The Western Rim

On Sunday, with weather approaching spring-like conditions, I ventured to the Pine Creek Gorge. Unfortunately the Rail Trail through the gorge was closed for repairs. In order to continue with my interest in hiking, I traveled on to Colton Point and took a walk to the West Rim Trail and the Barbour Rock Vista. From there I could look straight down a thousand feet to Pine Creek and Owassee Rapids.DSCN7564

I was on the western rim of the Pine Creek Natural Area, a National Natural Landmark, in northern Pennsylvania, a wild place I adopted as the heart of the “fly fishing realm” reflected in my book called River’s Edge.

The West Rim Trail was quiet at this warming end of January. Other than a few cars that had passed me on the icy road leading to Colton Point State Park, and a couple of hikers heading back to the parking lot as I made my way to the vista, there was little sign of any connection to a wayward planet.

DSCN7555I took a deep breath and edged out toward the rim. I wished for the sun to appear and to cast good light for the camera, but it wouldn’t come out till later– as I was driving to the western rim of this watershed for a round of brook trout fishing.

I listened to the rapids foaming through Barbour’s Bend, a place commonly known as Owassee Rapids, a rocky sluice capable of tossing the heart and soul of rafters and canoers who enter it while riding through the 20-mile gorge in spring.

I thought of Samuel Barbour who died there in the 1890s while trying to break up a log jam, and for whom these West Rim rocks were named. At Barbour’s death, the Pine Creek wilderness and its white pine forests were quickly heading toward destruction, all their groves being clear-cut and their slashings turned into flame and smoke.DSCN7551

Later, when the timber companies had nothing left to ravage, they sold their lands to the state of Pennsylvania which, in its early wisdom, gave this beautiful region an opportunity to re-wild.

Getting to the heart of the matter, I went fly fishing for an hour or two. I should’ve known that the seasonal roadway to the stream that I selected would not be plowed or sanded. The pagan angels should have whispered in my ear, “Hey buddy, that road’s gonna be covered with ice and water. Think about it.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With no place to turn around, I kept moving toward my usual parking spot, hoping like mad that it was open and not too steep for reversing the vehicle when it was time to leave.

Okay, I had to fish. I could worry about my exit when the time for worryin’ arrived.

The stream was low and clear, a thing of beauty that required a careful step, a power that, in turn, would throw its net of relaxation.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I used a longer rod than usual, an 8’4″ three-weight that would come in handy while nymphing and encountering the possible ice shelf. Small black stoneflies crawled out on the rocks and snow to look at life from their own western rim.DSCN7546

My beadhead imitation did the trick. I was on the edge between sun and shadow, at the brink of February, and as far as I could tell, the whole world was fishing or dreaming about something nearly as pleasant.DSCN7557

The road, which could’ve been an Owassee Rapids of seasonal thoroughfares, wasn’t bad at all. A few bumps and slides, a share of suspense, but nothing to upend or quickly erase a winter afternoon.DSCN7563

 

 

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The Dream Cast: Yellow Dun

1.  James Cecilia is a “wet-fly-only angler” who lives in upstate New York. He contacted DSCN7497 me about a mutual interest in the writings of Pennsylvania fisherman, Jim Bashline. Mr. Bashline was a fishing editor for Field & Stream, and author of Night Fishing for Trout: The Final Frontier. He had written of a locally famous fly pattern developed near Coudersport, Pennsylvania, a pattern that contributed greatly toward a rising interest in casting for sizable night trout in the first half of the twentieth century.

As Cecilia and I, among others with an interest in night fishing, have acknowledged, there is very little that’s been written and recorded about the Yellow Dun. There are stories of huge trout caught with a Yellow Dun wet fly in and near the village of Coudersport. Unfortunately, these stories from the rivertops have little in the way of detail about the artificial fly itself. As far as I can see, no one knows exactly how the fly was put together.

DSCN7488Bashline (1931-1995) had left just a brief description of this one-time local favorite: the body was constructed with “… pinkish red mohair, with traces of red and yellow. When wet, it looks like raw beef, but still retains some yellowish tones.”

