On Skis, an Open Letter, 1989

[ I recently found a copy of a letter to a friend with whom I used to correspond, a friend who wouldn’t mind this link to the present time…]

Dear C.,

Last night we had our first significant snowfall of the season. Seven or eight inches of the cleansing, heavenly powder have domed each twig and tree trunk. My god, how long has it been since we’ve had snow or rain?

looking back– at the bear track in the yard…

I stepped into my skis today and poled up the north ridge toward McKenna’s sheep farm. I turned westward on the plowed gravel road. Skiing was delightful in the bright morning air. I stopped and listened to my heartbeat for a spell, then heard a shotgun blast from far away. The wooded slopes shimmered with a sheen of snow and ice.

There was no fishing on New Year’s Day. I could barely summon the tying of a single Conhocton mink caddis…

The peace and solitude were like candy to a kid. I tried being “here and now” like a Zen practitioner, knowing that moments like this in troubled times are hard to find. Occasionally I thought about the nuclear waste dump proposal for our area, of how such evil sharpens an appreciation for a simple act like fishing or cross-country skiing.

Yeah, New York State in its political wisdom has selected the 10 poorest and most rural counties as possibilities for the siting of its nuclear waste dump. A county neighboring my home is one of those 10 places, and within the county are five townships that qualify for nuke waste, according to the state. Two of the county sites are roughly 25 miles of where I skied today.

I much preferred taking notes, observing Tim at the tying vise…

The siting commissioners came to Belfast a few weeks back, to the high school complex that managed to absorb 5,000 angry protestors (roughly one out of every 10 residents in Allegany County!). I even made the late-night TV news in Buffalo that evening, thanks to the Earth First! sign I was carrying.

He’s a masterful creator of the big fly– here the famous Black Ghost. Also, looks like I’ll be casting a 4-weight silk line this spring, at least occasionally.

No one seems to want the nuke dump (“We don’t make it; we won’t take it!”), and many don’t want to see it anywhere, myself included, feeling that it’s time to get serious about our energy use and to open the door to less consumption and to more sustainable means. But Governor Mario Cuomo will not listen. One commissioner at the Belfast meeting actually fell asleep amidst the uproar!

I skied through an old apple orchard, gliding slowly, listening to a pair of hairy woodpeckers tapping at the aged trees, then flying in a wave toward the sumacs where I paused. A raven gave a rasping croak and flew overhead. A bit of wild Appalachia filled the space between that bird and me.

Raven takes me there…

C., we humans have really done it– separated the egg yolk from the white, as you have said, and created one helluva meringue in this life. The poet Ben Jonson may have said, “An Egg is but a Chicken in Potentia”– I would add that our scrambled eggs are prelude to a monster.

It’s a good thing to be fueled by vision (if not with less glorious substances), by poetry, even if you haven’t composed a line. Incidently, my hemlock poem is finished but it needs some aging before I send it out. My birch poem, too, is brewing slowly. But I am enclosing a copy of the long Survivor, written last fall and accepted by a new journal giving voice to Appalachia and its wider spaces.

With an overnight rain, our waterfall switched from solid ice to flowing energy…

I skied through a stretch of land posted with “Experimental Wildlife Area” signs. The out-of-state owners have been busy planting groves of pine and spruce. Surrounding brush has been cleared; bluebird houses have been set up in the open areas. Fruit trees have been planted and protected. Skiing through abandoned farmland has been comforting. The “improvements” are largely for the many deer to be hunted on this summit, a selfish concern perhaps, but the work and planning have benefits for other species to be found here through the year.

Thanks again for the Agee article. I found it intriguing though a little too self-conscious and artful, as if looking for the “movie rights” alone, like Castanada. How I loved to read the Don Juan writer till I learned that the work was more for art than anthropology. The truth probably suffered. Currently, there’s a sense of the creative Sixties in the air, short-lived perhaps. We need another burst of fresh air, wouldn’t you say? More light. More snow. A new revolution.

Yours, on cross-country skis….

“Energy is eternal delight”– Wm Blake

old blade on Dryden Hill…

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“Truly Gone Fishing”

Recently my son asked, “Where does an old fisherman go when it’s just too cold to fly-fish?” Good question.

