The Wild Boy Campfire, 1891

1/  So, Mr. Goodyear and his men believed they owned the place– the forests of northern Pennsylvania, the mountains good for building railroads over, the sawmills great for gobbling up the white pine first and then the giant hemlocks… Hold a second, and I’ll throw some wood on this fire…

Goodyear was shrewd, ambitious, a real politician and servant of the railroads. Had no time to think about anyone’s future but his own. When the Galeton water stunk, and the folks got sick from typhoid, Goodyear wouldn’t even loan the town clean water from his reservoirs. He just turned the forest into slashings, left it lookin’ like feathers from a plucked chicken. Grabbed his money, packed his men, and moved south– for the coal and iron.

Allegheny River brown (“18”), 11/23/19.

2/ You know how the fires started… We had the worst spring drought in years. Just right for a lightnin’ strike or a tossed cinder…  Off they rushed– those flames– across the northern counties. Forest slashings, tinder dry, fed the fire for miles and miles. Smoke blotted out the sun. Hindered fire-fighters who came from everywhere. When the flames got close, man and animal plunged into the creeks. The brook trout boiled. A horse galloped down-valley, its tail on fire. A farmer’s hog was found– upright, totally roasted. And that poor fellow down at Kettle Creek… they stumbled on him. Had a bullet hole in his head, a pistol in his charred hand…

What did I do this fall?  I’ll tell you. First, let me push these embers ’round… I climbed ridges, thankful for what remains. The wild, unsullied pulse of things, you know? Searching for birds and sleeping flowers. Looked at shagbark hickory trees. Tall sentient beings, rough-barked havens for squirrel and owl. Listened to crickets chirring. Counted feathers of a stricken grouse, stuff like that…

2 landlocked salmon came to the rambler’s hand, 11/24/19. He can’t complain.

3/ What? Huh? You hear something? Probably just the fire snapping. Or maybe a Hide-Behind… You never heard of the Hide-Behind? Well, it follows you through the forest. Wants to shadow what you do when you’re alone and make you turn around.  Problem is, it moves too damn fast to see. You hear something, whirl around to check what’s happening– it’s already hidden by a rock or a tree. Or maybe it’s swallowed by the darkness.

We came to “Witch House,” Salem, MA on 11/27/19. This is not the “Seven Gables” but rather a home of the judge presiding over the Witch Trials.

You’ve got to stay focused on your job or on your destination. Just keep going. If you start turning round to look, it only gets worse, and you might go crazy. Here, just keep watching this fire and you’ll be okay. Them Hide-Behinds don’t bother me much anymore.

Daughter Alyssa haunts the Salem “Burial Point,” looking for gravestones of Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower…

There’s one… from the Mayflower… at dusk.

The “witch trials,” held not far from the Salem wharf, marked an unfortunate but interesting period in colonial history.

Nathaniel Hawthorn wrote extensively about Salem in The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, rich with dangerous incarnations of the Hide-Behind….

Have I told you ’bout the witch-hazel blooms? Yellow spidery things. Got pods, and if you touch one, seeds spring out. They can shoot thirty feet to the wet ground. And ginseng… I’ve been looking, of course. Love to get my knotted fingers at the roots. If I find the red berries, they’ll get scattered good.  It’s my hope for green renewal.

Yeah, plants and animals comfort me now. They don’t consume the priceless moments. Don’t encourage getting and possessing. Yes sir, I like to climb these hills. I’m almost 70, but I still like to walk the streams and rivers. If the moon appears, it might be veiled with smoke and ashes. Fire residue. But I’ll watch it like a cooling thought. A candle flame frozen in my skull.

The House of Seven Gables coming into view…

A small wooden model of The House…

Water urns marked by an Algonquin word for “good fishing.”

after climbing through a narrow, winding “secret stairway,” one enters the ancient, famous attic in the multi-gabled house…

Happy holidays to everyone from inside the “seven gabled house.”

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The Wild Boy Cycle, 1870

Winter: Klukey died in a bear trap he had set near Kettle Creek. Klukey died three miles from his cabin, wandering in the deep snow till his feet accidently struck the pan. Those jaws sprang up– held him through the pain, the cold, the nights and days, the hunger. Held him as the eyes of wolf and bear drew near. Hunters found old Klukey’s bones– clean and scattered, with bits of skull and hair and beard. Those iron jaws gnawed at his feet and lower legs, held him like society had held him till, at last, he came to the Kettle to hunt and trap for 40 years, alone. They found my old friend’s bones. Near the hatchet that he loved, near the pocket watch that never stopped its ticking.

