Trout Lives Matter

So the carp, posed briefly by the riverside before its release, said to me, and I quote:

“So trout lives matter to you, as lives of all scales and colors matter to you, and that’s why you chose to fish for me with that fiberglass 7-weight and a Hare’s-Ear Nymph.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Trout lives matter to you in this hot dry summer with streams down to a trickle and with water temps hitting the lethal 70s for your favorite fish. You understand the trends and patterns of climate change, or think you do, so it’s time to leave the trout alone until the rains return and the temperatures cool off.

“Trout lives matter, so you turn to other prospects for your stream and river fishing. You come to me and to smallies for your fly rod action. Well, thanks a lot. You wet-wade the Allegheny down below Coudy looking for underwater springs and deeper holes. Good luck. They’re here, but you don’t find them like I find them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Yeah we carpies are a smart bunch. Not smart enough, perhaps, because you fooled me with that little Hare’s Ear, but don’t forget. That was after three long hours of casting to us in the bridge pool, with me and my buddies watching what you threw while sucking at the mud, nice looping lines across the river, all those flies sinking deep then lifting slowly like some caddis pupa on the rise. Well, you finally did it, got me on the hook, and I gave you quite a tussle, didn’t I.

“We deserve our reputation as an ugly boy, but we’re strong, really strong, with big scales and oh, what a lip that nature gave us!

“Trout lives matter, so I guess you’re dismayed at the news about your favorite OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMontana rivers getting too warm too early every summer for the last 15 years or so. Yeah things are rough out there, but we carpies should survive. We get the news straight from the river bottom that gets it from the water cycle of this old planet. Yeah we know about those early snowmelts, waters too low and warming too fast.

“Montana’s gonna be closing down the river fishing each day at noon . That’s right. On places like Gallatin, Beaverhead, Jefferson. ‘Cause trout lives matter. If you don’t believe me, if you’re like those Republican big wigs in power with their heads up their collective asses while denying man-made climate change, look it up. Check out The Economist, for one [16 July 2016].

DSCN9139“Hey, but you’re different; I can tell. Maybe you had to get a picture of me to prove to your buds that you could take a fat fish with a fly, but then you struggled to revive me, a low-down carp, to put me back in the river alive, despite the mud bath that I threw ya.

“Thanks for that. I agree. Trout lives matter, too.”DSCN9126DSCN9133OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

July sunrise

July sunrise

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Tilting at Turbines

I was sick of all the news saturated with senseless violence and political mayhem; I was feeling burned by the reality of drought and floods and frequently occurring “thousand year weather events” across the globe. I could not get used to the fact that the water levels of our regional trout streams had dropped precipitously while their temperatures rose to dangerous levels; I knew I had to get over it all, if only for a little while.

Our old kitchen was getting torn down and totally updated and renewed. Maybe I could take a hint and have my “soul kitchen” reinvented, so to speak, renewed with a visit to elsewhere. And where was that– Montana, Maine, or northern Michigan? Not yet. I headed for the evening woods in my front yard.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The forest climb and the meadow vistas were relaxing and serene. I could look into the forest gloom and see the brightness of a soul at peace with itself, at peace with the ringing carols of the hermit thrush; I could gaze across the hilltops and perceive the place where I languished when the blues afflicted the mind and heart. I could see that solitude can be a time when we are in the company of nature. I could put my place of life in perspective by absorbing the sunset and the quiet onset of the stars above; I could do these things but there was no escape.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What I had in mind for a series of evening walks was to do a natural inventory and to do it because the physical landscapes that surrounded me would soon be changing thanks to mankind and the need for increased  energy consumption… The turbines were coming and would likely be installed within two years.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ve got nothing against wind power. We need to shift our use of dirty fossil fuels to cleaner, more sustainable energy alternatives. I’ve seen the giant turbines in numerous locations near and far and, frankly, prefer their use over coal extraction, hydro-electric and nuclear energy (25 years ago I fought tooth-and-nail against a federal and state proposal to dump nuclear waste here at the rivertops, but that’s another story). I like wind power and, for better or worse, I’ve been recognized as a wind generator myself, but that’s another story, as well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I like it, but wind power has to be installed correctly and with all the best environmental studies incorporated. We need to use it in conjunction with an increased sense of social and global responsibility. I don’t want to see turbines set up on the bat fields or on the major migratory routes of songbirds and golden eagles; and I don’t want to see them from my back yard.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Okay, I’m a NIMBY. When it comes to the installment of 500-foot turbines, I say not-in-my-back-yard. And why not, you ask. A lot of people like them in the neighborhood. They look metallic, brilliant, futuristic. They make us look richer, more middle class, aspiring toward the upper crust of society. And they’re helping us save the Earth. Oh, really?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Unless we lessen our consumptive habits, our increasing use of… dare I say it… computers and electrical gadgetry and such, we’re only increasing our ability to consume more and more of what’s left to be consumed. So, the turbines are here. I won’t wax Quixotic and go tilting at those giant blades; there are easier ways to get scalped these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m a NIMBY on this issue because I moved here 35 years ago to get away from such industrial reminders. I moved here to find some rural peace, to be near trout streams and hermit thrushes, as far from the madding crowd and the “ignoble strife” as I could afford to be. And it’s been good so far. We dodged the spectacle of a nuclear waste dump in Allegany County; we dodged the bullet from hydro-fracking of Marcellus shale in New York State (though not, unfortunately, in Pennsylvania).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The turbines aren’t so bad, comparatively speaking. But they’ll change the land and skyscape that I’ve loved; they’ll always bring to mind the world of mass murder and political mayhem that’s around the bend. They’ll have yet another major impact on the hills and valleys (and no, this out-of-state industry won’t be putting many of our local guys to work).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’m doing some inventory for the head and heart. My camera is ready, too. I’m enjoying the summer woods and meadows, seeing them in ways that give me peace. To paraphrase a biblical sentiment, I could say that here the grey coyote dwells with the spotted fawn; here the black bear of the body lies down with the singing thrush of the soul; the kitchen of the spirit is renewed, for now.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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New York 66er

