Three Days in Shenandoah

On the eve of Thanksgiving Day, my son gave my wife and me a walking tour of Theodore Roosevelt Island on the tidal flats of the Potomac River in Washington, D. C.  That morning walk on the circuit trail culminating at the Teddy Roosevelt Memorial set the tone for the upcoming holiday and my three days of hiking and fly-fishing in Shenandoah National Park.

photo by Brent "Bridging the Gap" Franklin

photo by Brent “Bridging the Gap” Franklin

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U.S., greatly altered the foreign and domestic policies for America. He improved the terrible labor conditions in this country and he helped preserve a significant portion of the American landscape. Roosevelt was a renaissance politician who wore many hats, including those of scientist, conservationist, historian, author, and naturalist.

"Big Syc"

“Big Syc”

President Roosevelt doubled the number of sites within the National Park System and established the Antiquities Act of 1906 that led to the establishment of many National Monuments. He was a multi-faceted individual who enjoyed rugged outdoor adventures and nature studies, and who viewed himself as “a guardian of the natural world.”

a straight line thru a spiral kingdom

a straight line thru a spiral kingdom

As my wife and son and I enjoyed a peaceful ramble along the boardwalk of the Potomac with its cypress swamp and high densities of migrating songbirds and raptors (including the American robin, white-throated sparrow, red-winged blackbird, and red-shouldered hawk) we basked in the crisp bright air of late November and the legacy of the 26th U.S. President.

cracked

cracked

Roosevelt might be criticized as one who tried to “conquer the natural world” by leading massive hunting expeditions into Africa to benefit American museums but, according to Darrin Lunde, of the Smithsonian Institute and author of  The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt, A Lifetime of Exploration, and the Triumph of American Natural History, Roosevelt “never lost sight of his insignificance when compared to nature and its awesome vastness.”

healing

healing

After walking Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. on a fine late-autumn day, I couldn’t help dismissing the idea that if a guy like Teddy Roosevelt was gearing up to take the highest office in the land this coming January, then this nation, and the world, would probably be in better shape right now.

Sometimes I like to understate the obvious…

regathering

regathering

Soon, I was traveling south from D.C. to Charlottesville, Virginia where the next few days would be spent in the pleasant company of extended family members and where I’d also be thankful for the chance to revisit Shenandoah National Park for another round of hiking with a fly rod and a box of feathered hooks.

On Thanksgiving morning, I hiked into the park with my wife and son and brother-in-law, and I also got to fish for a couple of hours, catching and releasing a handful of native trout. The fish seemed absent from many of the lower North Fork Moormans River pools where I’d come to know them on previous visits. I was reminded of the past summer heat and drought conditions, and I wasn’t feeling very good about the implications.

understating the obvious

understating the obvious

The next day, after being fortified by tasty holiday cuisine and locally brewed ales, I hit the trail for the headwaters in the park, happily singing Steely Dan’s “Black Friday” to myself and leaving behind the world of crass commercialism. While other companions traveled to historical sites and mountain breweries, I was content to hike three miles into the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of pretty brook trout.

Chester

Chester

When the hordes of holiday shoppers have dollar signs for eyeballs, I prefer to fish– and yeah, sometimes I like to understate the obvious.

Like many eastern streams, the beautiful waterways of Shenandoah National Park were running low and clear. The fishing was challenging, to say the least. As I crept along with Chester (the fly rod built in Middlebrook, Virginia) I didn’t find many trout until I finally reached the upper stretches of the river.

Second Crossing

Second Crossing

But I found them– lots of little brook trout eager to chase a dry fly or a nymph, if I made a delicate cast beyond the sight of the trail and the occasional hiker.

On the third day out, the weather turned sharply cooler and windier. I worked the lower mile of so of the Rapidan River within the boundaries of Shenandoah National Park. Again, the no-kill regulations were in effect, for casting with artificial lures only.

I reinforced my theory that the summer heat and drought conditions had taken a toll, and that many wild trout had moved upstream to find sustainable temperatures and stream conditions. I fished a lot of the Rapidan pools that had been productive for me in the past, but I didn’t see or catch a lot of trout.

the boss

the boss

I think most of the fish had swum upstream in search of former-President Hoover’s camp or, sensing their doom from climate change (or from changes in the forthcoming political climate), they adapted because… they’re a hardy breed and (anthropomorphically speaking) are smarter than we think.

