The Culvert Pool

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith just a few days left on the regular fishing season for trout, I decided I had better visit the Culvert Pool before it was too late. The stream is close to home, high up on the watershed, but for some reason or another, I had yet to fish the pool this year.

The stream’s a favorite of mine and it’s fairly remote, but a lightly traveled roadway skirts the Culvert Pool, so I’m not inclined to describe it with a lot of detail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChecking on the pool before I suited up, I saw some evidence of the spawn, and knew I’d have to be careful. I walked downstream then reversed direction to the pool, which is probably about 30 feet long from the culvert to the outlet, and 20 feet wide. Having permission to fly-fish at this rivertop location, I began my casting toward the culvert.

Almost immediately I saw a pair of spawners on the gravel at my side, and left them OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAalone. When it’s obvious that wild trout are on a redd, I resist temptation and look elsewhere. I made a few long casts with a beadhead nymph, and though I had a follower or two, the brooks did little more than bump it.

Switching to a dry Black Ant and casting to the lip of the culvert, I had action. Trout after trout slammed the barbless dry fly and came in for inspection and a possible photograph.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI couldn’t believe how many trout inhabited the pool. They had access to the stream above the culvert, as well as to the stream below the outlet, but they seemed to dwell harmoniously in a pool providing them with shelter, cold water, and food.

I captured and released eleven healthy adults, ranging in size from seven to 11 inches, wild with autumn color.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA half hour passed quickly and I was still catching trout  (one chub, as well). It was time to quit the pool and return it to peace. I kept my wading to a minimum and wished the trout well. They had survived another fishing season in good form.

With cold weather approaching, it was time to batten down the hatches on the upstate waters (except where special regulations allow continued fishing). It was time for evolution to advance unhindered, for the winter season to declare its intent (oh, give it another month or so, please!).

The pool and I parted company. If I’m lucky in love and the ways of trout, I’ll find myself once more in a warm spring day around the new year’s bend. The sun will be warming up the waters once again, and all will be well with humankind, at least on this rivertop stream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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Return of the Kings

I was goin’ down, down, down to the flatlands, headed north, to check on a favorite tributary for king salmon and the browns that follow. No, my destination wasn’t Oak Orchard Creek or the Salmon River– not on Columbus Day weekend. I swore off holiday visits to those rivers years ago, when I couldn’t have squeezed in with a shoehorn.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These days, my favorite Great Lake tributary is getting crowded also. But the crowd stays pretty close to the bridges, mostly, and there’s several miles of open water between those bridges for an angler still capable of walking.

For whatever reason, this stream has a later run of kings than the major tributaries have, and the run was just beginning. Salmon were everywhere, charging up the riffles in pods of six or seven, splashing toward the spawn like cattle to a barn, or tired anglers to the call of Happy Hour.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll day, through the rain and the sunshine that followed, the big fish headed upriver by the hundreds. They were fresh from the lake, as green as the riverine foliage and as feisty as badgers in a flower garden. With a few exceptions, they were not yet ready to pause and sniff around at flies or egg sacs or other lures designed to irritate them into striking.

Most of these fish were not yet territorial or on the redd. My challenge was to stand upstream of a resting salmon and get it to strike at a fly swung by its nose. Salmon don’t eat while on the spawn, but they’ll bite instinctively at an irritant. My goal was to get one to hit a streamer or a Woolly Bugger without snagging the massive body.

egg mass found on bank

egg mass found on bank

I did pretty well, catching and releasing about a dozen chinook salmon (kings) on WoollyBuggers with an orange or chartreuse head. One of those, a 38-inch female, with an unbelievable girth, took me 15 minutes to land and then release. Like all the other salmon, she inscribed a huge arc in the 8-weight fly rod, and she made me feel my age, contributing to the pleasant ache and muscle pain I sensed hours after getting home.

No, I didn’t see any of the big browns that tend to follow the initial salmon run, but I understand that a few of those bruisers had arrived.

Near the bridge I saw a knot of anglers with heavy spinning gear, some of whom were obviously challenged in the ethics department. A couple of fellows, my age or older, represented the Old School of Salmon Snagging which (thankfully) was condemned and outlawed about 20 years ago in New York State. I watched one guy swinging out his innocent-looking egg sac then repeatedly yanking his lure sideways to snatch a big salmon any way he could.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was climbing to the road to prepare for my homeward drive when I heard the snagger yell. Looking down at the commotion from the bridge, I saw that he had lost his balance and had tumbled into the knee-deep water, flipping onto his back. Floundering around like a thirty-pound salmon on a mission, he had lost his hat.

