Fishing the Forest Shade

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

Chester and the Foamflowers

Chester and the Foamflowers

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

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

brookie on the run

brookie on the run

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

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

in the forest shade

in the forest shade

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

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

swallowtail luncheon

swallowtail luncheon

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

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

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

wild and native in the Northeast

wild and native in the Northeast

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

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

sometimes a tiny pool can yield a surprising trout

sometimes a tiny pool can yield a surprising trout

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

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

forest glade, Dryden Hill

forest glade, Dryden Hill

  •                     *                    *                    *

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

muskrats have moved into the beaver pond

muskrats have moved into the beaver pond

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

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

there's my bro

there’s my bro

bald eagle nest in pine, Cryder Creek

bald eagle nest in pine, Cryder Creek

an Allegheny River brown

an Allegheny River brown

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

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

upper Kettle Creek

upper Kettle Creek

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

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

 

Spring Mills brookie #2

Spring Mills brookie #2

upper Allegheny with shadbush blossoms

upper Allegheny with shadbush blossoms

rose-breasted grosbeak

rose-breasted grosbeak

 

 

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 4, Finale

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

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

white-crowned pigeon

white-crowned pigeon

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

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

gray kingbird

gray kingbird

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

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

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

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

green-throated Carib

green-throated Carib

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

poolside iguana

poolside iguana

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

beach, Buck Island

beach, Buck Island

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

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

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

luxurious coral sands...

luxurious coral sands…

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

long view, w/ sail

long view, w/ sail

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

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

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

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

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

"one of the 10 most beautiful beaches"

“one of the 10 most beautiful beaches”

leaving Buck Island

leaving Buck Island

reentering port

reentering port

bye, and thanks again

bye, and thanks again

 

 

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

high tide at tide pool bay

high tide at tide pool bay

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

scuba lights entering my casting range

scuba lights entering my casting range

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

bromeliad at botanical gardens

bromeliad at botanical gardens

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

cannonball fruit (very heavy!) at the gardens

cannonball fruit (very heavy!) at the gardens

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

veggies at Balter

veggies at Balter

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

L. & A., budding botanists

L. & A., budding botanists

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

odd ones at the gardens

odd ones at the gardens

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

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

Moko Jumbies at Jump Up

Moko Jumbies at Jump Up

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

resting on a rooftop

resting on a rooftop

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

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

orchids at botanical gardens

orchids at botanical gardens

lobster claw flowers

lobster claw flowers

 

 

 

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 2

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

Yup, sure is, I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

vat of molasses

vat of molasses

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

brain coral demonstrating the effects of too much rum

brain coral demonstrating the effects of too much rum

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

A. & L. underneath the ficus tree

A. & L. underneath the ficus tree

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

old lighthouse on NW corner of the island

old lighthouse on NW corner of the island

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

straight down

straight down

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

the geocache

the geocache

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

mongoose

mongoose

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

scaly-naped pigeon

scaly-naped pigeon

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

side street in Christiansted

side street in Christiansted

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

tarpon with parasitic rider

tarpon with parasitic rider

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

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

northern coast as viewed from lighthouse

northern coast as viewed from lighthouse

bananaquit

bananaquit

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Caribbean Scrambles, Part 1

St. Croix and the U.S. Virgin Islands are located about 1,100 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. The islands were first settled by Carib, Arawak and Cibonay peoples and were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.DSCN7934

St. Croix is approximately 20 miles long and six miles wide, with a population of about 54,000 people, most of whom are centered around two main villages, Frederiksted and Christiansted. 

My daughter, Alyssa, has been living and working on the island of St. Croix since last October. She filled our eight-day visit with a great variety of fun-filled and educational adventures which I’d like to tell you about in several illustrated posts that I’ll intersperse with more traditional RR narratives. For now, let’s just say it was a wild and wonderful ride.

