By This River(top)

In a period of time with more than the usual rainfall, when the streams and rivers have been running high and off-color, the fishing is limited and I look more to the unsung lives and places of the rivertops.

There's a bass pond near this rivertop site, but its photo didn't show.

There’s a bass pond near this rivertop site, but its photo didn’t show.


Their allure is temporary, perhaps, but no less joyful in being common. If you doubt me, take some minutes and look at nature’s small surprises found along the yard’s edge or the roadside. Step aside from the usual track and cast a line to a summit pond or ramble freely through the forest.

So I pause for the uncommon and allow myself some interaction there. Why not? It’s quiet there and sane. The ground is drier but infused with mystery and beauty. Facebook is a world away. The dust has settled from Supreme Court rulings on ObamaCare and same sex marriage. Nature is evolving as it should be (problems due to climate change not included).

Even black bass get the blues sometimes.

Even black bass get the blues sometimes.

I might focus on the natural sphere more readily while I’m standing in a stream or river, but these drier places are no less worthy of my efforts, or as likely to be appreciated by others–

As a poem by Emily Dickenson might suggest:

The Hills erect their purple heads,/ The rivers lean to see–/ Yet Man has not, of all the throng,/ A curiosity.

The rivers lean to see, always going somewhere even when they’re stationary, and I like to think that my own rambling efforts echo that condition whether I’m walking or resting on a bench. Like a songbird, mushroom, beaver, pine tree, or a frog, each of us has a

from poppers like this, but of course I let them go

from poppers like this, but of course I let them go

special link to water. Each of us is penetrated by a river’s influence.

There’s a humbling aspect to these wayside investigations, even when my head is in the way of clear perception, ringing with the nonsense of an ignorant society. Again, from Emily–

I’m nobody! Who are you?/ Are you nobody, too?/ Then there’s a pair of us– don’t tell!/ They’d banish us, you know.// How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog/ To tell your name the livelong day/ To an admiring bog!

i'm nobody, and you?

i’m nobody, and you?

a small "flock" of ragged robins

a small “flock” of ragged robins

who's been nibbling on amanita?

who’s been nibbling on amanita?

shelf space for some fly-fishing memories

shelf space for some fly-fishing memories

go on, walt, get outta here

go on, walt, get outta here

go fishin' or something, will ya?

go fishin’ or something, will ya?

i'm serious!

i’m serious!

the falls at Wiscoy Creek because i couldn't resist

the falls at Wiscoy Creek because i couldn’t resist






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With Roots in the Sky (Finale)

1. Just over two years ago I began a series of blog posts that I’ve called “The Cedar Run Experience.” The series has reflected my intent to fly-fish and explore the whole length of a beautiful trout stream, Cedar Run, in north-central Pennsylvania. With

near mid-section Cedar

near mid-section Cedar

this post, The Cedar Run Experience, Part 20, my explorations of the run are finished (though, of course, the fishing never ends as long as I’m able).

I began the fishing walk at the mouth of Cedar Run, at Pine Creek, on Memorial Day 2013 and then, as time allowed, worked my way upstream by casting over the pools and riffles as I found them. On each occasion throughout the walk, I tried to start the day’s fishing at a point where I had left off previously. (“The Cedar Run Experience,” posts #1 through #19, can be located on RR via Search.)

Although the project was completed at a leisurely pace and, overall, was easier than “The Slate Run Odyssey” (also available), there were challenges throughout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACedar Run flows through a vast state forest and, as long as it is, has more accessibility than Slate. That said, you don’t want to travel its ribbon-like roadway in a season of inclement weather. It’s a snowmobile trail throughout the winter months.

The run is nestled in a winding gorge without cell phone coverage or civilized conveniences. This is some of the wildest country in the Keystone State, a wonderful place to hike or hunt or fish with restrictive tackle (see state regs for Cedar Run). It’s a place where you can better understand your own mortality and, as such, you tread with care.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd so I’ve finished my 11-mile immersion in the wild. I’ve walked into the heights of Cedar Mountain with a six-foot fly rod and fished the little stream as far as I cared to go in leafy June.

