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The Letort: A Limestone Legacy

Yesterday afternoon, I scampered through four inches of New Hampshire snow to my mailbox. Upon seeing the media mail envelope, I knew that the book had come.

Back in August, Mike Klimkos, friend and editor of the Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide, asked if I could share a few thoughts on the Letort Spring Run. Initially the plan was to include some angler testimonials for a fundraiser that the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy was holding in October. The goal was to secure donations in order to purchase a 30-acre tract at the Letort’s headwaters. Upon receiving voluminous testimonials and acquiring other significant content, the plan changed to publishing a book celebrating the Letort. The Letort: A Limestone Legacy is the result of that work, and it is a joy.

The Letort (pronounced a number of ways: which one is correct, I’ll touch on later) is a historically significant spring creek located in South Central Pennsylvania. Spring creeks, alternately referred to as limestone or chalk streams, are nutrient rich ecosystems that often provide excellent trout habitat. The consistent, cool flows and alkalinity allow for remarkably robust vegetation, insects, and fish populations in relatively diminutive creeks. The flipside of this small stream blessing is the curse of greater susceptibility to pollution and other negative influences.

The Letort has suffered its fair share of abuse. Overfishing, channelization, runoff, chemical spills of every kind, and general encroachment from development have taken their toll on a short nine miles of water. But the stream, it’s trout, and the fly fishers that pursue them, still carry on. The book covers all of that in a much more authoritative and eloquent way than I can.

Where The Letort: A Limestone Legacy really succeeds is in communicating the personal impact that this little spring creek has had on some of the most noteworthy fly anglers of the 20th century. (Albeit with me inexplicably sandwiched between Lefty Kreh, Ed Shenk, and others.) A repeated sentiment among those who came to the stream in the last half century is the sense of being somewhere special, almost transcendent in the context of fly fishing. There are few examples of streams so small and yet so famous. The anecdotes and other reflections demonstrate why the Letort has earned its accolades, and also our support in ensuring its protection.

A healthy, rising brown from the Letort's headwaters.
A healthy, rising brown from the Letort’s headwaters.

Again, the whole point behind the book is raising awareness for the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy’s efforts to purchase the land that surrounds the east branch of the Letort’s headwaters. Over the past few decades, Cumberland Valley Trout Unlimited and the Letort Regional Authority have acquired streamside properties to better steward the resource. The ecological importance of any stream’s headwaters cannot be overstated, and this fact is amplified for the small spring creek.

A common critique of the Letort, even by those fond of the stream, is that it is not that great of an angling option any more. Yes, there are less fish and fewer insects than when Vincent Marinaro was studying and photographing the creek for national publications and his seminal books. Truthfully, that assessment could be made against any number of other famous rivers across the country. That is by no means a reason to turn your back on a stream, for either conservation or fishing.

The Letort still contains large brown trout, many of which are willing to rise to dry flies. And all of this within a walk of downtown Carlisle. Undertakings like this current land acquisition will not only preserve the legacy of the Letort, but also allow for the spring creek to improve and thrive under greater awareness and protection. Our children and grandchildren will have opportunities to fish to wary brown trout in places that were either considered worthless or off limits to us. This is a special stream to me, and I’ve only scratched the surface on why in this piece and in what I wrote for the book. From what I know, and from what was written by my fly fishing brethren in A Limestone Legacy, there is a lot more than selective trout, a historic locale, and a robust community that make the Letort worth the investment.

I’d be remiss to not echo what I wrote for the book regarding the proper pronunciation of the limestone creek’s name. When James Letort built his home and business up at Bonny Brook over two centuries ago, I doubt that the Frenchman introduced himself as Mr. “LEE tort.” I rest my case. That being said, the semantic peculiarities of Pennsylvania do allow for a wide berth of local, acceptable grammar, enunciation, and whatever else y’ins might think of.


For your copy of The Letort: A Limestone Legacy, or to support the plan to acquire the land surrounding the east branch headwaters, head to the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy’s project page.


One comment

  1. Rendie Letort says:

    Hello… My name is Rendie Letort. I am currently researching as much as I can about the “Letort’s” and I’m looking for any information possibly obtainable about my family/ancestors. The few Letort’s in my area know little about our travels and establishments over the years. Anything you can offer me would be more than I have. Thanks for writing this awesome article and yes, we pronounce our name “LEE-tort”

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