The Trout Addict

Preparation:

In the pre-dawn chill, he put on his old black hoodie and went to work. Three hours of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsleep had not been nearly enough to make him feel well, but he thought of his Big Year on the Streams– the year 2004, a full decade ago– and he wanted to celebrate the anniversary, as if this current year had made the Big Year all-important.

Rain had fallen overnight; the morning promised to be overcast and cool, perfect for the Trico spinners, the Blue-winged Olives, and even the beloved Slate Drakes. He felt an old excitement that 40-plus years of fishing had not erased.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt felt like the year 2004. The misting water of the stream pushed by at full-volume, slightly turbid and 59 degrees. Was he headed for a personal record on the waters this year? Would he tally a hundred-plus days of fishing, with close to a thousand trout and salmon captured and released?

No way. 2004 would surely remain untouched. Besides, he had long given up on writing detailed journal entries with statistics for each day he visited the stream.

“…But somehow I was seduced/ And my innocence reduced/ By a demon that became my own…” [from "Demons Dance Alone," the Residents]

Rainy Day Tricos:

The expanse of foggy pools was dimpled by rising fish, wild trout that required an angler’s heron-like approach. He stepped forward, inch by careful inch, with long casts of a 6X tippet and a white-winged imitation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He had been a coffee addict since his college days, and this morning’s caffeine worked his blood despite fatigue, helped him drive the fly line just above high grasses (for the most part), and helped him focus on the hatch– at first, a Sulphur here, a Cahill there, a few Slate Drakes…

And then it came in clouds of insect motion– vertical pulsations of Blue Quill spinners, and finally, the tiny Trico– the long-tailed pinpoints of a mayfly, thousands of them, aerial breeders, some of them with eggs, in a horizontal dance above his head.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“…Knowingly I followed it/ I took the hook and swallowed it/ Until I found it dancing in my home…”

All the brook trout were adult fish, wild and colorful, one of them measuring 10.5 inches against the smoothness of the small stream rod. A brown trout, massive, large enough to jolt him from the haze, swept out from beneath a fallen locust but stopped short of the drifting fly.

Withdrawal:

The next day he was far downstream, on the sprawling river where a decade ago, in the month of August, the fishing was unusually fine. That summer, like the present season, had been cool and rainy, excellent for trout. A change had to be expected, but why so dramatically different?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

He’d brought along his ten year-old “Superfine,” the fly rod that was new in the summer of ‘o4. He brought along his vision of the Slate Drakes, the large gray mayfly that had hatched magnificently all through the afternoons and evenings of that magical time; he’d brought his memory of the large browns rising through the day as if the river had been some Rocky Mountain paradise…

But the river had changed its bed. The haunted pools and deep cold riffles had largely been replaced by scoured flats and shallows. There were few trout rising; there was nothing but disappointment for a catch.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“… I had hoped to fill my years/ With more than melancholy tears/ But the demon makes me dance alone….”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe could go home and nap for a spell. He might even dream of a beautiful river he had missed. He might listen to a prudent angler who speaks to him directly, a ghost who says: “It’s true, you can’t go home anymore. You can’t  go home, but at least you’re free.”

Coda:

The following video, with an addicting song about addiction in its more nefarious manifestations, is one I often visit for a touch of haunting beauty. The Residents (quoted above) are a group of masked, anonymous musicians who have been around since the early 70s and who must surely rank among the most bizarre and creative performers of this age.

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Like a Song by Taj

To angle, as I see it, is to fish in an endless act of exploration and discovery.

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To angle, in a realm of small streams and rivertops, can mean an exploration of those blue lines on a topo map, those small world places that beckon with their own set of challenges. Those places can make promises: “If you check us out, you’ll learn something and be happy with what you find.”

To angle, in the larger sense, is to gain the “soul of fishing.” If you search for fish, the fish will connect you to the world. For me, that’s what trout fishing means, when fishing has some meaning. When you sense the soul of angling, it explains why fishing, and fly-fishing in particular, has developed a field of literature and a set of traditions that have been evolving and thriving for half a millennium, and show no signs of slowing down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo angle is to look far and wide for new waterways or old waterways enlivened, from places near our homes to places of a “once in a lifetime” nature. Through angling we experience the seasons and weather patterns; we experience the outdoor life in solitude and with friendly company. We experience the potential of ourselves.

