Black Stones and Zonker Pie

Adam Russo, from Lancaster PA, introduced himself by email, thanking Rivertop Rambles for being an interesting and informative blog. The young fly-fisherman offered to tie a few of his Zonker specimens that he’s found to be especially effective in north-central Pennsylvania (where he and his family have a cabin) and send them to me as a token of his thanks. That sounded interesting and I gladly sent him my address.

Adam’s Zonker (1 of 4)

The Zonkers soon arrived, and I was eager to try them out. Adam fishes this weighted streamer fly with both floating and sink tip lines, depending on stream conditions. He says the pattern works well all year round and is very easy to tie. He wraps the hook with wire, adding weight, then ties the strip in at the bend. Next, he wraps the fur strip toward the head, securing the business with several whip finishes and a touch of glue.

a winter tree, not me

I stepped into the Allegheny on a chilly day with the water running a little high and off-color. I gave the Grey Zonker a cast upstream, then thought of Adam Russo who was hoping to come up to his cabin in early March and maybe find some action with the Black Stonefly hatch. It wasn’t long before I hooked and lost a nice fish on the Zonker fly, a pattern I hadn’t used in several years.

I left the river pool and headed downstream, passing a couple of fishermen setting up for lunch at their truck. One of the guys said hello and I probably acknowledged them with a similar greeting. Minutes later I was ready to cast a Woolly Bugger into the flow when one of the fly anglers approached me with a “Hey, are you Walt?” greeting and, allowing that I was, I felt the world shrink to about the size of a #8 Zonker. “You must be Adam,” I said. He and his fishing pal had driven north a little earlier than planned.

headwaters

The guys had done pretty well fishing on the upper Allegheny, catching at least one big brown, if not more. Before I met the fellas, I knew I was fishing behind them because I’d seen fresh tracks in the snow, and later I told them, given their expertise, I was lucky to have landed a couple of standard-sized hatchery trout. We had a good conversation at their truck. Before we headed off in separate directions, I thanked the guys for reaching out, and promised Adam I would stay in touch and let him know how the flies and fishes got along.

Two days later I was on the stream again, and this time the weather was downright wonderful, with a partly clouded sky and air temps in the high 60s. Pretty nice for a February day in northern Pennsylvania. Buckets were getting hung on maple trees for sap collection. And the first Black Stoneflies were appearing above the headwaters.

Stonefly hatches are a sign of spring in my neck of the forest. Fishing was slow. I didn’t catch a thing while casting with a stonefly nymph, but several nice trout, including a wild and colorful brown, went for a scrambled Egg fly and one of Adam’s Zonker specials. I enjoyed thinking I was gonna serve the winter fishes a slice of Zonker pie, a chocolate-colored, messy-looking tidbit that’s designed for well-fed trout expecting to expand their dietary horizons. One brown took the offering as it swam enticingly down the current.

a wild one from the woods

I really like the way these flies dance in the water. They exude the natural motions of a slimy spring thing loosened by the rain and snowmelt.

Like a waiter in a restaurant, I served a Zonker for dessert. The customer took it and fought me hard. I brought the trout to my hand, said I’m sorry, and let it go. I never got a tip.

Adam’s Zonker (2 of 4)

Waiter!

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Providence

Providence, Rhode Island, founded in 1636 by religious exile Roger Williams, is one of the oldest cities in America. I recently got an introduction to this coastal city that is slowly shifting from industrialism to the service sector with a specialty in education and the arts.

this spring is one source of a Potter County trout stream

I wasn’t delivered there, at the head of Narragansett Bay, because the place has “the most coffee and doughnut shops per capita of any U.S. city” (a fact that doesn’t hurt its inspirational powers). Instead, my wife and I helped our daughter and her two cats move into a comfortable apartment on an avenue with fine coffee, pastries, restaurants, and assorted shops. The youngest Franklin will be working in Pawtucket, a neighboring historical district.

Potter County rivertop

Providence provides to those who seek. A light rain was falling on the avenue and I saw that a cinema and music venue is located just a short stroll from the new apartment building. Dweezil Zappa will be featured there soon, playing some of father Frank’s best musical compostions. We tend to see what we want to see and conveniently ignore a lot of the rest.


The residential houses pictured here are not by any means the great historical mansions of the text.

We drove to Newport on Aquidneck Island. The resort city (founded in 1639) is renowned for its historical mansions (think Vanderbilt and Astor, et al., circa 1900), its sailing competitions, and its social fabric out of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. But the ocean waters sweep upon the rocky shores nearby and mediate the stuffiness. The great leveler cleanses the winter quietude and blows its blue-collar salt through the air for regular visitors such as ourselves.

The non-pictured mansions are a world apart.