Lately, with daytime temperatures peaking near the single-digits (Fahrenheit), it’s a little too cold to be standing in water or falling through the ice. I hadn’t been fishing since December 10th, so this was clearly my longest dry spell of the 2017 season.

Since there’s always something for a pumped-up naturalist to do, especially in a time of holidays and odd traditions, I’m not complaining, really. As my son also noted, there’s an old expression that might have an ironic connection to my current status as a non-fishing angler. “Truly gone fishing.” It can be found in Pink Floyd’s song “The Trial” (from The Wall) and it implies derangement or outrageous behavior. Glad for an excuse to make myself useful, I took a walk down memory lane and, sure enough, there it was:

“… Crazy toys in the attic I am crazy/ Truly gone fishing/ They must have taken my marbles away/ Crazy toys in the attic he is crazy…” Or headed that way.

I’m truly happy that the toys in my attic (mostly books and angling and artsy-fartsy items, by the way) aren’t as burdened emotionally or as self-destructive as Pink’s (now there’s an understatement) but I get the drift. Let’s see what little toys I’ve picked up as gifts (or have stolen figuratively) since this cold holiday season began…

One frozen afternoon I accompanied wife and daughter to the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, New York. Every visit to this reconstructed village is an inspirational jaunt through early American history, especially in December when it’s only partially open and the crowd of visitors is minimal. I had glanced nostalgically at my fishing haunts along Spring Creek nearby (even there, man, it’s too cold to fish!) but soon got swept up with the period costumes, subject matter, and warmth from ancient fireplaces. No 19th-century fly shops could be visited, but damn, the hot mac & cheese and the home-brewed beer, colonial style, was tasty!

I was celebrating Winter Solstice with a walk out back and an Old Man Winter Ale in hand when I heard the high-pitched and repetitive too notes of the tiny saw-whet owl from somewhere in my grove of pine and spruce and tamarack. I don’t often see or hear this little creature of the night, but its too too too notes rang out loudly for several minutes as I stood there on my path and wondered if I’d had too many sips of Old Man Winter or had too many toys in my attic. Ultimately I decided that my friend the saw-whet owl was just presenting a bird’s good wishes for the new year.                                                                             

Image result for saw whet owlThe family’s traditional “whiskey walk” or Christmas Eve hike with my son and my brother was resumed this year, and it was fun, and cold. My son recently posted his report on our hike into the rollicking depths over on his blog, Bridging the Gap. It’s well worth checking out. We had dinner, spirits, gifts, and a bonfire just before the snow began to fall and Christmas closed in from the skies.

The days weren’t getting any warmer and, with temperature predictions for New Year’s Day predicted to peak at less than 10 degrees F., it looked as though Tim Didas and I could freeze in our six-year tradition of fly-casting on the holiday. Just when things were looking dim, I rediscovered an article in the Summer 2006 issue of Trout magazine about the world’s rarest and most imperiled trout, a wild fish only recently documented, and what a small group of bi-national pros is doing to save this newly examined species and to help indigenous people who live nearby. It was what I needed.

Reading about the rare Rio Conchas trout still dwelling in the Atlantic drainage of Chihuahua, Mexico, and then watching Joseph Temelleri’s 2016 documentary called  Truchas Mexicanas, the Native Trout of Mexico, floored me with inspiration and, if not with hope, then with pride in what our species can do for another when push comes to shove. You don’t need to be an angler to love this nearly one-hour video on You Tube (link is at the bottom). It’s beautiful, from content to production. Anyone who appreciates cultural diversity and the wonders of nature should enjoy it. I’ve viewed the documentary twice and dreamed of visiting the Sierra Madre for adventure… “truly gone fishing.”

The film is like another toy inside my attic. It’s a fine toy but I’m just too old to play with it. Nonetheless, there is pleasure knowing it is there.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=truchas+mexicanas&view=detail&mid=97B8C4FE886921C732B197B8C4FE886921C732B1&FORM=VIRE

 

 

 

 

 

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Old Woodenhead Skates on Thin Ice

Old Woodenhead was on the Allegheny River by noon. The weather had become more seasonal, turning sharply colder, with air temperatures peaking at less than the freezing mark. Winter fly-fishing is an exercise in patience and layered clothing, he thought. Fingers freeze while attending to snags and tangles. Every action, whether it’s short-line casting or the reeling in of a stubborn fish, is accomplished as if with wooden hands.