We can thank Teddy Roosevelt and like-minded conservationists for what they did to preserve the national monuments and parks like Shenandoah.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve got to keep working to ensure that these better known and lesser-known places that are special and open to the public remain pristine and ecologically viable.

They keep us sane and healthy…

Just to understate the obvious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Monster Blues and Salmon, Too

The blues I’m referring to are not a giant saltwater fish. They’re a form of musical expression that I find quite useful for moving beyond a disappointing and even frightful political season this November. In a moment or two I’ll tell you more about my recent reentry to the blues… OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Earlier in the week, my daughter reminded me of trying to catch the rise of the “Super Moon” as she was headed toward the easternmost point of U.S. territory at Point Udall on the island of St. Croix. I don’t know if she was able to enjoy that moonrise or not, but given the standard weather picture in the Caribbean, I suspect she had a good time with it.

I climbed the local ridge in the hope of seeing the “Super Moon” or some variation of it, but found only another fabulous cloud blanket in the east. Undefeated, I turned my attention 180 degrees westward and found sweet consolation in the sun that melted down brilliantly through this bluesy life on earth…dscn94311

My wife emailed me at work to say that on Friday night she was taking me on a date to a secret location whether I wanted to go or not. This sounded pretty good to a guy who’s been happily chained to marriage for more than three whole decades. We went out to dinner in Corning and I still didn’t know where we were headed, but soon enough we found ourselves at an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll/blues venue called the Clemens Center in Elmira, New York.

I’d heard of Big Head Todd and the Monsters but had never listened to their music before. Here was the rock band along with special guests, the blues great, Mud Morganfield (the eldest son of legendary Muddy Waters), plus Billy Branch, who played with the Willie Dixon band, plus Ronnie Baker Brooks (phenomenal guitarist and son of Chicago blues master, Lonnie Brooks), and Erica Brown (“Denver’s Queen of the Blues”) on vocals and dance. It was a shake-out performance of the Big Head Blues Club in “Way Down Inside: the Songs of Willie Dixon.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve long been a fan of Dixon, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, from the days of “Spoonful” Cream and Led Zeppelin on back to the glorious mid-century hits created by Willie, the “poet laureate of the blues.”

And the beautiful Clemons Center, with its gold-leaf details and reconstructed opera boxes, rocked.Image result for clemens center, elmira ny, photos

And even this stoic old rambler twitched and shook “way down inside,” as well as through his blue extremities. His wife deserved more than a kiss for hauling him to Elmira at the end of a bloody long week.

The next day I rebounded with a fly rod, seeking asylum as the gun season for deer in New York and bear in Pennsylvania exploded into action. I knew I could find safety on Fall Creek, the brown trout and landlocked salmon water flowing through the heart of Ithaca, New York.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a gorgeous Saturday morning but the creek was low and exceptionally clear, and the fish were simply uninterested in flies, no matter what I offered. Four hours of fruitless casting transpired before the western sky darkened to the color of an ugly bruise, and before the fish finally turned on.

Then the waters rocked like the fiery guitar play and soulful singing of Ronnie Baker Brooks at the Clemens Center. I thought of Brooks’ January 2013 gig, playing with Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, and Lonnie Brooks at a Presidential Inaugural event honoring President Obama. I made a long 50-foot cast of the Woolly Bugger at a group of fish, rather than the short precise casting I’d been doing all morning, and a landlocked salmon snapped it up as if it represented the last bit of grub on Earth.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An onlooker standing on the bridge above my head was asking excited questions and distracting me from getting a good picture, but that was okay. We’ve all seen nice pictures of fish before. The pace was changing and I would soon land several more landlockeds, a version of Atlantic salmon averaging 20-inches long in Fall Creek and known for its head-shaking and airborne fighting demeanor.

So, the storm blew in, a cold front emerged full-tilt boogie. The wind became ferocious. The air was filled with leaves and falling branches; the creek was a flowing carpet of leafy debris. I humped for the vehicle as the rain cranked into hail and snow, and as the air temperature plummeted.

It was time to be thankful for getting back, for the good in life, for each moonrise and sunset, for our friends and family, for making peace…

with the blues gone golden down inside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdscn94301

 

 

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Bright Lines in a Dark Time

Alright, I’ve taken deep breaths and tried to gain some personal balance. Hitting a bunch of trout streams, old and new, has been helpful, like a pill to ease a migraine.

