West Penn Rod and Gun Club in Clamtown held its seventh annual children's fishing derby on Saturday, April 17 at the Black Bear Hollow, aka Shellhamer Ice Dam, located right off SR-309 in South Tamaqua.
This year's derby drew more than 350 registered children up to age 16 to the hollow. Attendance wasn't affected despite intermittent minor showers and cold temperatures. West Penn Rod and Gun Club president John Brode said the pond at the hollow is stocked by the club during the winter and the week prior to the derby. More than 1,200 fish were stocked in the winter and 2,000 more were stocked prior to the derby. Children were able to catch a couple dozen tagged fish for prizes.
A very large first place trophy was given to Lacie McManus, 13, from Owl Creek Rd in Tamaqua, who's fish was 26 inches long and weighed 6.7 pounds. Emma Staller, 11, caught the second largest fish, which was 23.5 inches long and weighed 6.7 pounds as well.
The Shellhamer Ice Dam is visible from the old Lehigh and New England Railroad bed is one of a few historical ice dams and remnants of a famous entertainment and recreation complex, which was developed around it. During its heyday of the 1920's through 1950's, the area was known as the Shellhamer Ice Dam. Back when, during the winter months, the water in the dam would freeze, forming solid ice. Long handsaws were then used to cut the ice into large blocks, sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds each.
In 1923, Calvin T. and Lizzie O. Shellhamer purchased the 33-acre farm from Martin Frey. The Shellhamers immediately began to develop the property into a multifaceted business and recreation development. In 1930, construction began with a large concrete public swimming pool, measuring 70 feet wide by 130 feet long, previously located a few hundred feet from the ice dam. The public pool once provided two diving boards, a sliding board, and a unique 12-foot diameter circular water treadmill. Admission was only 12 cents. Now, the only remnants of the large swimming pool are slabs of concrete still strewn throughout the surrounding area of the hollow. In 1936, as part of a major rebuilding and realignment of the highway, a large portion of the railroad bed was reconstructed, abutting the Shellhamer building. This severely limited access to the pool causing it to be closed permanently. The Whipporwill Café was the last remnant of the Shellhamer Complex to survive in the late 1950's until organizations decided to revitalize the area for public use. The West Penn Rod and Gun Club and other volunteer groups have spent years revitalizing the hollow for future generations to use again.
Brode stated his appreciation for all the volunteers that spend so much time preparing and organizing the annual derby and other West Penn Fish and Hunt Club events. He also pointed out his high appreciation for one of the derby's sponsors Randy Hill of Hill's Wildlife Taxidermy in Lehighton.
For more information about future fishing derbies or events, call the club at (570) 386-1123 or visit www.westpennrodandgunclub.org.