Falls City – The Anglers of Ohiopyle

The Youghiogheny River is a 135-mile-long tributary of the Monongahela. The river flows through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Steeped in Algonquian history, ‘youghiogheny’ is a Lenape word meaning “contrary stream.” The Yough is the only river in western Maryland that does not flow south into the Potomac River. It instead flows (north-northwest) to enter the Monongahela River near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Situated along the river is a small town called Ohiopyle. The Lenape people named the area after the phrase ahi opihəle, which loosely translates to ‘it turns white,’ likely in reference to Ohiopyle Falls, a 19-foot river wide waterfall. Formerly a logging area, Ohiopyle became a mecca for whitewater rafting in the early 1960s. It was during this time that Lance Martin and his wife Lee opened Wilderness Voyageurs and began commercial rafting trips. In 1964, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy purchased a large portion of the Yough Valley and sold it to the state. Ohiopyle State Park was formed and opened to the public just one year later. The development of the park and the whitewater scene solidified Ohiopyle as a recreation town.

Now, more than 50 years after Ohiopyle became synonymous to whitewater rafting, the town continues to attract adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Stone Road Media set out to tell a story about this special place and the angling opportunities the Youghiogheny River watershed provides. We interviewed three passionate fly anglers. Although the anglers we selected are diverse individuals and fish for different reasons, each has one thing in common: they respect the watershed and recognize the quality of fishing in the area.

Falls City fly fishing ohiopyle dale kotowski

“There’s a really old saying in fishing [that] trout only live in beautiful places and I think that’s true,” says Dale Kotowski, a lifelong angler and fly fishing guide at Wilderness Voyageurs. Kotowski devotes a lot of his time to conservation and is an active member of the Chestnut Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Kotowski has fished around the United States but he admits Ohiopyle is one of his favorite places to wet a line. “There are bigger mountains out west, but our mountains are as beautiful as any of the mountains out there. The park is a unique place. Ohiopyle, size wise, is the biggest park in the state and the lack of development in the area is remarkable, so it’s a very wild place.”

Leann Leiter moved back to Pennsylvania after chasing new opportunities and wild trout in Arizona. She’s an environmental stalwart, an artist, and an angler with a focus on living in the moment while respecting the natural world. “The ideal day of fishing is any day I can get out and on the water… You know, I really romanticize the idea of trout. I can be happy just watching the water and knowing there are fish beneath the surface,” says Leiter. Leiter spends a lot of time blue-lining and traversing small mountain streams in the Laurel Highlands, so she feels at peace exploring the park and the expansive network of Yough tributaries.

“I’ve always been drawn to water. Even when I was a little kid, if I saw water, I was running towards it,” recalls Garret Brain, Content Manager at Stone Road Media. He remembers becoming fixated with trout during a ‘fish for free’ day when his father had taken him and his sister to a local trout stream just outside of Ohiopyle State Park. “I was only 7 or 8 years old and I can still to this day remember wading in the water next to my father as he fished and watching these 2 trout elevated and holding in this run and I can remember thinking how badly I wanted to catch one.” It was at this point an obsession with moving water and trout began. He finds solace and comfort being near the water he grew up fishing. He guided on the Yough for a few years and when speaking to him, it’s apparent just how special the park is to him. “It’s a place to run back to or run to, I should say… to be able to fish and have your place, that’s what it’s about.”

Across the way from Wilderness Voyageurs is a small bar called Falls City Pub and Restaurant. Even in the offseason, you can find a packed house at “The Pub.” Managed and Co-owned by Ohiopyle resident, Brian Galica, The Pub has been a mainstay for locals and visitors alike. For Brian and his close friends, fishing isn’t always about landing fish. “It really doesn’t matter who catches what or where or when it happens, just being out there is enjoyable. We cheer each other on and it’s great,” says Galica. As a business owner, Brian understands the importance of the Youghiogheny River watershed. In the spring and summer months, Ohiopyle comes to life. In some ways, it’s an entirely different place. The population seems to explode and the river becomes colored with kayaks, rafts, and anglers. “The river is the reason we’re here. If it weren’t for [that], this town wouldn’t be what it is… it brings tons of people enjoyment. It’s a destination.”  

Ohiopyle and the Youghiogheny River watershed means a lot of different things for a lot of people. It evokes adventure, beauty, and above all, a sense of community. As the water flows through this small town, it carries with it the true essence of what Ohiopyle is—a wild place which holds within its bounds endless memories to be made and stories to be told. This is Falls City.