On a Small Island

Small islands have been inspirational for me since my long-gone days of bumming through the quiet waters of the blue Aegean. Most recently, I helped my daughter move from Providence, Rhode Island to neighboring Warwick, on the west side of Narragansett Bay. The long visit culminated with a day spent on Block Island, 14 miles into the Atlantic.

approaching Block Island by ferry…

The night before the island visit, we (my wife, daughter and I) attended another grand performance of WaterFire in downtown Providence. WaterFire highlights a festival of arts and music along the city’s rivers. Since 1994, it’s celebrated the pagan origins of Providence with an award-winning sculptural performance given periodically on summer nights.

Listening to third-world music blaring from speakers while a line of blaziers stacked with wood along the middle of the Providence River is lit by traveling gondoliers, can be transformational, to say the least. And even though an earnest rain began to fall at the beginning of this typically peaceful and orderly event observed by thousands, we enjoyed the late day, getting wet while sipping brews and tasting Indian cuisine.

commencement of WaterFire, downtown Providence

Our spirits “islanded” by WaterFire, we caught an early morning ferry to Block Island. The hour-long ride through the foggy waters of Block Island Sound took us 14 miles into the Atlantic for a full day of exploration. The island is an oddly-shaped glacial remnant that reminds me of a long-necked sea bird, maybe a cormorant or merganser. It’s about seven miles long by three miles wide, a place of rolling hills that’s home to 1,5oo people residing mostly in or near the singular village of New Shoreham.

gull consuming the only fish I’d see that day…

I had already done some casting for stripers at Cominicut Point on the mainland and was fully prepared to continue my ownership of a Saltwater Fly-Fishing Skunk on Block Island, famous for striper fishing and other angling delights. Although late summer is a slow time for the shoreline fisher, it’s been said that, “If the year, the moon, and the tides align, you can reasonably assume a great encounter with a striped bass from the shore.” True enough, but something was wrong (again) with my alignment, even though I found it pleasurable to be casting surf-side in the fine remoteness of places like Charlestown Beach.

Franklin angling on Charlestown Beach, against all odds…

We rented bicycles and I pedaled seriously for the first time in 30 years. We had a fabulous work-out through the breezy and pastoral atmosphere of an island that the Nature Conservancy has called “One of the Last Great Places,” managing about 40-percent of the island in a wild and natural state.

a typical rural scene, B. Island…

Thankfully, the island remains largely free of commercialism, with no indication of chain store, neon sign or traffic light. Zoning laws and conservation efforts dating back to the 1960s have largely preserved a wonderful site for wildlife and migratory birds, with rolling hills, broad forest, marshland, beaches, chalky bluffs, and stone walls reminiscent of the Irish coast.

This ain’t yo-momma’s waffles, Belgian style w/ blended fruits @ Buttonwoods Brewery, Providence…

We pedaled and walked vigorously for 17 miles, sharing the roads with numerous other bikes and motor vehicles that, for the most part, were considerate of our island clumsiness. We took breaks for cooling off along the beaches and bluffs, fly-fishing or poking around at natural artifacts, stopping at conveniently located stands where lemonade, water and other refreshments could be purchased.

the botanical gardens at Roger Williams Park, Providence, were amazing…

“No man is an island,” said the poet John Donne, and once again I found this sentiment to be correct. Remaining a piece of my rivertop realm, I acknowledged that all persons, places and things remain interconnected in the global sense. But it was nice to think that on a small oceanic isle, where humanity and wildness find a summer balance, one could know essential freedom and a feeling of separation, too.

Mulhegan Bluff, Block Island…

Southeast Lighthouse, Block Island…

prior to the celebration, Providence…

WaterFire, Providence River….

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“Walt’s Lure” (Rangeley)

One allure of Rangeley camp in northwestern Maine was bird life. The wild shrieking of loons at night brought vivid images from lakeside to the closeness of the tent. It was often accompanied by hoots and chortling of various owls, especially the screech owl. By daylight, a family of ovenbirds did warbler business, stepping fearlessly through the leafy carpet on our site. A northern parula was finally identified, the treetop singer giving me a classic strain of “warbler neck.”

sunset, Rangeley lake

South Bog Stream called me back to its “fly-fishing-only” waters. The dark, tannic pools and riffles, the great irregular rocks and boulders, kept me hopping for brook trout with a small 4-weight rod.

