I Fished With a Zombie

[Seasonal fun, with apologies to Roky Erickson who, apparently, walked with a Zombie, probably last night... a simple tune, but convincing. Catch it here, below...]

i walked with the pine trees

i walked with the pine trees


DSCN5463I fished with a Zombie…

I fished with a Zombie…

I fished with a Zombie, last night.

I hooked and pulled a dead fish…

pumpkin flower

pumpkin flower

I hooked and pulled a dead fish…

In the river of the dead fish, last night.

Maribou black-and-white tail…

Ghost-white dubbing and dark hackle…

the Zombie Bugger

the Zombie Bugger

Salmon egg-head, Halloween–

Yeah, I fished with a Zombie…

I fished with a Zombie, last night.

the salmon didn't want to die

the salmon didn’t want to die

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Water Nymphs

Most fly-fishermen are aware of “nymphs,” the immature stage of numerous insects that develop in the water. Many anglers fly-fish with a “nymph,” often allowing their imitative lure to drift along the current of a stream or river at some level well below the surface.

Less well-known is the fact that nymphs were female spirits representing the various aspects of sacred nature. The ancient Greeks peopled every aspect of nature with DSCN5485divinities. Nymphs were feminine energies, short of the divine realm but with links to the eternal. They personified the beauty of particular places, and they often lived long lives. They persist today in the minds and bodies of some people who are close to nature, and they reluctantly force me to say the following: fly-fishing can be sexy. It usually isn’t sexy (understatement), but it can be.

The classic nymphs most interesting to me as a fly-fisher are the Dryads, the protectors of forest locales, and the Naiads, the protector spirits of water, i.e., of springs and streams, of rivers, marshes, ponds, and lakes. What makes them attractive to me, for other than the obvious male reasons, are their characters– unlike the gods and goddesses, they are mortal, like ourselves– plus their intimate connections to a place on earth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Naiads are completely dependent on the body of water that they represent. If a stream dries up or becomes polluted, the Naiad for the stream is finished. Alive and well, the classic Naiads were sex symbols, of sorts, and played the part of a seducer (often of men and demi-gods and big fellas like Zeus). Their waters were thought to have a mixture of medicinal, prophetic and inspirational powers. People who partook of these waters, drinking them (or fishing in them), were said to be “captured by the nymphs.”

These spirits of locales are attractive to me, as well, because they’re personal, and thus OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbeyond the point of general worship. We’ll make no religion out of Nymphing (we could leave that to the dry fly purists, maybe). And we’ll not speak of “nymphomania”, leaving that to the psychologists, nor of “nymphets,” as in the great Lolita.

All of which leads me to a recent evening on the river.

I came to the river expecting a hatch of Isonychia, and saw examples of the big gray mayfly on the surface, but the trout weren’t rising to them, for some reason or another. After half an hour of futile casting, I was about to quit, but then decided to give the big pool one last shot with an Isonychia nymph.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADrifting the fly deeply through the current at the head of the pool, it was as if I had called upon the crafters of beauty there to open up the door. It was as if some deity, personified, gave answer to the call. It gave me the power of poetry and the visible embodiment of something… divine.

Yeah, it gave me the biggest trout of the year, a 21-inch brown, from my home river.

Thank the gods for those sexy Naiads and the artificial Nymph.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



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The Cedar Run Experience, Parts 14/15

Part 14: On the morning of October 11, I found that the distance from bridge #5 to the former lumber camp known as Leetonia is about 1.1 miles along the narrow gravel road. I parked at the little bridge where I had left off on my previous leg of the Cedar Run Experience and proceeded to the “canyon.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I figured I could fish half the canyon on a short autumn day and then return to the car. Anything more than that might have been biting off more than I could chew. I fished a small nymph, a beadhead Prince, with some success. Again, the fishing was difficult because of low clear water, but several holes, or deep pools, were productive with an upstream cast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy favorite place here was the “Slanted Rock Pool.” It produced a small brookie and a couple of nice, colorful browns. The stretch didn’t feel as remote or canyon-like as I expected, though a steep, rocky cliff often separated me from the road above. On reaching a stand of tall red pines, I turned around and headed back, knowing I would soon return, but with a walk downstream from “the Meadows.”

I wasn’t quite ready to call it a day, so I drove to higher ground and parked near a camp at the Meadows. I had skipped the upper canyon, a distance of six-tenths of a mile, that I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwould have to make up later on. The camp at the Meadows sent enticing smells of wood smoke into the air.

I found a ledge pool in a stand of evergreens where I caught two more browns that measured close to 10 inches each. These fish put up a lively struggle against the little Superfine rod (a 7-footer, for a 4-weight).

I fished upstream toward the car and fought my way through willow trees and alders. Trout were plentiful in the channel, and my hook-ups kept life interesting. I quit at the first bridge in Leetonia, having landed about a dozen trout this day, several of them sizeable browns.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 15: On the morning of October 18, I met Scott C. at the quiet place of camps known as Leetonia. At first, the sky was overcast, and the season’s first breath of snow swept by us as we suited up and laid out a plan of action.

I was in a new place, or possibly in an old place where I hadn’t been in ages. Inspecting one of Scott’s topographic maps, I felt my uncertainty about location vanish like a pair of ravens tumbling toward a mountain cliff, then breaking their fall at the last possible moment.

We would pass a half mile of stream above Leetonia (for now) and park two vehicles OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbeyond a point where Buck Run enters the larger flow to start the special “Trophy Trout” regulations on Cedar Run. We would fly-fish a mile of headwaters, higher up than I had ever sampled the run before.

With short bamboo fly rods rigged with a Prince nymph and with a tandem dry fly and nymph, we stepped into wild trout habitat. The run soon looked like a headwaters stream, ranging in width from a three-foot channel (fairly deep) to about 12 feet (somewhat shallow). We found nice pools and undercuts, but also a lot of bedrock with a minimum of active redds.

We covered a mile of water in the vast Tioga State Forest on Cedar Mountain. Each of us OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcaught some trout, mostly small brooks and browns, but the fishing definitely picked up just before we had to leave the stream. The midday sun had started to warm the water, and the trout were rising to my Rio Grande King and to Scott’s dry Adams.

This wasn’t easy fishing. The casting lanes were often tight or non-existent due to high summer grasses, alder thickets, and overhanging hemlocks, but there were also pleasant, open glades to deal with, and the autumn scenery with its colored slopes was nothing to complain about.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt one point along the trek, Scott declared that, “Hardly anyone ever fishes here, but they should.” We wondered aloud why anglers tend to fish the special regulation waters like the Francis Branch (a Slate Run feeder) but ignore a similar stream like this (above the mouth of Buck Run where the special regs kick in).

“People like to fish the special regs water because they know there has to be fish in there,” I stated.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Exactly!” said Scott, a veteran fisheries biologist who studies this sort of thing on a regular basis. “It’s all part of the psychology of fishing regulations.”

The solitude on upper Cedar Run was fine with me. Streams like Francis Branch might benefit by sharing some angling pressure with the run, but it wouldn’t be quite the same for a fly-fisher who enjoys a lonesome hour or a day in the wild.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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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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