I recall a group of lines from my poem called “Fishing,” in The Wild Trout: “The current spreads a coolness over thighs./ With nerves taut, abandoned to the moment,/ I react to contrary motions– striking/ to the shadow of a passing kingfisher,/ to a leaf-flash, water’s sudden tugging….”DSCN4930

Many who do not fish see this “recreation” as a mindless repetition of casts, as a way of viewing “what’s not there.” In fact, angling is a look at freshness and a set of possibilities, at what could be there, and at hope.

We discover old friends, new birds and flowers; we experiment with artificial lures and learn what will work and what won’t. We discover the pleasures of using certain types of tackle. We learn what is needed and, perhaps more significantly, what we don’t need to use. We angle our way toward simplification and become more efficient at “being one with nature.”DSCN4934

“… Learning to perceive the hidden,/ I cast for clues among the resting fish,/ over stonefly nymph unlodged, perhaps/ to relive that first catch long ago….”

To angle means to find things ranging from the local and familiar to the far and revolutionary. During a summer evening on the river I can step to the water and inspect the bug activity, wondering if an Ant will fool the first nice brown, or if a Sulphur dry or spinner imitation will bring the first strike, or if, at last, a dry Slate Drake will be the ticket to success. I’ll go home at dark, feeling satisfied that whatever worked for me was more than worth the effort of discovery.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To angle might even bring a big change in an outdoor life. Fishermen, trawling off Chesapeake Bay in 1974 pulled up a section of mastodon skull, along with spearheads, that have finally been analyzed and studied this year. The end result [http://www.livescience.com/47290] suggests that the first people living in North America may have come from Europe thousands of years earlier than the Clovis people known to have crossed the Bering Land Bridge from Siberia. It’s just a theory, but the point is… you never know until your line is cast.

DSCN4709To angle is to find those comforts and anxieties that connect us to the passage of time. Angling is a way of testing our notions of the world and of ways to best enjoy our short span of years on Earth. It may all sound complicated now, but actually it’s simple– angling is whatever we think it is, and where the act of fishing takes us.

To paraphrase Thoreau, in Walden, people might angle all their lives without knowing that it’s more than fish they’re looking for. Angling is what we bring to the water in our search for fish. It’s not an escape necessarily, as some non-anglers say. It’s more like an immersion in what is.

Fishing, like a song by Taj Mahal, goes far.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADSCN4678

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Rivertop Photo Essay

An assembly of August moments, recollected in tranquility….

My current focus is on river evenings, with its spinner falls...

My current focus is on river evenings, with its spinner falls…

Having missed the rains of recent weeks, the streams of north-central PA are getting very low...

Having missed the rains of recent weeks, the streams of north-central PA are getting very low…

The nymphal shucks of Isonychia bicolor presage the appearance of a favorite mayfly, the "Slate Drake."

The nymphal shucks of Isonychia bicolor presage the appearance of a favorite mayfly, the “Slate Drake.”

Enjoyed a weekend visit with Brent & Catherine & her family... Brent's remark about the summer wildflowers (here, the Vervain) reminded me that they are colorful and various but often overlooked in taller grasses...

Enjoyed a weekend visit with Brent & Catherine & her family… Brent’s remark about the summer wildflowers (here, the Vervain) reminded me that they are colorful and various but often overlooked in taller grasses…

Our Aaron Dolecki sculpture in the "rec room"...

Our Aaron Dolecki sculpture in the “rec room”…

A mayfly spinner on the surface of Dyke Creek reminds me of the vast fragility found in much of nature...

A mayfly spinner on the surface of Dyke Creek reminds me of the vast fragility found in much of nature…

We like "visitors" here at Rivertop Rambles...

We like “visitors” here at Rivertop Rambles…

Cedar waxwings perch above a stonefly hatch...

Cedar waxwings perch above a stonefly hatch…

Double beaver dams near the house...

Double beaver dams near the house…

Years ago we made "pink lemonade" (w/ vitamin C) from staghorn sumac...

Years ago we made “pink lemonade” (w/ vitamin C) from staghorn sumac…

2 bamboo. My E.W. Edwards "Deluxe" and the Heddon 35 Peerless (a.k.a. the Founders' Rod)...

2 bamboo. My E.W. Edwards “Deluxe” and the Heddon 35 Peerless (a.k.a. the Founders’ Rod)…

Pine Creek, low water at Slate Run village. North-central PA has missed the rains of late...