One morning, just after I began to cast, I heard a vehicle crunching to a stop where my wife had set up her lawn chair for some reading time. A storm of screams and shouting fell across the stream, the kind that even a raft of nesting loons could not approximate. Hoping that my wife wasn’t getting strangled at the lonely parking spot, I raced from the stream with figurative handgun cocked and ready to defend, only to find (thankfully) that an overly excited group of camp kids and their counselors were playfully preparing for a hike along a nearby trail.

Another time, I was well below this South Bog site attempting a delicate entry into a difficult, steep-banked pool. I lost my balance, slamming into rocks and water, banging fly rod, shoulder, leg, and elbow, then drawing blood for all the slim mosquitoes ready to feast on a fisherman’s mortality.

the Rangeley district has long been renowned as the home for the largest brook trout in the nation…

Regrouping and cleaning up the wounds, I found that the rod and body parts were probably okay despite the pain. Miraculously, the brook trout (several sizeable, alluring fish) forgave my splashy introduction to their darkened habitat and took the dry fly as if nothing else really mattered.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake… great name, fine water….

One morning I entered the fir-lined Kennebago River, musing on a question often posed by manic anglers: Does fly-fishing give meaning to a life, or does life give meaning to the act of fishing? Reason overtook me like a cloud of gnats. Obviously the water was low and warm and all too shallow. Trout and salmon had departed, migrating to cooler lakes and streams. Escaping the swarms of reason, I took refuge in aesthetics, happy to know that it didn’t matter. It was good enough to be here. My question had no either-or direction or solution…

from the Outdoor Heritage Museum…

Fishing can bring meaning if an angler focuses one-on-one with larger nature, if humility allows the self to be viewed as small– significant, but nonetheless diminutive within the cosmic order. Life experiences, too, bring “meaning” (however one defines it) to the act of fishing and to various outdoor pursuits. In any case, such riverine meditations seem a waste of time and energy unless there’s fun involved, as well.

from O.H. Museum, Oquossic…

Oquossic, Maine is Rangeley’s neighbor to the west. The village is home to the amazing Outdoor Heritage Museum, a showcase for the region’s history and its cultural distinction as a “fly-fishing Mecca.” My second tour of this Museum was even more rewarding than my first one four years earlier. Across the street, we enjoyed unparalleled dining at the “45th Parallel,” a fine spot for haddock, burgers and beer.

from the vise of the great Carrie Stevens, O.H. Museum…

On a hot day in a different watering hole, Leighanne and I had lunch while talking with a pair of teachers doing summer work at Cupsuptic Lake. A customer entered and sat nearby at the bar. He sipped at a beer and did some drawing. He was quiet till my wife and I departed from the teachers and prepared to leave. He called me over, asking my name and how to spell the word “Lure.” He had overheard our conversations and drawn sketches for the teachers and myself. He gave me “Walt’s Lure,” a signed sketch, and told me that he wrote and illustrated books for kids. Yes, Kevin O’Malley has published more than 80 different whimsical books so far, and several have been New York Times bestsellers, too. A pretty cool crossing of the tracks, I’d say.

“Fly Rod Crosby,” O.H.M….

Throughout our visits to Baxter Park and Rangeley, I experimented with an old wet fly pattern known as the Orange Fish Hawk, a soft-hackle largely forgotten by modern fly-fishers but not by trout and salmon. The pattern served me well as a dropper underneath a floating Adams on the West Branch Penobscot and then on the cold Magalloway near Rangeley.

a few of the F.E. Thomas bamboo rods…

The Hawk was a favorite of Ray Bergman (Trout) and of tier Mark Libertone, my late friend from Wellsville, New York. An osprey, the “fish hawk,” flew above me on the big Magalloway as I caught and then released a chunky brook trout on a #8 Hornberg dry. The trout was followed by the largest creek chubs I have ever seen or handled (12 to 16 inches). Thinking of osprey, I tied a small Orange Fish Hawk, a soft-hackle dropper, underneath the Hornberg, hoping for the best.

one of many large chubs (16″)…

Image result for orange fish hawk imagesWith tandem flies drifting on a long cast, I took sudden flight– the old Orange Fish Hawk leapt up in the jaws of a silvery rocket, a landlocked salmon glimmering before its total break to freedom. I was hooked to the Rangeley district by a special lure. The Hawk seemed to hold me happily in place. Unlike the salmon, I would have no simple escape.

from the depths of the Tavern Pool, the skilled penmanship of Kevin O’Malley…

Leighanne confirms that I catch one now & then…

Kennebago River, August “deadwater”…

Mooselookmeguntic…

sunset, Rangeley….