DSCN7926“You say Good Night when greeting a local Crucian after dark. It means Hello, and not See You Later I’m Going to Bed,” remarked Alyssa as we entered Turtles’ bar and restaurant in Frederiksted, St. Croix. Later, completely rummed out and cooled off from our warm arrival on the island, we walked along the lonely pier and nodded “Good Night” to a local fisherman casting his baited lines. I asked him if there were tarpon in the neighborhood. “Yes,” said the fisherman, “right here,” sweeping his hand along the lamp-lit pier that receives a cruise ship every week except in the off-season that was just about to start in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

DSCN7943I quickly saw them– large streamlined fish, tarpon up to four feet long, drifting in and out of the shadows of the lamp-lit pier. I dreamed of hooking one with my nine-weight rod that I would bring out pretty soon, but then what? How would I subdue an unbridled and exploding star of fin and muscle and then finally lift it from these deep clear waters? It’s like saying, “Rum’s the Answer… What was the Question?” Well, maybe tomorrow.

But wait. “Look at that!” A giant turtle swam leisurely along the agitated surface of the sea. It was a great green sea turtle, or maybe a hawksbill, I don’t know. A huge, magnificent reptile.

Alyssa’s condominium site was wonderfully quiet and peaceful in this off-season. TallDSCN7959 palms and Caribbean flowers graced the courtyard and the area of the swimming pool. A large iguana that I named Igor came down from his coconut realms to drink from the pool; bananaquits, pearly-eyed thrashers, Zenaida doves, and green-throated Carib hummingbirds flew about commonly through the perfumed air. Bougainvillia and other colorful blossoms graced the expansive gardens; a mongoose hunted a remote corner of the parking lot; and large fruit bats, the only native mammal still extant on the isle, flew across the blue-lit surface of the pool at night.

DSCN7953The spacious condominiums were built from undamaged sections of a huge hotel resort that was otherwise destroyed by Hurricane Hugo and abandoned in 1988. The ruins are visible beyond the fenced off gardens. Apparently the grounds of the resort were once attractive to a class of visitors that included Jackie Kennedy. I know that the refurbished grounds and modest home site where my daughter lives function as a pleasant watering hole and respite for a poor-slob naturalist from the rivertops and his wonderful wife.

On Sunday morning one of the final cruisers of the tourist season docked at Frederiksted village. We explored Fort Frederiksted (1760) overlooking the water. Its spare but DSCN7966powerful imagery came straight from Danish occupation and a period of sugar plantation life and brutal slavery. We shopped among the tourists and did what we could to support local artists and shopkeepers. We swam in a bay near the village where a local fisherman caught and kept a long needlefish with a seawater sheen.

We ate a wonderful lunch at Polly’s-at-the-Pier, one of the locations where Alyssa works but where she had the week off in order to guide her dazzled parents. Just beyond us, at the pier, local fishermen stood in the sea and gutted their catch that they would sell to the restaurants. Magnificent frigate-birds and brown pelicans swooped around them and scarfed up the remains.

DSCN7969I enjoyed some local brews such as the non-alcoholic Chlorophyll and Sea Moss but when the heat of day really put my back against the sand and sun, my go-to for refreshment, aside from water and tasty tropical fruits, was an unsurprising “Painkiller,” a rum slushie of some sort, and an Island Hoppin’ IPA from neighboring St. Thomas.

Yeah, I know, it’s a tough life filled with reggae and steel drum music… but I draw the line at Jimmy Buffett. I just never allowed myself the pleasure….

DSCN7974The native Crucians (the people of the island) were amiable and courteous to us who enjoyed their home. Poverty exists on St. Croix as it does on many Caribbean islands and, for the most part, the infrastructure of society could use a helping hand.