Pine Creek, low water at Slate Run village. North-central PA has missed the rains of late…

I caught a wild brown & a brook on lower Slate Run but retreated quickly due to low water. Better to drink a cold one near the "sculpture garden"...

I caught a wild brown & a brook on lower Slate Run but retreated quickly due to low water. Better to drink a cold one near the “sculpture garden”…

Straub Beer is a big supporter of Slate Run's "Brown Trout Club," supplying German browns to the Delayed Harvest waters of Pine Creek at Slate Run...

Straub Beer is a big supporter of Slate Run’s “Brown Trout Club,” supplying German browns to the Delayed Harvest waters of Pine Creek at Slate Run…

Leighanne & Alyssa enjoying cold ones at the mouth of Slate Run, former mill site of Jacob Tome, ca. 1791....

Leighanne & Alyssa enjoying cold ones at the mouth of Slate Run, former mill site of Jacob Tome, ca. 1791….

 

 

 

 

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Still Life With Trout

The Lily Pool

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI parked the car, suited up, and walked the half mile distance to the stream along abandoned railroad bed. I turned and crossed a field of chest-high goldenrod then dropped to the water like a sinner to his knees.

I went  upstream through the alders, casting a Black Ant dry without success. Finally at the pool, I saw the sunken log where I’d lost a good trout weeks before, and there on the bank– the pair of yellow lilies that had seen their share of fish.

I wanted to uproot one gently for the birthday of my wife, a lily for her garden, though I’d never dug a flower from the wild. These flowers were not native; they were hybrids washed down from above, from a still-life in the hills.DSCN4932

I clambered up the bank, careful with my step and slow insertion of the trowel. To take one flower wouldn’t hurt. We’d place it in a still-life of our own, a piece of work with newfound gravitas.

Unlike medieval lilies of the canvas, the flower has no symbolism. No religion or allegory here, no hint of the virgin, the woman’s breast, or purity of mind (hah!). It was just a flower from a trout pool on a stream in the wild. A flower granted freedom by the centuries.

The  Oven

I went to the Oven, a pool on the Genesee, expecting the worst– warm water… no hatches… no trout.

I went to the big pool as if to a still-life etched in an ancient tomb. Then, surprise! Rivers can do this; they can throw a party for the spirit! They can take you by the hand and walk you through a golden evening, like walking into Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”Vincent Willem van Gogh 127.jpg

There were spinners in the air, sailing down to wavelets with their eggs. The browns and rainbows were hungry; I caught and released a dozen fish, but I worried (a bit) for the lack of bats at dusk.

The brown I taped at 17 inches ate up my concerns, the way a waking moment devours an anxious dream.

The Cairns Pool

My friend Leigh Smith (from the blog FinFollower, who also posted on this visit) and I were on the Cairns Pool of the Beaverkill. We had just enjoyed another visit to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAannual Summerfest (a fly-fishing flea market, of sorts, laden with history and future prospects) at the Catskill Fly-Fishing Center and Museum, and we were ready to catch a trout.

The afternoon sky was overcast; the river looked full and lively. The water temp was a decent 64 degrees. Trout were rising, chasing caddis emergers and sipping unknown bugs at the surface or just below. The scene could have been the subject for a still-life, ready for a painter to arrange the elements for best effect.

DSCN4929Oddly enough, we had this famous river pool almost completely to ourselves, despite the anglers in the neighborhood, some of whom were trying out their new or used bamboo rods and reels near Summerfest. I suspect that we were like canvas painters, fly rods weaving through the air like brushes laden with summer hues.

What insects brought these trout to their table? Leigh and I spotted fish for each other; we conjectured on the fly– were they ants, emergers, olives, sulphurs? We threw the book at the pool and its fish, some of which had seen the contents many times over. But finally we solved the mystery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trout were taking midges– miniscule flies best imitated with a #22 on a 6 or 7X tippet. After a series of missed strikes and break-offs at the blood knot, after we each caught a couple of browns and had tangled briefly with a fish to haunt our dreams, we finished our work at Cairns.

One leg of my waders had filled with water; Leigh took one of those stumbles we all have when it’s least expected. We were in our element, a river of great traditions. The scene could have been a still-life– filled with forward moving lines, with small flies directed at rising trout.