In June, Leighanne and I took a trip to the Albany area where I was to present an evening of poetry for the folks at the Pine Hollow Arboretum in Slingerlands, New York. The event wasn’t as boring as you might think.

at Christman Sanctuary

at Christman Sanctuary

En route, we stopped at the Christman Nature Sanctuary near Delanson for another walk along the Bozenkill on property that once belonged to the upstate farmer poet W. W. Christman (1865-1937). The creek with its lovely waterfall was flowing minimally, but a highlight for me was a singing prairie warbler that I had an excellent view of near the parking lot.

Before my reading in residential Slingerlands, we enjoyed good food and craft beer at a restaurant near the arboretum, so I was pumped up for my presentation to the trees and flowering shrubs and to the brave fans of literature who came out to hear my poetry and prose on a Friday night.

Christman memorial

Christman memorial

God bless these souls, especially our friends Tim and Laurie who drove out from Nassau for us (Laurie had to work but left her duties to provide an extra key for her husband who had locked his in a truck at the arboretum when Triple A was just too busy to help).

We were planning to stay the night at their house, so we drove Tim in our vehicle to a rendezvous site in downtown Albany where he and Laurie could exchange a spare key. Leighanne and Tim and I returned to the stranded truck and then separated for the drive toward Nassau where we stopped for drinks at a local bar.

The place was crowded with a blend of young and working class patrons. Tim said, “If anyone asks, tell ’em you just came from an NRA meeting, not a poetry reading!”

even the dogwood listened...

even the dogwood listened…

The headwaters of Kinderhook Creek, the stream where I cut my teeth as a fly-fisher at an early age, a stream that I seldom have the chance to visit anymore, are situated near Nassau, and Tim advised me of some new water I could try near Route 66, a place called Kinderhook Creek Nature Preserve. I’m glad I had an opportunity to make a first visit there.

we missed it the first time thru...

we missed it the first time thru…

New York’s Route 66 was vaguely familiar to me, and I got to know it even better. I began making a connection to the popular rhythm and blues number, “(Get Your Kicks) On Route 66,” written in 1946 by Bobby Troup and first recorded by Nat King Cole and then covered by a thousand other artists through the years.

rinsing her muddy clothes...

rinsing her muddy clothes…

I improvised on the lyrics, with deep apology to original creators…

If you ever plan to motor East/ Travel a road that’s not the least/ Get your kicks on New York 66.// Forget about the suburbs/ This is rural all the way–/ Winding south from Troy, New York/ Almost 50 miles they say/ To Hudson by the docks…NYS Route 66 marker

For there it was, my highway to Kinderhook Creek near Malden Bridge where I first raised a fly rod to a trout stream as a kid. And there it was in present time, a roadway with a turn-off onto gravel and remoteness in the Berkshire Hills, a trout water flowing like a small Adirondack river upstream from my boyhood haunts, slow pools and rapids coursing through a newly formed Kinderhook Creek Nature Preserve.

the Kinderhook...

the Kinderhook…

This sanctuary is a 121 acre “working forest” with a half mile shoreline on the creek. Its four miles of public trails criss-cross each other and can be confusing to the newcomer, but a good map provided at the parking lot is helpful, even necessary.

Serving Chatham town and Nassau, too/ Along the banks of Kinderhook–/ The creek where I fished as a kid/ Saw him catch a first trout long ago/ Getting his kicks on New York 66.// That’s right, he got it there by Malden Bridge/ And the pool with its graffiti/ Not far from the Berkshire Hills/ And other hamlets pretty/ When you swing beneath I-90/ Get your kicks on 66.

"can't you get yr kicks somewhere else?"

“can’t you get yr kicks somewhere else?”

In the woods we missed the little sign saying “To Kinderhook Creek” so we took the Says Trail up a ridge and then back down along a steep slope that had ropes beside it for the physically infirm. We could’ve taken the easier trail if we had been awake, but this way we got to see the sanctuary’s back country en route to fishing in the creek.

I say get hip to this kindly tip/ Take that Capital District trip–/ Get shook by Shaker history/ Drink some craft beer at the Brewery/ And feel the mystery of New York 66.

Holy crap I just turned 66!/ Don’t know how I got here, really/ Didn’t mean to get so old–/ I’m feeling pretty young now/ Heading up to Garfield Road/ Into Tsatsawassa Woods…

evening river time

evening river time

I fished the pocket water for an hour. Not much going on, but I caught a nice brown on a Prince nymph as Leighanne, having tumbled awkwardly down a bank and into the mud, washed up in the warming waters of the creek.

Thinking, if you ever plan to motor East/ Check out the Kinderhook Creek Preserve/ Rensselaer Land Trust doing its best/ To keep a trout stream wild and free/ To keep it clean and cold/ Getting its licks on New York 66.

after dark...

after dark…

In addition to the half mile public fishing rights along the creek, this nature preserve features trails for hiking, cross-country skiing and exploring, riverside sand and gravel bars, steep cliffs, a hemlock-hardwood swamp, and six forest types with good habitat for wildlife and rare plants.