DSCN7975Driving on the left side of the pedestrian-unfriendly roads is an experience sure to challenge the first-time visitor from North America, but Alyssa managed the byways admirally with her banged-up “Islander” as she guided her finger-crossed dad and proud mother on the first-part of this Caribbean Scramble.DSCN7986

There’ll be more to come, my friends, so please stand by….DSCN7999DSCN8016DSCN8020DSCN7930

 

 

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Setting the Tone

The Tradition:

On the opening day of northern Pennsylvania’s trout fishing season I went out to look at the water. Big surprise. It’s what I usually do on this date. I visited all three branches of the upper Genesee River in Potter County, driving past the knots of anglers gathered at the stocking points, and headed upstream. Way upstream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I often look for wild trout in this settled country, but in places where the tracks of deer and mink and raccoon typically outnumber the prints of fishermen.

On the East Branch (or Main Branch Genesee) I surprised myself by tangling with a couple of large stocked browns. These fish were at least a mile above the highest stocking point on the river, so it was fun to speculate on migration possibilities, or if the big one that got away (yeah the one that grows a little every time you think of it) was a wild fish, the kind that’s probably hiding in every other hole secured by logs and brush.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext, I visited the headwaters of the Middle Branch Genesee. This year my traditional stop was again close to the source. I had permission to fly cast this private water where the hilltop flow is both pastoral and small. By small, I mean only a few feet wide, but with depth and undercut banks for good trout habitat.

To prevent spooking the fish, I approach some areas on hands and knees. Casting is often an underhand swing or a bow-and-arrow shot. Even then, a good percentage of casts will snag on an old weed or overhanging branch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was pleased to land a 10-inch brookie there, an unusually large one for a stream like this. The watershed beginning on this high plateau is considered to be the only triple divide in the eastern half of the nation. Here the Genesee flows north to Lake Ontario and the far Atlantic. Here, Pine Creek sets up and aims for Chesapeake Bay. And here the Allegheny River starts its ramble toward the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure how the brookie felt before I released it, but I could feel myself disintegrating in a pleasant way and heading for parts unknown.

To keep myself grounded, I visited a lower section of the Middle Branch and noticed something interesting. A trout rose to my strike indicator while fishing a beadhead nymph. Aha.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was time for a dry fly, and a Quill Gordon did the trick. A brook trout slammed the artificial and ushered in a favorite season of the dry fly angler in north-central Pennsylvania.

PlaidCamper recently posted a photo of an old Plymouth he found on the prairie. This West Branch baby can't compete with his Valiant but it's the best that I could do.

PlaidCamper recently posted a photo of an old Plymouth he found on the prairie. This West Branch baby can’t compete with his Valiant but it’s the best that I could do.

The next stop, the West Branch is usually the highpoint of my day’s experience, but this time it was disappointing. It was late in the day. The guys still on the water seemed to be getting bored. The ATVs began to rev up, and I heard the sputtering of a .22.

Okay, it says Plymouth.

Okay, it says Plymouth.

The next morning I revisited a quieter section of the West Branch, but again I was disappointed. There was sediment on the streambed and too much trash along the road.

It was time to shift gears and go experimental.

On the Edge:

My 7-foot Pine Creek watershed rod.

My 7-foot Pine Creek watershed rod.

I drove a short distance to the south side of the big divide. I looked for wild trout on a “blue line” I’d been eyeing on the local maps for several years. The stream had intrigued me long enough. I had to explore it because no one had ever mentioned this stream before, and I’d never seen a reference to it in any form of literature anywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a feeder of the upper Pine. I did some casting on Pine Creek but didn’t see a fish. When getting closer to the mystery stream, however, I felt my confidence return.

According to my map, the stream begins on a mountaintop about two miles above Pine Creek. There would be no road or trail beside its banks. There would be no cabin or human settlement or even a human footprint there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It would take a quarter mile of poking and shuffling before I found the evidence. At first, the fish were tiny things that couldn’t even stay on the hook. Soon afterward, however, the heavens opened up, and I didn’t dare to question my luck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Colorful brookies took a weighted nymph and a floating Stimulator. They ranged in size from infants up to seniors measuring nine inches or more. In one large pool I must’ve gotten acquainted with all eight or nine residents. I sent them all home to count their blessings and to be careful the next time artificial food comes drifting by their doors.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This mountain stream seemed personal because I’d found it for a day of fishing in beautiful weather. The quiet and the solitude seemed perfect. Tradition met experimentation here, and the mixture was fine with me.