Friendship had strengthened in another river that knows how to throw a party. Then Leigh drove eastward, and I drove west. He would listen to “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers. I imagined an evening sun touching down on Van Gogh’s flowers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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My Fishing’s Top 5 Curses

I find that fly-fishing is a greatly rewarding activity, and I certainly don’t want to give the wrong impression here, but let’s face it: fishing can be work at times, no matter what society may think of recreational louts extolling the virtues of their craft. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are no free lunches on this mortal coil, and I doubt that fly guys are granted any major exceptions. Most of my fishing is a solitary business, so that any loathsome utterances issued from my lips are likely to be heard only by the willow trees and warblers and are not likely to assault an innocent ear. That said, here’s my Top Five fly-fishing problems and vexations that are likely to get me in a vocal dander…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA#5– Leaky waders. You’d think that a decent pair would last me for a couple of years at least before inviting the stream to come inside. I suppose, though, if you’re rough on the equipment and you fish a hundred times a year, then a two-year life span on a pair of hotshot breathables might not be so bad at all.

#4– Timothy. I’m not sure of the genus and species of this tall streamside grass, but it’s common through the summer and, damn it all, catches more than its share of artificial flies and leader tippets for a meal. @&:*! Another one!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

#3– Trash. No need for description here. One hates to find it strung out on a willow branch, or tossed out to the edges of a favorite pool. @#%* those idiots!

#2–Yours Truly. Whether by impatience or ineptitude, I often get in the way of myself, which always threatens peace and clarity of mind. @#%* me! Stupid #&&#%$!

#1Humanity-at-Large. When 4-wheelers cross and recross a favorite stream and wear down the banks, when I find yet another empty beer can or water bottle or disposable diaper stranded in a bush, I take it out on my own species. As much as I love my friends and family and admire some thousands of individuals on this planet, I’ve got to admit there’s just too damned many of us (7 billion and counting rapidly) to sustain the earth and healthy life.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What’s a healthy number for our kind across the planet? I don’t know, but maybe somewhere around the 2 billion mark. That’s just a shot in the dark. I don’t agree with some radicals who insist that, to save our planet, we should live long and voluntarily die out completely as a species. We’re part of nature’s plan; there’s just too many of us for the good of all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur ship is sinking, as you probably understand, and the only way I can see for all of us to hit the life-boats is to do the following: go easy on the breeding business (and support adoption), preserve more wilderness, and help to educate another human being or two. With luck, people will eventually come to understand what it is we need to do. Unfortunately, history is not on our side.

If the populations of the U.S. and the world could magically diminish overnight without anyone’s suffering, we dreamers might note that the problems of war and hunger and habitat destruction and climate change and… cursing on the stream… would be a whole lot lighter in the morning (metaphorically speaking).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADo you have a favorite target or two for expletives on the water or in the field? If so, let me know of them. If frustrations seem unbearable at times, if you sometimes feel as though you just Can’t Win, do as I do: get a favorite beverage and a piece of music, kick back and avoid taking out frustrations on a loved one or a nuisance cat.

The following song, “Can’t Win,” is a Richard Thompson favorite, versions of which are said to contain one of the very best electric guitar solos ever. This 12:11 video may cause you to curse, but only in amazement.

 

 

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A Small Stream Summer

With the rains and relatively cool temperatures this summer throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, small stream fly-fishing has held up better than it usually does at this time of year. Many small streams have enough cool water that the trout feel comfortable moving about in search of food.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve been able to venture out to brooks and creeks typically off-limits during the summer months. In looking for trout, I visit only those streams where I know the water temperature remains 65 degrees F., or less. A stream thermometer is an important tool to carry at one’s side. We don’t want to stress the coldwater fish at a time when the going can be rough for both the angler and the trout.

There’s plenty of chest-high vegetation and riparian growth to make access to these little waters difficult at times, but once you’re on the stream itself, the casting is enjoyable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne evening I discovered excellent fishing on the West Branch Genesee, wading upstream through the knee-deep pocket water. I was hemmed-in tightly by the rapidly growing willow trees and alders, but when I reached an open pool I caught and released five or six wild browns averaging nine or 10-inches long. A dry Ausable Wulff was the ticket, though a Rusty Spinner might have worked as well.

The next morning in the rain, above the pool where I’d quit the night before, I lost a heavy rainbow that took a stonefly nymph into fast water underneath a log.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At a favorite stream for native trout in NYS (a trib of Wileyville Creek), I enjoyed the peace and perfect solitude of a brook occasionally reminiscent of a small Slate Run. On other private property (angling permission granted) at Spring Mills Creek, I quickly landed and returned four nice brook trout, one of which was a hefty 10-incher, and another of which measured eight inches plus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fish weren’t huge, but an angler’s expectations are adjusted to a small realm of beauty, greatly appreciated in a season when typically the angling is off-limits or just about impossible. The trout don’t have to be large to make an outing pleasurable.