2. The headwaters have “roots,” or freshets of water nourished by a mostly healthy forest. On the day before the Solstice, I entered such a place, my anger at the world dissipating slowly with each step.

There’s no room here for the tragic outbursts of American racism. There’s no room here for the anti-intellectualism in the world, for the lack of critical thinking or the fear of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlife’s diversity.

I entered a quiet realm where I could try to think rationally and be taken aside by what is beautiful. Yes, it’s possible! And happening in some place near and dear to where each of us is living.

It was time for the Solstice and the wonders of a white pine-hemlock forest on upper Cedar Run. There was room for casting underneath the spacious boughs, room enough for me and my memories of the fishing hike that’s taken two years to complete. There was room enough for me and the numerous small trout living in these nooks and crannies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was good to come here while the rains still provided a decent flow. It was good to find clear water while the streams downvalley flowed high and muddy. It was good to see that freedom can be born in a simple place like this, that the hyper-patriotism of the world (where people are blind to the quality of life beyond their own political boundaries), is viewed for what it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall brookies slammed the Stimulator dry fly and returned, a little dazed, to the riffles and log homes of their stream. The biggest fish, a nine-inch, darkly-colored native, spun out from a tiny plunge-pool– the highest point on 11-mile Cedar that would offer me a temporary gift.

Black-and-white warblers sang their shrill and modulated notes, and hunted for bugs in a head-long manner down the trunks of larger trees. When the faint tracks of a forest road disappeared in a jumbled glade, I knew I had arrived.

Turning to face the downstream brook, I heard the soft red veer notes of the thrush known as the veery. From the other side of me came the teach Teach TEACH cry of the ovenbird, the notes everywhere harmonizing with a song of falling water.

near the top

near the top

In a place like this, I’m reminded that the violence of nature has nothing to do with the violence promoted by stupidity and the lack of critical thinking. Corporate institutions may condition people into a robotic and consumeristic lifestyle, but a place like this can give a person wings.

Last autumn, following a blog post where I speculated on where my walk of Cedar Run might lead to, I received a comment from Brent Franklin (of Bridging the Gap renown) who said, in part: “…The roots of a river are as high as one can climb.”

at mid-section Cedar

at mid-section Cedar

And that’s the gist of what I’m saying. A headwater region has roots. Like the crown of a tree, or an unearthed flower turned upside down, the uppermost “twigs and branches” take nourishment from the atmosphere and sky.

I could fish into that crown, perhaps. I could hold out for as long as I could climb.

And now the climb had reached its end.

It was like walking on air.

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A Brook in Sinnemahone

It’s the kind of place you find near home, but only after years of trial and error. It’s the kind of place you head to for a day of solitude and beauty. You might go there for OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe birds and wildflowers, for a hike or easy ramble, for a hunt that only you can define. You might go there to inspect a population of native trout.

You might go there to relax or to forget what’s better left forgotten. You might go there to remember that the world is larger than it was while you were working. You might go there to remind yourself that people aren’t the center of creation.

meadow rue

meadow rue

There are trout and orioles and multiflora roses. Sometimes there’s a good friend with you, one who loves the game as well as you do, one who even claims to understand what it is you’re looking for.

You might go there to roughen up your edges, to enhance the texture of your time on earth. And you know it has to do with wildness.

 South Bend 290

South Bend 290

If you’re like me, you might go there because you’re insufferable on occasion, perhaps a pain in the ass to others who might need some time to themselves. You might go there because it’s good for society (as if you really cared), which gets you out of the store and office for a while.

You might go there to find another green world– a place to renew your hope for all mankind. If you do that, my advice would be to stay open-minded. Nature doesn’t care to work with us, or to conform its ways to fit our personal needs. Be prepared for small surprises and the need for adaptation.

