Phoenix Run

I hadn’t fished the stream in 25 years or more. I found myself returning to it when the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnumbness that resulted from the weekend news transformed into anger, sympathy and sadness. Maybe my visit to the stream was due to something in the name, Phoenix Run. I’ve always had an interest in names, especially with regard to geographical features.

The feelings arose from more than just the news from Paris, as horrific as that was. My rickety plate of mindfulness was also set ajar by tragedies of similar degree in other parts of the world, from places farther from the care of social media and western consciousness.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“There’s another 9/11 coming,” said the GOP’s Lindsey Graham.

“They’ll be bombing us here before we know it,” said a store clerk in Anytown, USA. “A Christian would never do what they just did.”

Oh, really now, responded the watery form of Phoenix Run (assuming that I could project my voice into an unassuming creek).

First of all, let’s terrify the public, Mr. Bigwhig. That way, it will listen carefully while you beat the drums of war. And secondly, Mr. and Mrs. UberClerk, you might be right about the bombing, or you might be wrong. When you say, a Christian wouldn’t do what has been done, I’ll agree with you that a good one wouldn’t do it, but you should read a little history (think Crusades or the conquest of native cultures), or stop trying to sound completely stupid.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No, the wild stream I went fishing in didn’t spit in the face of idiocy and evil. In fact, it took no sides at all. It favored no religion or political agenda, no one theory or belief. The stream was simply there. Cold and flowing bank to bank, clear and tumbling toward the distant bay.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was there to embrace me if I wanted it to care. It was there to reject me if I got in its way. It was always changing with the face of beauty. It ignored my weaknesses and absence. It was wild, and still produced nice trout on a beadhead nymph.

The stream comforted and lightened the load and reinforced my care. To stand in its waters was like hearing of the guy who towed a grand piano with a bicycle to the site of Paris death and mayhem. The musician couldn’t raise the dead or heal the injured, but his playing helped to soothe the pain a bit.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Casting in its waters was like reading Teanderthal’s analogy on Facebook:

“Blaming all Muslims for the terrorists is like blaming all musicians for Ted Nugent.”

Even better, because the only sides taken by a trout stream are its earthen banks, and the call of distant shores.

*     *     *

P.S., If you’re feeling musically adventurous, you might give a listen to “Ashes are Burning,” by Renaissance. I think of the song when I think of the stream’s name, Phoenix Run. I’m moderately intrigued by Annie Haslam’s critically acclaimed voice, but for me the song gets really interesting at about 7:18. A minute later, the solo by Wishbone Ash guitarist, Andy Powell, takes the piece to its haunting conclusion and always seems to burn the shirt right off my back.

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I was heading to one of my favorite casting locations for big brown trout and landlocked salmon, wondering if the autumn run had kicked in following a decent rainfall. Recalling my tumble in the mountains last week, I was ready to hit the upstate tributary with my OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwading staff, only to find that it wouldn’t be needed– the creek was lower than expected.

Getting to my destination by 9:30 a.m., I could tell that the fish were in. I counted more than a dozen anglers on the Finger Lake tributary, but it was easy to find a good location that was both productive and unpressured. It was pleasant to fish inside the limits of an upstate city and still enjoy some casting in the company of birds such as robins, herons, cardinals, Carolina wrens, and cedar waxwings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought about my history with fly fishing for landlocked salmon, a subject that’s reflected in my book, Beautiful Like a Mayfly (p. 152), and my present motivation for connecting with this powerful fresh water species…

“I was ready for a change of pace, and was hoping that to fish for landlocked salmon would allow me to keep in balance with the planet. As usual, there was a major crisis developing in the world, and my father, aged 87 and in the last year of his life, aptly grumbled that everything’s going to hell in a hand basket. The financial realms had struck an iceberg in the sea of money and were tipping like a new Titanic…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t have a lot at stake in that particular crisis that began about seven years ago, but like everyone else I knew, I got a sense that the world was on a hell-bound train. I looked for a new angling pursuit as a form of therapy.