Spring: Wish that I could fish like Henry Glassmire. Henry’s got only one arm. Left his other on the battlefield, but he fishes like a madman. Baits his hook by holding it to a stone with his boot. If no rock’s available, he holds the hook between his teeth and threads the worm. A strong taste of garden worm? So what. He’s good. He fought for the Yanks, and really, it’s nobody’s business but his own.

Wish I had the good sense of the Jordans. John and Maryanne, up in Jemison Hollow, my East Fork “neighbors.” John once poled a year’s supply of goods from the Susquehanna. A keg of whiskey and a half-barrel of flour had a fine ride on his boat. Why the hell did you haul so much flour? quipped Maryanne. They know the value of a well-aged drink. For raising a barn, collecting logs, and purifying the blood.

Summer: A few summers back, the East Fork had a dam right here, the flood-trash forcing water through the branches and around its ends. It formed a beautiful pool, a home for a large trout that several people wanted. Trees and brush overhung the pool, so there was no way to fish for that trout except from the tricky dam, itself.

The fish was in plain sight but he was smart. Ignored my “stone fish” and the worms that floated toward his nose. I’d cast a fly–  the trout would dart off to the side. I tried to catch him for about two hours till I saw the light and changed my ways. A cricket chirped and grasshoppers leapt along the bank. I walked to the meadow and collected hoppers.

Stepping back on the dam, I waited, then flipped a hopper to catch his eye. Another and another, till at last the great trout rose and splashed and gobbled one. I baited my hook, slowly and carefully, and gave him time to think about the taste. I tossed the hook and… whoosh! He rose. I lost my balance, slid off into waist-deep water and lumbered away– toward the far end so he wouldn’t tangle in the roots or flood debris. I worked him slowly to a gravel bar. Pulled him out and held him in my shaking hands. So handsome, this fruit of my labors. The only fish I caught that day.

Fall: I venture to my homestead boundary, to the fence-line edge of useful things. I find some Vinland vines, fox grapes, hanging in tight blue clusters.

Juice breaks out of dusty skins; the globules are eaten from hand, their taste as colorful as autumn’s palette, waving on the tongue like Viking spirits.

Here the waxwings feed by day, and the red fox passes at night. I venture toward the limits of knowledge, tasting the wild grapes, late summer fruit. I’ll jump the back fence of experience– before the frosts of autumn come, before the winter bones start creaking.

************************************************************************************

Too late for the run of autumn browns on Naples Creek (11/18/19), I caught only bunches of these little streambred ‘bows…

An 80-year-old South Bend 359 at rest… A “rescue rod,” I bought it 20 years ago from an “abusive owner”– note the hook marks in the cork handle…

No wild boy or modern super-hero is gonna harness the energy of this waterfall…

Jim caught the only fish on our recent afternoon outing, a fine landlocked salmon.

 

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Autumn Letter

The day begins like a sheet of paper waiting for words. Its composition won’t go digital until later, when darkness comes again. Two bald eagles sit together on a carcass near the road as I go speeding by, wishing I could stop and view them on my route to Slate Run for a visit. The day begins like an exercise in writing.

My Slate Run pal, Dale H., told Jim K. to watch out because I’ll probably try to slip a photo of him into my next post. Smart guy, that Dale.

Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” beams in from a satellite and fills the car with song. A hunter, face behind a woolen mask, stands with shotgun in the middle of the Blackwell Road in front of me as Bob sings of an uncontrolled “Grandpa” (just before he died) who builds a fire on Main Street and then shoots it full of holes. Yeah Mama, I’m glad to be driving on, along the curves and through the holes of surrealistic day, the end not yet in sight.

Apropos of next to nothing, this small rainbow came from the Allegheny on 11/10/19 after losing a couple of big fish there…

I’m late to a meeting of the Slate Run Sportsman group. Someone there says, “You weren’t supposed to go fishing yet,” and I reply, “What month is this, November?” Just because the days are shorter doesn’t mean my brain has to stay on track. Soon, Marion presents me with a gift of artificial flies, their beauty hooked inside my day, a promise of fair seasons yet to come.