You might go there for the highlight of your week, but it’s possible that the fish won’t

an egg layer

an egg layer

bite. The bugs and heat and high humidity could be an unexpected headache. And that’s just part of the fun you’ll have.

You might go there for a grand finale of some sort. On this particular trip I stopped for a beer at the Old Tannery Saloon. The place was quiet, unlike a neighboring bar where the parking lot was filled with highschool grads and bikers and summerfolk. The grimy walls were covered with everything from a hanging bear trap to a photo of 20 topless ladies smiling on a yacht.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was my kind of bar. In fact, an older couple (probably in their 70s) got up from their stools to pay for their bill. The man asked, “How was fly-fishing today?”

“Oh… it was good,” I answered, surprised that anyone had noticed my fishing shirt and hat in the dim light of the old saloon.

“What were you using?” The gentleman pulled his tipsy wife closer to his side.

“Dry flies. The fish were rising, especially on the East Fork.”

Then the wife had a question: “And what pattern were you using?”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Blue-winged Olive. It was that kind of weather. Dark and showery.”

The man and woman nodded vigorously, as if the pattern was the most reasonable response in the world. With a wave of the hand, they were out the door, and I finished off my Straub.

You might even go there as Jim Morrison went, who flew to Paris for the writing of poetry and song and never came back to the states alive. You might go there on the power of a song, as well.

While driving to my destination I listened, nature-struck, to the masterful guitar play of the late Gary Moore…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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Matchin’ That Hatch

May 30: In the long meadow pool of the Allegheny, rainbow trout were rising to OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe surface but it took a while to figure out that it wasn’t mayflies or caddis they were feeding on, but midges. Tiny black midges. Of all the famous and diverse insects that potentially hatch from these rivers at the end of May, trout were locked on something my eyes could barely see… I caught some high-jumpers, finally, and missed a possible 18-incher, on a dry fly about the size of a consonant, a letter, ending this sentence on the post.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMay 31: The morning trout were rising on the Kettle, and again I struggled to decipher the hatch that raised them. Midges again, damnit. But thankfully, the overcast conditions soon delivered the larger Blue-winged Olives. I quickly replaced a #22 Midge with a “normal” imitation and had some fun. I got plenty of refusals, but I caught a few browns and even a wild brookie at a beautiful bend pool.

I was stormed out of my hopes to climb a feeder stream to Kettle. Trout were taking the olive mayfly on the faster water, but I never saw much of the anticipated Sulphurs or Green Drakes. To this point in time, the rivertops had seen a lot of caddis activity but the mayflies had been spotty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

June 1: Chill and showery, great for fishing. Blue-winged Olives (BWO) and Sulphur mayflies hatched in the mist of the upper Genesee. Rising trout were interested in a relatively large BWO, a barbless #14 hook.

Brooks and browns and rainbow trout slashed at the surface of a big pool on the West Branch. Powerful trout unraveled at least two flies before the Olives settled down and the Drakes finally appeared.

The fishing was fast and furious for a while but, oddly, by the time the Green Drake OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsurfaced and sailed off slowly in the rain, the feed was pretty much over. Either the trout had glutted themselves, or the tight line commotion had sent a warning about some madman in the water!

June 6: The sun shone brightly on upper Kettle. Insects, for the most part, were slumbering. I saw a couple of Drakes, and that was it, but the trout rose for an imitation nonetheless. It was fun to hook up with the hatchery browns and rainbows, and a lot of small wild brooks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI left the main stem and fished two tributaries, one of which took me into wild country– a small feeder stream with brookies and no sign of civilization whatsoever. It was what the Doctor of Beyond prescribed for mental health.

Playin’ the hatch is what serious fly-flingers do from time to time. Here in rivertop country that’s especially true at this time of year when any number of caddis, stonefly or mayfly hatches can occur on a daily basis. Sometimes trout become very selective in their feeding habits, so on these occasions the angler would do well to match the given hatch in color, size and profile.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJune 7: I was back on one of my favorite trout streams. What a difference an early morning makes. The bugs (non-biters) were everywhere– emergers, duns, and spinners– and the trout were feeding mainly on the Blue-winged Olive that the Kettle is renowned for on June mornings.