Shady Rest Pool, Slate Run

Shady Rest Pool, Slate Run

For months or years, I’ve had a few “bucket list” streams in mind, those thin blue lines on a topographic map that have allured me, and now was a time to make a visit.

Cedar Run

Cedar Run

I began by traveling to the Pine Creek and the Kettle Creek valleys to park my vehicle and then proceed up these feeder streams in search of wild trout. I’m glad I did; the walks, the casting of a short line with a fly rod helped to clear some pain and confusion.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Walking in a wild place where humanity is little more than a miniaturized ball of madness helps to reinforce my needed balance. Beautiful little brook trout come to hand. The barbless hook is taken from the lip; a silent word of thanks is said; a fish is back in the stream, and I move on.

Walking a thin blue line, I stalk a narrow place between realities, between good and bad, right and wrong, between a world that is strong and bright and one that dwells in darkness, fear and bile.

Kettle Creek State Park

Kettle Creek State Park

I thank those little streams I’ve fished for the past two weeks: the small ones like Mill Run and Trout Run, the old familiars like Slate and Cedar, the bigger streams like Fall Creek and Hammersley Fork. I thank them because they’re beautiful and therapeutic for one who searches out and finds some scattered consolation. If I was a religious man, I’d pray for their continued care, the way I might wish the best for disenfranchised peoples everywhere.

Trolls' bridge

Trolls’ bridge

Some of what’s messing with my head is the feeling of disgust. I work in the field of education, and our educational system has failed us. Nothing new there. It’s not the best in the world; it’s not the worst. It’s mediocre, and that ain’t good enough. Yeah there’s always been problems, and yeah,  progress has been made. It’s not the 1930s anymore, but set-backs happen.

caddis larvae

caddis larvae

If it sounds like I’m whining, well, it’s just a beery funk. We all made mistakes; I don’t care what side you’re on. My hindsight is consistent with what I believed six months ago. Bernie Sanders is an honorable man.

Fall Creek

Fall Creek

So I walk the thin blue lines of wildness and see that no walls need construction here, that barriers implode like a worthless dam impeding passage to native fish.

Our nation is divided and that’s the choice we’ve made. I see a surge in the appearance of Confederate flags and Nazi symbols. I don’t mean to imply that everyone who voted for the President-Elect is morally bankrupt. Many good people had good reasons, I’m sure, but let’s face it, a lot of morons have been cleared to exit from their caves. Bigotry and hatred overshadow large portions of what we are about.

this brown was close to 20 inches

this brown was close to 20 inches

That said, it’s not a time to acquiesce and be subdued. Many Congressional Republicans despised our black President and fought him tooth and nail for reasons obvious and personal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If we don’t like the direction in which we’re headed, then non-violent protest makes sense to me. Call me any name you want, but I firmly believe that man and nature are imperiled, and if the election results don’t suit us, this is not a time to shut off the lights and go down easily.

will the environment go down the crapper, too?

will the environment go down the crapper, too?

Walking a thin bright line of watery reflection seems helpful. Music is another form of therapy. We just witnessed the passage of another great artist, poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Yeah, the guy who wrote “Hallelujah” and a boatload of other excellent songs, some of which are dark and plaintive, haunting but profoundly inspirational. Here’s one that helped me fish some blue lines just the other day…

a bright blue line

a bright blue line

By the way, Eric Burdon does an awesome cover of Leonard’s song, in case you’re interested.

Rest in peace, L.C.

 

 

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The Crossing

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.  –Thomas PaineOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All of the recent rain had made the anglers hopeful and raring to hit Fall Creek on a Saturday morning but, alas, the fish hadn’t yet heard the call. For the most part, the landlocked salmon and brown trout continued to idle in the big lake. It’s said that anglers are a part of nature but, thankfully, nature is a whole lot larger and smarter than we are when it comes to sensibly answering the call of reproduction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI practiced my downstream swing of the line and leader, pretty much losing hope for success before my first half mile of wading was complete. It was a little sad because the water was flowing full and beautiful. The anglers thinned out quickly and, before I knew it, there were just a few of us still at the game. All was not lost, however. It felt rather pleasant to be casting futilely in the presence of Ithaca Falls, one of my favorite sites for viewing tumultuous water.

