Fly fisherman has trotted around the globe, but always returns to PA

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoors Columnist

Ross Purnell has fished around the globe, creating videos in Mongolia, Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest, but he has a special love for the place he calls home: Pennsylvania.

“I’ve been here over 20 years, and honestly it took me a while to sort of fall in love with the area," said Purnell, 56, of Palmyra. He's the publisher and editor of Fly Fisherman magazine in Harrisburg, moving here in 2001 from Colorado.

"It was hard leaving the Rockies. Year by year, bit by bit I’ve found a lot of pretty special places," he said.

Ross Purnell holds a smallmouth bass he caught fly fishing.

To showcase what Pennsylvania anglers have in their backyards, he organized a six-day fishing trip on the Susquehanna River with a video crew. He took along fellow outdoorsman Josh Burnham of Utah, who is married to Purnell’s niece.

“I wanted to show off what fishing is like in Pennsylvania and thought it would be cool to have someone from the Rockies to sort of experience what we've got here,” he said.

The end result is a YouTube video entitled “Over the Guardrail” that was released in January.

“We released it in the coldest weather month of the year so people remember what summertime is like,” he said with a laugh.

In the production, they fished on the Susquehanna and Juniata rivers near Purnell’s home. They didn't go far but had some late night, including scenic sunsets and memorable views in the Dauphin Narrows and Statue of Liberty near Harrisburg.

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Ross Purnell, left, and Josh Burnham fly fish on the Susquehanna River. Early morning and sunsets lead to great memories on the waters of Pennsylvania.

The video shows the variety of trout and smallmouth bass that await those looking to venture out on the wide stream.

They floated on a two-person raft that allowed them to access some shallow waters and squeeze through the narrow rapid passages. “Find your own little piece of paradise that no one else can get to,” he said.

In addition to creating awareness of the fishing in Pennsylvania and the mental benefits of being in the outdoors, the video was also used in a fundraiser Jan. 21 for the Doc Fritchey Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Dauphin and Lebanon.

Purnell had a premiere showing of the video at Troegs Brewing in Hershey with about 120 people in attendance. The event raised $9,400. “It was fitting to give back to them because they are the stewards and keepers of the trout waters in this area,” he said about the TU volunteers.

“The goal now that the free video is out there is to motivate people to get out there and get fishing. We want to use the movie to inspire people to pick up a fly rod and go fishing,” he said.

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Ross Purnell, left, and Josh Burnham fly fish from a raft on the Susquehanna River.

Why fly fish?

“One of the beautiful things about fly fishing is the casting and the way the line unrolls from your rod,” Purnell said.

Fly fishing is good for everyone including those who have little patience.

“You’re actively involved in the casting all the time and that line unrolling behind you and in front of you can be hypnotic and mesmerizing. You’re always focused on it, always concentrating on it, always working on it. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s so healing," he said. “It captures your mind, it captures your attention more fully than anything I’ve ever been involved with.”

He also believes spending time along a stream is good for the mind and soul.

“I think it’s a really healing distraction,” he said for those dealing with mental challenges such as anxiety and depression. “I think when you can spend time on a river, not just fly fishing but time on a river fishing and concentrating on things that are not your financial worries or the trauma you experienced as a child or the death of someone in your family, instead you’re focused on the beauty of nature and enjoying a day in the sunshine with a good friend. All of those things are beneficial and uplifting and really stop the suffering.”

The fresh air and water have a way of recharging a person’s energy.

“If you have a day when you can get out on a river, try to catch a few fish, do a rope swing, or jump off a rock, you’re living life. It’s something to be celebrated.”

Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him atbwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on this website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on Facebook@whipkeyoutdoors.