Watching his hat sail happily toward freedom in the big lake, I refrained from laughing out loud.




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Late Hatch, Home River

Female Isonychia bicolor (Mahogany Dun) Mayfly DunDespite the afternoon wind and chilly temperatures, the sun was shining and I decided to check on the upper Genesee. Past experience told me that if anything was hatching from the river it would be the autumn sedge (a caddis fly) or the mayfly, Isonychia bicolor (aka Slate Drake). I was hoping for the Isonychia, which is probably my favorite hatch of late summer and early fall. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I built a new leader at the river’s edge, I saw rise forms in the big pool and along the seams of the riffle feeding into it. The silhouettes of a large mayfly could be seen drifting on the surface, and I knew I was in luck. Tying on a standard Isonychia pattern, I got to work.

A nine-foot fly rod for a four-weight line is perfect for the upper Genesee which averages about 30 to 40 feet wide in the catch-and-release section of the river. A long cast to the far bank found a rise, and just like that, I was on to a first nice brown trout of the day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rise activity, and consequent action with the rod, was fast and easy for a while, but it didn’t last long. In about 20 minutes the hatch was over, followed by some minor ant flights and a caddis or two.

As Art Flick describes the mayfly in his Streamside Guide, “the forelegs are brown and the other two sets of legs are light yellow, which accounts for the fly’s name, bicolor.” This large mayfly has a dark bluish wing, a reddish-brown body, and is usually imitated with a size 12 hook. Oddly enough, I have found that the Genesee River version of Isonychia has a greenish body and resembles a Blue-winged Olive on steroids.

I’ve seen this fly hatch as early as May on some waters, and as late as October in others, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbut whenever it hatches, it is bound to engage the feeding trout.

Unlike most mayflies that, in nymphal stage, rise to the surface of the stream, the Isonychia nymph swims quickly to the bank and usually surfaces on a rock or boulder. The collected shucks are a common sight for anglers with an eye to bug activity. The insect hatches out on land, but often on a windy day (like the one just fished), it’s blown onto the water and set adrift.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trout find them and begin to feed voraciously. In my experience, an exact imitation of Isonychia is seldom necessary.

My favorite dry fly imitation is a simple parachute. I begin this Slate Drake pattern by tying in a few dun-colored fibers for a tail. Then I build a white calf-tail post about two-thirds of the distance to the eye. For the tapered body, I use claret or burgundy dubbing. For the wings, I tie in a dun-colored hackle and wind it several times around the post .

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany years ago, when I first discovered this mayfly hatching on upper Pine in Pennsylvania, I had caught a few trout on the pattern but then lost my last fly of its kind. Realizing that some of my best catches with a dry fly might result from casting an Isonychia pattern, I made haste to find another. Upstream at West Pike was a tackle shop owned and operated by Jack Mickievicz, an outfitter who often fly-fished Genesee Forks and other area streams… Jack was out of Slate Drakes at the moment, but he told me what to do…

“Try a Royal Coachman or a Royal Wulff as substitute.” At first, it didn’t seem logical to me. A red and white attractor for a drab gray mayfly? Yeah, and of course, it worked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s all part of the mystery and beauty that surrounds this fly, an angler favorite. Look for it on a blustery afternoon this fall. At other times, a nymph worked in toward the bank may be productive. When you see adults drop to an evening stream to lay their eggs, try a #10 or #12 Rusty Spinner on the surface.

Isonychia bicolor is a fascinating mayfly, and finding it at any stage of its life-cycle might be followed quickly by some lively action on a tightened line.DSCN5343DSCN5356


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Two Steps Forward (No Step Back)

Step 1: The rain did not deter our weekend plan to visit Rock Run, near Ralston, PA. The run was flowing almost as clear as it was a month ago on my initial visit. Several outdoor writers have declared that Rock Run is the most spectacular stream for scenery in the state of Pennsylvania. After today, I have no reason to dispute their claim. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leighanne and I enjoyed a stroll along a classic stretch of cabin, pool and ledge. The sense of solitude was perfect in the rain.

I fished for a while and lost a heavy trout while drifting a tandem wet fly rig. I’m adding Rock Run to my list of trout streams in the wild country worthy of regular visits.

Step 2: The next morning I was back at Cedar Run, resuming the “Experience” (Part 13) of fishing the entire eleven-mile stream in consecutive segments.

DSCN5420The region had just experienced its first frost of the season, and the morning air, though overcast, was decidedly brisk. Despite some recent rain activity, Cedar Run was still low and clear and 49 degrees F., a tough one to be fly-fishing now.

