Mark Collier fell in love 20 years ago.
The first time that the then-Pittsburgh area resident spent a day fishing in the Neshannock Creek in Volant and visited the Neshannock Creek Fly Shop, he felt like he was home.
Now he really is.
Collier purchased the shop four months ago from Grove City resident Bob Shuey, who decided to sell it after more than 23 years.
"I remember sitting on the bank of the creek and fishing and looking at the shop and thinking, 'how I would love to own that place.' "
The decision for Shuey to sell and Collier to buy did not come lightly.
"I wouldn't have sold it to just anybody," Shuey said. "I turned down quite a few offers. When Mark let me know he was interested, I knew I could let go. I knew he was my guy."
And now Shuey is Collier's guy. He asked Shuey to stay on and work the shop several days a week and Shuey agreed.
The Neshannock Creek is a 25.65 mile-long tributary to the Shenango River that forms at the confluence of Cool Spring and Otter Creek in Mercer County and then flows into Lawrence County.
The creek is stocked twice in the spring and once in the fall by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. There are three additional private stockings, the next one of which is set for Oct. 29. More than 4,000 trout are stocked each year.
The Neshannock is one of 22 Keystone Select Trout Waters in the state. The Keystone Select Stocked Trout Waters program provides anglers with an opportunity to fish for larger trout. Under the program, large trout, 2-3 years old and measuring between 14 to 20 inches, are distributed among select waters under the delayed harvest, artificial lures only special regulation. The special regulation waters that start in the Neshannock Creek in Volant travel 2.7 miles downstream.
The Neshannock Creek Fly Shop is the only fishing shop connected to a stream of a Keystone Select Trout Water.
Collier and Shuey had gotten to be friends over the years and, and about five years ago, Shuey mentioned that he planned to sell the shop at some point. In the meantime, Collier went into business with his brother at S&S Processing in West Pittsburg.
"My brother and I parted ways and I was looking for something else to do," said Collier, who now lives in New Wilmington. "I talked to Bob and he said he was ready to move on. I told him, 'I'll buy the place, but I'd like you to stay on.' He's an icon in the world of fly fishing. I knew he would be quite an asset with his knowledge, not only of the shop and the creek, but entomology (the study of insects). I was thrilled when he said yes."
Shuey was only too happy to stay on to "do the fun part."
"I fired myself and now I'm waiting for Mark to fire me," he said with a laugh.
"Not happening," Collier bantered back. "He makes me look good. There is nothing he doesn't know and the longtime customers connect to him."
Shuey is teaching Collier the ropes, and soon will be bringing him up to speed on community events such as a fly tying seminar held in January, a women's fishing class that is held each spring and youth fly fishing week held in early summer. Private lessons for men, women and youth also are available.
In fly fishing, the weight of the line carries the hook through the air, as compared to spin and bait fishing, where the weight of the lure or sinker at the end of the monofilament or braided line gives casting distance. Fly fishing tries to imitate some of the food the fish eats and entice the fish to take the fly over the other food in the water around them.
"March through May are our busiest months, but we always have people coming through here," Collier said. "I'm amazed at how many people will fish the Neshannock in January and February. As long as there isn't a lot of ice in the water, they fish.
"We get women who come here for lessons, but a lot of men, too," he added. "Some have always wanted to fish and they just never learned how to do it or at least not to fly fish. We start with the basics, like tying knots. We take them out back and show them how to set up their fly and then eventually move to the water."
The back porch of the shop has a number of colorful benches for fishermen or just visitors in general to sit and watch the action in the fast-moving stream or gaze at the blue heron who frequents the waters.
"There are times when it gets a little scary because the water rises to the top of the wall that surrounds the building," Collier said. "Bob says there have been times when it's come up over the wall. I have yet to see that but I'm sure I will."
The shop is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday year-round. During the season, from March to September, it also is open on Sundays. Collier gets to work close to his wife, Cathy, who last week opened Bebe's Artistry and Jewelry Design studio in nearby Volant Mills. The two have three children.
"For me, this business, this creek, this whole area, is a treasure," Collier said. "It is a dream a long time in the making, but it finally came true."
Kayleen Cubbal is sports editor at the New Castle News.