Marion’s gift came with a letter signed with a special flourish…

I’ll meet Jim at the Hotel Manor, pull out from the Penn State/Minnesota football game displayed above the bar, and hit the water. Word follows word; sentence follows sentence; no one follows anyone (thankfully) through the chilly hours (34 degrees F.!) of the Slate Run Gorge.

one of Marion Alexander’s fine emergers…

The stream flows like a fullback on a Saturday mission, ready to be downstream and away. We cast our players carefully– yes, Green Weenie, Prince Nymph (formerly known as Isonychia), Pheasant-Tail, and Egg– Jim laughs at the notion of an artificial egg rolling over bedrock like a football or a song, but it’s the only pattern of the day to lure wild brook and brown trout to their table.

Slate Run brookie. The larger browns didn’t want to be photographed.

The day ends quickly for the anglers’ page. The sun, like a warm fire high above the wooded gorge, banks itself prematurely, fills with dark holes of the universe as we head homeward, breaking down our gear, thankful for yet another opportunity to fish.

Chester2 on the stump (despite his apolitical convictions)…

Later, I’m reminded of a phrase from the writer, Henry James, who said, “Letters mingle souls.” That ideal, a letter from an ordinary day, is cast for you, my readers. And like so many others now in cyberspace, it welcomes a response– in words or in a thought.

Slate Run as a football field? Nah, the Sportsmen would never allow it.

I really like Marion’s dark-winged olive dry flies….

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A Thin Man Fishing

Physically, the thin man isn’t really thin but, looking at a thread-bare autumn day, he felt that way– just basic flesh and bone, reduced to seasonal elements. His summer garments had been stripped away, replaced by heavy clothing to ward off the chill. Sure, he wore the usual fishing gear and entertained a stray thought or two, but if anyone else was haunting the hills nearby, he might have been seen, or not.

Expected to find only thin little brookies like this…

Two inches of rain, followed by powerful winds, had punched the region on Halloween, presenting a quick and frightening rise of water levels. Now the sky was blue, but the streams were still pushing heavy water. His fishing options? Well, those blue lines on the topo maps were always calling, but which one should he choose? He decided on a favorite tributary on the far side of Pine, but the larger water stopped him cold–  it was high and turbulent, unfriendly to a wader.

He returned to the car and chose a small brook exiting the forestland nearby. The little stream isn’t noted for being much of a fishery, but at least it gave him an excuse for walking in fair weather. He hadn’t tried the stream in years, but he quickly saw a difference– even this flow had a white crest thick with run-off, and a scarcity of holding spots for trout.

the brook usually has a lot less water than this…

He hiked for a quarter-mile then noticed an anomaly… One half of the stream was now quieter than the other half, consisting of a back-flow that accentuated a log-jam where he stood along the bank. Several large fish wove around the back-flow, probably spawning and, by all appearances, not the little natives typical of the stream.

This group of brown trout caught his interest fully. Years ago, Pennsylvania had a closed season on trout in autumn, even for places like this mountain stream. The spawning trout were not to be messed with. Today, the state-wide season remains closed for most of fall and winter, but special regulation streams and smaller tributaries managed as wild trout fisheries do stay open on a strictly catch-and-release basis. Out before him were some eye-popping brown trout in a brook where he did not expect them.

the log-jam where it happened…

The biggest fish ignored his careful casting with a wet fly but got fooled, or totally irritated, by a Woolly Bugger. He stepped along the bank with his little 6-foot Fenwick arched and pumping as he tried to keep the large brown from the log-jam. Net-less, he attempted to hold and lift the richly colored male (with prominent kype) from rushing water in the log debris.

The event proceeded farther than he thought it might, especially since he got a good grip on the massive tail. Naturally, it all went south from there. The fish, perhaps close to 20 inches long, gave a head twist and a dive beneath the logs, returning the Woolly Bugger on its tippet, as if to say, “Wow, that was close, but I won’t get fooled again.”

Narragansett’s Moby Dick became Moby Trutta of the Pine…

The thin man stuttered, “Y’ you win,” amazed at the size and colors of the catch, at how it would have been a photo for the folks back home– a wild fish, probably, or, if not, then a long-time resident of the watershed, perhaps having traveled five miles upstream from the nearest stocking point on Pine. He thought about the catch and felt his ego bloating, adding unwanted weight above his shoulders, settling then into his waders. He imagined himself a fat man casting egg-sacs into a crowded Salmon River, gloating over his catches hooked up to a chain.