I approached the deep pool near the mouth of Fahneystock Run and put aside my casting for a while. For me, this outing on the stream was special. I was celebrating, in a sense, the reprint of my fly-fishing book called River’s Edge, and here, close to the Fahneystock Pool, was the place where I almost lost an eye while fishing close to 30 years ago (God, has it really been that long?).

I wrote about that incident in River’s Edge, and for one or two shameless reasons, I would like to quote now from a chapter called “Fishing the Runs”–DSCN5423

“I had foolishly neglected to wear my protective sunglasses that cloudy day, but I had been intuitive when it came to insects. I recall a yellow stonefly that rose from the stream and landed on my wrist. The insect seemed to say, ‘Use a dry fly imitation of me,’ so I found my best stonefly imitation and pinched down the barb. I began to catch little brooks and browns one after the other, but as rain began to fall and as I started losing some larger, heavier trout, exasperation set in.

DSCN5429“I hooked the stonefly snugly into a willow branch across the deep run. I yanked moronically on the leader and on the fly. When the line, leader and fly tore loose, the fly came at me like a stone fired from a slingshot. By virtue of a miracle, or dumb luck, I had blinked at the critical microsecond that the bullet made an impact on my right eyelid– on the eyelid rather than on the jelled orb beneath. I still shudder when I think of it.

“I recall staggering backward to the bank and falling on my knees. Every little tug on the line and leader produced pain. I cut the leader with my teeth, and blinked to assure myself I still had vision from the eye.”DSCN5431

If you don’t have a copy of this book, I hope to get you interested in it somewhere down the line. As for my ordeal on Cedar long ago, let me say that it was far from over at that point. In likelihood, there was no one else around to lend assistance, and the nearest medical center was more than 40 miles away.

If a hook embedded in an eye is any indication of whether or not a fish feels similar pain from a hook, let me say that I am sympathetic after all these years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

River’s Edge has been updated and reprinted by Wood Thrush Books in St. Albans, Vermont. Information can be found by clicking on my link to Amazon Books (and the “Look inside” button), or by checking in at Wood Thrush Books (see sidebar), or by inquiring here at the blog.

I  moved upstream. Cedar Run has several deep pools with underwater ledges in this stretch, and at one of them I spooked a fish that shot out from its hideaway in hot pursuit of safety. It reminded me of a small blue submarine, a behemoth nearly impossible to catch in these low water conditions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOh, I caught a few small ones, and broke off a couple of bigger trout because of heavy-handedness. I was hoping for rain to come and raise the level of these beautiful streams in northern Pennsylvania.

I’ll soon be ready to tackle the remote canyon at Cedar Run, followed by an interesting section called “the Meadows.” With luck, it won’t be long before I reach the ghost town called Leetonia, and then my destination at the headwaters on Cedar Mountain.DSCN5444

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The Misfit, Re-fit

1. A misfit’s life is not an easy one, but a misfit to society is like the subject of the song,DSCN5393 “A Country Boy Can Survive.”

I’ve never fit in comfortably with my own kind. I like to wear jeans and fishing shirts; I feel ridiculous in a suit.

I live my life on the run, or, to be more exact, on the runs– the streams and rivers fed by wildness.

I like the fly-fishing life, the stream walker’s hike, the life of close contact with the elements of nature. I enjoy the sharing of experience, the music of this world, with any one who listens.

You could say that I’m a misfit.  I’m not one to argue.

DSCN54182. In case any one still needs proof about this status, let me offer you my take on … television…

Back in the late ’70s I read Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television and I haven’t softened my position on the subject yet. The problem is inherent in the medium, non-reformable.

Oh sure, the content could be better– less gratuitous violence, stupidity, and sexism, more variety in entertainment and education, but the muck involved is more insidious.

DSCN5386Other technologies, such as the printed word or the PC or the copy-machine, are not controlled by the rich, the powerful, the few. They don’t have that widespread, instantaneous entry to our heads. They allow some interaction with the source and let our voice be heard.

The TV addict, on the other hand, passively observes. The addict is diminished and conforming, a dependent thinker when he thinks at all.

Democracy is a small thing in the land of big screen television. Personal relationships can mutate there. Our understanding of nature is reduced and flattened. There’s a DSCN5374disconnect with sensory experience.

TV has its place, however. It’s an excellent tool for advertising. It creates big industries around some lousy and unnecessary products. It allows us to become addicted to its message: we’re inadequate, unhealthy, and probably a little insane.

