Blueliner (for Natives)

I’ve always loved those thin blue lines on topographic maps. I’ve liked their free-form routes through the hills and mountains leading to the larger creeks and rivers that depend on them for sustenance. Those squiggly blue lines on topo maps suggest the poetry of nature, the spell cast by cold flowing water. Whether the lines represent a tumbling mountain brook or a placid meadow stream, they always promise to be small and intimate enough for a streamwalker to appreciate, yet large enough to hint of sprawling mysteries and dream.

I was first drawn to a blue line on a topo map before I reached my teens. A swamp lay between two wooded hills near the home where I was living at the time. The swamp was about a half mile out behind my house and I knew it well from the numerous walks I’d taken to the water and surrounding woods. A topographic map of the area enhanced my fascination with that whole terrain. The outlet of the swamp was a blue line on the topo map, and it led into realms beyond the point where I could walk. I had to imagine what the countryside was like on either side of that mysterious signature. Although I never got a chance to actually follow that particular outlet, many other streams or brooks on topo maps have come to my attention through the years, and I’ve tried to explore as many as possible both in fantasy and in fact.

An important feature of bluelines that attracts me is the possibility of finding native trout. Bluelines in other parts of the country might feature other species of interest, but here the native trout stirs imagination like no other. Many of the small, cold streams that I’ve fished over the years have a name written on a map, but others have no name that I’m aware of. The streams are often headwaters ranging in size from jump-across to 12 feet wide. I’ve been lucky to live near bluelines for most of my life. Unfortunately, too many of them no longer hold native trout. In a vain attempt to offset the loss on a personal basis, it seems that I’m always searching for a new brook to explore.

I walked downhill from the country road to the stream that flows from a major hilltop that contains no camps or homes or farms. Although this blueline is less than six miles from home and holds a remnant brook trout population, I had never fished it for some odd reason. I’d assumed the stream was simply off limits and probably uninteresting. I’d been concentrating on fishing and learning the multitude of streams belonging to the major watershed across the big divide. And that divide was right above me on the ridge where this water has its start. Seeing the living stream, I had to shake my head– how did I manage to ignore it all these years? Suddenly, after thinking I’d seen and fished all the promising flows within a 10-mile radius of my home place, I was looking at a whole new world. It wasn’t the first time I’d made a backyard discovery on this scale. Whatever led me to the place reinforced the notion that streams and rivers had sucked me into their realm like a water droplet, and that these waters have no limitations and no end.

I tied a nymph to the leader and rolled it into the plunge-pool. Before the first brookie struck, I noticed a mink hunting its way quickly up the streamside and approaching my location at a little waterfall. It darted in and out of the many nooks and crannies in the opposite bank, and when only 20 feet from where I stood, the mink leapt cat-like at a tiny winter wren, missing it, but underscoring the fact that mink are highly efficient predators. A hefty brook trout was now on the line, and within five minutes a second wild fish, similar to the first, came to hand. Concerns and worries from the universe beyond took a brief vacation and left me kneeling at the plunge-pool like a pilgrim.

 I fished well up into the forest, amazed at the number of waterfalls and miniature holding spots for trout, despite long stretches of non-productive water where the streambed was a sheet of slate. Variety was key on this water, and variety made an imprint on me. It seemed I was in the process of internalizing water, letting its content form a space inside that would last (although only time could verify this notion). I came to a brush-clogged feeder stream that pulled me from the main brook and offered an alluring digression. Despite the hardship of dropping a fly line into this clogged tributary, I made an offering at a knee-deep hole and saw the flash of a sizeable trout that spooked into safety of an overhang. I cursed in amazement, probably not in an audible way, probably not loud enough to be heard by tumbling water, and certainly not in a manner heeded by the forest where a winter wren bubbled its intricate song. I simply cursed, raising the level of excrement to a sacred position. So here was another tiny stream– perhaps intermittent in a drier season, just a step-across in early April– rushing from the wooded slopes and over these human limbs, entangling my bones and flesh and aspirations.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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2 Responses to Blueliner (for Natives)

  1. Ken G says:

    Gazatteers are Gods gift to fishing man. I have a number of small flowing waters around me, but I think of them as nameless ditches. Some look intriguing, but always assumed they were homes to nothing more than minnow families. If we ever get rain, I should go see if I’m wrong. Maybe they hold smallies the size of your trout.

    • Sometimes intuition or a clue from previous experience will single out one of those “ditches” and tell you, when and if the rain finally comes,you shouldtry that streamand,perhaps, become amazed. Thanks Ken.

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