He was not alone there by the river. An army of eleven orange-clad deer hunters advanced across a wooded slope nearby. For safety’s sake, Old Woodenhead had added a fluorescent orange vest over his usual Orvis tans. He may have grumbled, wondering why he bothered with this masochistic behavior but, when all was cursed and settled, he would have it no other way. To fish in winter is to really feel alive.

thin ice of a new day

He was on an Allegheny River pool with depth and oversized trout. He could fish from only one side of this pool, and it was covered with 10 to 15-feet of thin ice. He watched the shadowy forms of trout shifting on the river bottom out beyond the ice. He  made several casts of an Egg pattern across the ice, mending his fly line so the Egg had time to sink down close to bottom.

Finally, a trout grabbed the fly and rose to the edge of the ice. Fish on!

a smaller one

Old Woodenhead kept the line fairly tight and scrambled downstream toward the tail of the pool. He didn’t want the ice-edge to sever his connection. Gaining the proper position in open water, he worked the fish into the net and removed the hook. It was a healthy brown trout measuring 17 inches. He took two photos then sent the fish back into the pool, with his regards for a happy holiday to all with fin or fur or feather.

Now, you ask, who the hell is Old Woodenhead, and why is he making an appearance on Rivertop Rambles? Actually, the fellow is a holiday tradition here on the blog. Longtime readers may recall that he’s a wooden statuette of fisherman Franklin, produced by Coudersport artist, David Castano, and presented to the writer at Christmas time by his wife, Leighanne.

Each December, Old Woodenhead advances toward the state of being human and resumes his quest for meaning in unusual ways. A traditionalist, he fly-fishes, hikes and makes himself a minor nuisance to those he loves and cherishes. But a lot of what he does occurs on the snow and ice.

He skates fearlessly on the thin ice of reality. No one will accuse him of being graceful or particularly wise, but he means well. And, by god, he catches trout! At Winter Solstice time, at Hanukkah, with Christmas coming soon, he speaks to everyone on the premises: Go catch that fish of happiness. Attain the peace of positive accomplishment. Enjoy the beauties of this earth. Be healthy, and don’t forget to change the calendar.

Happy holidays to all!

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Heading Off, December

I revisited a favorite salmon creek on a chilly Saturday morning and warmed up slowly to a good day of casting with an 8-weight rod. I finally found a stretch of water where, surprisingly enough, the landlocks were as busy as a mob of holiday shoppers. Some of them appeared a little frayed, as if they’d had enough of spawning, whereas others looked as fresh as new-fallen snow.

My first take was a small male (21 inches), a moving target, that grabbed the Leech pattern at about 30 feet away. The second catch was a spawned-out female of a similar size but from a different section of the creek. Salmon #4 was a heavy male (26 inches, with dramatic kype) that leapt repeatedly like a drunken ballerina before landing at my feet and bent knees. Unfortunately, the water obfuscated any hint of clarity in the pictures that I took.

This was the big one, photo’d underwater, fly released from jaw.

My final hook-up was the biggest fish of all. It might have been a brown trout but, judging by its stormy exit and departure in the riffles downstream, I think it was another salmon, the kind that could liven up a daydream in deep winter. Man, those fish are rockets on a fly!

Next day, I arrived at the upper Allegheny River pools around noon. The sun was just arriving there, as well, melting the frost on the meadow grass. The sky was clear, but the woods at riverside helped to keep my shadow off the water.

The afternoon warmed quickly, and I enjoyed the still air of the river, catching rainbow trout while hoping to connect with reclusive browns that might be hiding in an undercut or deep inside a jade-green pool. This didn’t feel like typical December in these parts. Not yet.

At one point I found a freshly killed brown trout, a wild fish, in the river facing the current despite its headless condition. The trout would have measured 20 inches if its forefront hadn’t been eaten by a predator, perhaps a mink or an otter. Winter had come early for that fine animal.

I pushed the headless brown trout from the river for this shot.