We’ll buy our way to freedom, thanks to all the ads…

We could buy our way– if watching this new “opiate of the masses” wasn’t so… exhausting. There’s a drug problem here on Earth.

DSCN5379TV has another place in life. Although my father at age 87 could still quote Shakespeare and maneuver adroitly through a crossword puzzle in The New York Times,  my mother, at the same age, has reduced mobility and no longer has the will to read. The television is a friend.

She can sit and chuckle at life’s absurdities and get pissed off at the news on CNN, but at least she’s responding to something in the world when she’s alone.

Only a misfit would talk like this, instead of kneeling at the great, oracular shrine.

3. A misfit might prefer to ramble on the slow change of autumn leaves. He might DSCN5351imagine the solitary pursuit of wild trout as a sports event, fer chris’ sake. In the time of baseball play-offs and the rising tide of football coverage, he might pit himself against… (no gladiator images, please)… the Trout.

On a “par 12″ stream, for example, he might give himself three hours in which to score 12 points– one for each trout at 8 inches or more, one for every three trout less than 8-inches long. All trout have to be taken on a barbless hook and then released unharmed. Scoring 12 points in three hours is a draw. Over 12, he wins. Under 12, he loses.

No… it was just a thought. I’ve got no time for trifles–a game less barbaric than the sport of “salmon baseball” that I once observed being played by idiots at the dam on Oak Orchard Creek. I remember walking by those guys, disgusted with the scene.

I felt like I was wearing a designer suit instead of vest and waders.DSCN5355




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Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Cedar Run)

1. Driving along Cedar Run Road to my parking destination, I listened to the Velvet OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnderground’s “Sister Ray,” 17 minutes of chaotic and perverse wonder, stirring up the vestiges of civilized existence. It was good to shake things up a bit before I washed away the soul debris with a mile long hike through a gorge I needed to traverse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI once majored in psychology, and at rare moments like this, I think those studies might have had a bit of value after all. I would watch myself like a behaviorist on a laboratory rat. I would grab at the chance for wildness, drop down into the gorge as if it were the earth from which all humans came.

At the risk of taking myself too seriously, I imagined myself as a dog. The animal scrambled down through the trees, became a wolf again for an hour or a day, but actually was little more than a mutt gone sniffing through autumn leaves.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. Inside the gorge I’m reminded that this undertaking is my “Cedar Run Experience, Part 12″ and little more. Gone fishing, listening to the music of the gentle stream, to the drumming of a grouse, the squawk of a startled kingfisher.

The mile of stream beneath the wooded cliffs, beneath the dripping ledges and brightening sky above, was low and very clear. The trout were abundant but extremely skittish. Fly-fishing was a challenge and required stealth, a slow step-by-step where the water narrows into holding structure– a deepened riffle or a mini-pool among the multitude of rocks and boulders.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The 4-weight line carried a long tapered leader, a 6X tippet with a small Black Ant and, later, a Rio Grande King, a pattern quite attractive to the wild browns and native brookies. After several hours of relaxed casting in the gorge, I came out at a point where the car was parked.

Eight trout came to hand and went back into the run. The fishing had been slow, but then, so was I.

3.  I ate my lunch and drove upstream a short distance and parked near a little bridge where I had left the run a week ago. I felt like I was getting somewhere now on my long-term quest to hike and fish to the source of this Pine Creek tributary.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The bright day heated. I had long abandoned the sweatshirt worn in early morning. Clouds of gnats and occasional mosquitoes prompted my return to casting. I passed the cliff at Red Rock Run, its flow but a trickle of cool water entering the larger stream. I was in a groove of step and stumble, cast and stumble, cast again.

In my head I sang to the boogie beat of R. L. Burnside’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin” –morphing into Captain Beefheart’s “Sure ‘Nuff ‘N Yes I Do” –and then becoming Burnside once again–and the trout began to rise. The stream was opening; the forest canopy had stepped away, allowing a different view. The small willow trees and alders– with the water narrower and deeper, the gradient heightened– brought the natives rising here, and the brown trout rising there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA4. As much as I value individualism, I’m like everyone else who figures that the journey of a life is, in part, the quest for beauty. I’m a die-hard Romantic but I’m not about to capitalize the word “beauty” nor am I about to quote John Keats (or the Velvet Underground, for that matter). If you’re lucky enough to have a passion in life, you’ll know what I mean. You might pursue that passion even when you know its peak is nearly unattainable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATake wildness, for example. Beauty. It’s found inside these mountains, well inside the sense of “scenery” experienced from a passing car or truck. I find it, grab it, and know– it’s like taking part in the creation of an art form. To find it is like letting go and getting swept up in a dream. And once inside that place, you want it to last forever.