 

 

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Shadow of Katahdin

Preparing for Maine, my wife and I spent several pleasant days with our daughter near coastal Rhode Island. Moving into Baxter State Park in northern Maine, we escaped the noise and madness of the world by settling into a lean-to by a scenic stream and then constructing a small campfire.

Sea-level, Rhode Island…

Abol Campground, Baxter State Park, ME…

Baxter is the state’s largest park (over 200,000 acres) but is not a part of the Department of Conservation’s state park system. It’s governed by its own Park Authority based on former Governor Percival Baxter’s clear priority for this wilderness– the inherent value of the wild comes first, before the recreational opportunities it affords.

Lower Togue Pond, Baxter…

The Tote Road is a narrow, gravelly byway (the only one inside the Park) and it skirts the edges of this wilderness. Hiking trails give access to the mountainous wonder that’s inside. The primary feature is Mt. Katahdin, the 5,280-foot northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and a prominent crown in a system of over 40 mountains and numerous bodies of water.

Little Abol Stream, Baxter…

The only legal form of angling in the Park is catch-and-release, with artificial flies. Nesowadnehunk Stream is noted for wild brook trout, and I prepared to enter its tannic waters lined with balsam firs and singing white-throated sparrows. The mosquitoes did a lot of whining but we shut them up with liberal doses of OFF! The scenic pools and riffles held obliging trout and an ample supply of rocks and boulders that required careful footing. Even with careful steps, I got jammed at one point in a deep, boulder-studded flow where I briefly lost my fly rod. I managed to control the get-away by clamping down with a cleated boot. In doing so, I smashed the lowest rod guide which, consequently, needs to get repaired.

L., peering down Little Abol Falls near camp…

down she goes…

local IPA went down pretty well, too…

Since I no longer feel the need to bag a mountain’s summit, I had no desire to conquer Katahdin’s formidable heights with a 10-hour round-trip scramble. This old body probably could have done it, if pressed, but I was more content doing a one-mile climb (it was 4.4 miles from our camp to the summit) with my wife while strolling through a wonderful diversity of plants and trees including Indian cucumber, Solomon’s seal, moccasin flower, moosewood, cedar, birch, and balsam fir. The shadow of Katahdin, vibrant with the spirit of Thoreau, who climbed here in the mid-nineteenth century, was enough for me.

Nesowadnehunk Stream…

We made several side trips out of Baxter, viz., a fishing jaunt to Big Eddy on the West Branch Penobscot and then, most memorably, to the newly instituted Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, an 87,500-acre wild zone buffering Baxter State Park on the north and east.

rafters survived class IV & V rapids on West Branch Penobscot…

The Monument was officially declared by Presidential Proclamation in August 2016. The land had been donated to the National Park Service and to the American people by Roxanne Quimby, a conservationist and co-founder of Burt’s Bees. The lands and waters are biologically and culturally significant, and a pleasure to explore if you enjoy remoteness with limited amenities and signage and a total lack of services and concessions. The shadow of Katahdin is a blessing issued most summer evenings from the west.

With a mouthful of Adams, brookie can’t enunciate Nesowadnehunk but soon gets released…

The 16-mile Loop Road is a rough gravel byway in the southern Monument, approachable on a 10-mile dirt road heading west from Route 11. Remoteness is, of course, one of Woods & Waters’ great appeals. On this blistering hot Wednesday we would see only one other vehicle while on the self-guided tour. A brief walk to Lynx Pond brought us to boreal haunts of moose, wild blueberries and carnivorous pitcher plants. Beyond the Overlook (mile 6.4) with expansive views of Millinocket Lake and Mt. Katahdin, I saw a fisher leap off the Loop Road, thinking at first that what I saw was a bear cub racing for its mother.