About a year ago I’d made an unsuccessful bid to tie the so-called Yellow Dun and fish it after dark in Bashline’s Allegheny River. I was glad when Jamie Cecilia contacted me about his interest in recreating the pattern and having me test his flies at the rivertops. He recently mailed a group of wonderful creations and, yeah, I’m looking forward to fishing them this summer and reporting on my luck.DSCN7486

“Each fly is a dream we cast out to fool fish,” said Lee Wulff, and believe me, these new samples of the Yellow Dun, size 6, plus a Governor, size 10, tied by Mr. Cecilia, are like winter dreams around the woodstove that I cast toward a dark summer night.DSCN7503

I like this fly because there’s a sense of poetry, as well as practicality, to it. The flies came to me at an opportune moment. While recovering from a wrestling match with the flu, I put the finishing touches to a volume of poetry that I’ve been writing forever, and the flies were like a gift for this modest feeling of accomplishment. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to add the poetry title to my modified About page here at Rivertop Rambles.DSCN7493

2.  On my feet again and moving forward, I took a short hike in the neighborhood. The recent “blizzard” missed upstate New York entirely, but the sky had been overcast for days. I headed into a familiar forest off Bootleg Hollow Creek but soon found the fresh tracks of a hunter or a trapper, so I turned westward and slowly climbed a steep and slippery slope into territory new to me. It seemed like I was looking upward most of the time while climbing, noting the patterns in tree formations while the broken sky shuffled clouds across a rare blue dome.DSCN7455

I saw a couple of hawks and a deer. I listened to distant ravens and the peep of unseen kinglets near at hand. It was backyard country, but a bit of turf I hadn’t seen in more than thirty years of living here. I saw the opening sky and it was good.

3.  Isaac Asimov is an oft-quoted scientist and author who once said, “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means… my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

We all know that people can be stubborn-minded and unwilling to see the world with DSCN7492open eyes. Yes, we call these people “assholes” when we’re feeling a little righteous. They present a frightening characteristic of the human race– an unfortunate trait that’s found in any nation or in any cultural group of the world, and it’s unlikely that even the finest of our poets, scientists and religious leaders are totally exempt from being anti-intellectual every now and then.

The cult of ignorance is everywhere. I see it in the redneck welfare ranchers, in the man-made climate change deniers, in the talk show radio pronouncements, in the loud and narcissistic blogger, in the politician pimping for the corporate dollar, and sometimes I can see it in myself… But the surge for truth and knowledge is equally strong, if not more powerful, provided that the will is there.DSCN7482

The surge for truth is in the poet who says, hike on, fish on, read on, live! It’s in the soldier who’s determined to survive and to explore life’s possibilities until death walks in and draws the final curtain.DSCN7452

It is in the opening sky above the summit fields. It’s there– above the place where the trees have eyes! It’s down in the valley where this life once moved so slowly. It is in the faint chips of a kinglet and a chickadee. It’s in the mind that hears great strains of classical music or the tightly structured pop song or the wildly fraying anthems of early psychedelia.

I taste it in a craft beer brewed with care at a local outlet, or in a pizza made with a dash or two of “new ingredients.”DSCN7496

I see it in a handful of trout flies, thoughtfully designed, with correctness and with beauty at their core.DSCN7474

 

 

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The Fisher Connection

I was following the tracks of a large coyote along a Susquehannock State Forest trail but thinking that, unfortunately, there was little other sign of bird or mammal life. Then, about a mile up the snowy trail, I caught sight of a motion on the wooded slope to my left.DSCN7406

A fisher (weasel family) was approaching the trail and the stream where I was hiking. The “fisher cat,” about the size of a short-legged fox, stopped on the snow about 75 feet away. It was the first of its kind that I’ve seen while hiking or fishing in the wild.Image result for photos of fishersThe creature, with its diagnostic head (pointed) and long flowing tail, had stopped to look me over, but only for a moment or two. Its fur looked striking, a blend of dark chocolate and ginger hues. I slowly reached for my camera. [Fisher photo by NatureMapping Foundation]

Unfortunately I was wearing gloves and the camera was in a bag behind me. You know how it goes. I’m a hiker, not a wildlife photographer. The fisher retreated quickly up the slope, dodging behind big rocks and logs and trees. I followed it for a short distance, hoping to get a decent photo of its tracks but, alas, the snow was thin and crusty and the imprints poor.

the fisher tracks are in there, trust me

the fisher tracks are in there, trust me

Modern man suffers from a poverty of spirit, said Dr. Martin Luther King. We can do just about anything imaginable with our fine array of technological advances, but we still haven’t learned to “walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.”