In fact, if we allow our senses of who we are to be adjusted by the world of nature at large, we might see ourselves as also small– no less important in the scheme of things, perhaps, but diminished in stature, like a wild trout in a mountain stream.

When we momentarily abandon our hifalutin’ ways and all the junk of self-importance (see the social media if you’re wondering what I mean), we appreciate the small world of our real concerns, where trout and lilies and human smiles suffice.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sorry for the philosophical tangent, but now that I’m on one, here’s a final note– a few words from my favorite living poet, Gary Snyder: …One granite ridge/ A tree, would be enough/ Or even a rock, a small creek,/ A bark shred in a pool…

This morning I went down to Dyke Creek for the Trico (tiny mayfly) hatch. I tied on a 7x tippet with a #22 imitation. Micro-flyfishing is a blast, especially when the wild fish feed selectively and don’t refuse your efforts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wish that every region of the world with flowing water was at least as lucky as this one in the current season. Many are suffering from drought or flood or habitat destruction. I would pray or work some mojo for them if I thought it would do any good.

Meanwhile, enjoy the summer’s beauty wherever you find it…

Maybe with a granite ridge. A tree. A small creek, or a rising trout….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Yellow Breeches Round-About

Instructions to the Round-About:

Go visit your son Brent and his girlfriend, Catherine, in Arlington, Virginia. DSCN4824

Appreciate the beautiful (and rare!) weather for Washington, D.C.– clear sky, cool air, and low humidity. You got lucky with this, Bucko.

On Friday morning, visit the Adams Morgan district in D. C. for empanadas. Eat them on the street and watch a class of nursery-schoolers waddling by. The kids are like ducklings guided by adults. Each duckling holds to a loop on a long leash for security. Watch them at the cross-walk and imagine a pond along the Rock Creek Parkway as the city slows and catches its breath.

DSCN4828Visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Try to remember the long name of this excellent church, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. Although you may not be religious, amaze yourself at the architecture, marble and mosaics, at the way that mankind stares at the cosmos for a simple answer to its questions, and for absolvement of its sins and quandaries.

Visit the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park along the Great Falls of the Potomac. Take a long walk with a camera and appear to be a normal tourist. Try to remember the name of this long green park and natural resource.DSCN4836

Amaze yourself at the fact that you’ve been visiting the U.S. Capital for decades and have never before enjoyed a visit to this park. You’re a long way downstream from the Rivertops, pal.

A caveat: forget about fishing the Potomac for smallmouth bass. Not here, not at Great Falls– a Class V+ whitewater for kayakers. More than a few boaters have “crossed the bar” forever here.

DSCN4844On Saturday, stop at Warrenton for Catherine’s parents. With Brent, lead them on to Charlottesville. Meet with Richard P. and with Catherine’s brother Richard.  Help lead the pack to the Wild Wolf Brewery outside of Charlottesville (der vild vulff! as Brent would exclaim) and drink a flight or two of craft beers in the gardens of the Blue Ridge. Later that evening, eat a Mexican meal at Baja Bean near Richard’s house.

On Sunday (birthday of your wife Leighanne!), visit Carter Mountain Orchards outside of Charlottesville. Climb the Southwest Mountains in your new car for a view across the piedmont. Look for Monticello but understand that it’s somewhere around the bend. Buy some peaches from the orchard and some ice-cream (soft and peachy), too.

DSCN4879On Monday, say goodbye to friends and family, to food and drink and fun. Drive north to Boiling Springs and fish the Yellow Breeches Creek.

Further instructions to the Round-About:

Don’t expect much from the stream, with two hours of midday fishing. The fly shop will be closed. It’s Monday. Enjoy the Children’s Lake with L. Do your best in learning something more about the Breeches.

The water will be high and turbid. A storm will approach you, but try to focus on the stream.DSCN4893

Start off with a dry Black Ant. If you get no rises, go with wets or little streamers. You’ll probably feel the “skunk” today, and wish you were on the great LeTort.

But… you’ll be out there with a fly rod, and you’ve had a good four days down South. There’ll be no reason to complain.DSCN4912DSCN4908DSCN4899DSCN4906

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