The weather couldn’t have been more comfortable or bright. Hooked rainbows leapt above the water. At the Ledge Pool, well upstream from the special regs area where most of the fly-fishers congregated, healthy browns fed quietly at the surface.

There was sweetness in the air, perhaps from the resins of hemlock or pine, or from the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAblooms of various wildflowers, reminding me of Rocky Mountain summer streams. A male scarlet tanager sang its hoarse robin-like song from high in a creekside maple.

I quit after landing trout 18. I’d seen a mix of larger-than-average stockers and wild brookies. It was the kind of day I dreamed about last February. It was match-the-hatch, catch-and-release fishing that the non-angler or the bait-fisher might construe as rarified or even elitist, but wait, there’s more….

I sympathized with several worm-casters I spoke with. They had seen their hour in the sun. For the most part, trout ignored their offerings now that flies had become top items for the daytime feed. These were guys who claimed to release a big portion of their trout but admitted that a swallowed hook killed fish. I reminded them that fly-fishing would extend their season if they liked it, but I came off sounding lame.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI don’t like to be so involved with trout behavior that I seem as fussy as selective browns. I don’t want to miss out on the other stuff. You know, the mourning warbler chatting in the understory; the monarch sipping at water’s edge; the black bear keeping an eye on the angler’s trout….

To keep myself balanced today, I sang to myself– a gutsy rock ‘n’ roll lyric or some improvised jazz. To function as my own audience is schizophrenic, I suppose, but at least I wasn’t lonely.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI sang to “Crawfish,” by the great Roger Chapman, former Family guy, with the Streetwalkers (1975): Ah well I went to the Bayou late last night/ There was an old moon and the stars were bright/ I put a big long hook on a big long pole/ And I pulled Mr. Crawfish outta his hole…

Gritty, downhome, bayou times…

Matchin’ that hatch with crawdaddy soul.


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Remote, Obscure, Essential

1. Redwater Creek is a small, remote stream in the upper drainage of my home river and, in terms of my fishing experience, has been regarded as something of a “last frontier.” It

upper Oswayo

upper Oswayo

was the last significant tributary of the upper river in New York State from which I hadn’t yet caught a brook trout.

After the lumbering carnage of the early twentieth century, followed by the rapid rise of agriculture and other land use in the region, Redwater was one of only several streams in my region whose brook trout population continued to flourish for a while, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut something detrimental happened after the lumbering era hit its peak then faded. According to some recent reports from conservation officials and older fishermen, something happened to this stream (and others like it) that caused its flow rate to diminish and, not inconsequentially, its fishing to “go south.”

My several previous attempts to catch a native trout in Redwater Creek were fruitless. Granted, the stream is an obscure blue line on the topographic map, a blue line with resurgent forest cover, but it just didn’t look like a home for brook trout. The stream is tiny, averaging five to nine feet wide, mostly shallow, and without the kind of pools and undercuts preferred by native trout in hilly or mountainous terrain.

2. The day before my visit to the stream was a day of “almosts.” I almost made positiveOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

identification of a bobcat stepping from the roadway in the distance. Several miles later I almost surely identified a coyote running across the road, and then I stopped to check a boggy area for moccasin-flowers.

I finally found several of these interesting pink lady’s-slippers but their blooms were only in the bud stage, or were almost at their peak of color.

It was that kind of day, almost perfect.

Kettle Creek

Kettle Creek

Early in the morning of May 23rd, I felt the need to revisit Redwater Creek (my alledged OCD kicking in?), to see if I could finally locate a brook trout in the stream and to state with confidence that the water was alive.

I almost didn’t have my way.