I’ll make a shameless plug here for my book River’s Edge which includes a chapter called “Kinderhook Kid,” a detailed account of my connection to this trout stream. As for the preserve on the upper Kinderhook, I’d say it’s a good place for a nature boy or girl, no matter the age, to get some healthy kicks and bonding with the earth.

L.F.'s blue iris #66

L.F.’s blue iris #66

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Genesee, the Rabbit Hole

As America approaches yet another Independence Day celebration, I’m reminded that sometimes a chance encounter while fly fishing will unveil an interesting portrait of human freedom.

A couple of weeks ago I was fishing yet another caddis hatch, the kind that makes DSCN9079the upper Genesee River noteworthy. I was heading upstream in a clear and comfortable evening, catching trout left and right on a Grannom dry, when looking toward the bend pool I could see a fly line in the air and could hear soft words being spoken as if to a son or a fishing buddy. It took a while before I could view the bearded fellow, a big man with glasses, who appeared to be about my age. The partner he’d been talking to while landing trout was a lively little terrier.

We approached each other and I saw that the small dog carried a bag of angling paraphernalia in its mouth. I said, “Oh, you’ve got your helper with you tonight,” and the fly fisher, whose name is John, replied, “My ghillie.”

We exchanged fishing reports, and I learned that John loves to fly cast on the headwaters of streams, as I do, way up in “the nose bleed section” where no one else is found– unless one chances upon another madman or iconoclast in love with native trout.

I'm Iron Skeeter!

I’m Iron Skeeter!

John fishes the wilder streams of New York and Pennsylvania, and he knows many of my favorites like Slate and Cedar Run. He fishes them remotely, “where you can die of dehydration and exhaustion if you go in with a bloated ego and aren’t prepared for canyon walking.”

One of John’s fishing heroes was Fran Betters but he knew him only late in life, when the Ausable shopkeeper had to sit while fly-fishing or when tying Adirondack patterns at his vise. “Nowadays I like to sit on my ass while fishing, like Fran had to do,” said John. I reminded him that it’s not easy sitting down while checking out the rivertops.

John and his canine partner were about to leave and head back toward the parking lot when he said, “Oh wait, I’ve got a story you’ll appreciate.” It goes something like this…

What consenting turtles do in the privacy of their own creek is none of my damn business, but....

What consenting turtles do in the privacy of their own creek is none of my damn business, but….

“One time I was fishing near the state fish hatchery on Oswayo Creek in Potter County. I saw a guy fishing there who acted as though he didn’t want anyone to know what he was doing. I approached him and saw a fly rod being tossed into the grass. As he tore off his vest and tried to chuck that, too, I saw four or five cans of Falstaff Beer falling out to the edge of the creek. I couldn’t believe a guy would drink that shit. Falstaff! Anyway, the guy looked totally embarrassed and we finally introduced ourselves. Are you ready for this? The fellow was none other than Joe Humphreys (legendary Pennsylvania fly-fisher and writer, angling partner of Jimmy Carter…). The only time I ever met him!”

down the rabbit hole (1)

down the rabbit hole (1)

I had a name for the bend pool in the Genesee where I’d met John. I was starting to consider renaming it the Rabbit Hole in honor of Alice and her entry into Wonderland. Meanwhile I thanked John for the story, hoping the iconic Humphreys wouldn’t mind my retelling if the anecdote was true. If the tale was authentic, it would spice up my own reflections gathered from years of fishing that remote but favorite stream.

Before he left, I asked John where he lives and what he does when not out fishing. He lives within an hour’s drive of the Genesee and he likes to read books and make music. “I don’t have a TV, radio or computer. I just read and make CDs. About 100 of them so far.”

4 of "100 CDs"

4 of “100 CDs”

A hundred albums? Do you write songs?

“No, not really. But sometimes, yeah, about my friends like this dog, right here. I’ve been featured on Dr. Demento, stuff like that.”

Dr. Demento…

He wanted to know which vehicle was mine so that he could leave some CD samples on my car. When I left the Rabbit Hole and returned to the parking lot at dusk, I found four self-produced albums, and I played one while driving home.

down the rabbit hole (2)

down the rabbit hole (2)

Listening to the music I found I wasn’t done with the Rabbit Hole experience yet. Not by a long shot. I listened to “Songs and Legends of Allegany County,” and perused the song titles of “There’s Something Funny Going On in Steuben County,” “Fantastic Fish Stories,” and “A Cat of More Than 9 Tails.”

Wild. Bizarre. Satirical and hilarious. Original. In tune with local history and an independent spirit. I recalled my old Patrick Sky album, the infamous “Songs That Made America Famous.”

down the rabbit hole (3)

down the rabbit hole (3)

I can say this as someone who has long appreciated music as unworldly as that of Captain Beefheart’s or The Residents’. John Bartles and the Diode Trio should have a major label, but rest assured they’ll never get one. You can sample a few Demento-esque songs on You Tube, but be warned (as John B. says): It’s music unsuited for audiences of ANY age (heh heh).

If you don’t mind rough language or no-holds-barred lyrics that, thankfully, make a serious point or intentionally have no point except to guide you through the Halls of Academentia, I’d recommend listening to You Tube’s “Cut My Own Head Off,” “American Hypocrite,” and “Calling All Humans” by John Bartles. Otherwise let your imagination riot.

out of the rabbit hole, i think...

out of the rabbit hole, i think…

The few offerings on You Tube barely suggest a listening experience such as that found in my CD, “Songs and Legends of Allegany County,” but they do offer a start.