WNY Fly Fishing’s Jim Guida gave me this “Brown Star” (a jig-type streamer) to try on the streams this winter…

It was too much for a black-and-white day like this. The fish was gone. Its mate, a smaller female scooping gravel from the streambed, remained as before. He would leave her in peace, working to increase the number and range of her progeny. He had mixed feelings on discovering brown trout (even beautiful fish like this) in what used to be native brook trout water. Native fish across the continent are facing many problems today, with habitat loss, invasive species, and climate change. Nonetheless, an animal tango of this sort was special.

small wild browns can now be found in the brook trout stream…

So, the thin man took himself out of the picture. He was slim again, standing on an edge between wildness and civility, unseen by anyone or anything that he knows, other than a big fish hiding in the jams. Its memory could be stored, of course, reserved for a special place inside his heart and brain. A sweet meat for the winter.

last weekend, even the smallest brooks ran high…

speaking of winter, winter comes home to roost, 11/7/19. photo is from last year, but today there’s an inch so far, and more snow falling….

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Jumping the Back Fence

Wild Boy Run was named for Lewis “Wild Boy” Stevens who settled on the Pennsylvania mountain stream in 1842.  Born to alcoholic and abusive parents, Stevens “jumped the back fence” of his home (in New Jersey) at age eleven and escaped, eventually settling in the East Fork Sinnemahoning wilderness. He had learned the tinsmith’s trade, and had built himself a cabin chinked with moss and mud, complete with hemlock boughs for a bed, along with a gun, an axe, a frying pan, a tin cup, and a knife. He lived alone at the stream’s edge, six miles from the nearest neighbor, through the 1840s and the ’50s.

Salmon River, upper fly-fishing-only stretch…

I learned of Mr. Stevens long before my introduction to Wild Boy Run but, admittedly, the poet in me reinforced the link between man and stream just recently. The poet urged the fly-fisher to inspect this new location. I was not trying to romanticize a subject barely known to me, but I do enjoy local history. I figured that it might be interesting to view the stream from vantage points 160 years apart.

modern camp at Wild Boy…

Before the Wild Boy visit, Jim K. and I had fished Ontario tributaries without much luck. Our timing was bad. The Salmon River kings were dead or dying, and the steelhead run was in its infancy. At another Lake Ontario trib, the runs were way behind an average seasonal start. The lateness may have been due to warmer water temperatures. Who knows? We had fun attempting to decipher what the problems were– knowing full well that behind them was a simple fact: there were just too many fishermen on these streams. Judging by the license plates observed in parking lots, there were people casting here from such places as New Jersey, Idaho, Ohio and Ontario– more fishermen than fish, at least in late October.

Jim @ Salmon River, giving it the old college try…

It’s a problem, and the New York DEC is proposing several changes that may help ease the impact that we make on Lake Ontario and its tributaries. The proposals, basically supporting a reduced “creel limit” for brown trout and steelhead (while also increasing the size limit for steelhead), can be viewed at dec.ny.gov/outdoors and commented on until December 16, 2019. I support these proposals (for implementation on April 1, 2020) as a means to benefit Lake Ontario fisheries, a start on the long road to improvement in this realm of trout and angler.

home view #1…

Meanwhile, it was time for us to regroup closer to home. I much prefer the relative solitude, the beauty of the forested mountains with their sparkling streams where small fish rule the undercuts and riffles, where I share my thoughts with a fishing partner or where my singular reveries help me jump the back fence into local lore.

home view #2…

Lewis Stevens grew a garden here, lived on nuts and berries, trout and deer. Wild pigeons thrived near the forest. Stevens’ hair and beard grew long and shaggy. People who encountered him saw a crazy fellow, shy, uncomfortable, one who disliked cats and dogs but who loved the birds and flowers. Regional mothers threatened misbehaving children– saying if the kids didn’t straighten up, bogeyman Stevens would surprise and get them. When the Civil War broke out, Stevens left it all behind, enlisting with Pennsylvania’s 46th Regiment, contributing his own fervent hope that the Union be preserved.

Wild Boy Run…

It was a beautiful afternoon in late October. I climbed the wild run and looked for trout. The state forestland, rich with bronzy foliage and flowing water, seemed to cradle my intent and small stream interests. The farther I got from the valley camps and lodges, the more fish I encountered. They were small, surely. Brookies, bright with spawning color, up to nine inches long, at best. I had jumped the back fence from my 8-weight fly rod tactics on the northern tributaries to my 3-weight strategies for brook trout in the mountains. It was a pleasant leap.

Wild Boy Stevens went to war and found that fighting was unbearable. He didn’t want to kill; he didn’t want to die. He called himself a coward, and deserted his regiment, eventually building a hut in the Indiana swamplands. After the war, Stevens made a gradual return to the Sinnemahoning. He discovered that his old home had been broken into, and his few possessions had been stolen. He eventually built another home for himself in western Pennsylvania but, essentially, Wild Boy Stevens quickly faded into history.

