Posted in Fishing Youth Education

Students Exploring the Outdoors

As impossible as it might seem, every student who participated in the Trout Unlimited first, annual “Students Exploring the Outdoors with TU” event caught at least one trout…and some caught many more.  This was a partnership effort developed by the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited (TU), Ligonier Valley School District, the PA Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and local landowners.  The intent was to introduce 5th graders to the sport of fishing and use the school sanctioned field trip to teach a little about stream ecology, water safety, trout bugs and becoming responsible environmental stewards.

The event was held April 18 and 19 on a trout stream near Ligonier where property owners and neighbors had remediated a section of stream specifically for youth anglers.  The neighbors sponsor a youth event each year on the traditional first day of trout season, but this event went above and beyond.  Each day, forty students from Ligonier Valley elementary schools were bussed to the site and divided into groups of five to seven students, then rotated every half hour through six learning stations.  The stations, managed by TU volunteers and partners taught casting, stream ecology and macroinvertebrates, water safety, fly tying, the value of riparian buffers, and of course…trout fishing.  

In preparation for the event, the PFBC stocked the stream and TU purchased another delivery of trout from a local hatchery in an effort to up the odds for the students to catch fish.  “That might not be how it works in nature”, noted Angie Schultheis, Education Committee Chair and event organizer for TU.  “But in order to get the students “hooked” on the sport, they needed to ensure a “fish-on” experience for each student.”  Mission accomplished!

It was rewarding for the volunteers to see the excitement of the young anglers landing, what in many cases, was their first fish ever.  Mr. Ryan Podlucky, Health and Physical Education Teacher at Ligonier Valley Middle School, and coordinator for this event, arranged for ten students from the District’s Life Skills program to participate in the fishing also.  They had first shot at the trout on the second morning.  Those students all enjoyed a memorable experience catching trout, and releasing them unharmed.

Mr. Podlucky provided eight Junior Mentors each day from his school to assist the younger students.  The Junior Mentors had just completed a winter-long program with TU and were anxious to demonstrate their newly developed skills to the fifth-graders.  In just three months of working with TU in the classroom and on the stream, the students grew from being learners, to being instructors.  Being close in age, the Junior Mentors and new learners worked well together. 

Local Waterways Conservation Officers, a Game Warden and adult TU mentors worked alongside the Junior Mentors to help the 5th graders read the stream, cast to likely hiding places, set the hook, then net the fish and safely release it.  Students took a break at noon to enjoy a bag lunch provided by the school district.  TU cooks provided a grilled lunch for the volunteers as they caught their breath for the afternoon session.  Over twenty volunteers and teachers worked like a well-oiled-machine to provide the students with a rewarding outdoor education and memorable experiences.


Posted in Fishing Loyalhanna Creek Youth Education

Ligonier Valley Students Celebrate Spring with Fly Fishing

Youth Photo 3
LVMS students ready to hit the stream.
Youth Photo 7
Mr. Podlucky assists Bella Butler with biggest caught fish of the day!

Fourteen students from the Ligonier Valley Middle School demonstrated their fly-fishing skills on Loyalhanna Creek on Wednesday, April 10, as part of a school sanctioned field trip.  The students had just completed a six-session program from January through March learning the importance of coldwater conservation and how to tie flies and cast using a fly rod.  This program, originating with the school’s Outdoor Club many years ago, is an effort by the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited to share with the next generation their passion for fly-fishing.  But more importantly, it’s an effort to teach the students the importance of protecting our trout streams and the coldwater fisheries.

The “final exam” was putting into practice all the skills the students learned during the course from selecting the correct fly pattern, experimenting with casting techniques, mending their lines, and learning how to “read a stream”.  A few of the students had some previous fishing experience with family members while others were quite new to the sport.  While many of the students caught fish, what impressed the TU mentors the most was their perseverance and attention to detail.  

When it was time to get back on the bus, a couple of the students almost had to be threatened with detention to get them to leave the stream.  Haley Robertson had snagged her trout fly on a rock and broken it off.  While still standing in the stream, she demanded another rod with a fly already tied on it, then proceeded to catch one last trout.  And Haley may have claimed the titled for most fish “caught”…by her definition! 

