Fishing with Ed Shenk by Jack Kearney
An article in the April 2020 issue of Fly Fisherman magazine reported that Ed Shenk passed away on April 10, 2020 at the age of 93. The article described Ed as a Pennsylvania icon who left a lasting legacy on the sport of fly fishing and went on to say that his home water was Letort Spring Run where he shared the water with other leading fly fishers of the day including Vince Marinaro and Charlie Fox. It said that Ed wrote eighteen articles for Fly Fisherman magazine starting with “The Cress Bug” in 1972. He was noted for being “a great observer” who could transfer “what he saw in nature to his fly tying vice. He created and wrote about the Letort Hopper, Letort Cricket, Shenk Cress Bug, Shenk Sculpin, and Shenk White Minnow.”
I had the good luck to fish with Ed Shenk twice. The first time was on April 16, 1994 when I drove from a conference in Harrisburg, PA to explore Letort Spring Run in nearby Carlisle. I parked near a quarry on Bonny Brook Road and walked downstream to an old railroad bridge without meeting anyone when I saw another angler walking toward me. He asked how I was doing and then gave some advice. He said, “The Letort is a streamer stream. If you have some, you should try a white marabou streamer.” When I thanked him, he stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Ed Shenk.” Then he showed how to get in position without scaring the fish and how to cast a streamer to good holding water. He said to keep a low profile, move slow, and try to get close and make a short cast if you can. After that experience I bought Ed’s book, Fly Rod Trouting, and a good supply of his favorite flies. I read that book again recently and it inspired me to do some research and write this article. One of the best things I learned is that there is a hand drawn map of the Letort by Ed Shenk. It’s not a roadmap; it’s an angler’s map drawn by someone who fished it for most of his life and said in the first chapter of his book, “My love affair with little trout streams began over fifty years ago in the Cumberland valley, and the fair Letort was my first love.” You can see the map at Ed Shenk's map-Fly Tyer magazine.
The second time I fished with Ed was on April 29, 2000 for a day of guided fishing at Big Spring Creek in the morning and Green Spring Creek in the afternoon. By then I had fished many times at the limestone streams near Carlisle, including guided fishing on the Letort, Yellow Breeches Creek, and Big Spring Creek. Travel expenses out and back were covered, thanks to those twice a year conferences in Harrisburg, so I figured that guided fishing was a good investment. The guides were from Cold Spring Anglers (closed now) and Yellow Breeches Outfitters (now TCO Boiling Springs). They provided supplies and expert advice but most of the guides didn’t fish with their clients. That’s what happened in the morning at Big Spring Creek but then Ed also fished along with me in the afternoon at Green Spring Creek. That was a good experience.
Stream notes for the day show that Ed gave me an original Shenk White Minnow that he had fished with. He tied it with arctic fox fur. That’s the fly shown on the right side above. I fished with it for a little while too and then put it away for safe keeping. The store bought version is shown on the left side.
I watched Ed fish with a Shenk White Minnow as we walked the creek looking for overhung bushes, a sunken log, undercut banks, or a nice run. He would cast, drop the rod tip, and do a slow finger retrieve with his left hand. There was one BB size split shot right at eye of the hook. He said, “That gets the fly down to the bottom, then you give it some action. Twitch it. Make it move without necessarily bringing it in.” I didn’t fish Green Spring much after that but used what I learned from Ed many times at Big Spring Creek. The go-to flies there were a #8 Shenk White Minnow, a #16 Shenk Cress Bug, and a #14 Letort Cricket.