Have Trico, Will Travel

[I’ll be going off the grid for a week or so beginning in the afternoon on 8/22, so if you leave a comment here after that time, it may be a few days before I can respond to it. In any case, thank you, and I’m planning to return!]

Trico Town, the Bridge of Sighs (or Small Size)

Trico Town, the Bridge of Sighs (or Small Size)

I was in the creek at 7 a.m., a bit early for the trout to be rising seriously, but I noticed several fish sipping in the low calm waters under the willow trees. The stream temp was a safe 60 degrees F., as it has registered through the summer, thanks to a multitude of springs throughout this section of the creek.

The long rod was necessary to keep my casts above the streamside vegetation; and a nine-foot leader tapered to a 7X point seemed the best way to present the tiny Trico spinner imitation so not to frighten the breakfast scene.

Hook keeper keeps the faith...

Hook keeper keeps the faith…

Tricorythodes is the smallest mayfly I keep track of and attempt to imitate with an artificial fly. The adult insect is tiny, about a quarter of an inch (3 to 5 mm, with tail) in length, just a pinch or two larger than the midges that I’ll drop on a spring creek in the winter season. When the egg-laying females, or spinners, are hovering above the early morning stream, they can resemble (as someone once noted), “a slow-moving white cloud of dust.”

I greatly enjoy casting over the Trico spinner fall and find it simultaneously relaxing and challenging. The white wings, tied with Poly Yarn, reflect just enough light to allow me to track its drift on quiet water. If I see even the slightest drag on the line and fly, it’s time to retract the line slowly and make another cast. It was tough work today, but an hour after I began, the long deep pool by the parking lot was dimpled with rise formations.

Placid pool, before the rise...

Placid pool, before the rise…

I inched my way into the water as slowly as a heron falling asleep. When I was nearly waist deep, I began the back cast, making sure the line was well above the grasses and away from willow branches. Timing seemed especially critical. It would all be over once the sun shone directly on the water, unless I wanted to continue by switching to an Ant or Beetle.

loosestrife, an invasive on the loose...

loosestrife, an invasive on the loose…

It had been a long time since the pool had favored me this well. Small wild browns and native brook trout rose to the Trico pattern as the naturals hovered in formation over the creek. As each of the brooks and browns regained its balance in the pool and scurried off, something in the spirit of an angler said a word of thanks.

the natives were restless at Trico time...

the natives were restless at Trico time…

there were lots of young representatives from BrownsVille...

there were lots of young representatives from BrownsVille…

sunrise on highway 61 (no not That One!)

sunrise on highway 61 (no not That One!)

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Brook Trout, Moose, and Loons

No, I’m sorry– no images of these iconic northern creatures in this short post. Not yet. But I’ll be looking for them soon as I break out for the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont next week and hope to find a cooler and rejuvenating atmosphere.


It’s been 80s hot here on the rivertops this past week, a humid period that, thankfully, also brought much needed rainfall via several pop-up thunderstorms. The accompanying winds were a little disconcerting for this skittish survivor of a wicked wind that toppled trees in his front yard a few weeks ago, but now a bigger concern is the drought and the heat of other regions. It’s not so bad locally, but for the planet as a whole– wow. The records just keep getting reestablished every month.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere hasn’t been much fishing here of late, but to celebrate the onset of some wetter conditions, and for the recent completion of my new fly-fishing book (first draft only), I hit the upper Dyke Creek this morning and felt encouraged. I love to fish the Trico spinner fall early in the day, and I quickly noticed the feed activity at the surface of the long quiet pools. It was difficult to get a decent cast beneath the overhanging branches, and all I managed were a few small wild ones, but I saw a beauty of a brown trout, maybe 18 inches, in the tail of one pool, as it slowly finned upstream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was encouraged because it looked as though the cold-water fishes had weathered a drought-stricken summer pretty well. At least in this location. It was like viewing an attractive sunset from my backyard, watching the tops of conifer trees pointing toward a pleasant morning to come, and never threatening to blow off into chaos or destruction.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, anticipation for the week ahead… On Monday I’ll be giving a reading in Montour Falls, New York, and from there it’s off to the land of brook trout, moose, and laughing loons. I’ll be in the wilds near Island Pond and, later, on the upper Battenkill en route back south. I hope to have some nice trout and nature photos to share with you, and to avoid collision with the antlered giants. Lastly, if I can laugh with the loons instead of being laughed at, that will be a bonus.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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From Wiscoy to West Branch

The driving distance from Wiscoy Creek, in western New York, to the West Branch Delaware River, east of Binghamton, is about three hours. I didn’t drive the route in a single shot, but connected the streams on two occasions, six days apart.