Well, some of us are trying to do that, and occasionally it seems that, despite all the mayhem in the world, some advances have been made since the 1960s. I might add that King’s statement about walking the Earth together also applies to our relationship with animals and with outside nature in general.DSCN7390

Each year on or near the Martin Luther King holiday I take a walk on the wild side. I try to connect with the ideas of the civil rights leader by applying them not only to our own kind, but also to honor what gives life and sustenance to all. That might seem a little strange to some, but it makes sense to a well-aged country boy like me. I like to think that the common theme is freedom.

An encounter with a beautiful creature, or with our discovery of something new and different in the wild, helps to boost our personal connections with the Earth. For me, a sudden meeting with a fisher in the mountains makes a good connection.

from my backyard

from my backyard

There’s a lot of folks who just seem lost in life and in need of a “good connection.” No surprise there. I had to laugh at one of the “Top Searches” that recently came through at this blog site, and had to wonder how that searcher landed here. I quote: “Snow railroad-123rf-lady-clipdealer-kootation-creativecrash-girl-shemale-dreamstime-depositphotos-tumblr-classicalnerd-public nuditymen.” 

I suppose it all makes sense in some alternate universe but… “public nuditymen”? Not a chance, buddy, not on Rivertop Rambles! However, I could use a good photo of a fisher (weasel family) in all its naked glory.DSCN7408

Fishers are native to the forests of New York and Pennsylvania and were found here until extensive lumbering in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, plus trapping for their valuable fur, decimated the populations in all but the remotest locations. More recently, a resurging public interest in habitat restoration and all things wild has allowed the fisher to make a modest return to its rightful place in the food chain.

Speaking of food, the fisher is not typically an eater of fish but can run down a high-tailing red squirrel or make a meal of porcupine without “suffering the slings and arrows” of outrageous quilldom.

from a brighter day

from a brighter day

The fisher loves the deep forest where the rivers begin. It loves the country where the brook trout thrives. It’s said to be partial to deep ravines where the small streams meet. Prior to my MLK hike, the only fishers I had seen were noticed from a moving car. This one made the right connection for me. Now, if only I could get one to pause for the camera long enough to say …lady-clipdealer-kootation….

a good spring in fisher town

a good spring in fisher town

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Small Stream Miscellany

Spring Creek.  You might recall that last winter I reported on what looked to be a crash in trout numbers at a popular upstate stream. Study by the New York State Department OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof Environmental Conservation (DEC) has confirmed the crash of wild trout populations in Spring Creek and in parts of Oatka Creek near Caledonia-Mumford. It is currently working to develop strategies for assisting nature’s recovery of this unique fishery in western New York.

Climate change brought severe winter weather to the region over the past two years. In 2015, the Great Lakes, including Lake Ontario, near Spring Creek, saw unprecedented ice conditions. Consequently, rafts of fish-eating ducks like mergansers and grebes were forced to retreat from the lake and to find open water. The relatively warm flow of Spring Creek near Caledonia and the state fish hatchery offered one of the few areas open for the fowl, so most of the brook and brown trout were consumed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast January I reported some excellent winter fishing on the creek, and then a few weeks later I reported (along with numerous other Spring Creek fans) on seeing nothing. It’s a sad tale of yet another consequence of global climate change, and we can’t blame the ducks. Every human being and every living creature has to eat and struggle to survive.

The good news is that recent electro-surveys of Spring Creek and surrounding areas indicate that young-of-the-year brown trout look to be in decent shape and, barring another weather catastrophe, will be growing quickly in the diet-rich waters of this special ecosystem.

Shift. Since I’m not planning to fish winter streams where trout are scarce, I’ve been looking elsewhere in the region. So far, the weather has been warm enough to allow investigation of some inland streams not yet flooded or covered by ice. I’ve recently fished Mill Creek, the Conhocton River and a few brook trout runs in Pennsylvania. Some exciting possibilities remain, as long as the basket of outdoor life hasn’t flipped completely over.

An employee of the New York DEC submitted a 2015 photo from an electro-survey of a small (unnamable) stream in the Genesee River watershed (Thanks, S. C.). The photo depicts a rare tiger trout, or brook-brown hybrid, capable of stirring the imagination of local anglers. In the past few years, I’ve caught a tiger trout or two, but not a wild fish such as this.tiger trout

As we contemplate the latest antics of those right-wing hooligans attempting to intimidate the country by seizing public lands in Oregon while inflicting upon us their paranoid views of government, I offer the following bit of small stream “Lite” from Scottish Humour:

“A man was cupping his hand to scoop water from a Highland burn. A gamekeeper shouted, ‘Dinnae drink tha waaater! Et’s foo ae coo’s shite and pish!’ The man replied, ‘My dear fellow, I’m from England. Would you kindly repeat that in English for me?’ The keeper replied, ‘I said use both hands, you’ll spill less that way!'”