Setting the Tone:

It’ll soon be time for a short break here at Rivertop Central. Next week I’ll be looking at home from a different point of view. As always, thanks for your interest and support of my blog. If I’m lucky, my next post will have a salty flavor, seasoned by sun and wickedness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Ambassador’s Fifteen Minutes

For 15 minutes I felt like an ambassador to Chenunda Creek…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This stream, in the upper Genesee River watershed of New York, does not yet have any public fishing rights, as far as I know, but folks are working to make a change.

A truck pulled beside me as I prepared to fish on a cold and snowy day in early April.

The bearded passenger, sitting shotgun in the truck, rolled down his window and said, “Hey, I don’t have any posted signs here, but I don’t want guys fishing near the house. I’ve had people throwing shit into my yard and leaving it there for me.”

He didn’t seem to remember that we talked a couple of years before. It had been on a cool October day, the final day of the regular New York trout season, and the old guy had thought the fishing season was closed. He thought that maybe I was poaching near his place, at one of the few easy access points along the creek. We had a brief but good discussion that October day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I talked with you a couple of years ago,” I said. “You’d given me an okay to fish along this stretch.” The old homeowner nodded slowly, as if in recognition.

“Are you a veteran?” he inquired. It was the same question he had asked on our first meeting. Then, as now, two large flags waved prominently in his yard.

“No,” I answered. “I’m not a veteran but I’m a landowner, and I understand your concerns about discourteous guys who trash your yard and property… I make it a point of picking up a few pieces of garbage every time I fish, no matter where I am. If there’s something we don’t need, it’s an idiot who trashes the land and water and makes it difficult for everyone else who cares.”

Goddamnit, I was sounding kind of holy on a Sunday morn! But I meant it. The landowner and the driver of the truck sat with heads nodding agreeably, as if to a sermon on the mount, and saying something like, “Yeah, you go fish, and have a good one. You don’t need to be a veteran to fish here.”

For a few moments I felt… ambassadorial… to a creek. Not in any regal or important sense, like Uncle Ben Franklin chosen to represent a young America in Europe, but in a simple, everyday fashion, as if speaking for an understated trout stream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was feeling good, as on a recent occasion when I saw my book, River’s Edge, among some very good literary company, photographed by South African blogger, Trutta. Thanks for that, Andrew! (See photo below).

I thanked the fellows in the truck and slid down to a cold, full-flowing creek still rimmed with ice. Maybe I could find some new experience worthy of the stories told in my fly-fishing book. But I was tired of the heavily fluctuating weather conditions, of tropical warmth followed by frigid temperatures, etc., as almost everyone seemed to be these days. I waded carefully among Chenunda’s icy holes and rocky edges.

Thanks to New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the fishing regulations here were changed about six months ago. They changed from a regular six-month open season to one that doesn’t close, including a no-kill, artificials-only regulation existing for the months of October through March.

I was feeling a little guilty for not yet fishing the stream in the coldest months, but I had reasons for being reluctant and taking it easy, no doubt like some of the landowners along the creek. (I might have been dreaming of an upcoming visit to St. Croix, photo by Alyssa Franklin).

The DEC had posted the new regs along the creek, but I figured that a few landowners might need time to adapt. The creek needs public fishing rights along its banks. Trout Unlimited and other interested parties are being asked by state officials to talk it up with landowners in the hope of eventually buying public access.

I went fishing on Chenunda, pretty sure that I had been a good ambassador for public recreation.

A hefty brown trout answered my wishes and fought me to the bank. I took its photo as if a trout’s image could be a word of thanks for what I’d done.

