On a morning around this time of year 21 years ago, I rounded a corner on Slate Run in Lycoming County and found John W. Mimnall intently casting an artificial fly into the stream.

Mimnall, of Columbia, was 70 years old and had been fishing the native trout stream in Pine Creek Gorge for 40 years.

He wasn't about to miss a week of fishing just because he had bad knees, so he had shelled out $150 to be injected with cortisone shots to ward off, at least temporarily, the arthritis.

I forgot about Mimnall after that until a few weeks ago, when he called me.

Now 91, he quickly brought me up to speed. His 95-year-old wife, Edith Mae, who loved the mountains as much as he did, had just died. His knees are so bad now that he needs a walker, and he had to give up wading in his favorite mountain stream four years ago.

A photo of his last fish, a modest 81-w-inch brown trout from Kettle Creek, is framed in his home, near a photo of Mimnall as a beaming 10-year-old clutching a football as mascot of the 1929 First Shawnee Fire Co. football team.

But you can't take fly-fishing out of the man, and he tells me he has been instructing his part-time helper - a woman from Texas used to throwing big lures at largemouth bass - in the fine art of luring fish with wispy flies.

Now, Mimnall has decided that Johanna Erisman, a woman with 12 siblings, is ready for real action. Where was that fish-hatchery place in Lebanon County where you can catch your meal? he wanted to know.

"Limestone Springs Preserve in Myerstown, and why don't I take you?" I suggest.

We meet at Mimnall's Ironville Pike rancher that he built himself in 1956. A carpenter by trade, for many years Mimnall headed the maintenance department in Columbia School District.

He regales me with stories, like the time porcupines at his camp ate through the brake lining of his car and he careened down Slate Run Road with only his hand brake on.

About huckleberry pies that Edith made out of his berry pickings.

About manning a searchlight in World War II from a tower along the Atlantic Ocean, sending light beams in the direction of mysterious sounds that just might be a German sub.

But mostly we talk about our love for the mountains and fly-fishing.

Mimnall tied all his own flies. He favored the Royal Coachman and Adams, dry flies that if placed right might get a wild trout to rise clear out of the water, its belly glistening and colors resplendent in the mountain air.

When Mimnall's son, John Jr., was 8, he was taken to Slate Run, handed a fly rod and told, "There you are. Fish."

John Jr. didn't catch a trout until four years later. It was on Slate Run, of course, and his dad was around the corner.

"I was so happy I grabbed ahold of it and ran up the creek to show him," John Jr. recalled.

He's now so addicted to fly-fishing for trout that he lives only a long double-haul cast from Clark's Creek, a premier catch-and-release stream in Dauphin County.

In 1991, father and son bought their own camp along Slate Run, Uncle John's Cabin. Both continue to make pilgrimages to the coolness of the mountains and to a place that seems to never change, even if they do.


We are at the fishing preserve now. Erisman is nervous under the glare of Mimnall, who is sitting in the shade on his walker, saying nothing.

She begins casting. She's letting her elbow drift too far back and, like most beginners, she's muscling the fly rod more than needed.

But she's getting better.

"You'll need Bengay on that arm tomorrow," Mimnall laughs.

The owner comes by and tells us about a couple holes in the creek nearby where the trout are stacked.

We hustle over, and Erisman begins casting. With each drift I see her line jerk, but when she sets the hook there is no fish. Only when we get back to the car to leave do we see that the hook's point and barb had broken off.

Days later, Mimnall is on the phone, and he tells me that Erisman, on her own, had driven back to Limestone Springs and caught a 141-w-inch rainbow and several others. She called him to ask how to fry the fish.

The master is pleased. "She's hooked on it now," he says.