A small window of opportunity. We experienced a few cold nights that brought icy cover to the ponds and small streams of the region. Then it warmed, and the weather forecast suggested that heavy rain was coming. Nonetheless, it was possible to sneak off and grab my angling fix on Saturday afternoon. Doing so, I had to be careful with the slippery ground along some Pennsylvania runs.

Let’s call one of them Denton Run. I’d walked portions of this Susquehannock State Forest stream a time or two, but had never fished it. I can reach this headwaters tributary in less than an hour; I was overdue to cast my line.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fishing is prohibited on the lower mile of private “nursery water,” but with an upstream hike along a state Bureau of Forestry trail, I reached an inviting stretch of Denton Run. Snow and ice remained along the edges of this native trout stream so, of course, I stepped with winter care, especially on the leafy surfaces of rocks and boulders. This was no place to snap a fly rod or a leg, but it was suitable for contemplating one’s mortality and for study of a picturesque stream in January garb.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Some colorful brookies live in the run. I brought in several for a quick inspection and release. Again, I gave thanks to the wild places on this earth, and for the opportunity to see another one close to home. May they flourish for their own sake, always, I thought. And for our own well-being when we take the time to care.

The beaver dams on trout streams dilemma (again). Beavers may migrate to a new trout stream in the neighborhood, like refugees from overpopulated or conflicted watersheds, whether we want them there or not. New beaver dams on an eastern stream that’s already compromised by man’s activities may form a tipping point that leads to further problems through siltation and thermal pollution. New dams on a western stream, where drought is common and wetlands scarce, can lead to greater protection and a richer food base for native trout.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Evaluation has to be site specific. Chewing down trees and engineering trout-resistant dams aren’t acts of four-legged terrorism. After all, these rodents can assist in the establishment of insects, birds, amphibians, warm-water fishes, and other mammals, i.e., creatures that do not resort to firearms or intimidation when looking for new habitat. That doesn’t mean we’ve got to love the excess beaver on our trout streams.

It is simply nature’s way.

Small stream-of-consciousness, or the stars look very dif-fe-rent today… Some of us were greatly saddened this week to learn of David Bowie’s death. I’ve been an ardent Bowie fan ever since “Hunky Dory” hit the turn-tables back in ’71. The pioneer rock musician and performer will be missed by many who appreciate fine art and music with an edge.tarpon

Can you see the rivertops while at sea? Well, certainly, or maybe… if you use imagination. My daughter’s got a place on the island of St. Croix. We know it’s not trout that feed there in the mix of waters in her island photograph. I wonder… would tarpon grab an artificial?

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A Trout Stole My Glove!

December 30. Nearly all the streams and rivers of the region were flowing high and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmuddy from the recent rains, but I found a headwaters stream that was manageable for fly fishing. I was close to the source of one of the longest river systems in North America and, for an hour or so, I felt comfortable casting a Glo-bug in the cold, dark hemlock woods of northern Pennsylvania.

I landed only one wild brown, a nice fish with color and, all in all, I got in some good practice for winter fishing– reabsorbing that slow-motion feel of rod and reel and line and (sometimes) fish with half-frozen fingers, toes, and brain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJanuary 1. Tim and I got together for a fly-rod outing once again, our fourth consecutive New Year’s work-out, despite some challenging conditions. Our options in New York were limited due to closed seasons, snowy weather, and a lack of time, but we did well, considering…

We opted to fish a Steuben County creek that neither one of us had much experience with. We knew that Mill Creek had a reputation for excellent wild trout fishing, if you don’t mind casting on a small stream through some really tight, brushy corridors. It’s an under-utilized fishery, at least by fly casters, so, of course, we thought it might be fun. The weather reminded us of steelhead conditions but, in fact, it was New Year’s Day, so what the hell…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I found myself up in one of those brushy corridors of Mill, in knee-deep water, when I hooked a nice brown. I pulled off my new gloves– a pair of cheapos from the Dollar General store– and stuck ’em between my knees while pulling in the trout. With a quick photo and release, the trout said goodbye and slipped into the roiling water, along with one of the gloves. Actually it all happened so fast I never saw the glove depart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALater, I told Tim about the catch, and asked if he had seen a black glove floating by. “No,” he said. “It sounds like your trout might have stolen it!”