Unfortunately the searing heat and humidity (90-plus-degree days are seldom reached in northern Maine) caused us to forego a hike to Wassataquoik Stream and Orin Falls near the end of the Loop Road. No doubt an autumn visit to that site would be beautiful.

a Baxter mountain, looking up from Nesowadnehunk Stream…

We finished this part of our Maine visit with a cooling swim in the East Branch Penobscot River. Our legs and other body parts looked orange and vibrant in the sunlit bronze-colored pools and riffles of an aging afternoon. The shadow of a large bird crossed us at the water’s edge. Looking up, we saw an elder spirit of the place where the wild country and the human realms intermix. A bald eagle circled on cooling breezes just above a large white pine.

[Coming soon, a four-day ramble through Rangeley, Maine…]

dragonfly loves an old “Maine Special” (F.E. Thomas)…

Katahdin, as seen from Woods & Waters National Monument….

 

 

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Indian Pipe (World Among Many)

With roots set deep, with leaves translucent, the plant’s waxy fingers pull death from the ground. The Corpse Plant, epiparasitic, is a smoky spirit of the dark woods, of fecund banks near rotting beech or pine trees, nodding its head to offerings from water, leaf and soil. The plant takes nutrients given by a fungus down below. I enter its realm and seize one moment, symbiotic, playing with its name– this Indian Pipe, remembering days of dried tobacco shared…

Indian Pipe (Corpse Plant)

I descend the hill from Corpse Plant town, tune in to the news from the Republic, more words from the hatred groups, from Zombies crawling out of holes in honor of Monster Mouth. A Slag-for-Brain reports, “I am a settler. I am descended from settlers– not from immigrants.” Oh really. Well, I’m a settler, too. Descended from lines of immigrants. From farmers, businessmen, explorers, not from media zombies yapping their lameness through the press.

Every species has a context, an ecological connection to a larger world. Here, my woodland of the Indian Pipe.

domestic lilies, too, have an ecological context… here, the writer’s front yard…

The Corpse Plant colony reminds me that it’s not the Earth that brings bad news. As Utah Phillips said, “The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses.” Today we can find the names of fellas (mostly) running the top 100 companies in the world responsible for more than 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 [decolonialatlas.wordpress.com]. The Corpse Plant doesn’t represent the bad news as I hear it. In fact, Indian Pipe feeds on the dead and glorifies the final victory of Nature. Dried tobacco, smoked and shared poetically.

new tent ready for the big woods of Baxter & the lakes of Rangeley, Maine

A bunch of streamers for the R.I. salt & the backwoods of Down East…

So I fish and get back in the flow. [Actually I’m heading to Rhode Island soon & then to off-the-grid Maine for a while, so if I don’t get to your comments right away, I’ll be sure to do so on return.] I’m reminded of an old joke, just to lighten the load. Bob Stanton shared it with us as a Rivertop comment back in July 2013. Many fly-fishers and their spouses might relate, as well as others passionate about the big outdoors, so here it is again…

A man and a woman begin dating. He confesses to her, “I don’t drink, do drugs, gamble, or chase women. But I do fly fish.” After a few years of  marriage, she was heard to say to a friend, “You know, at first it didn’t sound so bad…, but now I kind of wish he did some of the other stuff.”

Cheers!

World among many #1…

World among many #2

World among many #3… Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat, July 2018.

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Lil’ Dorothy’s Riffle

1.  Late morning on a wild trout stream flowing through old farmland. The sky sun-bright and cloudless; the air getting warm. The water summer low and tight with vegetation, not exactly promising for the fisherman… And the brown trout? Spooky as hell.

flowing through old farmlands…

The fish wouldn’t rise to my assortment of tiny dries, nor to my presentation of nymphs. When I decided to try one final pool, I thought of my late friend’s special fly created for the Sulphur hatches of the Genesee and similar rivers. Mark Libertone’s masterful creation, the Lil’ Dorothy, was one of several soft-hackle patterns originating in his vise and proving popular among his many friends in the upstate and international trout fraternity.

I had tried the small yellow fly on several previous occasions but hadn’t yet achieved success. I wasn’t seeing any Sulphur mayflies on the water, but since I often follow my nose when rambling past the confines of society, I attached a self-tied specimen of the Lil’ Dorothy to my leader.