Hey, only in America, folks, and in any other country where my friends are reading this. When you have it, freedom is a wonderful thing.

not quite

not quite

 

 

 

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Of Hope and Expectation

“Hope is the thing with feathers– That perches in the soul–,” said Emily Dickenson, who probably had no idea of what a trout fly is, but who certainly understood that

bobolink-- a "thing with feathers"

bobolink– a “thing with feathers”

feathers– on a bird or on a fish hook– have a metaphorical link to hope and freedom.

Not long ago, I brought my own version of hope and freedom to the trout stream, to the West Branch Genesee in an evening when the sulphur mayflies were expected, but at a time when I couldn’t see any stream activity for the first quarter hour of fishing. Finally, trout began to rise to an imperceptible insect at the surface of the stream.

DSCN8978Getting refusals to a Sulphur dry fly and a spinner pattern, too, I chanced it with a small, dark imitation (think Ant, Grannom, Midge) and that was the key. I went from the yellowish fly to a dark Grannom (caddis), sparking a blaze of heated casting that raised my hopes and expectation through to nightfall.

Rainbow after rainbow rose to that dark imitation drifting over the pool with undercut banks. They were stocked fish, but strong, leaping trout that averaged 12 or 13 inches long. And that’s the thing about fishing: there is never any certainty about success but, as long as there’s fish in the stream, there’s always the possibility of a catch.

Although the great majority of our casts do not connect with any living emissary from the depths, every now and then our gamble pays off with a beautiful life form for our eyes (or stomach) to feast upon.

#25-- even warranties will expire

#25– even warranties will expire

We catch a fish; we reinforce our ego and strengthen an image of ourselves as angler or as someone with a shard of natural wisdom. That’s how it goes, at least in theory.

A few nights later I returned to the same stretch of Genesee headwaters, feeling pretty confident about renewed success with the trout. There was no more guarantee or certainty in this act of fishing than in any other aspect of life, but I did approach the water with an increased heart rate and the hope for renewed enjoyment.

expectation rising...

expectation rising…

I also returned with a 25 year-old fly rod, an Orvis Superfine that had been my first ever graphite wand. The company had guaranteed the new rod against breakage of any kind for 25 years, but that night the guarantee was expiring.

If I broke the rod on its 25th birthday there was always the chance that the company would replace it with a comparable new Superfine model, but there was no way I wanted to do that. I’m not crazy about dishonesty and, besides, I had too many pleasant memories wrapped up in the use of that old fly rod.

squirrel away those memories...

squirrel away those memories…

I expected another good evening with the rod and, yeah, I got it, luckily enough. Trout rose quickly to a Cahill or a Green Drake floater, and I knew from experience that I’d better enjoy every moment of the action while I could. Most nights to come wouldn’t be so wild and carefree.

wild brown, Oswayo Creek

wild brown, Oswayo Creek

When the world of work or economic strain or politics or religious fervor or personal grief gets too heavy and begins to challenge our hope and happiness, it’s nice to know there’s another life close by that offers temporary peace and refuge. It might be on a mountain or a seashore, in a forest or a desert or a prairie, or even in a backyard or a city park.

"i hope you know i'm only three and a half months old..."

“i hope you know i’m only three and a half months old…”

One of my favorite places is wherever mind and body can embrace a small stream and its secret (or not so secret) lives. That’s my place where the thing with feathers can be found.

"i hope it's not deer season..."

“i hope it’s not deer season…”

a fine thing, with fins

a fine thing, with fins

sometimes, at the end of the day, there's only this

sometimes, at the end of the day, there’s only this

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Chester’s Home Visit

[I’ve been away for a while, unfortunately, living in the land of no computers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I’ve missed being able to communicate with friends and fellow bloggers. I’m back now, tentatively, and have a lot of catching up to do. If all goes well, expect a flurry of posting as I try to come to speed. As always, thanks for your support.]

About a month ago I took Chester the bamboo fly rod to his home state of Virginia. He didn’t mind my rounds of social visitations as long as he could get out on the water and fish every now and then. DSCN8848

En route south, we stopped at Big Spring Run near Newville, Pennsylvania. I had fished the run about a year ago but this was Chester’s introduction to the stream made famous by the likes of the Letort Regulars and then by the fish hatchery that almost killed the water by releasing effluents not so many years ago.

It was midday at Big Spring, and the hot humid air registered close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These were not the best conditions for casting in the limpid waters of the resurgent “Ditch”– one of the most difficult and challenging trout streams in America.

DSCN8849I gave myself two hours to cast for wild brook trout (they can grow to 18 inches in length here) and for massive rainbows with a long tapered leader. I could only hope to meet the minimum expectation.

A robin flew across the stream from nowhere and somehow caught the tiny fly in its feathers. I knew better than to set the hook, and recalled an April day when a muskrat intercepted a drifting fly. On each account, the animal released the fly after drawing out a quantity of line. Believe me, I don’t do these things on purpose. It’s just that, if you fish enough and put in the time, odd hook-ups do occur occasionally. Sometimes I even catch a trout or two.

redside dace, Rapidan

redside dace, Rapidan

I saw any number of large scud eaters cruising through the watercress and maze of submerged logs. Given the heat and the bright light of early afternoon (not to mention my lack of expertise on southern Pennsylvania limestoners), I was lucky to catch a small wild rainbow on this Fly Fishing Only stream.

I was told that a secret to possible success here is to cast a tiny #28 dry fly on a 7X or 8X tippet, but Chester and I weren’t feeling up to it at that point. I mean, conditions were miserable enough without considering the anguish of losing a five-pound grass trout on a gossamer thin line.