About a century and a half later, near the place where Stevens had lived for many years, I caught a bunch of brook trout and released them from the fly. The Wild Boy would have used live bait or the “fingering” method for his trout. Whereas our goals and methods, our philosophies and beliefs, may have differed due to circumstance, outdoor Pennsylvania brought us into an afternoon of dreams.

headwaters…

home view #3… poplars in the breeze…

red oaks, home view #4…

 

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Welcome to Paradise

Luckily there was no pearly gate to pass through, just a sign that read “Welcome to Fisherman’s Paradise,” a warm welcome to Spring Creek on a cool October morning. Luckily for me, an entrance to one of America’s most storied fly-fishing waters (near State College, Pennsylvania) did not require a life-time of good behavior or superior angling skills. Simply stated, I was on a pilgrimage, a first-time visit, to a very popular fishing site. Ironically, perhaps, the Paradise and lower sections of this limestone creek produce one of the finest wild trout fisheries in the state and country.

all trout pictured on this post (except for 1 that’s indicated) are from the Allegheny River on 2 visits that sandwiched my trip to Spring Creek…

The human history at the creek is staggering. It’s been fished by notables ranging from Theodore Gordon to several U.S. Presidents. The mile-long Fisherman’s Paradise was one of the first American experiments with special angling regulations. Located in the mid-section of this 16-mile creek, it remains a fly-fishing only water, where wading is prohibited. Its wild brown trout have seen just about every pattern of nymph, scud, sculpin, and tiny dry fly imaginable. And to think that Paradise could be easy and unchallenging? Not on a blue sky autumn day, not in low, clear water with a high pH and a great variety of aquatic insects.

Spring Creek, near Bellefont, PA…

Well, Paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The stream suffered horrible abuse with chemical pollution in the mid to late 1900s but, luckily, it’s coming back, thanks to the dedicated work of conservationists and civic organizations. I’m glad it’s here on Earth. I wouldn’t want to travel too much farther to attain its pleasures.

The Paradise and its surrounding park were comfortable enough, with easy access and good casting from its open banks. I saw some mammoth, tight-lipped browns. I did not see the ghosts of famous fishermen from the past, nor angelic casters we might recognize from glossy magazines or videos, nor even a school of Orvis-clad couples rigging up at their SUVs. Oh, an angler fished here and there; a group of folks was selling hot dogs for a worthy cause but, over all, my wife and I enjoyed the relative peace and quiet.

Riparian zone, Fisherman’s Paradise…

The stream was on the rebound and becoming a healthy ecosystem once again. It is said to have more wild trout per mile than any other water in the state. I sampled the canyon above the Paradise (its water paralleled by a popular hiking trail) and found it scenic and wild, considering that the creek was flowing in a populated and rapidly developing county. I attempted to reach the Benner Spring Hatchery section to fish below it into the canyon but somehow missed the turn. If I visit again, that’s where I’m heading.

the Bob Stanton caddis did the trick with a lot of these Allegheny browns…

Back at Paradise, the trout began to rise for midges but the hook-ups were few and far between. I finally landed a leaping brown that made my day, erasing the problems of conflicting surface currents and whatever mental conflicts I may have entertained concerning paradisal expectations. It was time for lunch, so Leighanne and I retreated to a brewery in State College.

nectar of the trout gods…

The food and drink were excellent but they couldn’t block a conversation at a nearby table. A professorial character was extolling the virtues of technology to a captured audience of three. “Think of this,” said the intellectual. “Someday the entire universe will be reproduced inside of your computer. The. Entire. Universe.”

I thought about what I heard. And yawned. And took another swill of IPA. Hell, I thought. Didn’t William Blake foresee all that– the world in a grain of sand– 200 years ago? The more things change… yeah. But the lunch was good, and necessary.

We soon headed back to Paradise, with Spring Creek flowing through.

this Spring Creek pool held some monstrous, restive browns…

Paradise brown…

the Paradise above…

 

 

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Shape-Shifter

My evening climbs up the seasonal roadway typically did not produce unusual wildlife sightings, but a recent walk proved to be exceptional.

Old metal plate with roaring bear.Vector illustration Stock Vector - 38427924

Before I reached my spruce and pine grove on the east side of the gravel road, I saw a black bear, a small one, crossing from the field to the woods. It quickly disappeared, but since the wind was in my favor I decided to sneak up and attempt another glimpse of the bear.

