entertaining.

Seeing a favorite stream in August, with most of the water gone, is like seeing your girlfriend for the first time without makeup or clothes … Quite interesting, a little shocking (depending on age and condition) and well worth remembering for future expeditions.

Trout Boomer and the Little J is a comprehensive work on one of Pennsylvania’s finest wild trout rivers, and it’s an invaluable resource — well worth the read.

Classic Little J wild brown trout. — Photo by Pat Burke

The Little Juniata River Association and Bill Anderson

Bill Anderson, aka Trout Boomer, is director and president of the Little Juniata River Association (LJRA). Through this non-profit effort, Bill and the LJRA have had an enormous, positive impact on the river.

Last summer, Central Pennsylvania experienced the worst drought seen in decades, combined with the hottest summer on record. It was a tough time for trout fishermen (and surely more difficult for the trout). So most of us put our fly rods down for a few weeks during the hottest months. It was through this scene that I met Bill Anderson.

I found him in a steamy parking lot a half mile from the river. It hadn’t rained for weeks, so the brutal sun pulled water from deep in the earth, baking it into the humid air that felt too heavy to breath. I walked across the blacktop through rising vertical waves of heat and shook hands with the man I’d heard so much about.

Some people have a no-bullshit style of confidence about them, just because they’ve lived with one hyper-focused purpose for long enough. Therefore, they’ve seen most things in their field and aren’t surprised by the few things they haven’t seen. It’s deep experience mixed with calm resilience. Bill is bold, but not boastful. He’s patient and persistent.

We met in the valley town of Tyrone, where Bald Eagle Creek and the Little J converge. And I climbed into Bill’s truck for a river tour — he’s done this before. Bill seems to know everyone, in every avenue and crevice throughout the business of river conservation, and he’s taken many of them on a tour of the Little J.

From Upper to Lower

I know the Little Juniata River well — very well. I’ve explored it from top to bottom. But it was immediately obvious that the Trout Boomer knows his river like no one else. Bill and I drove around the upper part of the Little J and into the headwaters. At every stop Bill had a story to tell about the work to be done and the work already completed.

LJRA has repaired more than 1400 feet of badly eroding banks at 8 different sites on the upper river, creating outstanding fish habitat at each location and 28,000 sq ft of riparian buffer. The number of planted trees, instream structures, culverts, etc. will make your head spin.

Bill’s people skills are impressive. The paper mill at Tyrone is the largest consumer of water in the area, and it does significant damage to the resource. What the Little J could be without the influence of the paper mill is hard to let go. Yet, somehow, Bill gets along fine with the owners and the managers of the mill. He has relationships with all of these people, because that’s the only way to ever get things done.

Sounds like a politician, right? But Bill is much more. He loves the river and the resource — that couldn’t be more obvious. I guess he loves it enough to faithfully wait seven years for the Catch and Release regulations to go through.

Yes, the LJRA was instrumental in convincing the Pennsylvania Fish Commission to change the regulations to C&R for the middle and lower river. And now they’re focusing on the same regs for the upper river. Bill shared with me the LJRA’s goal — to have the entire river declared Class A, with a Designated Use of High Quality Cold Water, and with Catch and Release All Tackle special regs in place throughout.

Yes, please.

Photo by Pat Burke

The River Keeper

I asked Bill how he gets along with so many people, how he gets past the frustration of watching the abuse of the Little J, and how he’s so patient with those in charge of passing the only regulations that will save the trout and preserve the water quality. Bill told me that persistence is more important than patience. That sounds just like a fisherman, doesn’t it?

At one location after the other, Bill told me how they acquired funds and volunteers, how they made the agreements, and how they worked with the DEP to get things done.

Passion. That’s what Bill has. He also has experience and an expertise with Little J’s trout that is unmatched, though he’s too modest to admit it.

Bill is deeply curious about wild trout habits. The LJRA conducted telemetry studies to add a few pieces to the puzzle of trout migration. Bill continually digs deep into published studies. He learns from scientists and fellow anglers to form his own understanding of trout habits.

I appreciate Bill’s willingness to share what he knows about Little J trout, but I also admire his reservation. Bill is cautious when answering questions about other watersheds. He makes the point that what he’s learned about the Little J doesn’t necessarily apply to other rivers. When I asked Bill about some of the Western Pennsylvania waters that I grew up on, Bill was careful in giving his opinions. Trout and trout rivers are different everywhere, and Bill made that point to me time and again.

Rivers need friends, and Bill is one of the best friends the Little J has ever seen. If you have the chance, get to know Bill Anderson. Join the Little Juniata River Association or attend a monthly meeting. If you care about the Little Juniata River, get in touch with Bill and ask what you can do to help. He’ll have an answer.

And if you see Bill on the river, shake his hand and say, “Thank you.”

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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5 Comments

  1. The Guardian Angel of The Little Juniata. Where would we be without him?

    Reply
  2. This post certainly makes me want to read the book and fish the Little J. Sounds like an incredible fishery with ongoing conservation.

    Reply
  3. I was fortunate to meet and chat with Bill Anderson at Comptons flys during the grannom hatch this year. I just stopped in to pick up some fly’s when I finally realized that the guy I was talking to was the author of Trout Boomer . His books were for sale on the checkout counter. I asked if he would autograph a copy for me. In his candid way he told me ” I am not responsible if after I sign a copy that the book becomes severely devalued “. The book is a pleasure and I value all the great information Bill supplies us all.

    Reply
  4. The Little Juniata river is alive, and I consider it a part of my family.

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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