The next day I was hoping to return to Pennsylvania for brook trout, but the rain put a lid on that idea, as well, as the streams rose quickly and wore a cape of mud. I decided to try a rainy hill hike near my house and throw myself into climbing mode.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

But something felt lacking. I was starting up my sixth year of Rivertop Rambles and, at this point, didn’t feel as if there was anything new to add for an upcoming post. I don’t like repeating myself unless I have a damn good reason for doing so. If I can’t find a new angle or perspective for a post, then it’s probably time to pack it up and shake the hand of silence.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

God knows we could use a little more quiet in this crazy cacophonous world…But I wasn’t despairing, by any means. At my age, I’ve come to understand that each new day of a healthy life on earth is a cause for celebration. You never cross the same rivertop twice. Each crossing of the stream is a new experience. At first glance, the place may look the same, but down below the riffles there, down at the bottom of the little pool, there’s a different world still waiting to be explored, perhaps whispering an invitation to jump in and tell about it in another post….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My hike in the rain was a pleasant one, even if nothing “new” occurred.

I crossed familiar ground and saw it in a rich October light. The summit pond was comforting; the old thresher in the woods was like a monument to a time now sadly passed. As I made a slow descent toward home, I thought about the upcoming elections in America…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We’ve got a guy heading to trial for fraud and child-rape, who denies global warming and who dreams of white-washing society, who would nuke the crazies of another land, whose running mate doesn’t even believe in evolution… and yet… there’s those pesky emails out in cyberspace that a WOMAN candidate may or may not have sent….Now there’s a reason for a nation to go completely off its nut.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was feeling sick, like finding trash deliberately scattered in an otherwise pristine location. I looked to the fading colors of the rain-wet leaves. If THEY crossed over into this world, who would they endorse? If the deer that leapt out from the woods in front of me crossed over to this human world to vote for highest office, who would benefit? And for that matter, what about the trout? You might fool them with an artificial fly, but they’re no dummies, if given the chance to help select an honest representative.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking at the broader picture of a life immersed in nature, I was feeling much improved…

Like imagining how baseball wins when, at last, the Windy City Cubs become world champions in the most dramatic way.Image result for chicago cubs logoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Brought by the Rain

Hopefully the three to four-inches of rain over the past weekend signifies the end of a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlong drought in rivertop country, but only time will tell if that’s the case or not. The streams and rivers had risen quickly into flood stage, and the old beaver dam near our house, the one I’ve often photographed, the one the animals had been building day by day for several years, was blown-out by the pressure of an unrelenting flow…

I drove, once more, to the Lake Ontario watershed where the tribs had collected less overall rainfall than my local waters, but where the flow had become substantial, nonetheless. The runs of king salmon and brown trout from Ontario had begun.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe numbers of fish were minimal this past weekend, but they were certainly growing. My fishing strategy for the flatlands is contrary to my general “upstream and across” technique on inland waters. I walk downstream toward the lake, studying the creek for signs of moving fish, then swing a long, stout leader and a fly across the current.

If I detect the glimmer of a trout or salmon that I want to target, I let the fly drift across its window of vision, aiming to avoid snagging the fish, which isn’t always easy because the fish are frequently in motion and my aim isn’t always the best.

For king salmon on a spawning run, their days of predatory hunting are through. They no longer eat but will attack a fly or other lure that’s deemed a nuisance to their final days of life. That’s where the allure of fishing for a king or coho enters into play, at least for me. It’s a challenge to get a big green fish that’s fresh from the lake or ocean to strike at a fly, to do it legally without the “snag,” and then to finally land it…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I talked to one fly-fisher casting futilely to brown trout that had slipped into a deep pool to feed on salmon eggs behind the larger fish. These brown trout weren’t little, maybe two feet long, but they looked small behind the salmon, and they weren’t having much to do with the nymphs and streamers drifting by.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Salmon kind of bore me,” said the angler. Oh, really, I wondered. Were the browns being more cooperative today, and that’s why salmon are boring? I knew I was in the minority of fly-fishing opinion when it comes to chinook, or king, salmon. I like to warm up and to keep in physical shape by wrestling with a fresh-run salmon or two in a mid-October outing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lots of guys thumb their noses at these fish– the salmon are easier to snag and to lose tackle on than to deal with in a legal way. The browns are more aggressive with the take, and they’re certainly more beautiful. If they survive their spawning run, the trout are capable of returning to the lake once more– unlike the salmon, that are no less regal but are destined to be compost at completion of the spawning ritual.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, so Pacific salmon bore a lot of fly-fishing guys for some inexplicable reason, maybe in the same way that nymph and streamer casting “bores” a strictly dry fly fisherman. In my opinion, there’s no casting equal to the wonders of small stream fishing for native trout with a fly, but for sheer excitement and a physical work-out, there isn’t much to compare with a wild green salmon or a steelhead with a fly in its toothy jaw. That fish will bend an 8-weight rod to the max while a fighting butt threatens to disembowel you…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Meanwhile king salmon, or chinook, chugs its way toward the lake for several hundred yards like a tow truck pulling you down a mountain road filled with boulders.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