As a means of explanation, the mentors also taught the students some of the finer points of the sport of fly-fishing, such as terminology.  For example, when an angler hooks a fish and fights it for 5 seconds or longer before it breaks off, that is considered a “Long Distance Release”, or LDR and counts toward the daily catch total!  In essence it’s a modified version of “catch and release” that TU promotes.  The students seemed to grasped that quickly!  Fishing is sometimes as much about story-telling as it is a sport itself! 

Mr. Ryan Podlucky, Health and Physical Education Teacher and Advisor for this program did his share of tutoring and netting fish.  After demonstrating to students how to catch a trout himself, he proceeded to help a couple of students who weren’t having as much luck.  In his words, “Today’s trip, although probably the most memorable for my students, was probably about 5% of the time that Forbes Trail TU had dedicated this year to my students.  This organization and volunteers pour their time and energy into their passion.  It is really great to see my kids outside of the normal classroom walls learning and having experiences they normally wouldn’t be able to have.  LVSD really appreciates the efforts of FTTU.”

Youth Photo 8
Rocco Harris with first trout of the day.
Youth Photo 6
Mentor Milt Claney helping Carter Bizup rig his fly rod.
Youth Photo 4
Mentor Angie Schultheis guides Parker Smith to waiting trout.
Youth Photo 2
Haley Robertson - Sometimes we catch more than fish!
Youth Photo 1
Mentor Ron Rodgers assists Cooper Hegan land his first trout of the morning.
Youth Photo 5
Mentor Larry Myers helps Alyssa Queer read the stream.
Posted in Youth Education

Happy Trails, Joe Bilotta!

Joe Accepts Gifts From Students
Joe accepts gifts from Ligonier Valley Middle School students Haley Robertson and Karson White

Friends and FTTUers bid a fond farewell to FTTU Education Chair Joe Bilotta at a dinner at the Tin Lizzy in Youngstown March 20. Joe and his wife are building and moving to a new home in Annville, PA. Upon retirement, Joe wasted no time in getting involved with FTTU and took over the Education Committee duties a few years ago. Filling the big shoes of Drew Banas, Joe hit the ground running and did an outstanding job that would make Drew proud. From classroom lessons to on-stream events, Joe scheduled activities, coordinated with the schools and made sure there were adequate volunteers, supplies and equipment on hand.

As a testament to Joe’s good work, word has gotten out and requests for FTTU educational programs keep coming in.

Fortunately, veteran FTTU volunteer and Chair of our Women’s and Diversity committee, Angela Schultheis has agreed to take over the Education job as well.

Good luck Joe, we’ll miss you!

Posted in Youth Education

Trout Unlimited Assists Local Youth with 4-H Project

Luke instructing how to tie a half-hitch knot to secure a fly pattern
TU instructor Scott Minster teaching students how to use an ID chart to identify macroinvertebrates
TU instructor Milt Claney teaching students the sequential steps for tying a “Green Weenie” pattern
TU instructor Rod Cross demonstrating a back cast before each student practiced with a rod

Luke Sanner, a dual-enrolled junior, and the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited celebrated Earth Day working on Luke’s 4-H project.  Luke completed the requirements for his Diamond 4-H project with a hands-on education program at Rotary Park in Latrobe.  The program included an introduction for other 4-H members to stream ecology, macroinvertebrate (trout bugs) identification, fly tying and casting.  Luke, along with eight instructors from Forbes Trail taught the various activities.  As part of the Earth Day program, TU volunteers picked up litter along Loyalhana Creek earlier in the week when the weather was more cooperative.   

The macroinvertebrates were collected in nets in the adjacent Nine Mile Run and included mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, crayfish, beetles, cranefly larva and dragonfly nymphs.  The students, using ID charts, identified each of the critters before releasing them unharmed back into the stream.  The students also learned about the value of riparian buffers to protect the stream from runoff of pollutants such as fertilizers from the golf course and the value of tall trees to provide shade to keep the water cool.  