It’s possible. If so, no amount of winter practice could have prevented the theft. In that case, the trout had some New Year designs of its own– even if the use of a glove is less than practical in a trout’s small world.

We almost met the planet’s sorriest spin fisherman, a fellow who had just worked a deep ravine. Giving him credit for venturing out on a cold first day of the year, we approached him to say hello and to ask about fishing access on the creek. The guy was young and OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAowned a nice truck. It seemed to us that he had reasons for being optimistic about his life, but when we said hello, he merely grunted and never even slowed his pace while heading toward his vehicle.

It seemed that something had stolen his sense of human worth, and it’s doubtful that the culprit was a trout. Even if he had just lost a massive brown in that ravine, he would have come out with a smile and a shake of the head, but no, a wild fish seldom steals a human soul.

“What are the chances we’ll run into someone that unfriendly while fishing this year?” asked Tim.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After hiking for about a mile on an abandoned railroad bed and doing some scouting for later in the season, we resorted to a nearby river, the Conhocton, upstream of Avoca.

It was getting colder. The wind was picking up, and snow showers filled the air. Ice began to form in the guides of our bamboo rods, but it was good to try the deep river waters, to cast in the dark winter air, and to catch a second brown.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trout never stole another item from us. In fact, fishing for trout gave us something to remember, a gift to be shared among friends.

January 3. The air was 30 degrees, filled with flakes, and promising to become a lot colder by evening. It was a good time to do a little backcountry hiking and fishing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All I really wanted was to feel the big woods again while practicing my underhand Glo-bug swing on tiny water.

I fished for an hour, dropping a fly into miniature pockets of the brook. Buckseller Run doesn’t have much trout “structure,” but it offers me a chance to get into the woods on short notice, and to hike away as far as I like.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I enjoyed pulling up small natives, even though they all got away before I could release them manually. Getting chilled, I put away the fly and hiked until the winter warmth returned and made the solitude feel perfect.

No. The wild trout never steal a thing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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The Greenwood Jumbies

Old Woodenhead at Christmas.

It was time for Old Woodenhead to pick up the rod again. It was time to catch a fish at the waterfall and offer it to the frying pan of all his readers– if they weren’t already DSCN7329stuffed with cookies, candy canes and beer. Seeing the potential difficulty of offering a fish to those who followed and supported Rivertop Rambles through the months of 2015, he put his legal trout back into the stream and wished everyone the best for Solstice, Christmas, New Years 2016, and any other special day that fell in or near the typically dark days of December. He understood that, even though these times were tough for many people and hard to manage for a multitude of reasons, he would be a sport about it and keep his message short and sincere. In fact, Old Woodenhead’s message would’ve been even shorter than it is, but there just wasn’t enough time for him to make it brief– not in these, the shortest days of the year.

DSCN7377Barbecue at the End of the Road.

My son and daughter came home for the holidays. Alyssa flew up from her new home in the Virgin Islands, meeting Brent in Washington, D.C. for the last leg of a trip north to the woodlands of New York. Sorry Alyssa, there wouldn’t be any snow for you here, but we wouldn’t feel too sorely on your account. After all, you get Caribbean waters almost daily while we, in the far north, have to deal with potential snow and ice. Except that this year, so far, there’s been a sea change in the weather. Yeah, even here, in the relatively stable climate of the uplands– where the temperature climbed to the middle 60s on Christmas Eve.DSCN7344

To carry on a Christmas Eve tradition here, my son and I grabbed our walking sticks, a camera, flask of whiskey, etc., and hiked to the South Ridge to meet my brother on the hilltop as he climbed up to join us from his own home several miles away. As a threesome, we’ve been doing this holiday hike for at least 20 years, and my brother and I began it even farther back in the hoary headwaters of the past– say, 30 to 35 years ago.

DSCN7345Our plan has always been to rendezvous at an old car abandoned in the woods by someone in the 1960s. It helps to know a bit of local history for walks of this sort, but that’s not essential for having fun. We simply meet at the old industrial wreck, and get sort of wrecked ourselves. That is, we share the spirits and the stories that we’ve carried to the site and then allow the agents of mystification to “guide us” over the hallowed ground.

