Over a period of several days last week, a small group of Trout Unlimited fellows gathered two large dumpster loads of garbage from the headwaters of the Genesee. Working like demented demigods in the beautiful weekend weather, we pulled heavy trash from the ravine. Taking our punishment like Sisyphus, we rolled tires (some of them on rims) uphill on a long pipeline right-of-way with a 40% grade. We pushed tires one at a time uphill to the road; we walked back down for another, and another, till I feel like I’m pushing them still.
Fishing would suck on gorgeous mornings like these, we told ourselves unconvincingly. The Green Drake nymphs would sleep in their beds of silt, unable to rise and hatch, because the sun was too damn bright. The trout would sleep-in, too, although a few might suspect that the boys were out picking up trash, so it might be safe to swim around and feed on bugs.
I hated scooping up disposable diapers but enjoyed walking along the forested brookie waters where the banks were otherwise pristine and where the veerys fluted softly. To reward myself for voluntarily contributing toward a lost cause (most probably), I went fishing in north-central Pennsylvania. Before I got to my favored trout stream, I pulled off the roadway to look for moccasin flowers. I was near the headwaters of my destination where I’d stumbled on the blossoms years ago. I wanted a photo of the strange pink orchid, but the flower wasn’t to be found. I located plenty of starflowers and foamflowers but the moccasins were absent. I may have been in the wrong location or I may have been too late. At least I tried.
Just beyond the headwaters is a roadside trailer camp that’s named “We Tried.” The two words are painted just above the roofline of this faded and perhaps forgotten place. Each time I passed the camp in the 25 years that I’ve come down here to fish, I’ve had to chuckle at the name. We tried. Those campers were like all of us, weren’t they, lusting after bigness and perfection in this life? They hunted for the big bucks, the big toms, and the biggest of bears. They fished at night for the wariest of lunker browns. They sought perfection and satisfaction in their own loose ways, not unlike the crazy garbage seekers who stomp around while planting trees and picking up other peoples’ trash. We try to reconnect with the wildness of our dreams.
J. R.’s old farm contains about a mile of excellent trout stream. A number of outdoor writers have described the stream where J.R. lives with his family as one of the best wild fisheries in the state. The beauty of the stream is made sweeter by the fact that relatively few people actually fish it, other than in lower sections that are stocked with trout. The upper portions of the creek are managed for its wild fish, and that’s where I was headed. The browns in J. R.’s mile would be eager for the hatch of late-May Sulphurs, Grey Fox, Green Drakes, and the spinner form of these emergent insects.
Mac’s Pool, which I named for J. R.’s grandson, was the hot spot on the stream again. Mac, a young middle-schooler with a keen interest in all things angling, caught a 26-inch brown trout in the pool a year ago. He had proudly held the big fish for a photo that appeared in a local newspaper. In the evening as I stood at Mac’s Pool I could hear another heavy brown trout slap the surface for a mayfly dun. It was a pleasant distraction from my view of Mac’s bait-fishing attempts, his ungodly mess of hooks and line and sinkers wound around the branches overhead. About a month ago I’d lost that heavy trout when it took my line down into the stumps of the bend pool. Mac might’ve been able to horse it out on eight-pound monofilament, but on 5x tippet he was gone.
On this occasion the sulphurs and drakes and spinners were all over the evening water. I had several good fish on the line, all of them spitting out the fly before I got successful. Maybe I’d had the big fish on at some point. In the excitement of the late-day rise, it was difficult to know. At least I tried.