I have had the chance to interview several Penn State University anglers here on Dock Talk 365. While there is just a “tiny” rivalry between the two schools, especially when it comes to football, they are both excellent academic institutions that prepare students through quality education.
I knew about the angling opportunities at Penn State but hadn’t heard anything about the fishing activity at Pitt. That was until I found Brien Hansen. Brien started fishing at Pitt his sophomore year of school. In this interview, he shares with us why students at Pitt can enjoy not only a great education but fantastic fishing as well.
What went into your decision to go to Pitt?
I’m from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, so the eastern side of the state. I actually went to Pitt because I didn’t get into a pharmacy program up in Boston but ended up switching majors to engineering once I got to Pittsburgh. At that time I wasn’t nearly into fishing as much as I am now. So my school choice was based on programs rather than fishing opportunities.
What has been your educational experience like at Pitt?
Since I switched from pharmacy, I still have one more semester left at Pitt for my mechanical engineering degree. Going to school in Pittsburgh has been great. Awesome school in a great city with a lot of different outdoor opportunities just a couple miles from downtown.
What got you started into fly fishing? Did you bring your rod with you right away your Freshman year?
I actually started fly fishing because of Boy Scouts and the fly fishing merit badge back when I was about 12. I didn’t bring my rod with me, let alone any fishing gear, when I moved in freshman year because I really didn’t know anything about the fishing scene out in Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t really until my sophomore year when me and a couple of friends started Pitt’s first fly fishing club, Panther Flyfishing. Then we were only a club of about 5 guys but by the end of the spring semester of 2017 we had about 30 people on the club roster. Since founding the club, it’s been a great way to get new people into fly fishing as well as getting myself more into the sport and getting much more time on the water.
There is a pond on campus that I saw you fished. What fish are in the pond?
I wouldn’t even really call it a pond, more of a big puddle…haha. But we first started fishing Panther Hollow Lake as a way to teach kids in the club how to fly cast and get them on their first fish because the pond was loaded with tiny little bluegill.
I say the pond is more of a puddle because it is completely concrete lined and a maximum of around 2′ deep with an all muck and algae bottom. When we first started going to the pond at the forming of the club we thought bluegill were the only fish in there. But the summer after my junior year, while interning in Pittsburgh, I spotted a couple carp cruising around the shallows on one side of the pond. As a club, we ended up chasing those carp on the fly for nearly 2 years with no luck until this last finals week of my senior year when we landed 2 on the fly in the same day. But that’s fly fishing for carp, just when you think it’s never going to come through, then the last day it finally happens.
Did many students fish it?
Other than Panther Fly club members and a few random other students from other schools in the area, we were the only people that fished Panther Hollow Lake. And that’s probably for a reason, being that it was really a city runoff pond its location near campus was the real reason a lot of our members took time to fish it.
How easy was it to meet other anglers when you went to Pitt?
As for other anglers at Pitt, being that it was a very urban campus, there really weren’t many. But any that were around and wanted others to fish with were in Panther Flyfishing. Though the club and the National college program the club was involved with, TU Costa 5 Rivers, we were able to meet with countless other clubs and fishermen from around the State and east coast.
This program was sponsored by Costa Sunglasses and Trout Unlimited to get college fly fishing clubs involved with each other and to spread the word about conservation of our local fisheries. It really was a great way to meet other fly fishermen and to get further involved in the fly fishing community.
Its spring semester and you know you need a study break. You don’t have long but need to fish a bit. What Pittsburgh water are you going to and what are you fishing for?
This is a no brainer. Pittsburgh’s very own Pine Creek. This section of Delayed Harvest Trout water is just 15 minutes away from campus and because the special regulation water has fish nearly all year it was easy to get on some spunky stocked trout after class. In addition to Pine Creek there are 2 other delayed Harvest streams in Allegheny County, Bull and Deer Creek, that we also threw into the mix.
Its the fall semester and you have a beautiful October weekend. You decide to skip Friday classes and decided to do a long road trip from campus. Where are you going and what are you fishing for?
This may be more of a no brainer than the last one, Elk Creek in Erie, Pennsylvania. I started chasing Erie Steelhead once we founded the fly fishing club and got tipped off by some members about the hard fighting silver tanks that ran up the streams dumping into Lake Erie. Being that Elk Creek was about an hour and half away from campus we used to get up 2 hours before sunrise and hit the road to get up to partially frozen creek just to stand in barely above freezing water with the chance to hook into one of these giant rainbows.
What are the 5 top reasons that high school anglers should consider coming to Pitt to learn and fish?
Top 5 Reasons:
1. Countless Fishing Opportunities: Within 2 hours of downtown Pittsburgh you can catch about every species of fish imaginable on the east coast. Trout, Smallmouth, Carp, Wipers, Steelhead, Gar, Catfish, Largemouth could all be found within a relatively short distance from campus.
2. Panther FlyFishing: I hope that at the time whoever may be reading this, that Panther FlyFishing is still a full and growing club of dedicated fly fisherman. And that whoever goes to Pitt from people brand new to fishing to seasoned veterans will be able to join the club and fish with other Pitt students. This was a great experience for me and to see the club grow and involve so many other students was huge in my growth in the sport.
3. Public Transportation: Every student that goes to Pitt gets free bus fare throughout the city. And yes, you read that right, FREE. That pretty much allows any student without a car on campus to pack a fishing bag, hop on a bus that runs through campus and go to any fishing spot in the city. Doesn’t get much better than that.
4. Trout Unlimited and TU Costa 5 Rivers: I hate to talk about Panther Flyfishing so much but it really was a huge part of my time spent fishing at Pitt. Through events from local Trout Unlimited Chapters and the 5 Rivers collegiate program anybody can become very involved in the fishing and fly fishing community as well as get involved in countless conversation projects in the area. the 5 Rivers program also sends anybody in a 5 Rivers fly fishing club to an all expenses paid rally every fall to connect college clubs from around the country. So if you’re into traveling and fly fishing and are going to Pitt definitely check out Panther Fly Fishing on campus.
5. Pittsburgh Fishing Clubs: On top of Panther Fly Fishing, there are many other fishing clubs in the area if fly fishing isn’t your thing. Groups like Steel City Anglers and PA Trout Anglers do a ton of fishing in the area and are always looking to welcome new people to the sport.
As a former college professor, I don’t recommend picking a school just for fishing. But if fishing is a love and passion, I do think it is something that should be high on the factor list. Brien brings out how much richer the college experience is when you have a chance to connect with other anglers and students through a fishing club like Panther Flyfishing.
Thank you Brien…great stuff!
Find Brien on Instagram @brienedwardh.