Welcome to Paradise

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

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

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

Spring Creek, near Bellefont, PA…

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

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

Riparian zone, Fisherman’s Paradise…

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

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

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

nectar of the trout gods…

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

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

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

this Spring Creek pool held some monstrous, restive browns…

Paradise brown…

the Paradise above…

 

 

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Shape-Shifter

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

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

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

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

Image result for fisher photos[photo by Missoulian]

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

blow-down where I saw the running fisher…

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

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

brown trout, Allegheny…

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

wild brown, West Branch Pine…

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

upper West Branch modified by beaver works…

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

in the Asaph Wild Area…

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

kids or wild men sat here by the stream…

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

backbone of a wild economy…

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

rainbow magic… 10/6/19

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

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

the beholder…

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The Caddis Hour

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

a caddis fly hatchery…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

heading upstream on the Genny…

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

before the quick release…

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

pale rainbow chased & caught the soft-hackle fly…

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

wild browns are rare on the main-stem Genesee…

sycamore leaf delight….

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Fall (The Starred Horizon)

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

Allegheny morn…

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

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

finicky ‘bows…

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

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

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

Wiscoy browns were small & wild…

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

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

Allegheny brown…

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

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

Happy Autumn to you all.

Wiscoy Creek @ summer’s end…

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

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Gray Hair and Grizzly Hackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

taking time to smell the odorless asters…

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

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

another view of upper Genesee watershed…

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

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

keep an eye on this small gray-hackled fly…

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

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

some nice browns rose to it…

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

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

the first of several on meeting day…

Adams, emerger, small…

a Slate Run brown, late summer…

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Just Good Fishing

The cooling temperatures of late summer and early fall brings a spike in fish behavior and in human interest on the stream. Although I’m anchored to another academic year, I try to focus on the local streams and overgrown trails to balance my work with pleasure. With a short drive to a headwater stream, I can fish a weekend morning while the tiny Tricos hover, then go home and do whatever else requires doing.

I’ve been missing from this creek for a year or more, so it’s good to get back and  reacquaint myself with the water’s changeability and free-flowing ways. It’s good to go local, to regain some depth inside this place and fish it after a season or two of outward travel.

the beaver dams are new; the stream’s face changes every year…

The sky is overcast, the air cool and foggy, comfortable. I watch the first hovering cloud of Trico spinners settling closer to the water. Now it’s time to cast that #22 spinner– one of the smallest flies I dare to fish with. But it’s fun.

Small stuff– live Trico spinner (left), imitation (right)…

At first I’m catching and releasing miniature browns. Then a wild brook trout or two comes in, bright fish in the eight or nine-inch range. If I’m lucky I’ll see a larger shape rising to the surface, and I’ll take a brown for several moments of admiration. When I’m not so fortunate, I’ll lose a heavy bruiser risen to a fly I’ve drifted down below the long pool’s riffle.

one of many young brown trout in the stream…

It’s not that there’s a great fish in my creek, or a lot of big ones to be taken. Oh, I’ve seen a few outstanding trout over the years– the rare fish spooked from its lair, out of reach except for night fishing. It’s just that I’m at home here, relaxed in the solitude of water, and awake to some of its greater challenges.

It’s like being at the roots of nature– listening to poetry, to the sound of birds, amphibians, water running over stone. Poetry has predated the written word, historically, and what I hear eludes translation to the page. There’s more to fishing than meets the eye, of course, but satisfaction rises out of creativity, in writing “just good language,” and in reconnection with our origins.

Patrick Ewing reading his poems for the Harvest Reading (9/7/19), Wheeler Hill, N.Y.

Cardinal Flower

Native lobelia/ scarlet robed/flares/ above the muskrat’s wake.// Trout rise/ for the small emergent mayfly–/ the heron’s eye/ notes a wavering/ white-striped fin.// Blossoms stir/ along the stalks–/ small red birds/ lift their wings…// A shadow falls/ across the riffle.

Poetry everywhere… Leighanne, Wheeler Hill, 9/7/19…

The trout are enlivened by the cooler temperatures and, in some cases, by a spawning urge. The bird migrations have begun, and the chance to see the seldom seen is heightened. It feels right to walk, wade and hike again. Our summer lethargies are diminished, and a sense of wholeness looms, assuming that our work loads aren’t too burdensome and our health is pretty good.

“Just a stump,” at waterside…

By evening, stream and the surrounding valley are a gentle wash of cricket song, goldenrod and bright new color. The whole planet seems to beckon from its natural aspects, before the end of days. Good fishing, and good hiking, bring it on.

the wild natives make it “good”…

a Genesee trib, the home water….