Within five minutes, I approached an old jumble of fallen trees within my grove and saw something that brought me to a stop. It was not the bear that I’d been following, but a short-legged mammal with a bushy tail. A fisher was running uphill, leaping from trunk to fallen trunk, and then, like the black bear, vanishing from view.

Image result for fisher photos[photo by Missoulian]

For a second I thought it was a mink, but no– this was too large, too dark (almost black), too facile a tree climber to be a mink. Fisher sightings are unusual in New York, but are more common now than they were when I first settled here. The fisher’s preferred habitat (unbroken tracts of forest land) is more prevalent than it was four decades ago, and offers the fur-bearer a sufficient livelihood in the pursuit of rabbit, squirrel and porcupine.

blow-down where I saw the running fisher…

Although I’ve witnessed fishers (a large member of the weasel family, and not related to cats) at least four or five times, this was the first occasion where I’ve seen one on the home place. Viewing it was magical, as if a black bear had shape-shifted quickly to a rarer carnivore returning to its former haunts.

I saw it, incidentally, without the dubious aid of alcohol, illegal substance, or the FNN (Fake News Network)! I’d been thinking of “a wild economy,” a notion I referred to in my previous post, whereby energy transactions occur between humans and creatures of the wild.

brown trout, Allegheny…

I’m no expert on the subject but I think that people need these energy transactions to help them keep their balance with nature. The problem is that in our increasingly urbanized existence, with our minimal contact with the wild, a lot of us are lacking a healthy relationship with outer realms. Culturally, our wild economy is hurting.

wild brown, West Branch Pine…

But sequestered souls are busy filling up the void with substitute nature, with illusions. When I was 10 or 11 years old, I became obsessed with UFOs, convinced, from reading library books, that flying saucers were real, that the U.S. government was withholding the truth about them from the public.

upper West Branch modified by beaver works…

Flying saucers could be real, of course, but later on, the drug culture sucked me in and straightened out a lot of misconceptions (so I like to think). After college and my first real job in life, I defected to an edge land where I learned about the beautiful hardships found in rural living.

in the Asaph Wild Area…

I was often entertained by local residents, here and elsewhere, swearing that mountain lions and black panthers (among other unlikely spirits) roamed the hills. I could shape-shift in imagination as handily as anyone, but I wasn’t quite ready to believe (as much as I wanted to) that big cats still haunted Appalachia.

kids or wild men sat here by the stream…

I even heard that our state’s Department of Environmental Conservation was stocking these animals, secretly… Right, and I’ve got a bridge that I can sell you over on the Genesee.

backbone of a wild economy…

I guess if you believe some fallacy long enough, you’ll come around eventually to seeing it face to face. You’ll witness UFOs sweeping the sky, or find cougars stalking Pennsylvania white-tails. Everything shape-shifts, potentially, to fill a vacuum in the soul. Everyone needs to find some magic in the world.

rainbow magic… 10/6/19

I feel rather fortunate in finding a simple presentation, though– of bear to fisher in a woodlot near the house, of creatures giving something back to one who looks– a wild economy at work.

whatinhell laid this egg at the bottom of the Asaph… a Squonk?

the beholder…

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The Caddis Hour

The Caddis Hour is not so much about fishing as it is a state of mind. I visited a stretch of Genesee River that I probably hadn’t waded in a decade. It was mid-morning. River pools, low and thirsty, were dimpled by rising trout. A thousand caddis flew above the autumn flow, a ragged flight of tiny wings, more orderly than chaotic (so says this state of mind). An old excitement, young and fresh when it occurs, filled my preparation as I laced up wading shoes and found an artificial fly to match the hatch.

a caddis fly hatchery…

I started fishing, more with the idea of counting my blessings than the hope of counting trout. I was glad when an occasional riser struck the small brown caddis, but was happier that the cool autumn morning found me still alert. In addition to several hatchery trout, I caught a small wild brown– unusual in this stretch of water where stream-bred trout are rarities.

first hatchery brown of the morning, but who’s counting?

So, I counted 10 years since my last appearance here (or was it only five?). The years all blend together in the freedom of discovery (aka the dismemberment of memory). I listened to the scratchy call notes of a blue-gray gnatcatcher in the knotweed jungle. I was startled by a pileated woodpecker chortling from the woods, as if in recompense for the dead one of its kind witnessed on the roadside just an hour earlier.