One of the 4-H students whose family operates a farm, explained how they follow Best Management Practices to protect their pond and stream.  By allowing high grasses and brush to grow along the pond and stream banks, they prevent runoff of cow manure.  And fences along the stream prevent the cattle from causing bank erosion.

TU mentors explained how the fly patterns they were learning to tie were to imitate some of the trout bugs they caught in the stream.   Luke demonstrated tying a slightly more complex pattern and presented each of the students with a plastic fly box to store their tied flies.  The students also got to try casting a fly rod, which was a little challenging fighting rain showers and heavy winds.

Luke and his family are members of Trout Unlimited and have supported many of TU’s activities and functions.  Forbes Trail sponsored Luke at the Rivers Conservation and Fly-Fishing Youth Camp at Messiah College in June of 2022.  Luke’s interest in stream ecology and macroinvertebrates sparked when assisting Forbes Trail with the study of Linn Run in 2021 to develop a Coldwater Conservation Plan for the stream.  The Chapter considers Luke one of their rising stars who will one day lead the organization and help protect our trout streams.  Congratulations Luke on your many achievements! 

Posted in Events Youth Education

FTTU Assists with 2023 Envirothon

Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited was invited to participate in this year’s Westmoreland County Envirothon at Twin Lakes Park in Hempfield Township.  Westmoreland Conservation District organizes the annual event and seeks local businesses to help sponsor it.  One hundred and twenty-five students were tested on their knowledge of Current Issues, Aquatics, Forestry, Wildlife and Soils.  Trout Unlimited provided a separate station where students learned to cast a fly rod and tie a trout bug pattern called a Green Weenie, designed by a former Forbes Trail tying instructor Ken Igo.  

Groups of 20-25 students spent 30 minutes at each of the stations being tested on what they’ve learned in each of the subjects.  Some school districts provided up to three teams.  Each team consisted of five students who would collaborate on the tests.  TU teaches coldwater conservation, fly tying and fly casting in schools, to scout groups and to adults on a regular basis.  They even take classes of students on local fly fishing field trips.  

The Envirothon is quite different.  It’s like speed dating where instructors have just 30 minutes to teach a very concentrated lesson on either tying or casting.  A group of ten students would sit at a table with a vice, tools and materials and follow along as an instructor explained the tying process step-by-step.  Most of the students produced a final product that any trout would chase.

Another group of ten would watch a casting demonstration by experienced castors, then grab a fly rod and try to emulate the instructors.  The students were taught the “back cast” and “roll cast”, the two most common casts used on trout streams.  Students eventually learned the hand placement on the rod, line control and the arm rhythm to where they could hit their target…most of the time.  For many of the students, this was their first exposure to fly tying and casting, which was TU’s intent…plant a seed and watch it grow.

Instructors Milt Claney and Joe Bilotta teach how to tie the Green Weenie.
Casting instructors Jim Litrun and Ron Rodgers explain the techniques of the back cast.
Posted in Fishing Youth Education

LVMS Outdoor Club Completes Successful Fly Fishing Program

FTTU volunteer John Albright approves of this Outdoor Club member's job of landing this nice sized rainbow on Loyalhanna Creek.

The Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited worked with fifteen students over the winter and spring to teach coldwater conservation, fly tying, rod rigging, casting and fly fishing.  They wrapped it all together nicely during a field trip on Thursday, April 13.  The day for them began with a presentation by the local PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC), Waterways Conservation Officer, Matt Kauffman explaining how the PFBC supports the sport of fishing and a summary of the relevant regulations.

Immediately that session, Josh Penatzer, Project Manager for the Loyalhanna Watershed Association, demonstrated electrofishing to the students.  The students donned waders, and some carried buckets and nets, as they followed Josh around Mill Creek collecting fish and macroinvertebrates.  Once collected, Josh identified the species and explained their value in the stream before each critter was released unharmed.  This is a component of the coldwater conservation program being taught to the Outdoor Club each year…learning about stream ecology and the value of each component.