Before we descend to my brother’s home in farm country, we inspect the old abandoned DSCN7348car (one year an ermine poked its head from beneath the snowy framework of the vehicle), the woods, the fields, the hunting camp, the trout pond, and the acme of all deer-hunting towers posted near the summit. This particular hike, most often undertaken in cold winter conditions, has been getting milder of late as we get older. We used to hike in wind and snow and ice, but it seems that lately we’ve experienced more rain and fog and mud than in the early days. And hell, this year, the sun was out and the temperature was in the 60s!

DSCN7354Before we met at my brother’s house for food and drinks and celebration with Susan, Leighanne and Alyssa, we revelled in the wonders of man and nature on the Greenwood hills. At one point, my son got a humorous phone message from his mother who was driving over to Peter and Susan’s place. The text message said, Barbecue at the end of the road!

You had to be there to appreciate the unintentional humor of it. A message out of the blue and totally bereft of context. Was it metaphorical, a comment about the end of the hiker’s life? Was St. Peter dealing pulled-pork sandwiches at the pearly gates?DSCN7375

My wife’s an expert at throwing comments from left field, but later we would learn the meaning. Driving to my brother’s house, they had seen an outdoor barbecue occurring at the end of our road– a testament to the warm weather we were having here at Christmas time.DSCN7363

Moko Jumbies.

Alyssa had brought the spirit of the Moko Jumbies back with her from St. Croix. They were new to me but, yeah, they got under the skin of this old blogger. The Jumbies are colorful, masked dancers who parade around on stilts. Originally a West African tradition, the Moko Jumbies blew in to the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean sites and now function as celebratory protectors from evil. They protect the cities and villages and solitary revellers who adopt them in fun.DSCN7369

The Moko Jumbies have blown into the rivertops and have blessed this blog site for the new winter season. I’m hoping to return their blessing with a venture to their homegrounds in the spring. Maybe they’ll help me catch a tarpon or a bone. Meanwhile, here’s a Jumbie note for everyone reading this latest post: thank you, good luck, best wishes, and have a terrific new year.DSCN7371

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A Light in the Forest

Leaving behind the holiday parties and the jingly shopping marathons, I traveled to the Pennsylvania forest. The unusual December warmth and overcast sky contributed to a feeling of relief and abandon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

En route I passed a bald eagle perching near a foggy marsh. I slowed to a stop as a ruffed grouse strutted on the pavement till a car honk sent it on its way. On foot, I entered a roadless valley with a trout stream wending through the Pine Creek headwaters.

Ah, no noise, no manufactured color. But in dark December, light and color is appreciated. Where will light and color come from in the deep woods underneath a leaden sky?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps the brook trout would cooperate. Maybe the frogs in the 50 degree water, maybe the bankside ferns and grasses would contribute to a sense of soul rejuvenation… And, of course, they did.

I found that the best way to accomplish such a hook up on a day like this was to cast a nymph at the end of a 4-weight line and 7-foot tapered leader. The small brook trout would take the fly, struggle frantically then make a brief appearance at my hand before release.

The farther I climbed along the small, wild stream, the more involved I became, the greater my bond with what the season had to offer: light and color for the eye that seeks it. Peace of mind.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Soon the Winter Solstice would be here. Soon the subtle reasons for the holidays would become apparent. They would be there in the traces of light and color growing stronger in our senses, no matter what beliefs we hold, no matter the religion (or absence of religion) we adhere to.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peace of mind.

Rare Bird. Crystalline rock gem.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A genuine, haunting organ and guitar riff.

Vocals clear and unadorned.

A light in the forest.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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A Trace of Buffalo, Too

 

Goodbye cruel world. I've had it for a while.

Goodbye cruel world. I’ve had it for a while.

A fishin' pole for Sunday afternoon.

A fishin’ pole for Sunday afternoon.

"The world's warmin' up," said Goldenrod, "but I'm getting cold."

“The world’s warmin’ up,” said Goldenrod, “but I’m getting cold.”

For morning announcements at the middle school, I read an excerpt from my new book. It held a trace of bear and bison...

For morning announcements at the middle school, I read an excerpt from my new book. It held a trace of bear and bison…

"That night it had to happen. I wasn't about to see my grizzly bear yet, but the sounds that awoke me in the tent at 1:30 certainly had me thinking in that line...