More favorable was an evening hike into Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with friends and family. Chester came along for some casting on the lower Rapidan River, one of my favorites in the Old Dominion.

cracked boulder, Rapidan River

cracked boulder, Rapidan River

The river had warmed to 62 degrees and had a strong flow from the recent rains. The trout seemed lethargic and less than hungry, but I caught several nice brookies and even some redside dace that rose to a Light Cahill dry. Obviously the bloom was off the springtime feed in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the wild roses on the forest edge were sweetly scented and lent an excellent air to the songs of thrush and warbler.

The next morning I was fishing on the Moormans west of Charlottesville. The river trail into the national park was crowded with holiday walkers and joggers but, luckily enough, the anglers were few and far between.DSCN8881

I fished familiar pools and runs with both a dry fly and a nymph and did pretty well. The trouting was slower than on northern waters at this time of year, but the ancient mountains seemed as beautiful as ever.

Chester was comfortable here. He had been crafted thoroughly by human hands not far from this location. While we were walking back to the car, I heard two joggers approaching from behind. “Careful,” said one guy to the other. “There’s a fishing pole ahead.”

in the bamboo grove

in the bamboo grove

Last year, when he was really young, Chester might have shuddered at hearing himself described as a “pole” instead of a fly rod, but the more mature stick didn’t even flinch. He and I just stepped aside comfortably on the trail and let the joggers pass.DSCN8883DSCN8884DSCN8889

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Fishing the Forest Shade

It was a beautiful May morning on one of my favorite trout streams, Kettle Creek.

Chester and the Foamflowers

Chester and the Foamflowers

Everything looked terrific although there was no discernible hatch activity as yet, and the trout were still lethargic in the cool water as the sun bore down overhead. Some spin and bait fishermen were on the upper creek and reported that they “killed ’em” at the bridge where the stockers reigned, but elsewhere they weren’t having any luck at all.

I tried a dry fly and a beadhead nymph in the pools and riffles where I typically do well at this time of year, but nothing was happening. I had an issue with my back and wasn’t sure if I could make a full day of it or not, so I decided on a change of venue.

brookie on the run

brookie on the run

That is, I left the unproductive waters of Kettle and ascended a tributary for a short distance, where I also found no action, and then headed up a forest brook that fed the tributary, a small stream that had been kind to me in previous springs.

The brook is on state land and flows through a big forest. It took a while before I found a sizeable pool, a spot capable of holding a native trout larger than just five or six inches. That’s the thing about these remote brookie flows. You won’t find fish anywhere near the average size of the trout downstream on the big creeks, but for what they lack in length and girth, they make up for in beauty– in themselves as well as their surroundings.

in the forest shade

in the forest shade

And I knew from experience that every now and then a little brook like this can yield a wild fish of surprising proportion.

Sure, the trout are always hungry in a small springtime brook, but the forest and its canopy keeps out the overbearing sun which can be a problem in the open valleys where the big waters flow. Down there, at times like this, the sun can keep the fish hunkered low and hidden from predators and fellows like myself.

swallowtail luncheon

swallowtail luncheon

What you do up here is pinch off the barb on a small dry fly that floats well and has good visibility. You tie the dry fly to a short tapered leader and you work upstream, slowly and, where possible, along the bank.

You might think about the guys downstream who like to fish the bridge pools. There the stocked trout tend to be short-lived, but they’re hearty eaters for a time, even on days like today. They’d probably chase a cheeseburger if you tossed it to them.DSCN8686

I don’t intend to be mean about hatchery fish, in general. They have their place in the scheme of trout fishing, but in some streams and rivers they are overly relied upon and are potentially injurious to their wild or native brethren. I enjoy fishing for them at times, and some of them are capable of surviving and adapting for a season or so. In that case they become a challenge for the fly caster, as they should be, but they’re not designed for such inside the hatchery.

wild and native in the Northeast

wild and native in the Northeast

There’s something different about the forest solitude, as I’m sure you understand. Today the foamflower was in bloom along the stream, the dominant wildflower, and the ovenbirds and scarlet tanagers were in song.

It’s often the case that the higher you climb on these feeder streams, the better the habitat becomes for native trout. I approached a small pool formed by water tumbling over a transverse log, a spot that’s been productive in other years.

sometimes a tiny pool can yield a surprising trout

sometimes a tiny pool can yield a surprising trout

The first cast of the dry fly from below the pool produced some drag on the fly, and a sizeble trout rose and missed it. I was afraid I might have put it down for a while, but decided to switch to a beadhead nymph. The trout took the nymph immediately and came out shaking in all its heavy, blue-spotted glory.

I took a picture or two and quickly returned the animal. That one, plus some other nice specimens, made me glad to have hit the forest shade while the sun warmed up the valley down below.

forest glade, Dryden Hill

forest glade, Dryden Hill

  •                     *                    *                    *

P.S. In conclusion I’ve added some May photos taken nearby while working on the island series. I hope they add some visual spice….

muskrats have moved into the beaver pond

muskrats have moved into the beaver pond

can you see me? i'm a red fox pup. at my den.

can you see me? i’m a red fox pup. at my den.

there's my bro

there’s my bro

bald eagle nest in pine, Cryder Creek

bald eagle nest in pine, Cryder Creek

an Allegheny River brown

an Allegheny River brown

Beautiful like a... March Brown. OK, so I've lost some tail...Say, if you haven't seen a copy of the book yet, check out BLAM. and thanks!

Beautiful like a… March Brown. OK, so I’ve lost some tail…Say, if you haven’t seen a copy of the book yet, check out BLAM. and thanks!

upper Kettle Creek

upper Kettle Creek

there was an awesome sulphur hatch on the "Oz," 5/22/16

there was an awesome sulphur hatch on the “Oz,” 5/22/16

 

Spring Mills brookie #2

Spring Mills brookie #2

upper Allegheny with shadbush blossoms

upper Allegheny with shadbush blossoms

rose-breasted grosbeak

rose-breasted grosbeak

 

 

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 4, Finale

I’ll begin this final post in the island series by going backwards– from the end of our venture to one of the main events in our visit to St. Croix.DSCN8238

If you’ve followed me through this Caribbean scramble, you’ve probably surmised, correctly, that I caught no fish. I’m sorry to disappoint you fly-fishers out there, but I tried… like a wounded pelican tries. I fished with flies, of course– because I’m obstinate, and because fly-fishing is what I enjoy doing when on or near the water. I fished for tarpon, and actually had a couple of those well-fed bruisers checking out a streamer, but to no avail other than fulfilling the pursuit of pleasure.

white-crowned pigeon

white-crowned pigeon

Okay, I suck at saltwater fly-fishing but I learned a thing or two. Assuming that I may visit the island again some day, I’ll shout… Wait till next year!… like the old Brooklyn Dodger fans when their team failed them once more in the World Series. And look what happened to them. I’m old enough to remember the Dodgers moving to L.A… Sandy Koufax was my first (and maybe only) sports hero, which has little or nothing to do with St. Croix, but I thought I’d interject it.

One of Alyssa’s jobs is working with the island’s Humane Society. She quietly arranged for us to take four lovely dogs for a pick-up at D.C.’s National Airport where the animals would be taken to a No Kill Shelter for adoption. Paws from Paradise is a privately funded program giving island cats and dogs a chance for a good home and survival in the states. There are just too many homeless paws in the Caribbean.

gray kingbird

gray kingbird

So, the four dogs got their shots; they got their papers signed, and they prepared to become legal immigrants. They boarded the jet with us. A small one, a well-behaved pup named Mango, was a carry-on.

Initially I was apprehensive about this venture, but the transfer in Miami was seamless, and the animals were “adopted” immediately on our landing at National Airport in D.C.

I may have been skeptical at first, but I’m glad we had the chance to save some fine young pooches from demise.

On Sunday morning at Alyssa’s patio and yard I finally got to meet some island birds that I’d been looking for all week. I already had a photo of the Green-throated Carib (hummingbird) but now I also had an excellent look at the Antillean Crested hummer. Although I didn’t have the camera with me for that sighting, the Antillean paused just long enough among the flowering bushes to allow me a view of its emerald crest.

green-throated Carib

green-throated Carib

In our second Saturday evening together on the island, we made another visit to Turtles’ bar and restaurant in Frederiksted. Accompanied by folk music and a blend of Japanese and Caribbean drinks, we participated in a roll-your-own sushi dinner prepared by Alyssa’s friends and acquaintances. The people at Turtles’ seemed to represent an interesting and balanced mix of social classes and cultural backgrounds on St. Croix.

poolside iguana

poolside iguana

We took a morning drive to Christiansted Harbor and boarded a small powerboat for a ride to Buck Island. The legendary white-coral sands of Buck Island Reef National Monument lie about 1.5 miles northeast of St. Croix. Buck Island is about one mile long and a half-mile wide. Its famous barrier reef and underwater snorkeling trail are maintained by the National Park Service.

beach, Buck Island

beach, Buck Island

The snorkeling trail invites you to swim through a forest of elkhorn coral. Before you hit the trail in deep choppy water though, the guides provide you with an introductory lesson. They give you a swim mask, fins and snorkel, and some background information about a special marine environment.DSCN8533

The white beach and its clear calm waters were our first stop. The beach was recently voted as “one of the 10 most beautiful in the world” by some travel magazine. Getting a snorkeling lesson here, you start to see the angelfish and trunkfish swimming out beneath you, and you know you’re not going to argue with the verdict of a travel magazine.DSCN8540

On the beach, in front of the island’s forest, there’s a picnic table or two, but there are no buildings or concession stands anywhere on Buck. In the distance you can see a flight of frigatebirds, least terns, and endangered brown pelicans that plummet head-down for a fish. You know you’re in the right company here.

luxurious coral sands...

luxurious coral sands…

You climb back on board the motherboat with the small group of swimmers that you’re traveling with, and you head out for the park’s underwater trail. The sea is choppy there, and 10 to 30 feet deep. You’re required to wear a safety vest and to follow the snorkeling guide along the underwater trail where signs are posted at fascinating junctures. You swim behind the guide for a while and then he turns you loose for a long free snorkel.

long view, w/ sail

long view, w/ sail

Although I struggled with feeling comfortable at first, and fought the sensation that my mask wasn’t on correctly, I soon relaxed enough to enjoy the sights of brain and elkhorn corals and colorful tropical fishes. My wife and daughter did much better, and even saw the passage of a good-sized tarpon in their 100-foot field of visibility.

For a guy who spends as much time in the northern streams and rivers as I do, you’d think that I’d take to tropical waters more handily, but that’s not the case. However, the whole experience was extraordinary, and I wouldn’t mind doing it again.

to the left is Point Udall, the easternmost point of land in the U.S.

to the left is Point Udall, the easternmost point of land in the U.S.

In closing, I have to thank my daughter once more for being a first-class host and tour guide for her parents on the island. And I hope that you, oh valued readers, have enjoyed this four-part series from a northerner’s take on a different world.

"one of the 10 most beautiful beaches"

“one of the 10 most beautiful beaches”

leaving Buck Island

leaving Buck Island

reentering port

reentering port

bye, and thanks again

bye, and thanks again

 

 

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 3

[I’ve been fly-fishing steadily since my return from vacation and will soon get back to regular broadcasting, if such a thing exists here at RR. I do have one more island post to prepare for you after this one appears. I hope that you’re enjoying them half as much as I enjoy bringing them out. P.S., the two minute-plus video at the end is by Alyssa Franklin. ]DSCN8388

We hiked the 2.7 mile Trumbull Trail along the steep northern coastline for a visit to some well-known tide pools. It was good trail through a dense forest that occasionally breaks into views of the blue-green sea below. Despite a couple of challenging ascents/descents, the hike along the coastal bluffs to a small, wild bay with tidal pools was easy going. There were flourishes of rainforest life, and when they briefly disappeared, the sun bore down oppressively.

DSCN8395Unfortunately the tide was up when we arrived at the bay, so there was no swimming then. It was dangerous to climb on the rocks, so we rested and took in the sights, content to be in a wild and green location. Walking back 2.5 miles toward the place where we had started, we took refuge at a bar inside the Renaissance Carambola Beach Resort and Spa, one of three such places built by the Rockefellers. All of the island’s resorts, no matter how exclusive, are open for use by the public. That is, their beaches and bars, etc., are available to anyone who visits, though you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable on their luxury seats unless you’re also staying for the night and spending big bucks.

Other than fire ants, we didn't experience pest problems on the island. That said, you wouldn't want to invite these termites into your home.

Other than fire ants, we didn’t experience pest problems on the island. That said, you wouldn’t want to invite these termites into your home.

Again, I went out for an hour or two of night fishing. I gave notice to the hermit crabs lounging around the Frederiksted planks and watched them head for cover. It was fun to cast with my weight-forward nine as heat lightning flashed on the horizon and as small groups of black families strolled or fished along the pier.

Wild chickens (trout fly hackles galore) are found all over the island.

Wild chickens (trout fly hackles galore) are found all over the island.

Scuba Diving 101 students also used the water’s edge, their greenish lights emanating from the depths like bioluminescence. I didn’t mind them swimming nearby until I saw them coming my way and pushing big fishes out ahead of them. Fly fishing and scuba diving just don’t mix when practiced in the same location.

high tide at tide pool bay

high tide at tide pool bay

Love and theft don’t harmonize either. After my wife and daughter brought me an IPA to drink while fishing, we were joined by a fellow who had to keep an eye on a yacht that was resting in the distance. Apparently some character or group of jerks had approached the vessel in a dinghy and absconded with one of its motors. It wasn’t us that he was concerned about, confiding that the theft was probably “an inside job.”

scuba lights entering my casting range

scuba lights entering my casting range

One afternoon we visited the St. George Village Botanical Gardens. The site, where Alyssa currently does volunteer work, is a 16 acre “garden of trees, shrubs, vines, and flowers built around the ruins of a 19th-century sugarcane workers’ village.” We took a self-guided tour through a magical display of gardens reflecting semi-arid and rainforest themes, a colorful and varied display of life as it was before the days of modernization.

bromeliad at botanical gardens

bromeliad at botanical gardens

We had eaten lunch at the Chicken Shack, a small restaurant popular with locals and tourists alike. The fried foods and vegetables were tasty, to say the least, but the chicken, jonny cakes and conch-in-butter dish eventually put my stomach on red alert.

cannonball fruit (very heavy!) at the gardens

cannonball fruit (very heavy!) at the gardens

That night we traveled to Christiansted for a meal at a new place (Balter’s) owned and operated by a famous chef. On a more modest level, a friend of Alyssa’s working at the restaurant came around to greet us excitedly.

veggies at Balter

veggies at Balter

Wife and daughter eventually declared the food and drink to be excellent, and I had to believe them. I was suffering from the earlier meal at the Chicken Shack. I couldn’t eat or drink a thing, other than to sip at my bitters and hope for the best. The elegance of a meal that included a superb Riesling and freshly caught snapper eluded me entirely. Luckily, by the time we got home I was feeling more like a survivor.

L. & A., budding botanists

L. & A., budding botanists

Speaking of Christiansted, the major village and island harbor, I’ve got to tell you about Friday night with “Jump Up.” I had wanted to see the Moko Jumbies at some point, and the place to see these costumed dancers on giant stilts is at Jump Up, a St. Croix celebration held four times a year.

odd ones at the gardens

odd ones at the gardens

We just happened to be there at the right time for the party.

The streets were closed off to vehicles and the people were in party mode. Bars and restaurants thrived. Vendors lined the streets. People were walking around and living for the moment. I can vouch that the air had sweetness and that open containers of alcoholic beverages were fine as long as peace and harmony reigned– and they did, at least on this occasion. It felt odd to say “Good Night” to a corner cop as you passed him with an opened beer or drink of rum.

Moko Jumbies at Jump Up

Moko Jumbies at Jump Up

The Moko Jumbies walked and danced to traditional island music as they made their way around the sloped streets of the village. The Moko was originally a representation of an African king that made its way to the New World during the slave trade. Jumbies were originally evil spirits witnessed during the same era. Moko Jumbies, the African spirit chasers, have been resurrected for public celebration and have become iconic symbols in Caribbean places like St. Croix. It’s said that these dancers, standing tall above the crowd, can see all evil and chase it away.

resting on a rooftop

resting on a rooftop

Sometimes an observer on the street would reach up and tip a costumed dancer with a dollar bill. I thought it was cool that when the dancers needed a break the music would pause and the jumbie chasers would take their rest by sitting on a porch roof or other convenient seat above the crowd.