My thoughts shifted to more pleasant matters. My newest book is heading into production and is scheduled to appear on March 1st. Streamwalker’s Journey promises to reflect some of the best material found in the first six years of posting on this blog. My publisher says the book is “… informal, thoughtful, interesting, funny, and at times wise…” I like those words and, rather than feeling like a headless trout facing a wicked winter with some stressful holidays to boot, I could dance and lose my head (figuratively speaking) while offering a special sale on currently available titles…

landlocked salmon are (not) graffiti artists…

If you’ve ever felt curious about inspecting or possibly enjoying a book by yours truly (or giving one or two as a gift for the holidays– heh heh) but never got around to it, please consider. From now till January 1st I’m offering discount prices on books written and signed by Walt Franklin. Inquire at franklinl3@yahoo.com.

all fish were successfully released to live and carry on…

 

 

 

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Blue Ridge Bound

Day 1: I began the day by scraping frost off the windshield, but then enjoyed the sun rising over the mountains and the North Fork Moormans.  It was surprising to find this trout stream in Shenandoah National Park as low as it was. I was expecting more water, but the area was obviously in a drought or, more precisely, recovering from a very dry season. In six years of spring and autumn fishing on this Blue Ridge stream, I had never seen it this low.

Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t scheduled until dark, so I had time for a leisurely 5-mile walk into the mountains. I encountered only a few hikers and no anglers whatsoever. Casting with my old buddy, Chester the Virginia fly rod, I stalked whatever pools still looked deep enough to hold a native trout, and took in a bit of scenery that included birds such as a red-shouldered hawk and several winter wrens.

The hike through the colorful mountains was enjoyable but the fishing was as difficult as any outing that I’ve had this year. The water was clear and cold; the sun was bright and pleasant. It was hard to keep my shadow off the water.  All that came to me were a handful of trout, a few small ones on a dry fly and another native on a wet.

As always, it was time for thanks, for trout and wildness, and especially for family, friends and readers of this blog.

Day 2: It might be “Black Friday” but the Rapidan River looked bright and anything but commercial. It looked great, as one might expect a premier brook trout river to appear. Compared to yesterday’s North Fork, the Rapidan was full-flowing and attractive with deep-water pockets and boulder-sided pools. It wasn’t long, however, till I felt that something was amiss. Casting nymphs (and even a few dry flies) to the cold 41 degree water, I caught nothing.

Checking on favorite old pools, I fished upstream for several miles into the Blue Ridge wilderness before I finally caught a brook trout. With such promising water, why was fishing so slow? Sure, the bright sun wasn’t helping matters, but I worked like hell to keep off the water and to limit the effect of shadows there.

I had a similar experience here one year ago. The fishing was great but the catching was lousy. The previous summer had been hot and dry. The trout could have swum far upstream in pursuit of cooler water temperatures. Again, this past summer was a dry one, and the brookies may have migrated higher into the mountains.

If I’m correct, then the snow-melt and the rains of spring will flush the wild trout to the middle and lower elevations of the Rapidan where I’m accustomed to find them. I don’t know if this theory of trout migration holds water or not, but I’m interested in hearing the opinion of others.

Day 3: White Oak Canyon Run is not the kind of place you visit if you’re into solitude, but the theme for this outing was family, and fly-fishing was kind of a sideline activity. Despite the high level of foot-traffic on the trail adjacent to the stream, our extended family enjoyed a pleasant hike. I took Chester the fly rod into the stream at various points to test the brook trout theory I’d been developing over the previous couple of days.

White Oak Canyon Run is a stairway stream with a gradient so steep that you can walk upstream and approach most pools at head level. You peek around a group of boulders and cast without much worry that the trout will see you. White Oak Run, unlike the North Fork and Rapidan, has numerous waterfalls and won’t allow the trout to migrate far if drought and high water temps afflict it.

It seemed the perfect stream to test my theory. If fish hadn’t migrated toward the headwaters, they’d be here as I found them on my previous visit in spring.

The sky cooperated by clouding over as we made our way along the trail. But White Oak Canyon Run, aside from a few expansive pools, seemed like the North Fork Moormans– low and clear. And no trout came to hand.

To make a long story short, I shot my theory full of holes. Who knows what was going on with the trout. Oh, I saw a couple. One trout rose to a dry fly but didn’t stay hooked. Another one hid beneath a rock the moment the small fly hit the water.