Landlocked salmon came to the rescue then. Finally. And on this visit to the salmon and brown trout water, I could still sense those train kept a-rollin’ vibrations from the prospects of doom, from crises such as man-made global warming, but could feel some hope through a smattering of other news…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For example, President Obama recently rejected the Keystone XL project that would have further damaged our planet and added to the woes of climate change. Thanks to civil protest of the corporate gas and oil interests currently dominating the economic status quo, we can breathe a little easier, for now, and hope that the long-delayed movement for sustainable energy sources can build a little steam. On a related note, a handful of U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would put a moratorium on gas and oil extraction from our public lands. It all might be too little too late, but thanks, I say, and let ‘er rip….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like a powerful run of a landlocked salmon that has taken the downstream swing of a streamer across its “window of opportunity” and made me feel, again, the rush of energy that often yields an awesome display of furious two-foot jumps and body flips. These fish, the landlocked version of the premier ocean-running Atlantic salmon, are a joy to fish for and to bend a trusty six-weight rod.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Although the brown trout seemed few and far between, I did hook and lose a two-foot battler in the riffles, and spoke with an angler who had recently landed a nice 26-inch trout. On this outing, it was salmon all the way. Since landlockeds will seldom chase a blindly casted fly, you pretty much need to stalk them like a heron and then present an accurate cast that drifts in front of their noses without a body strike. It’s no fun to foul hook a beautiful fish and then have it freaked out and sulking for the rest of the day.DSCN7225

Today I probably could have counted my fair-hooked salmon on a wrinkled hand, but I can’t complain. The fish returned in good form to the spawning stream, and I thanked them for a therapeutic session.

P.S. I added a few non-fishing photos from my hilltop taken the same weekend. I may be landlocked but I can dream… Yeah, come join me for a throwback swim in pleasant summertime or, if that’s a little too bucolic for your tastes, climb aboard a rocknroll classic and that hellbound train that I referred to earlier. The “deadstop” at the end is guaranteed to set you free…DSCN7229DSCN7230






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An Annual Bath

Over the weekend I was hoping to find a subject worthy of writing up as my 400th narrative post for Rivertop Rambles. Times were hard, or so it seemed. I managed to secure yet another reading date promoting Beautiful Like a Mayfly, but the tour, itself, was faltering, and my time for fly fishing was minimal.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nonetheless, I found myself in the Susquehannock State Forest and the upper Allegheny watershed for some limited casting. I wanted a new experience for my 400th post, and I guess I got one, though it wasn’t quite as “high brow” as I might have hoped to achieve.

About once a year I take a bath in cold river water, in autumn or winter, swamping to my neck while hoisting the fly rod over my head or grabbing at my hat to keep it from floating to the bay. This year’s tumble came on a small stream in the state forest. It was flowing clear and cold and up to its own ears from the heavy rains a few days prior.

I stepped into a braid of water near a beaver dam that looked to be only knee-deep but the silt at its bottom collapsed and sucked me in. If there’s any justice in this ass-over-OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAteacups life of ours, then the small brooks and browns that I had taken and released had a good laugh as I floundered on my back. They would have heard me trying to annunciate a four-letter expletive to every bird and beaver of the neighborhood– a four-letter word now grown to eight or nine hyphenated letters punctuated with an exclamation point.

I don’t care what anybody says, flowing water pours into waist-high waders, no matter how tightly the belt secures one’s nether regions. My wallet is still drying out.

Although the air temperature was rising from its frosted knees to stand proudly in the upper 40s that day, I slogged back through the fields and woodland to the car feeling soggy, cold, and hapless as a Halloween spirit busted for decorating sidewalks with shaving cream and toilet paper.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was wet, and too damned chilled to celebrate a possible 400th post by stopping at Galeton’s Wonder Bar for a beer or two. I drove straight home and changed my clothes.

Everything was warm and dry and peaceful at the house. I remembered an email conversation with a friend a couple of days before…

We had been discussing the possibility of a fly fishing visit to Pennsylvania over the weekend, assuming that the heavy rains wouldn’t blow out the headwater streams.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My friend is a married man with limited time for “play” on Saturdays and Sundays. He was working on the notion of heading out to fish the weekend while “trying to preserve domestic tranquility at home.”