I came close to a 20-fish day on Cedar Run, and for that I can be thankful. Rollin’ and tumblin’ on a mountain stream was fun. May we all get the chance to roll with it, with wildness or with beauty, in this lifetime, and along whatever stream will carry us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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Review/ 50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast

50 Best Places Fly Fishing the Northeast, by Bob Mallard, Forward by Thomas Ames, Jr. Stonefly Press, c/o Ware-Pak, LLC., 2427 Bond Street, University Park, IL 60484. 2014. Let me start this book 50 bestreview with a typical disclaimer. Though I am one of 43 contributing writers in the work, I was paid nothing for my chapter on the subject of Slate Run other than a contributor’s copy when the book was published… Alright, I do get free publicity in the bio section for Rivertop Rambles and, as spokesman for the Slate Run Sportsmen group, I’m able to express my thanks for the great work the group does to promote the preservation of the Pine Creek Valley and its trout streams. Other than that, I’m not receiving a dime for this review, nor was I even asked to write it.DSCN5321

I’m exposing this work because the book is worthy of consideration by anyone with a serious interest in fly fishing or in the exploration of some excellent northeastern waters.

Author Bob Mallard owns and operates Kennebec River Outfitters in Maine. His book, published by Stonefly Press, is full size and contains 232 pages covering his 50 best fly-fishing locations in nine northeastern states. Mallard wrote seven of the 50 chapters and invited 43 contributors to write about the other streams and rivers, in addition to Montauk and Cape Cod Bay. Contributors, representing a variety of outfitters, lodge owners, conservation workers, and other interests, wrote about their home waters in a format that, for the most part, works quite well.

DSCN5319Accolades abound for this hefty, color-saturated, information-packed volume, and though I have some minor reservations about the overall effect, I think they are deserved.

At first I was skeptical about another “50 Best” volume, and I wasn’t sure about exposing Slate Run to another critical display designed for visitors, but when I heard that writers such as Ted Williams and even Lefty Kreh were on board, I decided what the hell. If I didn’t write about Slate, then someone else would, and I might not like the end result.

I’m glad I decided to write. The Slate Run chapter was accepted pretty much as is. I started hoping that the stream might even get some needed love.

A back cover blurb by conservation writer Ted Williams (Fly Rod & Reel, Gray’s Sporting Journal, etc.) says, “This book, by one of the best anglers I know, fills a gaping void. There’s some world-class fishing in the Northeast, but until now I’ve not read a guide that takes you to it.”DSCN5315

The book is well-produced. There’s a full-page topo-grade map for every featured water (I helped design critical points for the Slate Run map). There are color photos of stream and fish (okay, some of the pics are tantamount to “fish porn,” those images of smiling anglers holding exaggerated trout and salmon, smallmouth bass,  pike and stripers). Each chapter describes a stream’s location and includes a bit of history, natural features, legal requirements, access, hatches, tackle, closest fly shops, guides/outfitters, lodging, restaurants, etcetera.

A back cover blurb by Tom Rosenbauer, Marketing Director at The Orvis Company, adds, “Bob Mallard’s guide rises to the top because it is current, honest, and just detailed enough to give you a head start on the better fly-fishing waters of the Northeast.”

When I began reading the book, I mistakenly expected an anthology of fishing writers collected by Mallard. There are 44 writers here but the book is clearly Mallard’s work. It’s not intended to be an entertaining volume with a multitude of voices. In fact, I found a chapter by chapter reading rather tedious, although informative. The volume works quite well when you go to a chapter and expect to be instructed.DSCN5326

Featured waters (to name 20 of the 50 in the book) include Maine’s W. Branch Penobscot, Kennebec, and Rapid River; New Hampshire’s Connecticut River; Vermont’s Batten Kill and White; Massachusett’s Deerfield and Swift; Connecticut’s Farmington and Housatonic; Rhode Island’s Wood; New Jersey’s S. Branch Raritan; New York’s W. Branch Delaware, Beaverkill, Neversink, and Salmon; and Pennsylvania’s Letort, Penn’s Creek, Pine, and Slate Run.

Photographs and artwork were provided by notables such as James Prosek, Lefty Kreh, Beau Beasley, Thomas Ames, Jr., and others. Signed copies of the book are available from the author at I believe the book price is $34.95.

I don’t expect many of my readers to rush into a book order here. In my opinion, the price is fairly expensive, but if you’re interested in traveling the Northeast at any time with an eye to excellent fly fishing opportunities, the book is definitely worth the cost.DSCN5317

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