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Evening Frenzy, Morning Calm

Slate Drakes (Isonychia) emerged from evening riffles, and the trout rose hungrily to the surface of the Genesee. Browns and rainbows up to 17 inches long provided a busy outing. In the same stretch, two nights later, there were differences. The cool overcast conditions were replaced by sun and warmer air. The large gray mayflies were exchanged for a sporadic hatch of sulphur mayflies and some caddis. Trout weren’t taking on the surface so I switched to an emerger pattern– a soft-hackle wet, viz. a Tup’s Indispensable– and braced myself for action.

Tup’s Indispensable

The fly worked well for me, and I soon checked out its history. Created by the Englishman R.S. Austin around 1890, the Tup’s Indispensable became quite popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Although this dry fly/soft-hackle pattern is largely forgotten or ignored today, its history, as well as its appeal to trout, will probably save it from oblivion.

Fox grapes, sour but fair…

The Tup’s had a lively, irresistible dubbing for the thorax. Austin wanted the material to be kept a secret from all except his good friend, the writer George Skues. The writer’s book, Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream, gave the Indispensable great publicity without revealing the dubbing’s constitution. When the vow of secrecy concerning the mysterious substance was lifted in 1934 (following the deaths of Skues and Austin), it was learned that Item X was simply hair from the scrotum of a ram. The dyed hair, often urine tainted, had a special hue beloved by fussy trout and difficult to imitate with more traditional bits of fluff.

From the eve of frenzied action…

I experimented with this soft-hackle fly, finding that on this occasion it out-fished the similar Lil’ Dorothy, created by my late friend, Mark Libertone. Be that as it may, I was thankful for the Indispensable, for the way it helped carry on the frenzied link between man and trout, and for those who helped develop this fundamental soft-hackle pattern in the first place.

Speaking of gratitude, it’s probably useful to remember that everything changes, for better or worse, and fly patterns aren’t exempt. Modern synthetics have replaced a lot of the traditional tying ingredients, and dyed rabbit fur is now a substitute for pink scrotum hairs. Rabbit fur is said to have a similar magic, much to the relief of barnyard rams around the world.

From the morning after…

The cedar waxwings picked off Sulphur mayflies from the high banks of the Genesee. I watched their flight, a fine transition from frenzied river to the quiet night and morning hours. Casting Tup’s Indispensable, I noted similarities of color in the waxwing and the fly…

Lots of wild browns the morning after…

The bird has a yellow band at the tail tip, with waxy red tips on the secondary feathers. The fly has a yellowish abdomen and peachy thorax (from former “tup”). Watching the birds dip down and up, capturing insects at the river, I recalled Mark Libertone’s comment about tying and fishing the soft-hackle flies: The process is “easy, mindless and uncomplicated.” Maybe. Whereas Libertone may have made the tying look as seamless as a waxwing on the hunt, I, for one, find the soft-hackle business a difficult craft to master.

On the headwaters stream…

It’s more difficult than relaxing in the cool fog of a morning stream. Anticipating a spinner fall of Trico mays, I saw the first rise of a fish. The tiny undulating bugs were calling brook and brown trout to the surface. I could put away the bead-head nymph and cast with bamboo ease. The fog was lifting like a gentle wake from sleep. September, too, stretched out endlessly across the pools and riffles. It was pleasant till the sun bored down and brought old challenges to the fore.

Trico #20 on a fingernail…

Early morning tributary…

The rambler in Maine, July 2019…

 

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Thinking Like a Creek

1. Stumbling from the lean-to late one night, relieve an aching bladder. Stars shine brightly through the broken canopy of Baxter wilds. I think of The Maine Woods by Thoreau: “In the night I dreamed of trout fishing.” Silence, like the babble of the stream, has its way.

Slate Run Jim… thinking like a creek…

2. I look to the starred horizon, the direction taken by Greek philosophers. I may not grasp their understanding or their wisdom, but there’s something out there also shining deep within. Call it spirit, call it soul, it’s wonderful– beyond the work of all the modern specialists whose knife-edged separation and inspection of this life now fades.

Isonychia shuck…

3. The home ground is both familiar and unceasingly strange. There’s always more to it than meets the eye. There’s a roughness to it when we poke around, knowing that life is short and we are mortal. There’s a comforting sweetness to it when we draw back from the edges toward the habits of everyday experience. This travel back and forth is like the casting of an angler.

Chester2 meets the Black Ant…

4. Sitting on the porch (with beer in hand), listening to the night rain rattle off the tin roof, cascade into drainage from the lawn and field, taken by the streams and rivers into dream-filled ocean. Heavy clouds flush darkly on the house and wooded hills. The sticks and stones will speak of it, too.

little native pals…

5. A mountain stream can be reflected from coastal surf. I cast the fly from sandbar or rocky headland, challenged by recollection of pools and ledges, riffles, logs, and overhanging branch. It doesn’t matter that I’m casting for bass or shark– the featureless winds, the open waves, retain some hidden signs. I read the water like an upland dude, not always sure about the path, but certain that the deeper water, brook or ocean, always beckons.