I answered his email, saying, “I know what you mean about preserving domestic tranquility at home. It can be like walking a tightrope over a gorge.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMoments later, I read the response… “A really narrow rope… With the wind howling!

“Amen,” I said… thankful that my wife understands that fly fishing and being in the wild helps to keep me stable and free from a life in the Rubber Room.

I wondered if tumbling into the bottomless creek was in some way like falling off the tightrope over a gorge… No, it couldn’t be. There was peace at home. I had come back with all my bones intact. The only similarity was tipping over and getting soaked.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was too late to stop now. I wasn’t complaining. I would do another public reading for my book. I’d head out to fish Dwight Creek and the Allegheny, catching more wild fish and even a spotted rainbow in the river itself.

Yeah, the wind would be wicked on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t easy casting a fly when I half expected to see big trees come falling down. A warm front was moving in, and the sun banged its way through the clouds to the river valley.

I felt clean from my annual washing the day before. The fishing was so-so… Beautiful like… an Egg fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The Hook-Up, and More

It always takes me awhile to re-adapt to lowland trout and salmon fishing, but once theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA first king salmon takes off with a fly in the lip, the blood begins to flow through every lazy muscle, and I can’t imagine what demonic energy and sense of terror pushes these great fish to escape.

Here was the problem: the tributary was lower than it usually is at mid-October and the trout and salmon run from Lake Ontario was just beginning. A timing issue. The air was cold, in the 30s to low 40s, and the wind became an issue. I covered two miles of water in four hours of fishing and saw only half a dozen fish. The ones I saw were skittish as phantoms and not yet settled on their redds. At quitting time I was feeling anything but hopeful.

DSCN7189Heading back to the car I came up to the final pool, a hundred feet from where I typically exit from the stream. An angler stood on the bridge, peering at the water, searching for fish. A fresh king salmon swam upstream. I tried to keep up with the fish. Several casts fell short of him. I rushed ahead, along the bank, and tried to place a Woolly Bugger at his “window” from upstream.

The fly swung down and across. Perfect. The salmon struck. A real head-shaker, and the 8-weight rod was fully tested once again! The angler on the bridge had been there at the start of this long struggle but apparently had departed like most of the others on this disappointing day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My hands had been so cold from the inaction that I couldn’t tighten the drag on my new reel. I worked the salmon downstream to a point where I could finally beach it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Nice work there,” said an angler who suddenly appeared. “I watched you for a minute up there on the bridge. What did you get him on?”

“Black Woolly Bugger, with a green head. In the lip.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I’ve got Woolly Buggers. I’ll try one. Want a picture with your fish?”

I had just met John C., from Alfred, N.Y., a short distance from my home. I learned that we both started college there in the same year. He attended Alfred State and I had gone to Alfred University.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And here we were, four decades later. I had finally caught my salmon today (38 inches, 20-25 pounds), fresh from Lake Ontario. Although the fish are fated to die shortly after spawning, I nearly always put the fish back in the water. I offered this one to my new acquaintance, who carried a stringer to begin his day of fishing. John was eager to accept the king.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What’s the lesson here? I don’t know. This outing, which had “skunk” written all over it until the final minutes, ended happily on the stream. Two friends. One fish. Two guys just a couple of hours from home. ***

And More: Here at Rivertop Rambles, it’s always more than just about fishing, so I’ve got a few photos to share from recent days along the streams near home. The regular inland trout season in New York ended last week, so I’ve got a few reflections from the final hours of the season: a defensive porcupine, a brook trout on the water, brown trout from the final pool, the bright sumac leaves, and last but not least, a busy but inquisitive beaver.DSCN7198




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Columbus Was Here

Part 1: At the start of Columbus Day weekend I was fishing a couple of Cedar Mountain trout streams. At one point I was suiting up at a mountain crossroad when Columbus OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcame roaring towards me on a motorcycle. He glared at me as he approached and brought his bike to an idling pause. He looked like a city cop in his helmet and black leather uniform. He took out his GPS unit and began tapping at keys…

“How do you spell Cedar?” he asked. “C-e-a-d…No,” he mumbled, talking directly at his unit.