3. I parked on a rough seasonal road and dropped down to the stream, as I’ve done a few times over the past several years. Access is difficult here; an angler needs permission from the timber/mining corporation that owns the land, and then needs to be prepared for a bushwhack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was armed with a 5’9″ three-weight and a short tapered leader with a weighted fly. There was frost in the valleys, and the likelihood of dry fly action, as sweet as that could be, was minimal.

The first half-mile of water looked familiar– shallow, flood-torn, and littered with the detritus of industrialism– old tires, bottles, shards of plastic– washed down from the road. But I’m glad I forged on and didn’t quit, as in previous years.

The forest became more attractive. Foamflower and wild geranium colored the floor. Vireos and ovenbirds gave an auditory dimension to the heights above the stream.

11" brook, W. Br. Genesee

11″ brook, W. Br. Genesee

I finally found a little pool with some depth but its roof of fallen trees prevented a traditional cast. I made a bow cast through an open “window” and the fly plopped into the center of the pool. A sizeable trout took it but quickly twisted free. Damn! Another lost opportunity? My almost link to Redwater Creek?

Ordinarily, I would’ve moved on, but this pool might be the only one I’d find, so I waited several minutes and tied on a different fly.

The trout took again, and I pulled him out– a hemlock-colored native more than seven inches long, a small fish but a nice adult from a tiny feeder stream in rivertop country.

Green Drake, W. Br. Genesee

Green Drake, W. Br. Genesee

So, what does it mean to catch a singular fellow in a stream that might otherwise be seen as totally devoid of trout?

Could Trout Unlimited do a little project there (assuming it was willing and able) to help improve the habitat for trout, or should everyone just keep their hands off the place and let nature take its course as it’s done for many years?

Granted, my little survey of the stream was amateurish, but it’s given me a fresh look at its flow. It looks to be a microcosm of the world of brook trout– as it was before the day of European settlers and as it is today. It speaks of both diminishment and hopeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA.

There are numerous brook trout streams in my rivertop country that have more fish and have better brook trout angling than Redwater Creek, but now there’s a new addition to my family of waters that I’ll have to keep an eye on.

I could say that my Redwater quest is almost done. Considering my attempts over the years, I almost proved that brook trout could no longer be caught in this headwater stream. Instead, I found the creek essential.

pink lady's slipper

pink lady’s slipper


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A River Fell Through It

For me, the long holiday weekend started with my fifth-grade students planting flags at the graves of veterans buried in the Bath National Cemetary.  It would end there four days later when we pulled those numerous flags for use next year.DSCN6464

Son Brent, and Catherine, came to visit us from northern Virginia. On Saturday night we traveled to the Railhead Brewery in Hornell for craft beers and pizza. Daughter Alyssa bartends part-time at the brewery but on Saturday night she sat with us at a table while a jazz band played and lent an air of cool to the summery night.

Next day we would visit Letchworth State Park (recently voted America’s #1 state park). The weather was sublime. My home river, the Genesee, is a rare northward flowing stream, and its three large waterfalls and its 20-mile canyon in the park have to be seen if you’re ever visiting western New York State.

DSCN6461Events unfolded at a pleasant clip: we had an evening cook-out and a bonfire by the stream with friends and family. The next morning featured a cat memorial to the family pet, Mustache, who succumbed to an illness in April. A small collection of orangish fur was given to the winds at some of Mr. M.’s favorite haunts.

Brent and Catherine departed on Monday afternoon but not before my wife and daughter and I accompanied the pair along the Cedar Mountain Road to Slate Run, PA and to one more picnic on the banks of big Pine Creek.

There was even some fly-fishing over the weekend, stuff to spark another blog postDSCN6465 somewhere down the road.

The fine holiday was over, washed down through the hours as if on the waterfalls of the mighty Genesee.