Actually, it was just a good brown trout pleased to get released and not be frozen into a corpse.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was sitting here, composing on computer, thinking about what it feels like to be… ambassadorial… when the phone rang. I answered it. I don’t have Caller I.D. If I had known that a young male caller would identify himself (with a heavy Indian accent) as representing “Windows,” to give an urgent plea to fix my computer before it crashed and took the whole damned country down with it, I wouldn’t have answered the ring tone with “Hello.”

I’d have been a real ambassador for everything good and sacred in the blogosphere. Instead of saying, “Hold it, man; you say you’re from Windows and my computer is about to blow, but Windows doesn’t call me or anybody when the ship goes down. This is bullshit, and you know it!” No, I wouldn’t have talked to him like that if I had known beforehand who was calling.

I would have answered with, “Hello, you’re on the Air!”

I would have listened to him capsize and go silent, as he went when I reamed him out with my tutorial.

That’s what I plan to do the next time “Windows” comes to my rescue, if I can guess correctly on the call. Then I might feel more like a veteran of the social wars, and perhaps a little closer to old Ben Franklin, too.books (1 of 1)

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The Opener

[Reflections from a time on or near the opening of the regular trout season in New York State]

falls on Tannery Creek

falls on Tannery Creek

A beautiful day with sun and bluebird song… just before the weather crashed and brought back snow and wintry temperatures.

April Fool’s Day, not a time of cosmic harmony.

tools for "opening day"

tools for “opening day”

I fished the headwaters of Naples Creek, above the circus of fishing tourists wielding their plastic nets, red wigglers, egg sacs, spinners, and (yeah) artificial flies.

I caught them like this, small residents, instead of the big 7-pound spawners.

I caught them like this, small residents, instead of the big 7-pound spawners.

Okay, I participated, loosely, in a religious event. It was gonna be different this year. The winter had been warm; the spawing rainbows had largely dropped back to the lake already; the crowd would be relatively thin…

I was heading toward this falls on "Crapper Creek," when the inevitable occurred...

I was heading toward this falls on “Crapper Creek,” when the inevitable occurred…

The crowd was thinner than it usually is, but still kind of fat. I headed up Tannery Creek, Reservoir Creek, Eelpot Creek (upper Naples), Grimes Creek, and “Crapper Creek,” where I took took a tumbing slide down a high bank and, oh so fortunately, landed unhurt.

warning signs

warning signs

Instead of seeing a band of stars flashing across my eyes, I saw leaping trout on a bridge (even though no one else seemed to be catching large rainbows this day). I saw the muskrat that swam from an undercut, intercepting my drifting fly then swimming into another hole upstream before the hook popped free.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I saw the four or five-pound trout that struck from an undercut bank in a different stream but missed the passing fly. Unfortunately, that was the only large fish (live one) that I saw all day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I saw loons on a local marsh and farm pond. Actually my wife saw them first, a few days after the “Opener,” but maybe I was seeing them in preview as I lay there on the mud of Crapper Creek. Who knows. It’s nice to see these migrators whenever or wherever they appear.DSCN7891

I saw, again, the first bloodroot flower of the season. It wasn’t a great specimen. It was partly closed and a bit disheveled so I didn’t bother taking a photo. Instead, I thought of the flower as recorded in Earthstars, Chanterelles, Destroying Angels, my new book of poetry. I rose from the bedrock of the creek and climbed back toward the car.DSCN7889

Mishaps? Perhaps. I’ve had better times, and I’ve had worse. Living the life that opens day by day.DSCN7886

St. Croix pelican (photo by Alyssa Franklin) awaiting the rivertop competitor.

St. Croix pelican (photo by Alyssa Franklin) awaiting the rivertop competitor.

DSCN7894DSCN7904

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Of Birds, Friends, Trout, and Hiking Trails

I watched a pair of tundra swans on the local marsh. This species, now migrating to the DSCN7848far north, is known to pair for life– an admirable trait for those of us romantically inclined– but the bird whose symbolism really set the tone for my weekend was the common loon.

