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Sheng holds a redbreast sunfish.
Reel Time YouTube sensation Leo Sheng enthusiastically by bernard brown fishes for variety, not size
alk to most Philadelphia fishers and you’ll hear about the big, dramatic fish. You’ll hear about pulling a 3-foot-long striper out of the water by the Art Museum. Maybe you’ll hear about a hefty channel catfish caught for dinner. But this particular morning in Cobbs Creek, on the border of West Philadelphia and Delaware County, Leo Sheng was getting psyched about what you and I would ordinarily call a 3-inch minnow. “Psyched” seems to come easily to Sheng, who kicks off each of his Extreme Philly Fishing YouTube videos with an almost impossibly enthusiastic, “Hey, what’s up, YouTube!” before he launches into the fishing topic of the day. As we stood in the creek and chatted, an uncharacteristically mellow Sheng had reeled in fish after fish. Most were red-breasted sunfish: spunky 14
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flat fish around four inches long, with a sunset coloration of a red chest fading into an iridescent blue-green. He had also pulled in a large creek chub (4 inches is large for a creek chub). Then Sheng spotted the oddly colored minnow. “Duuuude! What is that?” he exclaimed. He suspected it was a tessellated darter—later confirmed when he caught it using “micro fishing” tackle— but it wasn’t the least bit tessellated. Rather it was an even light green instead of the usual repeating pattern of black spots on a cream background. If it had been the size of a striper it would have been more-immediately impressive, with tall dorsal fins and huge, fanlike pectoral fins. But when you’re a multispecies fisher, the fish doesn’t have to be big to impress. Multispecies fishing emphasizes variety
over size. At Cobbs Creek, Sheng finished the outing with 10 species, including a 2-inch banded killifish, a thin dart of a fish with electric blue bands down its sides. When I asked him to pick a favorite Philadelphia fishing spot, Sheng named the Schuylkill at the edge of Center City. “You can walk very little to find so many different types of fish.” Although you can explore and enjoy fish diversity anywhere, all sorts of strange, released exotics can pop up in a city, for example a 5-pound pacu, a South American fish he caught in the Pennypack Creek. “I was perplexed but super happy . . . that was definitely one of my oddest catches ever.” Today Sheng has a corporate sponsor P HOTO G RAP HY BY KRISTO N JAE BETHEL