My reason for establishing a connection between the stream and river has to do with fly-fishing, naturally, but aside from the enjoyment that I hoped to gain by fishing through these hot and dry conditions, it was paramount to consider the health of wild trout.

Although it looks as though a long stretch of wet and stormy weather is finally about to settle on my region now, a drought was here, for sure, and it took its toll on the region’s waterways, overheating the diminished flows and imperiling the lives of trout, a fish that struggles to survive when water temperatures climb into the 70s and deplete the oxygen levels of the water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Wiscoy and the West Branch Delaware are possible exceptions to the water problem in my fly-fishing realm, at least for now. Both streams have sufficient water flow and temperatures cool enough to allow some fishing with a clear conscience. Despite some similarities, there’s a world of difference between the small stream and the mighty river.

The Wiscoy, flowing through a fairly level agricultural district in New York, is sustained by numerous springs and tributaries. It’s a small creek feeding into the Genesee River near Letchworth State Park, and it’s arguably the finest trout stream in the western sector of the state. The West Branch Delaware, on the other hand, is a Catskill Mountain tail-water flowing southward from the Cannonsville Reservoir (a water source for New York City) to its junction with the East Fork at Hancock, New York. There the branches join together and form the main stem of the Delaware that rolls on southward into Delaware Bay and the Atlantic.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s hard to imagine a more disparate brace of waterways, but both the Wiscoy and the West Branch are important streams in this rivertop realm. The Wiscoy is an unassuming little trout stream and the Delaware’s West Branch is a world-class fishery that is sometimes described as the “eastern-most western river in the U.S.”

The big river has it all, from brook trout to giant browns that dwell with a smorgasbord of dining possibilities, from heavy insect hatches to the alewives that flush out from the Cannonsville Reservoir. Here the fish can be highly selective at times, and the angler has to cast precisely, or be skunked. This is big water, and it’s cold, even in the heat of summer. When I fish the West Branch, I tend to enjoy the experience and do pretty well, or have a frustrating time and catch nothing at all.

DSCN9245On this occasion, I did nothing. I fished for two hours in the wind and the high afternoon sun. Sulphurs and occasional Cahills were hatching but I saw no obvious sign of a rising trout. There was algae in the 55 degree water, and it snagged every cast of a wet fly. There were drift boats passing by but, oddly enough, I didn’t hear a single hoot or holler, the typical expression of success.

To fish a small stream like the Wiscoy, on the other hand, was to fish with greater confidence at home. The water was 63 Fahrenheit degrees and alive with surface-feeding brown and brook trout, at least for a little while. I could cast a dry Black Ant and watch the rise; I felt the intimacy of a stream that helps produce what the writer Ted Leeson called the “archetype of fly-fishing.” Here was a link to the earliest days of fly-fishing, to the possibility that fishing on the Wiscoy, and small streams like it, was related to casting on the Greek river Astraeus, known to the Roman writer, Aelian, who wrote of fly-fishing as early as 200 A.D.DSCN9251

Sure, the fish in the smaller stream are going to be sized more modestly when compared to the big ones in the river. Modest, but delightful nonetheless. And undervalued, too, in today’s big push to fish “the best water available” and to get its trophies for display. I don’t care if the small fish of the archetypal Wiscoy streams are sniffed at by the hook-and-bullet press. I’m proud, as always, to picture them here, where readers understand that we take even the small ones seriously.

But fishing is fishing, and the West Branch Delaware is a hoot of a river. It’s not always easy to work, to say the least, but you can do real well there. Just recently, the night before my latest river stop, my friend Tim D. caught a couple of massive trout nearby while fishing in the middle of the night with ungainly streamers.DSCN9253

Then, of course, there’s the cultural aspect to consider when fishing the West Branch. It’s not far from “Trout Town, U.S.A” (Roscoe) and Livingston Manor’s great Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum where L. and I had just made another visit to the annual Anglers’ Summerfest. The history and magical presence of that Catskill location is still more than I am capable of absorbing, though I keep on trying. And when its famed Beaverkill and Willowemoc Creek have warmed too much to fish safely, as they’ve done again this summer, there’s always the neighboring Delaware to beckon the compulsive flinger of the fly.DSCN9254

The West Branch will absorb the fishing pressure and do so easily. Even the distant Wiscoy can be thankful for that.DSCN9256DSCN9257DSCN9258OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


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Aftermath (There’s Something Funny Going On)

(1) There’s something funny going on around here, something that will probably have a happy ending once the dust has settled. For example, the guys who have gutted our old kitchen and completely renovated the beast are likely to receive a company award for the best “Before and After Kitchen” of the year, if not the decade.DSCN9151

(2) There’s something funny going on around here, something that, unfortunately, doesn’t have a lot to do with trout fishing. It has more to do with heat and extreme weather conditions, like having a twister blow through my valley where there hasn’t been a twister in, how long, a thousand years, if ever?