I was driving to my fishing destination on Saturday when I saw the lone migrator on Crystal Lake. I love to see these singular birds that pass through on their spring and fall migration routes. For me, the loon symbolizes wildness and whimsical beauty (think, “crazy as a loon”). I took the bird as a good spring sign en route to the steelhead grounds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFishing for big rainbows wasn’t going to be easy. Not in these days of slim Lake Erie watershed findings. After three hours of hiking and casting, I finally saw my first fish– a squiggly shadow in the rapids that just as easily could’ve been a trembling stick or some flickering ghost of steelhead glory.

I subdued the spawner and quickly set it free. Later, I fished near several fellows in the sprawling waters of Cattaraugus Creek, and no one caught a trout, as far as I could see. Thinking back to my modest catch, I was glad for the persistence involved.DSCN7869

On Sunday I went hiking with my brother and a friend from the Albany suburbs. According to my trusty topographical map, Potter County’s Commissioner Trail was supposed to connect with the Buckseller Trail in the Susquehannock State Forest, but the trail vanished in a clearcut area on the summit of a ridge.DSCN7870

It didn’t matter. Sometimes the best laid trails are like the best-laid plans of mice and men– sprung by circumstance and run amuck. More importantly, the trail and what we made of it were totally relaxing and enjoyable.

Tim and I were students at Alfred University in 1971, forty-five years ago to the day of this particular hike. Thinking back to our initial meeting, I recalled that the Easter sun was out; the snow was melting rapidly. A first woodchuck raced toward its den on the warming slope near Alfred, New York. A small herd of deer leapt across a streamlet in a field of cows.

He's in there, out of his tree!

He’s in there, out of his tree!

He and I had met in downtown Alfred that day. Our walking sticks suggested to each other that perhaps we shared some common interests. We did– we hiked above the village and, eventually, shared 45 years’ worth of rooms and beer and long-distance hiking.

Although we had our family blessings for this latest walk, we three guys missed some holiday fun. Easter eggs were history, but we missed a nice ham dinner and (quite significantly) a miniature whiskey bottle hunt for the older folks.DSCN7872

We might have hiked for six Potter County miles, subsisting on crackers, fruit and peanuts, but the loon spirit came through for us like a piercing roll of laughter.

And the weekend was fulfilling.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Springtime Again

The mild winter gave us several days of blue-white splendor.

The mild winter gave us several days of blue-white splendor.

A roadhouse for wintering chickadees and woodpeckers.

A roadhouse for wintering chickadees and woodpeckers.

Sorry I ate your white pine seedlings and your wife's garden plants.

Sorry I ate your white pine seedlings and your wife’s garden plants.

Looks cold feels cold but an unborn spring was gathering warmth.

Looks cold feels cold but an unborn spring was gathering warmth.

Listen carefully for Goldenrod's Lament.

Listen carefully for Goldenrod’s Lament.

Rodentia Heights: Bed 'n' Breakfast

Rodentia Heights: Bed ‘n’ Breakfast

Robin greets the first light of spring: "Drawing the frost from the rigid trees, Starting the sap in the sugar maples, Thawing the frozen earth with song..." (W. Christman)

Robin greets the first light of spring: “Drawing the frost from the rigid trees, Starting the sap in the sugar maples, Thawing the frozen earth with song…” (W. Christman)

Man, that water's cold! But they say the Pine Creek browns are bigger than usual this year...

Man, that water’s cold! But they say the Pine Creek browns are bigger than usual this year…

Even at the Hotel bar, you can't blame a guy for dreaming...

Even at the Hotel bar, you can’t blame a guy for dreaming…

They don't call him song sparrow for nothin'. Covering Sun Ra's "Springtime Again"?

They don’t call him song sparrow for nothin’. Covering Sun Ra’s “Springtime Again”?

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