After a bag lunch, the students grabbed their waders and fishing gear to put all they had learned into practice on the Delayed Harvest Articicial Lures Only section of the Loyalhanna Creek, just downstream of the Rt. 711 bridge.  The students had obviously paid close attention during their Club classes because their efforts were rewarded with several trout and even more shouts of “fish on”!

Mr. Ryan Podlucky, Health and Physical Education Teacher and Outdoors Club Advisor for LVMS had this to say following the event…”I just wanted to thank you so much for a great day.  I know many of those kids said yesterday was the best day of school they ever had.  The boys were in the locker room talking to me before dismissal and they said they really felt like they actually learned something they can use.  It was a pretty powerful discussion.  That wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for you guys.  I really appreciate everything you do for us.”

Eight mentors from Forbes Trail assisted with the event on Thursday although approximately fifteen total helped with classes throughout the semester.  The students enjoyed practicing what they had been learning, and the mentors enjoyed the opportunity to share their skills and experience.  Forbes Trail works with several schools, scouts and youth group to help groom coldwater conservationists, and teach their rewarding sport of fly fishing.  The mentors work hard to protect trout fisheries and keep their fly fishing tradition alive.  And this group of LVMS students have certainly made their time and efforts worthwhile!  Kudos to all the Outdoor Club students!

One of the students caught this nice rainbow.
Another one of the kids with a large rainbow caught on the Loyalhanna.
Josh Penatzer leads the group in an electrofishing study of Mill Creek.
WCOs look on as the students study a fish caught in the electrofishing survey.
Mentor and Student
FTTU President Larry Myers mentors one of the students.
Student and Mentor
FTTU's Milt Claney helps a student with his casting.
Posted in Fly Tying Youth Education

LVMS Students Learn About Cold Water Conservation and Fly Fishing.

Fly Tying
TU instructor Rod Cross showing leaner Ethan Friscarella how to tie a Mop Fly.
Macro Instruction
TU instructor Monty Murty using a Power Point presentation to explain the life cycle of macroinvertebrates.

Twelve students from Ligonier Valley Middle School’s Outdoor Club participated in a winter program to learn about stream conservation and fly tying.  This is a program to teach the importance of protecting our coldwater fisheries and to train them to be environmental stewards.  

The Outdoor Club meets every other Thursday indoors for five events.  The learners will test their skills fishing for trout in April, the final class.  The program is conducted by the Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited.  

“The Forbes Trail Trout Unlimited Chapter mentors do an amazing job teaching our learners about the importance of coldwater fisheries, and introducing them to fly fishing”, noted Ryan Podlucky, Health and Physical Education Teacher and Outdoors Club Advisor.  

Each session begins with a video presentation about trout streams, the importance of clean water for trout, and a lesson on a particular macroinvertebrate…or trout bug.  The learners then tie that particular fly pattern to make it look like the real deal.  During their field day, they’ll use their hand-tied flies to try to fool trout in Loyalhanna Creek.  

The patterns include trout egg imitations, bait fish, leeches, insect larva and adult trout bugs.  The learners will practice casting, reading the stream, making a near-natural presentation and, how to release trout unharmed.  TU teaches the value of using barbless hooks as well as the practice of catch-and-release.  

“It’s a great hands-on learning experience for the students” notes TU class instructor Joe Bilotta. “And it’s one more opportunity for Trout Unlimited to instill our values in our next generation of coldwater conservationists.” TU wants to introduce young learners to fly fishing as an outdoor activity they can enjoy with friends, or by themselves. 

Fly fishing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and take a break from studying, work, competitive sports and trying to keep up on social media.  The more, young learners TU can recruit, the more ambassadors we’ll have to help protect our precious natural resources. 

Posted in Youth Education

Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp Accepting Applications

Rivers Conservation Camp Logo

The Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp is accepting applications through February 28, 2023.

The camp runs from June 18th to the 23rd and is held at Messiah University in Grantham, PA (this is near Yellow Breeches Creek in Cumberland County). The camp is open to boys and girls aged 14-17.

FTTU will consider sponsoring at least one student from our local area to attend the camp this year.