Lil’ Dorothy & wild brown…

It should come as no surprise, now, to hear that I finally found success there in the last pool of the morning. I guess if I hadn’t caught a well-earned brown trout in that pool, I wouldn’t have much to contemplate or to mention here… The Lil’ Dorothy pulled through.

2.  Mid-morning on a favorite trout stream in the Pennsylvania highlands. I began my casting on a feeder stream pouring from a culvert underneath a gravel road. I placed the dry caddis with a long cast to a shimmering pool. A seven-inch brook trout quickly came to hand.

mountain water…

Then, fishing from the shaded, larger stream, I tied a dropper to the floating caddis– yep, a Lil’ Dorothy, the yellowish emerger pattern, the soft-hackle with an orangish abdomen and a Hare’s Ear thorax perfected by my late friend from the Genesee. Tandem flies, a dry fly and a nymph/emerger, make an excellent combination for an angler eager to explore the feeding preferences of trout.

After my initial brook trout taken at the feeder stream, each native that came to hand and got released (at least five or six) favored the submerged soft-hackle (Lil’ Dorothy) over the floating Elk-hair Caddis. My faith in Libertone’s creation was reaffirmed, at least for now.

hemlocks shade the trout stream…

The bergamot, or bee-balm, flowering at streamside, caught my attention– a poetic distraction, like many that will come to us while hiking or fishing…

Bee-Balm

Ragged, handsome heads–/ tubular and red/ with mint-square stems/ growing near upland streams.// Bees won’t touch them/ but hummers will–/ this balm for human/ aches and pains.// Bartram, the naturalist,/ found it coloring/ Ontario’s shore,/ this “Indian plume,”/ Oswego Tea, a mountain/ mint with names/ like blossoms/ on our history.// Only now do I find it,/ wondering what degree/ of chance/ brought us here–// What stroke of luck/ or natural motion/ drives our roots/ instinctively down–// What share of bee-balm life/ is human life,/ is always/ ours to tell.

3.  Mark Libertone succumbed to a long-fought illness back in 2013, but the memory of his work and spirit here in Genesee country remains solidly alive. Mark was an artist, a family man, living in Wellsville, N.Y. on the Genesee River, and he was popular on the fly-tying forums where he shared his flies and knowledge with many students of the fly-fishing world.

fine water for dries and soft-hackles…

The renowned European tyer, Hans Weilenmann, published photos of Mark’s creations and listed a recipe for Mark’s Lil’ Dorothy, the soft-hackle fly created to imitate Ephemerella dorothea, the sulphury and diminutive mayfly:

Hook: Mustad 3906 or 3399A; Thread: Cream or white. Abdomen: Pale orange embroidery thread, #722. Thorax: Cahill-colored Hare’s Ear dubbing. Hackle: Cream or pale ginger. [see photo below, by H. Weilenmann]

On the origin of the pattern, Mark once wrote: “This fly originated years ago when I found a good hatch of E. dorothea coming off the water in my home river, the Genesee. It was late May… I had nothing that came close to the color combination, and the trout were feeding on them regularly….”

The hatching flies had a distinctive orange cast to their abdomens.

Mark experimented with various colors and material but nothing seemed to match his vision for the fly until, browsing through Wal-Mart’s sewing and crafts department, he was struck by one shade of embroidery floss. He bought a pack of the “very pale creamy orange” embroidery. The soft-hackle pattern he developed used a single strand of orange floss for the abdomen, with a bit of Hare’s Ear dubbing for a thorax tightened by a wisp of pale ginger hackle… So, Lil’ Dorothy was born.

She did the trick for me in the riffles of two trout streams, one fine weekend close to home.

Bee-balm blossoming on the banks….

flashback from Alpine, Wyoming, July 2018

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A Purple Haze

The evening’s Genesee was too warm (72 degrees F.) to fish at Shongo so I drove upstream and found safer water (68 degrees) for trout, in case the dry fly action turned out to be good. It turned out to be very good.

The hatchery trout, browns and rainbows, quickly rose to dry fly patterns such as the McGee, the Rusty Spinner, the Adams, and the Adams variant called the Purple Haze– especially to the Purple Haze. They slammed it hard, sometimes taking it deep but, using forceps, I could generally release the barbless hook without producing injury.