By the way, the browns were really starting to pulsate on their upstream run. I managed to catch a couple of pretty males that measured 22 and 25 inches. Overall, not bad for a day of catch-and-release fishing where I, too, felt brought out by the rain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

hap-py halloweenn... i hope the feesh are BII-TING!

hap-py halloweenn… i hope the feesh are BII-TING!

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An Artful Dying

All I’ve got this week is a handful of photographs, folks, and no real excuses. Maybe it’s autumn ennui at one extreme or the busyness of a nut-gathering squirrel at the other, but in any case, I hope you like the images…

there's an artful dying of the year as autumn deepens and the moon lifts off the hill like a wayward spirit...

there’s an artful dying of the year as autumn deepens and the moon lifts off the hill like a wayward spirit…

on the skin of it all there's color-- beautiful colors, fleeting and evanescent...

on the skin of it all there’s color– beautiful colors, fleeting and evanescent…

there's a sharpness to it, fiery and pungent...

there’s a sharpness to it, fiery and pungent…

the creeks are calm and slowly cooling, as if eagerly awaiting a run of fish, a promise of the spawn, the new generation...

the creeks are calm and slowly cooling, as if eagerly awaiting a run of fish, a promise of the spawn, the new generation…

fruit of the vine is wild and tempting, neither too sweet nor too sour...

fruit of the vine is wild and tempting, neither too sweet nor too sour…

i'm brook trout eager for a rivertop return, but still waiting for some rain...

i’m brook trout eager for a rivertop return… the long-awaited rains are coming…

i'm brown trout satisfied with the present time, but I'm hopeful that the circle gets completed before the hours grow really dark...

i’m brown trout satisfied with the present, but hopeful that the circle gets completed soon… before the dark, cold hours come…

i feel like a spinner sometimes, like another leaf cut loose from the tree...

i feel like a spinner sometimes, like another leaf cut loose from the tree…

these toys are getting all too common... this drone, hovering against a waterfall, has its eye on you... is there a hunting season on these things?

these toys are getting all too common… this drone, hovering against a waterfall, has its eye on you… is there a hunting season on these things?

i'm a sucker for a pretty sunset, and hoping that you are, too...

i’m a sucker for a pretty sunset, and hope that you are, too…

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Right Angle Weekend

It was a three-day weekend with a common theme. It started on a Saturday with a visit to the upper Allegheny River. An overnight rainfall had discolored the water a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbit; the forest leaves were brightening with autumn change, and many were already falling to the ground. Although the river remained at low volume, I managed to catch and release a nice brown and a splendid rainbow by casting a dun-colored caddis fly.

On Sunday came a highlight. I finally had an opportunity to fish with blogging pal, Bob Stanton. Some of you readers may know him by name. Bob has been a long-time supporter of Rivertop Rambles, and we had been threatening to fly-fish with each other for at least a couple of years. Bob needed an introduction to Slate Run, so I met him as he swung eastward out of Warren, PA and we reinvented a small but scenic corner of the world.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASlate Run was still at minimal flow but the water was cold and at least a few of its wild trout told us that we didn’t do too badly. It was good to hear, also, from the Slate Run Tackle Shop that a recent electro-survey of the upper Slate watershed had indicated the wild trout were surviving the regional drought better than expected.