Canadian nightcrawlers make good neighbors, but trash like this deposited on Genesee special regs water indicates poaching & poor judgement…

6. Late summer, early morning, Genesee. Fishing upstream with small dries (Blue Quill, Trico, Ant) is predictably slow until the turn-around. Under black willow, going back down, I switch to big ugly, the chartreuse worm. Green Weenie. Spun out from the bamboo wand. And heavy browns and rainbows slam it, 1, 2, 3… Hell, it’s what the river wanted! Shamelessly, while trout submerge once more, and fisherman returns.

stair-step run along Hammersley Fork…

Cross Fork pool, late summer…

from Green Weenie delight….

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On a Small Island

Small islands have been inspirational for me since my long-gone days of bumming through the quiet waters of the blue Aegean. Most recently, I helped my daughter move from Providence, Rhode Island to neighboring Warwick, on the west side of Narragansett Bay. The long visit culminated with a day spent on Block Island, 14 miles into the Atlantic.

approaching Block Island by ferry…

The night before the island visit, we (my wife, daughter and I) attended another grand performance of WaterFire in downtown Providence. WaterFire highlights a festival of arts and music along the city’s rivers. Since 1994, it’s celebrated the pagan origins of Providence with an award-winning sculptural performance given periodically on summer nights.

Listening to third-world music blaring from speakers while a line of blaziers stacked with wood along the middle of the Providence River is lit by traveling gondoliers, can be transformational, to say the least. And even though an earnest rain began to fall at the beginning of this typically peaceful and orderly event observed by thousands, we enjoyed the late day, getting wet while sipping brews and tasting Indian cuisine.

commencement of WaterFire, downtown Providence

Our spirits “islanded” by WaterFire, we caught an early morning ferry to Block Island. The hour-long ride through the foggy waters of Block Island Sound took us 14 miles into the Atlantic for a full day of exploration. The island is an oddly-shaped glacial remnant that reminds me of a long-necked sea bird, maybe a cormorant or merganser. It’s about seven miles long by three miles wide, a place of rolling hills that’s home to 1,5oo people residing mostly in or near the singular village of New Shoreham.

gull consuming the only fish I’d see that day…

I had already done some casting for stripers at Cominicut Point on the mainland and was fully prepared to continue my ownership of a Saltwater Fly-Fishing Skunk on Block Island, famous for striper fishing and other angling delights. Although late summer is a slow time for the shoreline fisher, it’s been said that, “If the year, the moon, and the tides align, you can reasonably assume a great encounter with a striped bass from the shore.” True enough, but something was wrong (again) with my alignment, even though I found it pleasurable to be casting surf-side in the fine remoteness of places like Charlestown Beach.

Franklin angling on Charlestown Beach, against all odds…

We rented bicycles and I pedaled seriously for the first time in 30 years. We had a fabulous work-out through the breezy and pastoral atmosphere of an island that the Nature Conservancy has called “One of the Last Great Places,” managing about 40-percent of the island in a wild and natural state.

a typical rural scene, B. Island…

Thankfully, the island remains largely free of commercialism, with no indication of chain store, neon sign or traffic light. Zoning laws and conservation efforts dating back to the 1960s have largely preserved a wonderful site for wildlife and migratory birds, with rolling hills, broad forest, marshland, beaches, chalky bluffs, and stone walls reminiscent of the Irish coast.

This ain’t yo-momma’s waffles, Belgian style w/ blended fruits @ Buttonwoods Brewery, Providence…

We pedaled and walked vigorously for 17 miles, sharing the roads with numerous other bikes and motor vehicles that, for the most part, were considerate of our island clumsiness. We took breaks for cooling off along the beaches and bluffs, fly-fishing or poking around at natural artifacts, stopping at conveniently located stands where lemonade, water and other refreshments could be purchased.

the botanical gardens at Roger Williams Park, Providence, were amazing…

“No man is an island,” said the poet John Donne, and once again I found this sentiment to be correct. Remaining a piece of my rivertop realm, I acknowledged that all persons, places and things remain interconnected in the global sense. But it was nice to think that on a small oceanic isle, where humanity and wildness find a summer balance, one could know essential freedom and a feeling of separation, too.

Mulhegan Bluff, Block Island…

Southeast Lighthouse, Block Island…

prior to the celebration, Providence…

WaterFire, Providence River….

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“Walt’s Lure” (Rangeley)

One allure of Rangeley camp in northwestern Maine was bird life. The wild shrieking of loons at night brought vivid images from lakeside to the closeness of the tent. It was often accompanied by hoots and chortling of various owls, especially the screech owl. By daylight, a family of ovenbirds did warbler business, stepping fearlessly through the leafy carpet on our site. A northern parula was finally identified, the treetop singer giving me a classic strain of “warbler neck.”

sunset, Rangeley lake

South Bog Stream called me back to its “fly-fishing-only” waters. The dark, tannic pools and riffles, the great irregular rocks and boulders, kept me hopping for brook trout with a small 4-weight rod.