Purple haze all in my eyes/ Don’t know if it’s day or night…

Throughout the evening I could feel an inexplicable blues wash through me like the gently flowing river. I’m not sure why, but I linked it to myself, to friends and family, and to the whole inglorious world. Usually, if I’m feeling this way, a visit to the stream or forest is the antidote, the medicine, that heals. On this occasion, though, the numerous trout were slow to bring on the enchantment. When it did kick in, however, the magic blossomed like lilies on a pond.

Am I happy or in misery…

I’m not sure what trout see in the Purple Haze, other than an obvious morsel. It’s an attractor pattern rather than a strict imitation of a natural insect. For myself, this pattern imitates a certain feeling that I had, associations that assisted my activity while casting, playing and releasing fish.

Did we get enough rain?

spotty…

Although I think I caught at least one stream-bred fish among the countless hatchery trout, any sense of wildness in me came from personal actions and associations. It came from casting upstream while catching my balance in stony riffles. It came from bending knees and torso to release a struggling trout. It came from listening to the final evening songs of scarlet tanager, hermit thrush and veery. Wildness came from the Purple Haze link to a Hendrix song and to the psychedelic aura of the early 1970s.

Wildness comes from peering into Pine Creek Gorge from Harrison State Park…

In the breezy morning after this particular outing, I can walk with the early sunshine to the patch of wild black raspberries and enjoy their taste. The blues from the night before are gone. The ripening berries have a purplish undertone beneath a dark exterior. The tongue will crush their “blackcap” sweetness and roll it through the mouth. The taste of wildness floods me like a song.

black raspberries (blackcaps)

Purple haze all in my brain/ (and tethered to a favorite ‘cane’)….

‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!

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The Home Stretch

I was fishing the home stretch of a local river, a favorite section of the headwaters, a place where I could hang my fishing hat, or fly rod, on an aging log and feel as comfortable as a dog beside a winter fireplace. The fog had lifted from the early morning hours; the rains had finally ended (for the weekend, at least), and though the West Branch Genesee was rather high and clouded, it was eminently fishable.

foreboding clouds…

West Branch campsite…

I opened up my summer season with an old Orvis Superfine, a 4-weight rod, placing the dry fly on the riffles with incredible ease. A minute passed, then time vanished for as long as it took to land a foothills rainbow, not to mention a brookie and a small wild brown that slammed the Cahill’s pirouette.

old meadows, West Branch…

upper Pine at West Pike…

It had been a week since my last outing. Many streams and rivers had been high or flooded, so to get back on the drier home stretch was an angling treat. It was summer tough at times, inching through turbulent flows, avoiding fragrant roses and thorny boughs, stepping through chest-high meadow grass and nettles, but a sense of wildness complemented the pastoral fields and forestland. It felt good to be at home.

the lilies of home….

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Ephemera: the Eco-Myths

1/   From mayfly egg to molting nymph, from deep channel into warming shallows, from the underwater shuck into floating dun’s regalia– the two-tailed fly… A few escape the charge of hungry trout, ascend into willows for the garb of ghostly spinners built to breed… The sexes wheel and clasp; some females seek their stream of birth, mistake wet macadam roads for water, strew their eggs on surfaces, their mouths sewn shut by metamorphosis… Unpolluted glides exhale a first big hatch. The anglers bait their visions, swarm and cast.

Kettle Creek headwater…

2/  The call comes in– the urban anglers drop their ordinary lives, drive all night with dreams of trout, unhinged by flies.

3/  Not long ago, I was driving south for trout. I noticed loons on open water, ospreys flying overhead. I stopped to say Hello… The springtime migrants paused and listened. I restarted on my journey, windows down. I heard the green froggy tongue, the spirit of the marsh, resound.

It’s no secret; the forest is mother to the trout…

4/  In the forest, two days out of town, we’re heated underneath our packs, listening to a bear cub bawling for its mother on the top of Greenlick Ridge. The cry– solemn and sublime through solitude: “Find it, find the lost, the grail of leaf and flower, wood and stream; find the Nemeton, the sacred place of flesh and soil.”