I saw my first common eiders, a sea-faring duck, on the placid waves of Newport. We also stood below the imposing steeple of St. Mary’s Church where JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier were married in 1953. We dined and drank local brews at a comfortable pub called The Wharf. In a tiny scrimshaw gallery we wondered what it was like for someone to seriously consider buying an authentic wooly mastodon tusk for 50 thousand bucks, or a narwhal’s tusk to hang above a fireplace. Luckily for us, we could walk away with just a word of thanks for the view.

a narwhal’s tooth

Fort Adams and its park-like environs are the home of the Newport Jazz and Folk festivals held in summer. Sauntering among the earthen barricades and cannons pointing toward the sea, one can almost hear the infamous echo of folky Bob Dylan going electric for the first time at a concert in the mid-1960s. I could almost see myself casting a fly for stripers from the rocky shoreline of nearby Brenton Point.

L. & A. at Fort Adams, Newport

But wait a minute. I thought Rivertop Rambles is a blog about fly-fishing and hiking and nature studies in the headwaters district of the land… What was I doing here where the ocean draws the distant waters and blends them into an inscrutable, cosmic soup? Later, taking a stiff pull from a glass of Catskill Mountain Bootlegger Bourbon, I announce to myself that, well, I’m here, and thus, a post will be written. I’ve tumbled down the ice-fringed watersheds to the catch-all of Atlantic Ocean. I’ve helped my daughter get settled in Providence.

stripers will move through here in spring

Although the heart of me beats as always in the body of Allegheny rivertops, I can also see how a place like coastal Rhode Island has its providential aspects. I connect the dots of my existence, hoping to visit my daughter in spring, to fish the Wood River for trout and, eventually, to unhook a Clouser Minnow or Deceiver from an ocean-powered bass.

hope springs eternal

Trinity Church, Newport

lots of cool shops in old town Newport

a wonderful oceanic mess…

chaos & order dance throughout the cosmos

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

I Love/Hate Investigations

I love investigations, especially when they involve fish, birds, and wildflowers. Investigations involving politics, economics, or health– not so much. Returning to familiar Pennsylvania headwaters for a second consecutive weekend, I began to ponder the presence of brown trout in a time and place where I’m not accustomed to finding them.

Locating big fish in this section of the river was like Zen illumination– a flash of realization that I’ll call First Mind, a beautiful condition that one encounters when everything is fresh and new. It was like an early memory of pleasant youth, or like the first stage of love or some experience that you anticipate. First Mind/Fresh Mind has the virtue of simplicity, it seems, but it sure can be deceiving.

I love investigations that involve the natural cycles. Browns head upstream to spawn in autumn; rainbows find their strongest spawning urge in spring. The browns I found in January hadn’t been there in the fall, as far as I could tell. The trout didn’t look like hatchery fish. In fact, they appeared to be healthy– bright and free of clippings or factory scrapes, a wondrous edition of First Mind Salmo trutta.

In all my years of fishing this stream in winter, I’ve never found wild brown trout to be numerous. I would catch a nice one every now and then, but the typical winter residents were stocked rainbows. To catch substantial browns here was like being a kid again, connecting with my first trout at 12 years of age while casting a shabby fly that I had tied.

In an effort to regain some book shelf, I skimmed through my 20-year collection of a favorite fly-fishing magazine and recycled the issues when I finished. I had over a hundred yellowing copies of the magazine and I hated putting them out to pasture. It wasn’t easy to dispose of the many articles and angling tips from the masters but I needed room. I did enjoy the newfound shelf space which was like the clarity I got when I revisited the river and caught some trout.

My several outings produced eight browns that ranged from 16 to 19 inches in length. Another one, even larger, broke away. They looked and felt like wild fish born here in the watershed. But why would they congregate in pools once dominated by rainbow trout?

I’ve never cared to know the stocking schedules for trout in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, but when I took a lunch break at my car and asked a local angler who had just arrived about the brown trout here, the mystery was solved. He had been here when the fish came to the water in November.

I hate my own investigations when I snuff the flame of mystery. First Mind disappears like smoke. And yet, I was glad to learn that the fish were planted by a local hatchery– not the big state facility, but a small place on a cold stream where the trout are given special care and feeding.

Here, Salmo trutta was a picture of wildness, health and color, like free-range chickens as opposed to caged birds in the factories. I was glad to have caught and released them, but acknowledging their domestic origin made a mess of First Mind and its sanctity.

Before the mystery was solved, a couple of guys, casting spinners, told me that they catch big browns here every winter. “Wild trout. Yes! Did you notice that their fins weren’t clipped? They swim up from the reservoir to spawn.” I didn’t buy the latter statement, knowing that the long stretch of river from the Kinzua Dam to Port Allegheny is a warm water fishery, but I let it pass. However, their comment on the reservoir reminded me of something.

A wastewater treatment facility for the fracking industry is being proposed for the river several miles downstream from where these trout are found. The Coudersport area has supporters for the treatment plant but there are also many who oppose it, like the representatives from the downstream Seneca Nation who implored the public in attendance at a recent hearing to stand with the environment and denounce the plan as both untested and potentially dangerous.