That night I walked out to the blue-lit swimming pool in the courtyard of Alyssa’s home. I didn’t know where the iguana was, but large fruit bats swooped for insects above the vibrant water. They, too, were spirits of a sort, and good.

orchids at botanical gardens

orchids at botanical gardens

lobster claw flowers

lobster claw flowers

 

 

 

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 2

Shortly before the trip to St. Croix, I was helping my chapter of Trout Unlimited collect trash along a highway in the Genesee River Valley. It was hot, and the winter’s DSCN8091accumulation of garbage was disgusting. Jim, whose daughter lives and works near the Atlantic where big striped bass would soon be running, said to me, “Isn’t it NICE when our sons and daughters live in places that are great to visit?”

Yup, sure is, I said.

I was eating a late lunch on my daughter’s patio– quinoa salad with crackers and an Island Hoppin IPA– working up an appetite for a tour of the local rum distillery. Earlier DSCN8040in the morning I’d gone casting for tarpon near the Frederiksted Pier and then went snorkeling for the first time ever. I had made an impression with the fly rod even though the big fish probably had a laugh or two.

Several young bait and spear-fishers were attempting to hook a lazy barracuda, and one of the guys said to me, “I like watching man fish with feathers!”

They don’t see a lot of fly fishermen down here. I doubt if there’s a fly shop anywhere on the island, or even a crappy selection of artificials at the local Kmart, which is just another reason to believe in the beauty of this place.DSCN8086

I had a dozen tarpon flies that I’d brought along with me, and they would have to do. When I snagged one on the deep edge of the shore, one of the spear fishers swam over to release it. I’d have tipped the kid for his service if I’d had any money, but the guys were having too much fun and, really, the whole scene transcended such pedestrian affairs.

“Tighten the mask, dad. Clench the mouth piece. Get your face down in the water. Just relax and float!”

DSCN8156At first I felt like a duck walking backwards, but then I grew some fins and tossed away the flippers. Next thing I knew, there were fish. What’s that, an angelfish? Parrotfish! Blue fish darting over brain coral as if they were thoughts released by an intelligent sea.

We toured the Cruzan Rum Distillery (“the World’s #1 Rum”) which is close enough to my daughter’s place that we could sometimes smell molasses wafting through the night from a mile away. The tour included two big drinks, our choices from a field of rum dum recipes, that went down coolly in a sweltering hour.

vat of molasses

vat of molasses

I went night fishing for tarpon but the big fish were deep and only occasionally nodded toward the passing fly. Once in a while the waters near the pier exploded with a flurry of tiny fishes trying frantically to escape a cruising predator. I would cast ahead of a giant form that swam along the shore, but the fly could not compete with the multitudes of possible prey.

brain coral demonstrating the effects of too much rum

brain coral demonstrating the effects of too much rum

We took a midday drive along a rough road north of Frederiksted and stopped at an abandoned military compound. We climbed into the forest, one of the wildest areas of the island, and reached an old rusted lighthouse overlooking the deep blue waters.

A. & L. underneath the ficus tree

A. & L. underneath the ficus tree

The precipitous bluff where the decaying lighthouse mutely stands was once the refuge of maroons, or slaves who escaped from their Danish masters and were able to find temporary safety in caves. Some were chased by dogs and chose to leap to their death in the sea rather than return to a life without dignity or freedom.

old lighthouse on NW corner of the island

old lighthouse on NW corner of the island

We were on the wild edges of a remnant rainforest now inhabited by wild goats and the common mongoose. Alyssa was delighted to find a geocache just off the trail near the lighthouse. We added a brightly colored stone to the collection, one that I had found in a man-made labyrinth of an old sugar cane plantation in the rainforest ambience of Mt. Washington.

straight down

straight down

In the evening Alyssa drove us to Salt River Bay on the northside. We were scheduled to take a kayak tour of Bioluminescent Bay, the Cape of Arrows, where Christopher Columbus had been met by a band of less than welcoming Carib Indians.

the geocache

the geocache

As the sun set on the sea beyond, our tour guide, full of excellent information, jokes, and questions for us, set the scene. Four kayaks with eight people pushed off into a rare and fragile ecosystem where plants and animals and “walking” mangrove trees supported high concentrations of bioluminescent dinoflagellates existing in the shallow bay.

mongoose

mongoose

We were told that oceanic plankton, the dinoflagellates, are able to generate a chemical producing luminescence, an emerald green and ultramarine illumination when their waters were disturbed by our movements. It was hard to imagine until darkness enveloped our paddling motions on the quiet waters. As the lights from houses and mansions on the steep hillsides of the bay began to shine, our fingertips and paddles began to drip as if with tiny stars.

scaly-naped pigeon

scaly-naped pigeon

Other kayakers joined us, and bodies glowed electric. The phenomenon eluded the power of words, and even our cameras couldn’t capture the beauty. Leighanne took a quick swim off the bow of our vessel, and she could’ve become a glowing mermaid for all I know.

side street in Christiansted

side street in Christiansted

Small explosions of quiet luminescence happened with every move. We could sift small blobs of innocuous comb jellyfish from the water and watch them morph into something like a lit up light bulb. Our guide turned on a flashlight and fish leapt from the water, skipping and flying toward the mangroves. One of them crashed into Alyssa’s kayak like a shot.

tarpon with parasitic rider

tarpon with parasitic rider

There are less than half a dozen luminescent bays in the entire Caribbean. We need to care for their preservation because… they’re just not being made anymore.

[photo by bluehorizonboutiqueresort.com/ Please stand by for more]

northern coast as viewed from lighthouse

northern coast as viewed from lighthouse

bananaquit

bananaquit

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