Mystery resumed its rightful role in fly-fishing. I declared that the pursuit was dead (for now). I hastened to add,  “Long live the pursuit of beauty. Long live casting with a fly!”

Streamwalker, done with theorizing…photo by Brent “Bridging the Gap” Franklin

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A Different Kind of Fish

I’m gonna keep this short because I’m on the road to Virginia. My title for the post does not refer to a species other than the usual salmonid that you might encounter here, but to a wild brown trout, modest in size yet bright in color, that chased my tandem wets as if to say, “I’m here; we’re back; this creek isn’t empty anymore.”

below the hatchery; sign says No Fishing Beyond…

I had heard from reliable sources that New York State’s Spring Creek was coming back to life, as far as trout numbers were concerned. The winter of 2014 had been much harsher than usual in upstate New York and in many regions of the East. Even the Great Lakes had frozen up. The wintering waterfowl, especially the fish-eating variety, converged on the few open waters in the state (i.e., Spring Creek, whose lime-based waters remain relatively uniform throughout the year) and ate the resident fishes almost to the point of extinction.

clear and filled with cress…

Some of you might recall occasional reports I gave from Spring Creek outings prior to the population crash in 2014. The wild trout were large and brightly colored from the rich diet obtained in this special water. I haven’t been back to the stream since then. It takes a while for a creek to recover from its losses. The results of a recent electro-survey at Spring Creek are encouraging.

railroad bridge, 1914

There was no one on the stream when I returned. The section just below the state hatchery was flowing clear and full. The place looked healthier than I remembered it. Instead of the usual crowd of anglers on the small stretch of public water, there was little sign of anyone around.

I was fishing tandem nymphs or wet flies with a 90 year-old Thomas bamboo. The old railroad bridge with “1914” inscribed in concrete lent an air of timelessness beneath an overcast sky, with chill air and a promise of rain. I was seeing no fish whatsoever. I was wondering if the fishery report was an analysis well upstream of this public section, when it happened. My trout came out of hiding.

at rest on the wheel of time…

I’d forgotten to bring my landing net, but I held the fish just long enough to hear a voice as if to say, I used to be a nowhere fish, and for three long years we nowhere trout were nowhere near at all. It’s good to be back, but really, if you don’t mind, I want to be gone! The brown shot away before I could get a decent photo.

another detail from the hub of rivertop waters…

At home that night, I randomly surfed some You Tube music interviews and made the following connection. Captain Beefheart, a different kind of fish himself, says whatever he wants and stops making sense in a way both comical and wondrous. For the children and other animals of this world.

 

 

 

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Against the Dying Light

I won’t need to rage against the dying of the light, per Dylan Thomas and his fine poetics. I won’t need to rage because I’ve done all that (for now) in private moments, and my purpose here is really very simple. As autumn deepens time and space with its special brand of darkness, I grab for the sun when it floats above and makes a rare appearance. To position myself and gain advantage, I pick myself up and climb for a different view on daily happenings.

It’s been cold the last few days. The daytime temperatures have struggled to rise above the freezing mark. On Saturday, arriving early for a Slate Run Sportsmen meeting in PA, I decided I had time to climb above the Hotel Manor and the trout stream for a walk on the Black Forest Trail.

I hadn’t walked this section of the ridge in many years. Although I once hiked the entire 45 miles of the Black Forest Trail, and would cover only a mile of it today, the ridge felt new and fresh as I inhaled the cold morning air and sunshine on the mountains. It was good to get reacquainted with the forest supporting one of my favorite trout streams.

After the meeting and some lunch at the Hotel Manor, I grabbed the fly rod for an hour of fishing in the gorge, but already the shadows were deepening and ice was forming in the bamboo’s tiptop guide. The trout were smarter than I was, and just weren’t showing up.

The next morning I was headed to Fall Creek in Ithaca, New York. The sun made a tentative appearance, and the air, still chilly, made a welcome bid for a reading in the 40s. The creek was looking good and strong, full of quickened currents and slower pools, a welcome sight compared to what I’d found here in the past few years.