“Cedar,” I said, “C-e-d-a-r. Look there; it’s right on the sign. Cedar Run. That way.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“It’s telling me I should go… up this way. Where’s that lead to?” asked Columbus.

“Leetonia. You can go that way, and you can also take this road,” I said, pointing to the road signs once again. “Toward Marshlands. Then take a left on Cedar Mountain Road. It’s a nice day to get lost, isn’t it?”

“A beautiful day,” replied Columbus, with the early morning sky brightening over his head, and with the forest leaves blazing quietly into multi-colored glory. “Okay, I’ll try this road.” He blasted away on his bike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore I had my wading shoes laced up tightly, Columbus came roaring back down the narrow mountain road and passed me at the intersection, shouting, “Why the hell doesn’t this work?” He zoomed back the way he’d come from, on the road to Colton Point.

Before I had my cane rod put together, I could hear him on his grand return, then watched in amazement as he tried to follow his directions, motoring off on the one road yet untaken, the road toward Marshlands, with a left to Cedar Run.DSCN7187

I fished the deep woods on a beautiful October day, alone on the headwaters of a brookie stream, catching and releasing wild trout, as if Columbus had never existed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPart 2: Brent and Catherine were here on Columbus Day weekend and they joined Alyssa and Leighanne and me on a short trip to Allegany State Park in western New York. The air remained comfortable and the sky was absolutely clear. Before an evening hike that covered three forested miles with a gorgeous overlook on the Allegheny River Valley, we visited a place called Thunder Rocks and marvelled at the house-sized structures left here by the powers of uplift and erosion.

Several of the rocks had suffered at the hands of man. Graffiti had been carved into their beautiful sandstone faces… “Columbus was here. October 2015.”DSCN7140

Driving home, we stopped for dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Allegany. Daughter Alyssa would be leaving in a couple of days for a new life on an island called St. Croix. We wished her well, of course, and hoped that the Caribbean was Columbus-free.DSCN7183

Part 3: The Genesee River in Pennsylvania and New York is my “home river,” but other than the Genny’s uppermost miles, I don’t know it very well. The river empties out at Lake Ontario in Rochester. Before we took Alyssa to the Rochester airport for her flight to St. Croix, I grabbed an opportunity to introduce myself to the Genny’s lowest stretch.DSCN7167

Big trout and great Pacific salmon enter the lower Genesee in autumn, swimming up to the Lower Falls in Rochester, and if you hit the river at the right time, you can have some fabulous fishing there. I’ve heard a lot about it, so I thought I’d check it out.

If I was ever gonna feel like Columbus might have felt, blown off course to a point where the eyes grow wide, it was gonna happen here. The Genesee Gorge was beautiful with October’s brightest colors, but the river itself was wide and muddy and filled with impossible rocks. The bank fishermen were numerous. In the places where I typically fly fish, almost all the people I encounter are white. Unfortunately, minorities (including women) are seldom seen. But fishing in the city, below the Lower Falls of the Genesee, changes all that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI looked out of place but I felt fine. Blacks, Latinos, and women of all races could be found here on a late October afternoon. Most of these people looked poor; the Orvis crowd seemed miles away. A couple of old guys, casting live bait or corn or Cleos with a spinning rod, asked if they could have my fish, in case I didn’t want them.DSCN7186

I had little chance of catching a fish here with a fly, although I saw some huge ones breaching the water far beyond my casting range. I don’t know what Columbus would have done if he was here, but I was thinking that if I caught a fish, I’d give it away for someone’s use.DSCN7156

Part 4: I daydreamed that Columbus read about my readings at the local libraries and decided to attend one. He even bought a copy of Beautiful Like a Mayfly and asked if I would sign it for him. I said, sure, I’ll sign it for you. Here is what I wrote:

“To Columbus… Thanks for rediscovering America…October 2015…”

Yours Truly.DSCN7165



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