The Slate Run Odyssey, Part 8

Earlier in the month, at the summer meeting of the Slate Run Sportsmen, wife Leighanne won a small box of dry flies in a raffle. She gave them to me– six dry flies that are more than ordinary lures for trout. They’re Blue-winged Olives (cutwing design) tied by the late Russell Blessing, a legendary Pennsylvania fly-fisher who not only loved to fish Slate Run, but who also designed one of the most famous and effective fly patterns of the last half century, the Wooly Bugger.

[Ed.: Correction: Flies tied by Russ Mowry, not Blessing. Please see comment section]. I decided to fish one of Blessing’s flies on Slate Run while preserving the other five uncast. From what I’ve learned about the modest creator of the Wooly Bugger, he would surely have wanted his creations to be fished on a beautiful mountain stream, and that’s what I intended to do, at least in part, in homage.

On the last outing of my quest to fish all of Slate Run in a year, I finished at the mouth of Red Run. That’s the point where I needed to begin today. I drove upstream and turned onto the cliff-hugging Francis Road. I bobbled the steering wheel as I scrambled up the narrow course that was recently resurfaced for a mile with crushed rock. You don’t drive fast on Francis Road. You take it easy if you like your life and don’t care to plunge down the treetop highway to the gorge. I parked at the junction with a dead-end track called Morris Run Road, and suited up. Anglers with a Jeep or truck could probably roll down to the creek in one piece (the road ends at a camp beyond), but I prefer to play it safe instead and walk the half mile distance.

Initially I planned to ramble for another half mile down to Red Run without fishing, but one pool near the bridge proved irresistible. At mid-morning, the deep pool with its giant boulder seemed the right place to try a Blue-winged Olive tied by Russell Blessing. I wish I could say that a hefty brown trout rose from that beautiful pool but, alas, nothing happened there. And nothing happened for the next several hours as I tried out a variety of wet and dry fly patterns including Little Yellow Stonefly, Sulphur, Black Ant, and Hare’s Ear. Nothing happened as I worked the stream from Red Run back to the Morris Road bridge. Well, almost nothing happened. I even tried a Woolly Worm, an ancient fly pattern that Blessing modified in the late 1960s by adding a maribou tail. His seven year-old daughter studied the new creation and thought it looked like a “Woolly Bugger,” and hence a star was born.

Slate Run was looking good. The flow seemed normal for late June. The water temperature was a perfect 60 degrees. So I don’t know why the fishing was so lousy. (Slate has seemed a bit impoverished since last fall when I began my “odyssey”). I’m a 25-year veteran of fishing the run and I have never seen it fishing so poorly. I’ve had good luck on many other wild trout streams this season, but Slate has been a mystery for the last couple of years or more. There are no obvious reasons for an absence of trout, if indeed the fish are missing and not just at an ebb in the population cycle. Several ideas have been offered by anglers and members of the Slate Run Sportsmen, an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Pine Creek watershed and of fly-fishing on Slate Run. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is scheduled to do an electro-survey of the run this July (perhaps on this very stretch of water near Morris Run), and hopefully the science will have answers to our questions.

Other points of interest along this stretch include Red Rock Pool and White Rock Pool, two attractive spots between Red and Morris runs. Red Rock is fairly large with small cascades at the head of it. I’ve had some luck fishing the pool before, but neither wet nor dry nor soft-hackle emerger could do a damn thing today. White Rock is a deep bend just below the mouth of Morris Run. Willows line its south edge, and a whitened ledge is featured on the north. It too has been productive for me in the past. Beyond it, I even stalked the lower pools of Morris Run, edging my way into the mini-glen with a trusty Royal Wulff on the tippet… Nothing.

One of the problems today was the clear blue sky. It’s great for yachting and for eating ice cream cones, but not much good for trouting here in June. However, at the moment that the Morris Bridge came into view again, I was casting an Adams under hemlock branches and in shadows of a ledge when, lo and behold, an 8-inch brook trout seized the fly and came to my hand. May the gods of sky and mountain bless him, please. That trout saved me from a skunk. And two or three casts later– whoa, another rise, and miss, from a larger trout. But that was it. Fishing could’ve been worse, but not by much. We’ll see what the state survey says about the run this summer. And we’ll see what my future walks reveal when I come back to the stream later in the year.

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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5 Responses to The Slate Run Odyssey, Part 8

  1. jed says:

    Hi Walt, great pictures, sorry to tell you the flies were tied by the late Russ Mowery. Tight lines.

    • Jed, Thanks for correcting me about which Russ actually tied the flies. I don’t know how I screwed that up so royally. I’ll try to figure a way that I can make the correction in the post. We were talking a lot about Blessing at the SR meeting, and I think that’s what got me haywired. Walt


  2. P.S. A note for my readers: I stand corrected. BWOs were tied by the late Russ Mowry, another legendary Slate Run angler, and not by Russ Blessing. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  3. sonofwalt says:

    I am not a fisherman, but there are few things that bring peace to my spirit so much as seeing a lone fly fisherman midstream in Slate Run, Pennsylvania, sending his line back and forth. There is something so serene and pure about the sight. I suppose it’s the main reason I enjoyed the movie “A River Runs Through It,” though I know the movie had a plot and other elements, it was the feel of being home in Penn’s Woods that I got while watching it (I think I was in the flat lands of central Indiana at the time).

    I started hiking on the Black Forest Trail when I was 17, but I haven’t been in that neck of the woods enough over recent years. Thank you for these posts that resonate with me so well, the birds, the stream. . . the peace. Something much needed in this world these days. Thank you.

  4. Son of Walt,
    You’re mighty welcome, and thank you for the thoughtful commentary. I find it interesting that your hikes on the Black Forest Trail near Slate Run have helped you relate to the posts. You’re right, it isn’t necessary to be an angler to appreciate our natural world; any outdoor sport enjoyed with passion will get to the poetry of it. And that’s the point behind my writing. I appreciate your insight on the matter and look forward to reading more of your own work. Happy trails!

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