As for Bob, he caught a few Slate Run trout, and I didn’t do too badly either (witnessing but not catching a couple of veteran brown trout replete with battle scars). I was also pleased that a large, coiled snake I almost stepped on in the rocks was a garter snake and not a timber rattler.

Bob "Backcast" Stanton

Bob “Backcast” Stanton

We made an evening stop at neighboring Cedar Run but there the water was still too low for comfort. We saw a few nice fish but mostly we saw the flash of their retreating bodies as they witnessed the skulking approach of alien beings at the tail of their pools.

Slate Run

Slate Run

One wild brown of about 15 inches or so was really turned-around by our presence. When Bob first saw the big fellow it was resting in a “downstream position” (a trout typically faces upstream in the current). Minutes later, as I walked by its position at the bottom of the pool, the brown was turned laterally and facing me on the bank. Its tail was almost in the face of its partner, another sizeable brown trout, forming a right angle of piscine oddness between the two.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I can only imagine what was going on down there, and honestly, I had tipped back only one bottle of Two-Hearted Ale while eating at the Hotel Manor prior to checking out this stream.

Allegheny 'bow

Allegheny ‘bow

On Monday I visited upper Kettle Creek near Germania. En route, I found amusement by counting the political campaign signs planted in residential yards. Despite all the wretched media accounts of recent days, the Trump signs trounced the Clinton signs, 19 to 1. Not surprising really, when you consider the staunchly Republican terrain I live in, where residents often seem to vote against their own best interests. I felt like I was driving through a field of sheep, the animals looking up to me as I passed, saying something like, “You’re not the guy we like to follow; who are you?”

blowin' in the wind...

blowin’ in the wind…

Well, I was heading to the Safety Zone again– goin’ fishin’, where the political and economic climate suits my soul, and where all this other shit means nothing till I hit the voting booth in November.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was surprised that the state fishing regulations had changed on upper Kettle Creek from Brook Trout Enhancement (a no-kill policy, open year-around, for brook trout) to Catch and Release, All Tackle. Somehow I had missed the news about the change this year, not that it was really all that different. There was still a no-kill policy for brook trout, with year-around fishing, but now there was a no-kill policy on wild brown trout, too. The change sounds pretty good, at first, but then I wonder if it will draw an overabundance of hardware fishermen and worm-dunkers, of tackle that can be injurious to a fragile population of trout still struggling to reassert itself from low numbers and from compromised environmental conditions.

Kettle Creek

Kettle Creek

Kettle Creek has one of the strongest wild brook trout populations in Pennsylvania, and its wild browns are nothing to sniff at either, but I wonder if encouraging the no-kill policy of browns will impede the progress of native brooks. Studies have shown that browns can out-compete the brooks for food and cover when populations mingle, and they are more adaptable to conditions when the waters warm to 70 degrees Fahrenheit or more (read climate change).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Anyway, the fishing was much faster on Monday. The flow, still minimal, was heavier than on Slate or Cedar Run, and I returned a dozen brookies to their haunts. None of them had reached the sizes of trout that I had been accustomed to at this location, but the largest of them shone with colors of autumn glory.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

They were stunning in their smallness, and they seemed to take revenge on those Clinton/Trump signs I’d been counting. Instead of 19 to 1, I got a new tally: Brook Trout 12, Suckers 0.

the last season (sadly) for a front yard maple damaged by a storm...

the last season (sadly) for a front yard maple damaged by a storm…

old farm at Kettle Creek

old farm at Kettle Creek

"we send each other home"

“we send each other home”

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A Week on the Autumn Road

too damn busy to write much this week, other than continued work on a book...

too damn busy to write much this week, other than continued work on a book…

but i'll catch the sumac fire and maybe find a handful of pics to share...

but i’ll catch the sumac fire and maybe find a handful of pics to share…

wait a minute! i'm supposed to be chewin' on the poplars now...

wait a minute! i’m supposed to be chewin’ on the poplars now…

got over on the low waters of the allegheny...

got over on the low waters of the allegheny…

caught a brown trout on the first cast...

caught a brown trout on the first cast…

and a rainbow shortly after...

and a rainbow shortly after…

swung over to the upper pine...

swung over to the upper pine…

love that funky witch-hazel scent...

love that funky witch-hazel scent…

raised wild browns to a rio grande king...

raised wild browns to a rio grande king…

a score of small brookies too...

a score of small brookies too…

the open road of autumn puts a rainbow on the hills...

the open road of autumn puts a rainbow on the hills…

ch-ch-changes most everywhere...

ch-ch-changes most everywhere…

the hills & hollows of home...

the hills & hollows of home…

closed gentian/open season/peace...

closed gentian/open season/peace…

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Mapping It

Oh, the fishing has been slow to non-existent due to the continued drought conditions here, but I’ve been busy writing, working and otherwise driving down the roadwaysOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA mapped inside my muddled brain.