Hopefully you and all the Rivertop readers had an excellent time, and soon enjoy the shift from late spring into summer.DSCN6458DSCN6437DSCN6477DSCN6479DSCN6447DSCN6449DSCN6453DSCN6435

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The Cedar Run Experience, Part 19

1. It felt like the week’s visit to several brook trout streams was just practice for my reentry to Cedar Run. My last installment to The Cedar Run Experience (#18) was in December 2014, so it’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to fly-fish/hike on one of Pennsylvania’s finest.


I warmed up for Cedar Run by fishing several headwater streams closer to home. Near Splash Dam Hollow I stopped my vehicle to allow a hen woodcock and her short parade of chicks to safely cross. When they all reached the grasses of the roadside, the first chick hopped onto its mother’s back, as if to say, “I’ve had it mom; it’s too darned hot for this!”

It had been a hot day, for sure, but discomfort had been tempered by the sight and sound of birds, and the catch of trout. From the heat of a marshy area where the relatively rare (in the Northeast) orchard oriole came into view, along with its more common relative the Baltimore oriole, I entered the shade and coolness of the forest.

All week the brookies had been hungry and generally eager to take on the surface. The best action came along with lots of sweat and frustration, not in the open sections of the forest, but along the tight avenues of willow tree and alder growth, those fly-snatchers that forced a careful roll cast or a bow shot to the lairs of fish. That’s where the groceries were, and where the trout seemed heavier and more contented.

2. I was ready for Cedar Mountain. Heavy rains had brought the streams up a little and deposited pools of water on the long mountain road, but I was eager to restart my exploration, fishing from mouth to source. I had started on Memorial Day two years ago and now had covered nearly all of the eleven-mile distance.

My strategy had been to fish the run in sequence, one stretch at a time, taking up where I had stopped on a previous visit. Figuratively speaking, I could smell the source and it was sweet, although I probably wouldn’t get there today.

The air was thick with water. The humidity felt heavy enough to slice with a knife. Dark clouds promised rain and maybe even a thunderstorm, but I was there, and I had a purpose.

Wasn’t it the philosopher, Rene Descartes, who said, I fish therefore I am? The stretch between the two small bridges over the stream would prove to me that I was still alive, a bit mad perhaps, but willing to look at the real.

The stream’s not for the faint of heart. It’s narrow and uneven, cradled by a fairly deep ravine, and so rugged with vegetation that I couldn’t imagine fishing it at any other time than in middle spring or in an autumn with plenty of rain.

Parts of the jaunt felt like the mixture of a suicide mission and a holiday in heaven. There were sections that I walked by because they looked like gateways to the underworld, but then there were sweet little pools and cascades that gave proof of their wild brook and brown trout populations.

Near the upper end of this section I found Cedar Run’s highest major tributary, a stream that lent me a brook trout, small and pretty, hued with the darkness of hemlock trees.

There were bugs in the air– yellow stoneflies, grannoms, and graceful March Browns,

Bob's stick caddis

Bob’s stick caddis

and the trout were eager to rise. I lost several imitations to unyielding branches, and the storm-threat put an early end to the adventure, but overall it was good.

Later, on studying the maps, I realized that I could probably fish another half mile of stream above the highest bridge, so it wasn’t quite time to light up the celebratory Curivari or to bust open a Southern Tier IPA, but one final visit would do it.

3. I made a short celebration of my nearly completed walk by driving down to big Pine Creek and joining in on the catch of German brown trout stocked by Slate Run’s Orvis shop and its “Brown Trout Club.”

These fish, nicely colored (for hatchery trout), were rather large and rising everywhere, feeding just below the surface. They were challenging, and selective in their take.

I was lucky to catch a few by casting a dry fly as an indicator for a couple of trailing emerger patterns. The trout wanted the emergent March Brown, and that was it. One fish that broke off my entire rig looked to be a 20-incher, easily.

My best trout was a brown of maybe 17 inches, followed by a leaping rainbow a couple inches shorter.

Pine Creek is the biggest “creek” in the USA, a sizeable river here at Slate Run, and it offered me a large, expansive way to kick back and resettle in the norm.

almost time

almost time

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