Pioneer Joseph Addison established a farm on the banks of Choconut Creek in 1811. Back then it is said that Mr. Addison could shoot deer from the porch of his farmhouse to provide meat for his family and the trout were so plentiful in the creek that he could wade in and catch them with his bare hands.
Historic Addison House stands proud with years, now a restored bed and breakfast inn, and Choconut Creek still flows the same 40 circuitous miles through hemlock-wooded gorges, valleys thick with hardwoods and across farmland that has been tilled for nearly two centuries. The creek passes by modern-day Vestal, once the site of Iroquoian longhouses, on its destination to the Susquehanna River.
The unusual name of the creek is of Native American Indian origin; “Choconut” is a corruption of the Nanticoke word “tschochnot” meaning “place of tamaracks”. A second interpretation is derived from the word “chugnut” which was the name of a small Indian tribe living under the protection of the Iroquois. The “chugnut” established villages on opposite sides of the Susquehanna River at the mouths of Choconut Creek and its northern sister-stream, Nanticoke Creek. The Continental Army made it their mission to destroy these settlements since the Iroquios supported the British during the Revolutionary War, and this paved the way for the first European settlers, who came by way of New York and Connecticut in 1806 and built homes along the Choconut. One among those new arrivals described this area of Pennsylvania as follows:
“The country is, as respects the surface, what is generally called a ridgy or rolling surface – very few of the hills too steep for cultivation, and their summits equally fertile with any other part. In the hollows or valleys there are delightful clear streams, a proportion of which are large enough for any kind of water-works, and they abound with trout and other kinds of fish. I think it is the best watered country in my knowledge.”
In some ways, the area surrounding Choconut Creek has not changed much since the pioneer days. There are still plenty of deer, bear, turkey, and even a few bobcat roaming the rural hills and valleys. Coyote have taken the place of wolves, one of which treed a neighbor of Joseph Addison. But it’s the creek that’s of interest here, and my research shows it may not be quite what it was when old Joe Addison waded its spring-fed waters.
The stream is classified as a warm water fishery by the Soil and Water Commission, but the commission also reported in 2001 that native populations of Brook and Brown trout can be seen in the Choconut Creek and many of its tributaries. Indeed, some earlier posts in this blog prove that brookies are resident in at least one of the creek’s tributaries.
Flyfishers are aware that mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies are indicators of good water quality. At several creekside stops on a recent fall outing, caddis could be seen in abundance along with a few mayflies. Their presence on the Choconut is encouraging…
Also encouraging was stream structure – from pools with some depth…
to well-shaded runs…
and long pools with nice flows.
But noticeably missing in all the places I checked were trout. As much as I looked, with polarized sunglasses I might add, I could not find a one. Could old Joe’s accounts of brook trout heaven in his backyard be accurate? The landscape has not changed much from the days of old, or has it?
After much thought and more research on the matter, I contend that Joseph Addison was, in fact, not sipping whiskey when he made his claims of a creek stacked with brook trout. When he first settled his piece of heaven, every inch of the hills and valleys were dense with hardwood and fir. The hemlock shaded the ground, preserving the snow pack deep into late spring, and kept groundwater and the flows of the brooks and creeks cool during the heat of the summer.
The history of the Catskills is testament to the deforestation that changed that region from a haven for brook trout, to a fishery for brown and rainbow trout – “invasive” species if I dare say so. In this historic mountain forestland, hemlocks 4 feet in diameter were once commonplace in what can best be described as an ancient climax forest, deep in duff with topsoil intact, covering the mountains like a huge sponge that retained cool water and absorbed the shock of heavy rains. The white pines were claimed first for ship’s masts in the early colonial days and then the great hemlocks were felled and bark-stripped to feed the leather-tanning industry. By the 1880’s, the effect was a bare mountainous landscape covered only in scrap, slashing, and broken trees.
As the Catskills went, so, most likely, did the Choconut Valley. Just north of the place were leather tanning factories that fed a burgeoning shoe industry in Endicott, NY. And beyond that, the farms blossomed to feed a growing America.
While the upper stretches of Choconut Creek may hold a few brookies or browns – and even a few small creek trophies that have the place all to themselves – the creek is indeed a shadow of the fishery it once was in the days of “old Joe”. The best measure of what it could be can be found just up the road in Jones Park. There, as previously posted, the hemlocks and hardwoods have been left alone to do their job. The result, in mere puddles in the fall, is clear to anyone who wants to look. At least there, Joseph Addison’s claim lives on…