I was pleasantly surprised by a blogging pal at OldPlaidCamper, who included something like a book review of Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels inside a wonderful post called “Another Glance Back at Summer,” (9/16/16). I’ve been following OldPlaidCamper for at least a year now, and highly recommend the blog for its excellent writing, photography, and nature reflections based in western Canada. Check out those good words written about my poetry collection and, while you’re at it, enjoy a multitude of other posts written by one of our finest outdoor bloggers!

book w/ alternate covers

book w/ alternate covers

If that ego boost wasn’t enough, I was also pleased to find one of my recent photos included in a fascinating musical and photographic tour of the blogosphere by Rommel in his 400th post at The Sophomore Slump. Click it and enjoy the ride!

Leighanne and I recently spent a day at Slate Run, attending a meeting of the Slate Run Sportsmen, a group that’s long worked to preserve the pristine environment of the Pine Creek Valley and especially the trout habitat of Slate Run, itself. I attend the meetings regularly, not only because I function as a trustee, but also because the gatherings are enjoyable, informative and, yes, because the lunches are pretty doggone tasty! Also, it’s often a place from which I can launch out for another fly-fishing jaunt on either Slate or Cedar Run.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At this particular meeting, we found the long-awaited map of Slate Run (Slate is one of national Trout Unlimited’s “Top 100 Trout Streams”) ready for sale to one and all. Ted Piotrowski and I received a complimentary copy of the $20 map (a large version exists for $55) for our role in the production (Ted worked GPS from the road while I lined up natural features of the run, i.e., its major pools, ledges and access points). My contribution was based primarily on “A Slate Run Odyssey,” my fishing tour, as well as from info gathered by old-time regulars on the stream. It was good to see our work come to fruition. The process had been difficult at times– getting the survey done, gathering and selecting information, sorting it, then sending the map, with photos and all, to press. The teamwork by everyone involved was super.dscn9389

As one of the initial designers, I had an issue to be settled. Slate Run, beautiful and wild, is not an easy stream to access over its 8-mile length. It flows through a rugged gorge on state forest land, and the gravelly Slate Run Road rarely makes a close approach. There are, however, pull-offs at various locations that have unmarked pathways to the run. These minor pathways are precipitous and known to very few people. Would mapping Slate Run on a major scale make the fly-fishing-only destination too damned easy for the masses, thereby ruining the sense of wildness and solitude for those who learned about the stream the hard way, through sweat and personal exploration?dscn9394

It’s a question I grappled with before finally deciding to get involved and doing the map. We decided that producing a detailed map for fly-fishers and other nature lovers would benefit the stream and its environs in the long run. There are many threats to Class A trout streams in the region, even to those like Slate Run that have state forest and other environmental regulations applied to them. I think of the hydro-fracking boom, for example, taking place in the surrounding areas, and of pressures from other fishing groups trying to open up the stream for stocking and the use of all tackle. Special habitats like Slate Run are saved by public support. In this case, it’s public support for a pristine environment with hiking, hunting, and fly-fishing-only. For larger streams with plenty of wild fish, support isn’t going to come by trying to keep them a secret.

ok, i'll take credit for naming it-- the dripping ledge!

ok, i’ll take credit for naming it– the dripping ledge!

After the old fishermen die and enter the Elysian Fields for their eternal casting at the streams of paradise, there needs to be a set of ways for keeping the Slate Run places close to the heart. Hopefully they’ll be saved by others willing to stand up and giving them a voice, people who have learned about them and appreciate their special qualities, thanks to personal experience. Hence, the reason for producing the Slate Run map.dscn9391

So, the ego got a boost from the kindness of people like my blogging friends and the Slate Run Sportsmen. It was time, then, to go humble, if you will. I started thinking about my own demise.

3 apples wanted their picture taken...

