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Summer memories from on the Juniata

Hunters, fisherman, and outdoorsmen have spots. Not literal spots like those of a Dalmatian, but spots meaning places that are special to them.

A certain tree, tree stand, rock outcropping or other landmark may come to mind when you think of your owns spots. It may be incredibly secluded and a secret you will take to the grave. It could also be a place that was special to not only you, but for many other people as well. One of my favorite spots of all time wasn’t secluded, secret or private by any stretch, and it was indeed enjoyed my many others over the years.

The old Mifflintown bridge, a rivet-connected Parker Trough Truss style bridge built in 1937 by Whitaker and Diehl, has been gone for some time now. This bridge that served as the main crossing of the Juniata River for the folks of Mifflin, Mifflintown and other Juniata County residents for nearly 75 years meant and still means a lot of things to a lot of people. It’s no wonder that memories of this bridge come flooding back to me each and every time I visit my family back home. Every now and then I still make a wrong turn as if to cross it, “muscle memory”— and I’m assuming I’m not alone in that.

When it comes to me, and I think back on that old structure, I immediately get a nostalgic feeling of summertime. I can almost feel my feet in the cool water in the shadow of that bridge. I can envision the water down to each ripple and it’s precise location. I swear I can smell the water, the summer blooms, and I can even picture myself strategically placing my next cast as I fish my way under it and downstream.

As a young outdoorsman, I always felt a slight sense of sadness when spring turkey season came to a close and most of the nearby streams had been picked clean of trout prior to the dog days of summer. That’s when my friends and I would change gears and head into town for our next adventure on the Juniata. We fished it, caught bait in it, and we swam in it on hot days. The fact is, there’s few who resided in that area who didn’t know where the old “horse hole” at the base of that bridge was located and that it was absolutely perfect for cooling off from the hot summer sun.

I caught my first limit of bass, not below or fishing under it, but standing on the sidewalk of that old bridge. I reeled each fish all the way from the water to the platform of the bridge as my best friend grabbed and fed me line one long reach at a time. They weren’t just small bass either, as the largest was 18 inches, and the smallest was 14 inches. Each fish took quite a bit of work, which was well worth the time from the two of us.

My largest walleye I ever caught on the Juniata came from a cast that landed at the concrete pillar about halfway between the two river banks. It’s was 22 inches — not a monster, but a solid fish and another prideful notch in my belt as a young angler.

As I reminisce about those days, I often wonder how many other there must be that share memories of those exact same places. From the mid-summer swims to fish caught, I’m almost certain there are hundreds of tales out there that include that bridge and the water of the Juniata that ran beneath it.

Often, I offer some advice or tactics in my articles. I try to share knowledge or useful information, but today is not one of those days. Today, I write in terms of encouragement. No lessons, no tactics or suggestions, just encouragement for all outdoorsmen and women to get out there and find and create your spots. Some day as you look back, you’ll be glad you did.

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John Knouse writes about the outdoors for The Sentinel.

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