For more info, visit the camp website

If you know of someone who would like to attend, contact us at

Posted in Youth Education

Latrobe HS Seniors Learn the Art of Fly Casting

Casting Instructor
TU instructor Rod Cross explains the mechanics and physics associated with casting

It’s a little hard to think about fly fishing with the temperature hovering around freezing and snow starting to cover the ground.  But that didn’t stop nearly two dozen seniors at Greater Latrobe High School from honing their casting skills in the auditorium.  Warmer days will soon arrive and some of the students will head to the trout streams.  

The Forbes Trail Trout Unlimited Chapter (TU) was invited into the Greater Latrobe High School by Biology instructor Mr. Patrick Roberts to participate in a seminar.  He asked if TU could assist with his Capstone Project for seniors, on track for further study in the biology and natural resource conservation sciences.  TU provided a two-day program where the first day was fresh water conservation instruction, taught by Monty Murty.  The second day was fly casting instruction led by Rod Cross, with assistance from TU members: Ron Miller, John Albright, Monty Murty, Milt Claney, Ron Rodgers, Angela Schultheis, Bill Somogyi and Joe Bilotta.  

“Today we assisted Mr. Roberts with his Capstone Project teaching his students about fresh water conservation and fly casting”, noted TU instructor Joe Bilotta.  “The school is surrounded by premier trout streams that need ambassadors like these students to help protect them.  I have no doubt these bright seniors of Greater Latrobe High School will go on to be our next generation of conservation leaders”.

Twenty-three seniors now have a better understanding of fresh water conservation, trout, their ecosystem, and catch and release fly fishing, all thanks to the coordination of Mr Roberts and the educational volunteers of TU.  While teaching the fine art of fly casting, the instructors took time to share with the students the importance of stream etiquette, use of barbless hooks to minimize injury to the trout, and the practice of catch and release, especially with wild trout.  Trout can be caught an unlimited number of times if handled properly.  But they can only be eaten once.  They are too precious of a natural resource to enjoy just one time.

Whether or not these students pursue a career in biology, or some closely related field, they can also be part of the effort to protect our clean waters and fisheries.  As volunteers they can offer their time and talents to assist with stream cleanups, building riparian buffers along streams to restrict runoff of pollutants, or participating in stream remediation projects.  This Capstone Project helps them appreciate that it takes government agencies, businesses and nonprofit organizations like TU to protect our streams.  These students are learning that throughout their lives, they will wear many hats in addition to what they do for their livelihood.  We can all be good environmental stewards.  These students are our future.

Girls Casting
TU instructor Angie Schultheis explains the technique of the back cast (L-R) Josie Marts, Ryleigh Repko, Brynna King, and Sydney DeGram
Boys Casting
Students line up to practice casting to targets (L-R) Koen Fulton, Nolan Brahosky, Rocco Marino, and Owen Ortiz
Posted in Youth Education

Young Ecologist Graduates Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp

Luke Sanner from New Stanton was one of 24 candidates selected for a one-week program, June 19-24, to learn coldwater conservation and fly fishing at Messiah University in Grantham, PA. Course studies included hydrology, geology, stream entomology and collection and identification of macroinvertebrates, aka…trout bugs. The in-classroom studies were completed on campus in Clark Hall. The fly fishing, stream ecology classes and stream remediation project were accomplished on the nearby famous Yellow Breeches Creek.
Luke, a member of Forbes Trail Chapter of Trout Unlimited, is also an active 4-H member. Luke has volunteered his services to assist the Chapter in their development of a Coldwater Conservation Plan for Linn Run and with other TU activities and events. Luke made a PowerPoint presentation about his camp experience at the Chapter’s Annual Membership meeting on October 5. The Chapter has sponsored several campers over the years. This is one way that Trout Unlimited can help recruit and groom future coldwater conservationists to protect our streams and fisheries. We congratulate Luke on his completion of the program!

Rod Cross and Luke
Rod Cross, Camp instructor and FTTU Director, introduces Luke at the Annual Membership Meeting
Funny Story
While most of the training was very intense, Luke shares a funny story from the camp
Luke said the macroinvertebrate collection and identification was one of his favorite subjects