3 apples wanted their picture taken…

Say what? No, I’m not ready to abandon the rivertops yet, but hey– everyone dies, even those who think they’re too precious for elimination, so it’s probably a good thing to reflect about The End occasionally, especially when the autumn harvest starts to fill your bins.

life, not death, above the hollow...

life, not death, above the hollow…

Since I disdain the notion of standard funeral practices, and find that even crematory practices aren’t much better than the burial of a toxin-drunk corpse, it was interesting to learn of the Mushroom Death Suit.

It’s a body suit completely safe, organic, and made from natural cotton. Laced with “infinity mushroom spores,” a corpse in the mushroom suit decomposes quickly without leaving toxins in the ground or the air.

low water, Cedar Run

low water, Cedar Run

Sure, it sounds a little uncomfortable at first. You like to eat and don’t exactly relish the idea of being eaten by mushrooms, but it’s something that I, for one, would like to consider for that time when the mortal coil is sprung. Many of us need to come to terms with our own death, and here’s a possible alternative… At long last, your life, shrouded in mushrooms, can leave a clean, pollutant-free compost.

Long researched and finally on the market, the “Infinity Burial Suit” isn’t only cool looking and sensible, it’s also economical, retailing at about $1,500– or about one-sixth the cost of an average cremation, and one-eighth the average of traditional burials.

a pool on Cedar Run

a pool on Cedar Run

I hate to leave on a morbid note, so I’m glad this talk about mushrooms makes me think again about the title of my latest book. As the OldPlaidCamper says, the final poem there is “a wonderful tale” about an old guy, his septic-cleaning truck, and the memory of an outhouse that should put a smile on your face. Now, I wonder if planting mushroom spores might have eased my septic problems back in the day….

asters of the sea...

asters of the sea…

the trickle-down effect, or, what flows around comes around...

the trickle-down effect, or, what flows around comes around…

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September Quickenings

The road dead-ended at the state forest lands in Potter County. I knew that the trout streams would be low but, given the sudden coolness in air temperature, I figured that the water temps would be cooler also, and safe for casting with a barbless dry fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gone were the dog days and some of the hottest, most stifling weather in… well, at least a year. Gone was that sense of late-summer lethargy that could really sap the energy of a student or a teacher or a highway construction worker or a factory clerk. Gone was that sense of entrapment or frustration or imminent doom– at least for now. It was time to wet wade in a mountain stream near home, no matter how challenging because of dry summer conditions, and to play with the wild trout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASure, it would be important to step along as carefully and quietly as possible, to measure each side cast or bow-and-arrow cast before it was delivered (I’m like every other small stream fanatic– perfectly capable of making death threats unto goldenrod or alder branches intercepting a wayward fly or tippet). And it’s important to make a quick release of every captured trout. The weather may be cooling and the spawning colors brightening, but these low water conditions of late summer remain stressful to these otherwise tenacious and beautiful fish. Hold the fish gently; release the hook quickly and place that creature back where it belongs.

mushroom head

mushroom head

Fishing for Potter County natives on a crystalline September day was thoroughly relaxing. The trout rose readily for one of my favorite autumn dry flies, the Rio Grande King, a dark floater with white wings that can imitate any number of insects including mayflies, caddis, and black ants. I lost count of how many small brookies came to hand, and when I hooked a 10-inch male trout in a long placid pool, it fought like Moby Dick, if only through a wild pastoral dream.

colors brighten

colors brighten

The quickenings brought on a flood of colorful images and memories from recent days: from a crazy ramble through the gorge at Watkins Glen with friends and family and a million tourists from across the sea, from a subsequent tour of wineries above Keuka Lake, from a poetry reading on the summit of Wheeler Hill, from a holiday bonfire blazing with the call of owls, the clinking of bottles, and the bursts of laughter, and from a dozen other small events where the table of imminent autumn was being set, and where, hopefully, we would all take our seats with anticipation and joy.

wild brown

wild brown

puffball on a deerplate

puffball on a deerplate

above Keuka Lake

above Keuka Lake

winery glass

winery glass

poet George Wallace

poet George Wallace

in the glen

in the glen

evening beerhead #1

evening beerhead #1

in the land of pink and gray

in the land of pink and gray

evening beerhead #2

evening beerhead #2

Wheeler Hill thunderhead

Wheeler Hill thunderhead

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