Chester2, showing off, with the featured caddis (dry)…

Politically and spiritually, our nation looked torn apart, democracy imperiled. Environmentally, I perceived a full-blown crisis. We’ve all heard about the rising seas and spiking storm events. New studies have revealed that wild bird populations of North America have decreased by 30 percent (some 2.9 billion birds) since 1970 (with similar results in Europe).

always listening to the birds, hoping we don’t hear a silent spring, a silent fall…

I was deeply saddened by these scientific surveys but not surprised, considering that the world’s human population since 1970 has increased from 3.7 billion people to about 7.7 billion souls today. We could still move about freely in the countryside but its air felt heavy at times like this.

heading upstream on the Genny…

I counted my blessings (family, health, and friends) and hoped for at least a few more years of pleasant nature rambling. More importantly, when the fishing was slow (as in the last half of the Caddis Hour), I could see beyond the river pool, beyond the farthest bend of who I was…

before the quick release…

I could grasp at a floating sycamore leaf, pluck it from the river and dream of a healthier planet in years to come. Realistically, I might see that nature would survive, in some form or another, but its beauty and diversity of life would be diminishing, blown about like smoke above the Amazon.

pale rainbow chased & caught the soft-hackle fly…

Here, the trout no longer wanted caddis flies on the surface, but a soft-hackle Partridge & Orange connected just below. A rainbow charged the hook and found a big surprise– negative for the fish but positive for me. All in all, an equilibrium was established through the hour and the day. A state of mind was recreated, a wild economy that keeps me going and returns a trout to its abode.

wild browns are rare on the main-stem Genesee…

sycamore leaf delight….

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Fall (The Starred Horizon)

I spent most of Sunday morning in the comfortable waters of the Allegheny River. I had little reason to move. The weather was perfect and the fish (both hatchery and wild) were rising in a long deep pool. For the most part, the tranquility was broken only by occasional chattering of a jay or kingfisher, and the splashing of hungry trout.

Allegheny morn…

Sometimes the fish were taking an emergent insect just below the surface film; other times they were nailing the adult flies on the surface. My problem lay in finding out what turned them on.

I tried the usual suspects on a long fine tippet: Black Ant, Trico Spinner, Blue Quill Spinner, Adams, soft-hackles, midges, caddis pupa… and all the fish would do was follow, make a close inspection, and depart. I tried various strategies– drifting, mending, twitching the fly, mostly to no avail. I felt like I was in church, trying to figure out a sermon, making sense of the insensible, wondering why, with all the possibilities before them, the attendant feeders had to be so finicky.

finicky ‘bows…

“They were real finicky yesterday,” said an arriving angler from New Jersey. “Refused everything except an Ant. And even with Ants, the hook-ups were few and far between. One of them, though, was a 25-inch rainbow! Caught it right there where you’re standing. I made a video, but it wasn’t easy.” Since Jersey anglers (and those from metro Philly) tend to speak the truth about their Potter County catches (lol), I had little reason to doubt this fellow, though the largest rainbow I’ve ever landed in 33 years of fishing the Allegheny measured four inches less than that behemoth.

“Finicky” seemed to be the operative word this weekend. And come to think of it, I was finicky in selecting the Allegheny for this outing… The day before, Jim K. and I fished a lovely but challenging stretch of Wiscoy Creek in western New York and walked away with catching and releasing just a few small browns. The drive was long; the weather was hot. Today I wanted something easier, so I made a careful and deliberate choice…

I wanted a fuller flow, with cool water temperatures, close to home, and with a chance for larger trout. I looked across the expansive pool and watched the rise forms that eventually told me to be patient, to retract my vision from the starred horizon, focusing on the mystery hatch while trying to match it with an artificial in my boxes.

Wiscoy browns were small & wild…

It’s not my favored way for studying bugs and what it is that eats them. My survey, and others like it, seemed too modern, specialized and calculating. I prefer to look askance at the whole spectrum of events if possible, to see connections in the full view of nature, even if it lacks a scientific focus. But that’s not what the trout were doing; they were keying in on one stage of one specific hatch at a time. If I wanted to be as smart as a fifth-grade hatchery fish, I had better figure out what those guys were feeding on.

I got lucky. I learned that what the trout were taking (at first) was  Little Blue-Winged Olives, the smaller the mayfly, the better. I made good catches, and transitioned slowly as the fish began to feed selectively on Ants later in the morning.

