The day following my visit to the Allegheny River side of the big hill’s triple divide, I swung over the summit near Gold, PA and eased on down the Pine Creek headwaters. The southward flowing Pine (by some estimations the “largest creek” in the U.S.), like the Allegheny and Genesee rivers, has its sources on the farms and in the woodlots of the summit. Within 20 miles or so, Pine Creek would enter its renowned Gorge, a deep 50-mile canyon that a Federal Task Force in 1972 ranked “as one of the three most impressive gorge areas in the East.” But before I reached the bottom of “Headwaters Mountain” I pulled off the road at the opening of a hollow, suited up in wading shoes and fishing pants, and started rambling up a feeder stream.
It was another mild winter day with a temperature in the low 30s. The forested hollow formed by this little feeder stream (only six to eight-feet wide) felt cold until I reached the stretches where a sunlit slope radiated warmth. The north-facing slope across the brook was still in shadow and retained a thin carpet of snow. This trout stream, like the Allegheny feeder I fished yesterday, was also low and clear for a February day.
Even though I’ve been fishing and exploring this area of the upper Pine for 25 years, I’ve never visited the little tributary before. Oh, I’ve crossed its lower end on the highway plenty of times and even knew that trout could be found here, but I’d never stopped to take a look before. No matter where you live, no matter what your outdoor interests are, if you start exploring the land and water of your place, you start to reap rewards for your efforts. Here the open woods and little stream were good to me because I entered with hardly any mental baggage– some would say that’s easy for me to do, like carrying my I.Q. in a handkerchief rather than in a backpack. I entered the place with a relatively clear slate, expecting anything or nothing.
It didn’t matter to me that the stream was disappointing from a fishing perspective. I caught a single brook trout about the size of my middle finger on a stonefly nymph, and that was it. Perhaps the count was low for me because my angling strategies were winter dull, but the stream was lacking something too. It had insufficient “structure,” as biologists might say. A minimum of pools, undercuts, rocks, debris, places for a trout to shelter in, places from which they could dart to grab the minimum of morsels offered by these ancient hills.
That was all okay with me. The woods were winter quiet and the solitude rare. They helped to stir the thoughts and feelings of a gray head happy that thoughts and feelings could still rise to the level of recognition. Those interior reactions were like a spring trout, maybe– sluggish from the cold, but hungry for the hatching fly.