5/  Shoulder-wide, the stump holds him just above a clearing in the lumbered woods. He would rise beyond gravity and earth-rape, burrow into the health of old-growth trees… He grips a poplar walking-stick, a crafted gift from beavers in the marsh below. Paradise is gained from a singular hint– a cool wind roughing his skin into bark.

downstream Kettle ‘bow…

6/  The Green Drake mayfly flutters from the stream, becomes a cloud of ghostly evening dancers, somber black-and-white breeders called the Coffin Fly… The large vibrant insects tempt the leap and flash of hungry trout. They lay their eggs on the surface film and die… I peer into gauzy wings of a captured dun, see a woman anorexic walking in loose dark clothes, the face shorn of hope and dream and aspiration. She has fed her soul to the young, to the savagery and richness of the river dance. The mayfly and the deep green valley are as one.

a Bob Stanton dry fly partners with Chester2…

7/  The Indian Pipe has deep roots and translucent leaves, waxy fingers feasting on death– the Corpse Plant– epiparasitic— smoky spirit of the shade, nodding its head to offerings from the stream, to bark-boats sailing on the riffle. Indian Pipe ingests the nutrients released by a fungus, symbiotic moments, thoughts remembering a time of dried tobacco shared.

no Indian Pipe in side-yard of Owl Farm, but memories like “tobacco shared.”

8/  I look at the body of a dry fly, the Green-Ass McGee, and see a skunk in its guinea feather-wing, an arrow in its hook… A tale emerges, one of Bobcat, when the feline was a timorous beast, when he took a squirt from prankster Skunk hiding in the streamside bushes… Skunk regretted what he did, moaning, “Now old Bob will kick my striped ass good!” He ran clumsily from the seething cat (no longer shy, no longer fearful), avenging eyes like a bow cut from a willow wand, an arrow shot from claw and sinew into the bucket of a sorry Skunk… The prankster’s juice spilled on the ground, stinking the trail for days.

Bobcat sez, “Only Old-Man Fisher dares to screw around with Porcupine….”

9/  I fished high and low on Kettle Creek, in present time and old, with June mountains greening over Black Kettle’s fishery, over “strange romantic land” of pioneers who feared the wild… The slack line drifted, tightened repeatedly at the doors of trout, swirling past logs and boulders, gliding through the healthy pools… I heard a sound; I knew the word… Sononjoh… a sunlit riffle sang the ancient name.

Tiger Swallowtails bring the news to late-spring watersheds….

G.-A. McGee, a killer pattern during Kettle Creek & Genesee River caddis hatches…

Kettle Creek, Oleona…

 

 

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Angling With Angels

The inclement weather of late (an overdose of rains) has kept me from the lawnmower and the fly rod more than I prefer, so I’ve had some time to figure things out. I’ve decided (after a little research) that fishing is okay (defined as the quest for fish, an act of hunting for food) but angling is a more artful pursuit (defined as fishing for enjoyment and immersion in Nature).

Day after writing this article, I found the Genesee River in good form…

Just before the storms hit on Saturday I made an angling run to the Oswayo. I wasn’t out to catch a meal, so technically I was out to catch a bit of fun before the rains returned and pushed the high, muddy water over the banks. The midday air was hot and humid; high water had drowned my usual access points. I could have used a little help from above– from something stronger than a human but less omnipotent than a god. Angels came to mind while angling.

Trout fed on nymphs until a strong hatch of Stenonema (Cahills) brought them to the surface…

“Angel” and “angle”– two spelling words mangled by schoolkids and adults alike. Originally, angle (from the Middle English “angel,” rhyming with “dangle”) meant… to fish. At the publication of Dame Juliana Berners’ A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle (1496), “angle” referred to a fish hook as well as to the angle formed by line and pole. As for angels, we now understand that these beings have greater knowledge than we primates have. They are not omniscient but are smart enough to act as messengers from beyond.

the “beyond” of yellow flags as seen from my backyard…

I switched my Green Drake dry fly (no fish rising in the clouded water) to a weighted Woolly Bugger. Like ’em or not, Buggers are a super-pattern, great for winter stream conditions and in warmer weather when the creeks are high and roily. Pulling a Woolly Bugger slowly from the depths, I watched (again) the graceful motions of the marabou tail, reminded of the snowy egrets I observed a week ago while fishing on the coast. The white wings in flight had seemed angelic, not unlike the motion of a big fly squirming on the line.

columbine, angelic moments of the wild…

A religious person (as opposed to a pagan angler) might delve more deeply into the nature of angels, but I’m happy with a few basic tenets. I understand that angels can be good or bad. They’re usually male, and not to be viewed as cute cherubic infants! They are spirits not unlike the souls of man and woman. They can be demonic or heavenly; they can bear messages from God or Satan; they can act as guides, instructors, protectors, and executioners.