42,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day would be released into the Allegheny headwaters at Coudersport if construction is completed. That’s a lot of treated frack water from an industry with a track record of numerous spills both accidental and deliberate. The water would be tested for many chemicals prior to release but, oddly, testing for radioactive particles associated with fracking extract is exempt from review. Some of the local business interests may see money here, but I see the potential for serious problems.

Rivertop Rambles stands opposed to this facility and supports the Seneca Nation and others who care about First Mind and a healthy life along the river. It stands in favor of cold, clean water and of those who speak for the earth and its creatures that cannot protest with a human voice.

As Water Rat said to Mole about his river in the classic tale, The Wind in the Willows: “It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing… It’s always got its fun and its excitements.”

First Mind, eh?  Ratty, I couldn’t have said it better.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Stream of Dreams #500

I don’t know where I’m going with this. In a cold pre-dawn morning I need some kind of lift, a shot of warmth perhaps, another cup of coffee, another word to type on this computer. Do you ever feel that the world’s gone bat-shit crazy and is ready to suck you in if you don’t escape immediately? Yeah, me too. I could use some open water for a drifting line. I could use a dream that has some substance and reality.

which way we goin’ here?

I don’t know where I’m going, but I need an anchor of experience to hold me in my thoughts. Whereas I’ll always try to bring my best streamside ramblings to this blog, I need to burst out of this dark and slushy climate for a spell, but I want to break out carefully.

the trail to native trout

This is Rivertop Rambles post 500 (yes, there’s been a bundle of hefty photo-laced narratives for my six-plus years!) and I want it to reflect more than a lazy shuffle going sideways. I want to continue offering reflections of the outdoor world as noticed through the eyes of a pilgrim with a fly rod or a walking stick, and I hope to continue with fresh ideas and a minimum of repetition. I repeat myself (when under stress!)– I don’t know where I’m going here, but I want to move and not take myself too seriously. I want to arrive with a sense of having left myself behind.

fog & ice & freedom

A winter dream will help. Where will I go this year and what will I do? My book, Streamwalker’s Journey, is scheduled for release in March, and I’m excited by the prospect of doing some readings and book signings, and offering the book’s summation of experience from the best of RR to my readers.

the Emerger…

My daughter is moving to Rhode Island and I’m sure that she’ll enjoy her work there in the aura of colonial history. I hope the little state has room enough for one more visitor (yours truly) who will also try to figure out the wonders of RI striper fishing with a fly.

not a striper but a brown with someone else’s fly attached…

If all goes well by summertime, I hope to camp out near the South Platte River in Colorado (a busy place but still a lovely stream) where family has moved to from New Mexico. I’ll hope to fish and hike along a group of Rocky Mountain rivers culminating in a “dream stream” that I have in mind, a beauty flowing through a corner of Wyoming but not included in a national park. Montana will beckon, but I have a new horizon that I’d like to poke around in while returning eastward to these rivertops…

like a trout’s back…

I know it’s fashionable these days to speak of fly-fishing in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin and Minnesota, to cast in the limey currents of those trout streams where no glaciers ever left their mark. But I want to fish the likes of Timber Coulee because I had a chance to do so once, and never took it. I graduated from high school in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I hunted grouse and pheasants in the nearby Driftless hills but never fished for trout (I’m surprised that I remember those initial chapters of my errant ways!).

one of five winter day browns…

The stream of dreams flows onward through the icy boulders of the present time. I try to keep my balance here and there, and know that the stream has some depths that only time will unveil. But real or not, it’s a nice place to go fishing in. The winter and its “shack nasties” may contain me; my tackle closet can gather dust, but the stream gathers force and does its best to keep me from the rubber room.

the Allegheny may have had floating ice but it was hot!

So where am I headed? Who knows. I’ll focus on just getting there.

[P.S. As photos indicate, I found my “anchor of experience” the weekend of 1/20 and 1/21. Caught several brookies at a PA mountain stream, then five large browns on the Allegheny River. All released, of course. A new season has begun.]

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

On Skis, an Open Letter, 1989

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

Dear C.,

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

looking back– at the bear track in the yard…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raven takes me there…

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

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

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

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

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

Yours, on cross-country skis….

“Energy is eternal delight”– Wm Blake

old blade on Dryden Hill…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

“Truly Gone Fishing”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Old Woodenhead Skates on Thin Ice

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

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

thin ice of a new day

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

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

a smaller one

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays to all!

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Heading Off, December

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

landlocked salmon are (not) graffiti artists…

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

all fish were successfully released to live and carry on…

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Blue Ridge Bound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

A Different Kind of Fish

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

below the hatchery; sign says No Fishing Beyond…

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

clear and filled with cress…

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

railroad bridge, 1914

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

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

at rest on the wheel of time…

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

another detail from the hub of rivertop waters…

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

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments