Yo! You Gotta Love Scranton
Two-foot trout proves elusive but Scranton hooks fisherman
RICHARD G. MALLOY, S.J. (GUEST COLUMNIST) Published: December 22, 2011
When I was in the first grade, the nuns must have been pulling their hair out under their habits trying to figure out how to keep classes of 65 to 100 baby boomers occupied during the days before Christmas. So they sent Liz Betzler and me around to all the grades to sing "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth." I am sure we were adorable, both of us missing the requisite incisors.
Liz went on to become an actress. I became a Jesuit, lucky enough to land in Scranton.
In September 2010, I arrived at the University of Scranton after spending more than two decades south of the Electric City, living and working at Holy Name Parish in Camden, N.J., and teaching at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Whenever I could get a day or two away, I'd boogie up the turnpike's Northeast Extension and fish at Chapman Lake. Surprisingly, the Jesuits at the university, like Fr. Ron McKinney, S.J., who seem to know everything, never told me about Scranton's best-kept secret: the huge brown trout in the Lackawana River.
This past year, I have wandered this brawny, blustery brute of a river, battling brush and slipping on stones. From the urban fishing areas behind the ballfield in South Side and the weeds below Redner's, to the beauty of Archbald and above, I kept trying to find these tremendous trout that local fishermen kept telling me were in the lovely Lackawana. Yet, besides a few, fat, foot-long trout, I wasn't having any real luck. The trout proved largely exotic, elegant and elusive.
Summer and fall this year saw the river unusually high, too rough to fish. I was frustrated. Trophy trout live less than a mile from where I sleep and I wasn't catching any of them.
Then my luck turned, along with the weather over Thanksgiving. Fifty, even 60-degree days. Beautiful blue skies. Pleasant light breezes. Last year I drove to Philly in a snowstorm on Thanksgiving. This year I hit Scranton's stream over Thanksgiving weekend.
Friday I got a couple. Saturday and Sunday, a few more. Of course none of my skeptical Jesuit brothers believed without photo evidence. (They forget Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.") I produced the photo proof of a beauty that was caught .. well, I'd tell you where, but then I'd have to swear you to secrecy. [See photo above of the 16" brown trout next to my Scranton baseball cap].
It seems I keep finding more secrets of this magic town. The people are friendly. You can find a parking spot (try doing that in Philly). You've got Gertrude Hawk chocolate, fireworks and lights on Courthouse Square, a revitalized downtown, great food from Italian to Thai, a bishop who can mesmerize a high school audience with his preaching, great basketball, fantastic parks 20 minutes in any direction, wonderful music, great small towns up and down the valley. Coney Island hot dogs and Catalano's hoagies. Cosmo's even grills up a cheesesteak as good as you get in Philly.
For a 6 a.m. flight, I leave the university at 5, get there, park in seconds, just a few minutes to get through security, and I'm at the gate at 5:30. And the TSA people at the airport are kind and helpful. And, I haven't even really gotten to know Wilkes-Barre yet.
Last week I had to drive to Washington, D.C. The traffic, the congestion, the noise. I wanted to come home to Scranton. Who needs a big city when all you could want is here? The Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre area's population is 563,641, but you can drive without fear of losing life and limb. With all these folks, it's amazing there aren't more people who know of the many attractions of this area.
Look, no one has told the fishermen in New York or Philly there are big trout in the river. Don't let them know. More fish for us. The last time Jesus was here he appeared to a bunch of guys on a fishing trip. John: 21; you can look it up. When I'm out fishing, I'm just looking for Jesus and that miracle 24-inch trout. That's all I want for Christmas.