view of home from Dryden Hill, before windmills come & scar the scene…

A “Talking Pine” can be angelic when its boughs sigh in the wind:

I am Pinus strobus,/ one who tells the stories/ in these wooded hills of home.// My arms circle on the sky./Rotations guide your eyes/ to constellations/ high above the fire.// My whispers are directions,/ ancient words. This night// accept the healing herbs,/ the compass of my heart./ Reflect on your place,/ your life. See it// merging spark-like/ in my branches.// I am Pinus strobus,/ one who tells the stories/ unto those who wait for the sun.

brown trout from the high waters of Oswayo…

Angels can even take the form of a Woolly Bugger that helps me land a good trout from the river currents– but only when called upon, as if with a prayer, and with a fishing rod named Lady Luck.

Blue flag (iris), Oswayo Creek….

A dry Red-tailed McGee, a Pine Creek caddis favorite (Big Meadows Fly Shop)…

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Salty Undercurrents

With a couple more fly rod outings at Narragansett Bay, I continue my perfect .ooo percentage while casting in the salt. I’m doing worse than the Baltimore Orioles at their game, currently batting .302 in the American League. Although it’s not my favorite type of fishing, casting for stripers is a fun way to explore the bay and marsh environments of Rhode Island. It’s becoming a sort of minor-league obsession for Salty Walt.

Daydreams on a small craft in the bay…

In a classic case of Right-Place-at-the-Wrong-Time, I released an assortment of flies for striped bass in an evening too cool for an anticipated “hatch” of cinder worms. Two days later it was too warm at mid-morning to see much other than a swarm of kayaks and a jet-boat interruption. I reasoned that if I’d been standing at home plate staring at a baseball mound, anticipating the delivery, the count would have been 0-2, with the sun sinking quickly out beyond the wall.

There’s a certain symmetry to the sight & smell…

I haven’t given up entirely. If I was serious about casting flies into the salt, I would hire a guide and camp-out at the hot spots but, as usual, I stubbornly proceed on my own course. I’ve learned that when I come back in the fall, I’ll be ready for the ocean wind at places I discovered a year ago (see “Quonnie Pond”), places that I should have rediscovered on this occasion. The 8-weight rod will be equipped with a new sink-tip line, and the same flies used on this particular outing will be freshened up and ready for some teeth.

Daughter leads us to the old farmhouse (ca. 1750)…

My coastal fishing has become an undercurrent of more important matters. I ply it while visiting my daughter in Providence, enjoying the company and a grand tour of the Narragansett region. I do it while hiking, birding, visiting historic sites, and consuming more than my share of local food and beverages.

dies untied, blue sky abides…

A visit to organic Casey Farm (ca. 1750, now belonging to Historic New England), where my daughter works, was full of late-spring color as the grounds hosted an area Farmers’ Market. The sun-filled hours were filled with conversation, bluegrass tunes and purchases from quiet vendors. We enjoyed a long walk through the farm’s vast acreage to the bay. I especially keyed in to the sights and sounds of various warblers and other songbirds such as orchard orioles (no doubt batting away at insects with more luck than their Baltimore brethren).

can’t say what I wanna say, see?

Next morning, while fishing, I was thankful for the sight and sound of marsh birds like the willet and the small but graceful snowy egret. A pair of the yellow-footed, black-legged egrets circled overhead when I approached too closely to their nesting territory. The birds seemed like feathery angels from a far place here on Earth, a pleasant contrast to my lack of angling hook-ups and the holiday hijinx of the boating crowd.

There’s a certain sentiment in a painted seashell near Pt. Judith…

Although I ate and drank too much and rolled beneath the city wheels while visiting RI, the trip was good. I know that the fishes of the salt still lurk beneath my rivertop dreams. They’ll swim in the brackish depths and wait for my next approach. My casting average  (batting record with an ocean rod) sits firmly at rock bottom and has nowhere to go but up.

Point Judith Lighthouse…

The cinder worm “hatch” is actually a spawning ritual. Imitations are usually drabber, but this bright one has a hint of sunset symbolism for my saltwater attempts….

 

 

 

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