(3) There’s something funny going on around here, something like giving a public reading from my books in Wellsville, N.Y., then going out and having a few beers with my brother. These events may have led to my waking up at 3 a.m. because the cat was barfing someplace in the hallway, which led to a broken toe because I jumped out of bed and crashed into some unforgiving piece-of-crap furniture.

DSCN9159(4) There’s something funny going on around here, something like the big 60th birthday party for my wife when we had wonderful people visiting from far and wide, a few of whom performed a “rain dance” around our bonfire one night, a dance that, in retrospect, was probably over the top. We got our needed rain eventually, but we also got a breeze that changed our lives a bit too suddenly.

(5) There’s something funny going on around here, something like touring Buffalo and Niagara Falls with my son and future in-laws, eating the best Buffalo-style chicken wings and drinking craft beers, then standing near the brink of Niagara waterfalls listening to some guy chirping about all that water and how mankind, with its brain and technological prowess, can control that immense energy. Yeah, I thought, to a point.DSCN9169

(6) There’s something funny going on around here, something like walking down to the beaver pond early in the morning of the day the storm came around, and meeting Andy there with his binoculars and a pitchfork. He was looking like the Mad Farmer of Nutville, so I asked him what the fork was for.DSCN9179

“Well, I was sitting here last night on my 4-wheeler, wondering what’s been happening to the young beavers, when one of the adults came up from the dam and charged me!”

I reflected, then, a little more about rain dancing and the power of Niagara Falls, not to mention the emotive state of pissed-off beaverhood. I remembered my brother’s comment that he’d begun rereading Bellows’ “Henderson the Rain King.” Stuff like that.DSCN9197

(7) There’s something funny going on around here, something like seeing a tornado, or panoramic wind sheer, come blowing through this place where there had never been one to my knowledge, where there had been little more than a forecast of a possible heavy storm. I hadn’t seen a wind like this in 35 years of living in Bootleg Hollow; I’d never felt an impact like this twister even though I once survived two years of living in Tornado Alley, South Dakota.DSCN9198

(8) There’s something funny going on around here, something that will have a happy ending once the sawdust settles and the final house repairs are done. Fortunately the last of our guests from the birthday celebration had departed from their lawn chairs two hours earlier and gone home; the final cups of coffee had been drunk in peaceful sun and shadow, and the stage had been reset.DSCN9214

I was sitting here at the computer, thinking there was something funny going on in Greenwood Vale, when the woods out front began to roar– not like the proverbial lion but more like a giant waterfall. The trees put on their coats of darkness and began to bow… I’ve never really doubted the scientific claims that now (with climate change occurring globally) our weather events could be more and more extreme, and I wasn’t about to change my mind at this point.

Branches and lawn chairs blew across my window view.DSCN9217

I had two Norway spruce trees in the front yard, both of them very healthy looking, each of them 100 feet tall. The top half of one spruce snapped free and crashed into one of my 70-foot sugar maple trees and, together, they slammed into my two-story roof just above my head where I had jumped up thinking, there’s something not quite right about all this.DSCN9208

I was home alone with two frightened cats. The power had gone out, and I called for help. I got my help in spades– when the road from town was finally cleared of fallen trees and roof parts from a damaged barn. Later, I understood that there was something funny going on when, after paying for insurance years on end and not seeing any benefits, I suddenly had a reason to enjoy it.DSCN9222

An amazing surgical operation involving heavy machinery and human expertise finally lifted the trees from the house. No one was hurt in any of this craziness. The holes in the roof had let in some rain that was needed more on the lawn than in the house, but our new kitchen (almost completed when the storm arrived) was spared, barely.DSCN9220

(9) There’s something funny going on, something like having to take a chainsaw to clear a pathway to the front door of your house, then spending the next seven days getting the home back into shape and clearing off the lumber. Thankfully, we had lots of help in all of this and, yeah, the twister could have been a real disaster.DSCN9199

Our kitchen guy is up for an award, and I think he’ll get it. As for me, I’m up for a change of pace, as well… I wonder what it’s like to drift a dry fly on a sparkling mountain current with nothing too funny going on.

[P.S., I had good dry fly Anting on the Wiscoy… Stay tuned for more on this!]

there's no room for prejudice at this tourist attraction...

there’s no room for prejudice at this tourist attraction…

lily of the falls...

lily of the falls…

glad it didn't get MY tree...

glad it didn’t get MY tree…

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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.


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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