Allegheny brown…

What relief! And hatchery trout are dumb, right? Well, disadvantaged, maybe, through no fault of their own. They didn’t choose to grow up in a factory eating but a single kind of manufactured food. They probably enjoyed this weekend’s smorgasbord, selecting one winged species at a time.

It was Sunday morning, looking at the start of Fall. My soul was saved, for now.

Happy Autumn to you all.

Wiscoy Creek @ summer’s end…

J.K. on the Wiscoy, bringing on the Fall….

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Gray Hair and Grizzly Hackle

Ever since I joined several outdoor organizations and started to attend their regular meetings in the 1990s, I’ve been hearing a general complaint: Look around this room. Our hair is gray. We need some younger people, bright new faces interested in what we do, or it won’t be long until we’re finished.

I, too, used to be concerned– longing for the comfort of youthful representatives in the room. I had to wonder if high-tech gadgetry, or a form of evil, was stealing young folk from the world of nature and its preservation. Maybe something nefarious was involved, but maybe… it was no more than before. I had to reconsider…

fields of chest-high goldenrod, the antithesis of gray…

I recalled that the Boomers, influential at the blossoming of social and political progress in the 1960s, had television (black-and-white and, finally, color) to blank their impressionable minds. Today, well, we know that all too many kids come from broken homes, that Fortnight or equivalent has them in thrall…It’s different and, yet, not so different than before…

I don’t make many social or political comments on this blog. Frankly, I find that all too many current events are either so depressing or surreal that my two-cents’-worth of commentary has no value whatsoever. Even if I spoke more fully, nothing I could say would help settle the sordid flow of things.

Up & down the stream, an Inter-Web of night-time information…

That said, I still consider myself an activist for change, retaining a bit of youthful energy first noticed back in college days. Despite some lingering awkwardness and confusion, I still try to harness a reservoir of social energy– like a river dam that’s cracked and probably should be taken down .

Before I judge the world of young adults, I need to look at my own gray hairs and recognize the route I’ve taken. I became a parent (with great kids, by the way!). I wrote letters, books and pleas. I dealt with home ownership and muddled on with high hopes for a better world. I attended lectures, rallies, and planning sessions. I participated in many acts of non-violent civil disobedience, but I did not join a formal meeting of an activist group (i.e., A. C. Bird Club, Slate Run Sportsmen, Trout Unlimited…) until the age of 40, or older.

taking time to smell the odorless asters…

And that’s when I started hearing the complaints… We don’t have the young folks here. We need fresh blood.

I heard it again today, at a Sportsman meeting, just before embarking on a fishing jaunt along Slate Run. The water was low, very clear and cool at 61 degrees F.. The sky was overcast and promising rain. As far as I could tell, no one else was fishing the run. A favorite pool, long and deep, was active with some very nice fish, large trout mostly nymphing at the bottom or occasionally taking something tiny at the top.

another view of upper Genesee watershed…

I wanted a connection– with the fish, with fellow Sportsmen who could not be here because of physical ailments or prior commitments, and with youthful anglers who might be casting in the social breezes down on big Pine Creek…

I watched a Green Weenie drift along the bottom of the pool– to the nose of what appeared to be a 20-inch brown, into the opening jaws of that exceptional fish– only to snap off when I struck too hard and broke the hair-like tippet. Damn! Then I went through wet and dry fly patterns in various sizes till I settled on a tiny Adams emerger… #20 hook. Real small, for sure, but effective.

keep an eye on this small gray-hackled fly…

Youth has every advantage in society today, and that’s the way it should be if the world isn’t under the command of a Deathwish. Yeah, we gray-hairs had our chance to speak out clearly, but wouldn’t it be nice if our shards of wisdom and experience still stood upright like a road sign to the future?

At the pool, I made a long cast of the Adams to the far end of the pool. Its grizzly hackle, its tiny feathers mottled gray and russet like a wise old head, reflected light and vision. A trout rose and missed it, but I brought the line in, made another cast… And finally, a Slate Run brown, or two–  buttery gems for contemplation.

some nice browns rose to it…

Many teens and young folk in the world are out there doing excellent work. Some of them fish or ski or hike or study previously unimagined maps of our existence. Their work can be transformative–doing stuff like trying to convince our leadership that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. They’re living as fully as they’re able.

Does this mean I’m optimistic about our future? Not necessarily, and not because our youthful saviors are becoming self-involved. They’re working. And when their hairs turn slowly gray, more than a few will be sitting in those meeting chairs the elders left behind.

the first of several on meeting day…

Adams, emerger, small…

a Slate Run brown, late summer…

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