“That night it had to happen. I wasn’t about to see my grizzly bear yet, but the sounds that awoke me in the tent at 1:30 certainly had me thinking in that line…

The grunts and growling noises came with a menace that was mitigated slightly by a more soothing crush of grasses and shrubs."

The grunts and growling noises came with a menace that was mitigated slightly by a more soothing crush of grasses and shrubs.”

I took the new book to the woodshed. I was firm. I said, "But have you told the people that a copy is an excellent gift idea?"

I took the new book to the woodshed. I was firm. I said, “But have you told the people that a copy is an excellent gift idea?”

Sometimes getting old can make you feel like this.

Sometimes getting old can make you feel like this.

But one or two of these can set you straight.

But one or two of these can set you straight.

Bourbon on beer? No bull, no fear.

Bourbon on beer? No bull, no fear.

"Gappin' the bridges, straight or not." (Pine Creek @ Waterville, PA)

“Gappin’ the bridges, straight or not.” (Pine Creek @ Waterville, PA)

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Blue Ridge Workout

1. The fly rod that was new for me this past summer wanted a good workout near the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAplace where it was made. That is, the 7’6″ five-weight wanted to go fishing somewhere in the state of Virginia near the shop where it was built lovingly by hand, from elements such as tapered bamboo strips and nickel silver ferrules, with meticulous craftsmanship and artful design.

“Okay,” I said to Chester, the fly rod, “I think I know the place for you. A Blue Ridge mountain stream with lots of pretty brook trout in it.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe was fine with that, and so our first VA outing came on Thanksgiving Day at the North Fork Noname River (pronounced No-Nahm-e, from …ancient Powhatan, methinks). It was a nice outing, with my son along for the hike into Shenandoah National Park, but fishing time was limited since we had family plans for later in the day.

I was entertained briefly by the sweet and intricate trilling of a winter wren that fluttered among the streamside boulders; later, we all watched a group of chickadees and a brown creeper pecking away at insects in the trees beside the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The North Fork isn’t a secret stretch of water by any means, but it’s a park stream still attempting to recover from a devastating flood in 1996. Its native trout were nearly wiped out from that flood, but are slowly coming back to a point where the fishing (with additional park permit) is starting to shine. The brookies don’t need any more attention than they’re getting, but these mountain fish are wild and, for the most part, healthy.

The holiday outing was a slow one. Chester had a fine time, laying out long delicate casts with a beadhead nymph, with minimal grumbling whenever I wrapped the tapered leader around the tips of overhanging branches. He and I went out alone on the second day. We changed our use of wet flies, and the fishing was dramatically improved.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. By the time I got to the park at mid-morning, there were 15 vehicles already at the space reserved for hikers and anglers. I’d have to get used to the crowd. Chester and I chuckled at the sight. It was Black Friday, and we wondered why all these nature lovers weren’t out shopping for televisions, iPads and underwear.

At the end of our day, we would find more than twice that many vehicles lining the roadway at our access point. It was that kind of a weekend, and the weather was November beautiful, with an air temperature in the 60s.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlbemarle Anglers had its guiding service parked by the river. I saw the five guided anglers upstream as I passed them heading into the mountains at about the two-mile mark. You pretty much had to climb that far to get a wilderness experience, at least on this busy weekend.

Big Branch Run flowed in from the west, dropping down from Skyline Drive, more than several miles away. I made a pleasant side trip, climbing to its cascade and 40-foot waterfall and plunge pool.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3. What a difference a day made! The third morning was overcast and warm and the water temperature registered a cool 48 degrees. There were far fewer vehicles at the parking lot. I would see only one or two anglers all day, and even the hikers were few and far between.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hiking well into the back country, Chester and I decided that the day and the occasion demanded dry fly fishing. I tied on a floating Stimulator, and we stayed with it for the next four hours.

Yeah, the fishing was good. There’s a wild stretch of the Noname where I dropped down from the trail and found great pocket water, pools and riffles with excellent gravel beds, and plenty of hungry, colorful trout. There were times when I thought this section of the river looked and felt as remote and wild as any stretch of the Rapidan, the North Fork’s famous sister to the north.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chester and I had quite a fishing workout over a three-day period. When I wasn’t involved with family activities centering on our holiday visit to the city, the fly rod and I had plenty of exercise hiking the river trail and climbing over boulders that lined the stream. On our final outing, we caught and released so many brook trout with a dry fly that we really got to know each other well.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If I’m not careful, I may start referring to this bamboo instrument as… Chet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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