Fall Creek

The big creek has an autumn run of trout, primarily browns, and landlocked salmon from Cayuga Lake. The trout and salmon can attain large sizes and, not surprisingly, the number of anglers on this stream can be substantial too. I thanked the cool air for keeping angler interest on Sunday morning at a minimum. There were men and women on the water, but not so many that I had to wonder why I bothered coming out. Unfortunately, the numbers of fish seemed relatively low, as well.

bridge graffiti, Ithaca

Casting a streamer, I caught a small rainbow trout but then nothing for an hour or two. Sensing that my luck in finding a brown trout or a landlocked salmon was about to expire, I was walking upstream on a high bank overlooking the creek, enjoying a ray of sunshine pouring through the cloudscape over the city, when I saw a large fish several feet from the  water’s edge.

Above Slate Run

The bank was steep and I descended slowly, careful to avoid all movement other than an inch-by-inch progression of my feet. An overhanging branch personified darkness as it stifled my effort to make an adequate roll-cast to the fish. The salmon sensed my presence and disappeared downstream. Disappointed, I stepped well into the stream and waited, hoping that a landlocked salmon, one of my favorite fishes on the fly, would return.

above Slate Run village on Pine

Luck plays an important part in any fisherman’s life, and I got lucky when the fish returned and paused in the same area of the stream where I first saw it. I got lucky when this salmon didn’t laugh so hard at the bedraggled fly that he let it pass. The fish grabbed the hook and tore upriver, leaping several times and shaking his head, before I could lead him to the opposite bank and take a photo.

on Black Forest Trail

This male salmon (note the kype!) measured 27 inches along the rod and had some weight. I worked at reviving him in the flow of water before the send off, a good fish swimming toward the lowering sun, a spirit helping to keep it in the sky.

landlocked Atlantic salmon

Ithaca Falls

w/ kype, adult male

 

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Big Fish Little Fish Swimming Altogether

Entering Pennsylvania during the hunting season, I knew I was on the right track for the weekend when I walked into a general store and heard the voice of the proprietor. She entered from a back room of the ancient building and inquired, “Whatcha huntin’ for?” Slightly amused, I answered, “I’m not hunting really. Gonna do some fly-fishing pretty soon.”

W. Branch Pine Trail

“No hon,” she said, not skipping a beat, “I mean in here. Whatcha huntin’ for?”

“Oh…um… just some water and a bit of snack food for the trail.”

“Cold water’s over there beyond the hats and stuff. We have cookies, crackers, doughnuts and the like behind you. Just go past the antlers…”

W. Branch Pine Creek

Showers and mist lay on the morning hour. I was on the right track, goin’ fishing. Trout Run was flowing strong now from the recent rains, and the steep wooded hills, barren except for coppery oaks and the occasional golden beech, were comforting as I looked up from the stream.

It was all that I was hunting for– a wild place full of solitude and brook trout eager for a fly on burbling water. The fish were on the small side– none would pass the 8-inch mark, but they were colorful and feisty on a 3-weight rod. In appreciation, I avoided the redds, and was careful not to cast for obviously spawning trout.

Cane and Silk 3-weight

Next morning I was headed north with angling pal, Tim, in search for massive browns. I hadn’t been to Oak Orchard in several years. I was shifting gears. I had given up dealing with the hordes of fishermen there in autumn. At first I thought I might not like revisiting the place, but when Tim suggests a fishing trip together, no matter where it is, I can be sure of an enjoyable experience where I learn a thing or two, of being on the right track for the weekend.

blow-down, Trout Run

In the fall there’s always a circus atmosphere around the Oak’s big dam. But we’d get past the slob behavior at the site, away from much of the littering and snagging of Pacific salmon in their final hours of life.

We’d get downriver and stumble on a stretch or two of deep dark water to call our own. If we worked the river hard, we’d tangle with fresh-run browns from Lake Ontario. We’d find what we were hunting for, even if we had to force ourselves to be peaceful when confronted by chuck-and-duckers. We were on the right track for the weekend.

brookie, Trout Run

Tim had the first good hook-up. I was downstream when I saw him wave. I scrambled from the river and trudged up the muddy trail until I saw him bringing in the trout. Tim extricated his camera and handed it over for a photo but I found that its memory card was full.  I fumbled with my own camera and snapped a couple of pics that didn’t do much for the capture of an excellent seven or eight-pound brown.

on the Oak

A couple hours later I finally felt some weight as a fish grabbed a Woolly Bugger on the swing of a long cast in deep water. The 8-weight line was strained and pulling away; the Echo’s fighting butt pushed into my mid-section; feet stumbled and fought for balance as I wheeled away downriver, saying “Excuse me” here and “Sorry” there, and “Thanks, I’ll go over you with my rod and line!”

Pennsylvania run

The fishing had been slow. A lot of guys saw the big brown chopping through the river, coming down. Tim did a great job for me, borrowing a large net from another angler and helping to eventually guide the fish inside. I handed him my camera but, unfortunately, I had the damned thing on the wrong setting.

I would get several frames of perfect nothingness. White light. Imagined smile. Imagined stance above a net containing one of the biggest browns I’ve ever landed (30 inches long, perhaps, and 10 pounds in weight) blown to smithereens and piscatorial oblivion.

It was my fault completely. The camera setting was dysfunctional or had some other mystifying purpose. But, what was I hunting through it all?

What mattered was the sharing of a fine experience with a fishing pal. And hell, even the supporting cast of neighboring anglers had been a plus.

We were on the right track for a good time. Tim soon found more action, and I managed to deceive another brown. This second fish (about 24 inches) was significantly smaller than my first one, very light in color and with strange blue eyes. I even got a picture of it, as if in compensation for my earlier mishap.

Initially we thought the blue-eyed fish was blind, but I doubt if a blind fish would grab a deeply drifting streamer. It had to have sensed what it was hunting. The fish took the wrong track coming to me, the angler, but then, like the others, this pale trout swam away.

Tim’s brown

blue-eyed brownie, resting in a salmon net

 

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The High Bridge

The high bridge that I have in mind is not some railroad or passageway on a trestle over an impressive gorge or canyon. It’s a simple concrete bridge that takes a forest road in northern Pennsylvania over a favorite trout stream and provides a bit of access for an angler seeking solitude and recreation. Any mountain stream that flows 40 miles or more through a populated region of the country is bound to have a number of bridge crossings and, on this stream, the bridge I’m referring to is the one that’s closest to the uppermost springs or sources of the watershed.

you might have to duck while passing under

The morning sky was bright and the remaining October foliage was golden as I crossed the summit of a hill and began descending into a wooded valley where this well-known watershed begins. The weather forecast promised the appearance of the first big autumn rains that afternoon. The prospect of precipitation in a dry season was exciting in itself, but I was mostly eager for some brook trout fishing with a dry fly while I had the opportunity.

I found a grassy pull-off near the highest bridge and suited up as the first gray clouds appeared above the hilltops. I hadn’t actually fished near the bridge before, but noticing several small pools and riffles modulated by log deflectors covered with moss, I couldn’t resist a start in that location.

Efforts to help Mother Nature by creating habitat through the careful placement of log and stone were obviously successful here. The volume of water was minimal and less than desirable for wild trout in much of the headwaters, but this deeper, well-oxygenated section was home to numerous brook trout eager to investigate a fly dropped on a tapered leader and a 3-weight line. The fish were small but pretty and, upon release, were eager to shoot on home and warn their kin about deception in the world.

From the highest bridge I traveled downstream for a mile or so to fish in Butternut Hollow. Here the stream was a little deeper and, again, partly structured by deflectors. The Butternut Pool, like all the mountain stream sites at low water, required a cautious  predatory approach. Despite my best effort not to spook the residents with Halloween terror, I sent the bigger fish into hiding and landed just a fingerling trout.

At the Lower Green Drake Pool (named for a green fishing camp nearby), I did better, landing several larger natives and seeing a peculiar male– a spawner with a golden back and with sides like dusk on a river. The oddball native chased a fish that I was reeling in and stopped at my feet so suddenly that all I could think of was a human spurned in love.

As the sky darkened slowly with a promise of rains to come, I ventured up a small feeder stream. This tributary has lots of natural structure in the way of fallen trees and undercuts but its multitude of small fish shot away at the slightest motion of a fly rod or an arm. A 24-hour rain was coming and the level of this stream would surely rise. For a little while, at least, the wild trout would be freed from the constrictions of low water.

Flushed by a series of pleasant thoughts, I turned around and descended toward the bridge.

on the Sliders Branch…

another shot from home

coming into focus

Green Drake Pool

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Beerfest/Salmonesque

About 50 local and regional breweries, plus a few wineries and distilleries, were recently represented at the Swain, New York Ski Center, and the tasting was a lot of fun. To enter, you pay the equivalent of five six-packs of “quality” big-name beer for a tasting glass and a wristband, then you’re in for a fast evening of unlimited variety in food and drink, plus music, dance, and frolic. You promote the foundations of hand-crafted brewing while staving off the crush of Lite-Beer culture with a dash of merriment and revolution.

the ski center

Along with wife and daughter, I enjoyed myself despite a bit of pressure to socialize and to pretend that angling didn’t much matter (till the morning when I planned to head north for a joust with salmon and perhaps large browns). The beers were cold and very tasty overall, especially in the first hour of mixing through the vendors, and as long as I didn’t have to over-indulge a share of flavored exotics or the upstart brews with a high ABV.

here’s one that I drank at home

Most of the food was extra, but the games and music, and even the socializing indoors and outside of the ski center, were rewarding and went to some good somewhere in the universe. I’ll have to give my daughter credit for the foresight in reserving our sleeping quarters at a lodge next door. It saved us from having to drive off when the music stopped and the vendors closed shop, and it made our exit safe and happy.

my lovely accomplices

Quick transitions from the human world to the wild and woolly can be challenging, of course, and my overnight shift from brewery student to fisherman was less than smooth, but at least I was pain-free when the dawn spread out its rosy fingers.

Autumn rains had been minimal, so far, but the northern creek had a decent flow and clarity. Although various anglers were out in force, I found some quiet water where arriving chinooks could be noted in their upstream journey or, within the deeper pools, circulating near established redds.

the sun went down like a good stout beer

I don’t know if there’s a parallel between the small-scale brewing of beer and the craft of catching over-sized fish with a fly, but if there is, then it’s a subtle one. To present a fly to a fresh-run adult salmon in a way that you can hook it legally and then land the 15 to 20-pounds of explosive energy isn’t easy, but when it’s done correctly it can be rewarding (and exhausting).

hopping up

My hike led me into water with a lot of solitude, and each of the several fish I landed were initially hooked with just a pass or two of the fly. But for each of the salmon that I landed, there were plenty of fish that had little or no interest in defending their territory with a strike, no matter what fly pattern was presented. As in the best of fishing for an end result, there were no guarantees this day, and the fun of being out there was an equal mix of trying and achieving.

fire in the yard

I met Kevin, a fellow student of the tributaries and the artificial fly, who traveled up from Ithaca, and who volunteered to tail one of my reluctant salmon and then to photograph me with the fish before its ensuing release. It was good to talk with Kevin and to share experiences and hopes with him. I was reminded of the night before at the beerfest when we Franklins shared stories and experiences with three members of the John Bolger Band, from Rochester, New York, who could play BB and Albert King to Cream and Van Morrison with conviction.

the John Bolger Band, minus keyboard

Any fraternal order of the sort quickly finds its counter-force in the wider world that’s out to score no matter what the cost. It’s a base world filled with mediocrity (at best). I found it on the salmon stream when I passed four guys fishing at one of the popular holding spots near the bridge. Six salmon lay sprawled on the bank, with two more in the water strung-up through the gills. Discarded tackle, water bottles, jackets, and empty beer cans (Keystone Light) were strewn near the fish.

illumination

I don’t know if these guys, hunkered in the pool, were fishing legally or not, but my experience told me not to look too closely. I’m not talking about class warfare here. The differences come down to the choices that we make. I could tell from the trucks that these guys drove, they probably had more money to pass around than I could ever dream of dealing with. Thankfully, I could drive away from them all, pleased to have enjoyed a pretty good day of fishing, and the finish to an even better weekend on and off the water.

my backyard like a painting

it was a 2-mile walk to this abandoned graveyard in the woods…

a dead fish that reminded me of Halloween

salmon CAN be taken with a fly

38 inches, 18 pounds, 20?

damn egg-suckin’ leech…

I’m thinking, what’s that John Gierach book where the author describes the East as the place where “all the fish are little.”

 

 

 

 

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