One morning, just after I began to cast, I heard a vehicle crunching to a stop where my wife had set up her lawn chair for some reading time. A storm of screams and shouting fell across the stream, the kind that even a raft of nesting loons could not approximate. Hoping that my wife wasn’t getting strangled at the lonely parking spot, I raced from the stream with figurative handgun cocked and ready to defend, only to find (thankfully) that an overly excited group of camp kids and their counselors were playfully preparing for a hike along a nearby trail.

Another time, I was well below this South Bog site attempting a delicate entry into a difficult, steep-banked pool. I lost my balance, slamming into rocks and water, banging fly rod, shoulder, leg, and elbow, then drawing blood for all the slim mosquitoes ready to feast on a fisherman’s mortality.

the Rangeley district has long been renowned as the home for the largest brook trout in the nation…

Regrouping and cleaning up the wounds, I found that the rod and body parts were probably okay despite the pain. Miraculously, the brook trout (several sizeable, alluring fish) forgave my splashy introduction to their darkened habitat and took the dry fly as if nothing else really mattered.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake… great name, fine water….

One morning I entered the fir-lined Kennebago River, musing on a question often posed by manic anglers: Does fly-fishing give meaning to a life, or does life give meaning to the act of fishing? Reason overtook me like a cloud of gnats. Obviously the water was low and warm and all too shallow. Trout and salmon had departed, migrating to cooler lakes and streams. Escaping the swarms of reason, I took refuge in aesthetics, happy to know that it didn’t matter. It was good enough to be here. My question had no either-or direction or solution…

from the Outdoor Heritage Museum…

Fishing can bring meaning if an angler focuses one-on-one with larger nature, if humility allows the self to be viewed as small– significant, but nonetheless diminutive within the cosmic order. Life experiences, too, bring “meaning” (however one defines it) to the act of fishing and to various outdoor pursuits. In any case, such riverine meditations seem a waste of time and energy unless there’s fun involved, as well.

from O.H. Museum, Oquossic…

Oquossic, Maine is Rangeley’s neighbor to the west. The village is home to the amazing Outdoor Heritage Museum, a showcase for the region’s history and its cultural distinction as a “fly-fishing Mecca.” My second tour of this Museum was even more rewarding than my first one four years earlier. Across the street, we enjoyed unparalleled dining at the “45th Parallel,” a fine spot for haddock, burgers and beer.

from the vise of the great Carrie Stevens, O.H. Museum…

On a hot day in a different watering hole, Leighanne and I had lunch while talking with a pair of teachers doing summer work at Cupsuptic Lake. A customer entered and sat nearby at the bar. He sipped at a beer and did some drawing. He was quiet till my wife and I departed from the teachers and prepared to leave. He called me over, asking my name and how to spell the word “Lure.” He had overheard our conversations and drawn sketches for the teachers and myself. He gave me “Walt’s Lure,” a signed sketch, and told me that he wrote and illustrated books for kids. Yes, Kevin O’Malley has published more than 80 different whimsical books so far, and several have been New York Times bestsellers, too. A pretty cool crossing of the tracks, I’d say.

“Fly Rod Crosby,” O.H.M….

Throughout our visits to Baxter Park and Rangeley, I experimented with an old wet fly pattern known as the Orange Fish Hawk, a soft-hackle largely forgotten by modern fly-fishers but not by trout and salmon. The pattern served me well as a dropper underneath a floating Adams on the West Branch Penobscot and then on the cold Magalloway near Rangeley.

a few of the F.E. Thomas bamboo rods…

The Hawk was a favorite of Ray Bergman (Trout) and of tier Mark Libertone, my late friend from Wellsville, New York. An osprey, the “fish hawk,” flew above me on the big Magalloway as I caught and then released a chunky brook trout on a #8 Hornberg dry. The trout was followed by the largest creek chubs I have ever seen or handled (12 to 16 inches). Thinking of osprey, I tied a small Orange Fish Hawk, a soft-hackle dropper, underneath the Hornberg, hoping for the best.

one of many large chubs (16″)…

Image result for orange fish hawk imagesWith tandem flies drifting on a long cast, I took sudden flight– the old Orange Fish Hawk leapt up in the jaws of a silvery rocket, a landlocked salmon glimmering before its total break to freedom. I was hooked to the Rangeley district by a special lure. The Hawk seemed to hold me happily in place. Unlike the salmon, I would have no simple escape.

from the depths of the Tavern Pool, the skilled penmanship of Kevin O’Malley…

Leighanne confirms that I catch one now & then…

Kennebago River, August “deadwater”…

Mooselookmeguntic…

sunset, Rangeley….

 

 

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