It looked like my best shot at fishing Slate for a while, so I went. Conditions were not ideal. The streams were low; the sky was blue, but the air temperature was in the 70s, and Slate Run itself checked in at 62 degrees. Fish today, I thought, for the world could end tomorrow.
Driving into Slate Run village, I saw that big Pine Creek was flowing poorly. “People think it’s the end of the world,” said Tom Finkbiner, owner of Slate Run Tackle. “Pine is running at 70 cfs. (cubic feet per second), but here in August 1939, it registered only 12 cfs.! A mere trickle, yet the stream survived and it’ll probably do okay with this drought too.” Tom’s knowledge of the area streams and their natural history has a way of putting the local fishing picture into perspective. When we spoke about the recent but long-awaited electro-survey of Slate and Cedar Run (July 16/17), Tom agreed that the results found by the PA Fish & Boat Commission were promising.
Two sites on Slate Run, one of them below the Two Mile Hole and the other one above the Morris Run Bridge, were electro-surveyed in 2004 and then again this past July. Such an operation sends a current through a stretch of water, an electric jolt that briefly stuns the trout. The fish are netted, measured, counted, and quickly released. Other fish found in Slate Run, in addition to the wild browns and brook trout, included sculpins, dace, darters, and madtoms. Data from the survey will be analyzed completely and made available to the public in the months ahead. The state’s survey team in July was accompanied by several representatives of the Slate Run Sportsmen, by other state officials, and at least one area resident.
I thought about the survey results as I walked down into the gorge to the old Morris Run Bridge where the previous leg of my “Odyssey” had ended. From there I began an afternoon of fly fishing directly upstream of the bridge, perhaps in a pool where July’s electro-fishing was conducted. Earlier, at the fly shop, Tom and I agreed that, given such low stream conditions and a blue sky overhead, the best approach would be to sink a weighted Green Weenie (wet fly) in the deeper holes. I resisted the temptation of approaching with a long tapered leader and a dry terrestrial on the tippet. It was highly unlikely that trout would be rising in these conditions. The Weenie would be tied to a shortened leader and dropped carefully into darker water, especially under ledges where the larger fish hid by day.
That was the plan. Although I caught nothing in the more than two hours I fished, I’m pretty certain the strategy was the best I could’ve used this day. I saw enough to know the stream remained alive and well. I shook off a lot of tiny fish and nearly connected with a sizeable trout that chased the fly and missed. It was good to hike into the heart of this wild area and sense the utter solitude at summer’s end. Mosquitoes were a nuisance now and then; the timber rattlesnakes were off sunning on some distant ledge; the trout, if unavailable now, would be coming around within a year or two (assuming favorable weather conditions prevail).
Unofficially, the electro-survey of July indicated that young-of-the-year browns were fairly numerous in Slate, a good sign, to say the least. Less encouraging was the fact that brook trout were relatively few in number. It was noted that certain year classes (fish populations born in the same year) may have been missing. If so, an absence could be due to drought or high water events that affected the fish of certain years. As for larger fish netted during the survey, a 16 and a 20-inch brown (both wild) were found in the two short stretches of the run.
As I write, I like to think that a Green Weenie (ridiculously easy to tie) may soon drift and tumble through a darkened grotto and entice a 20-inch brown. It happens every now and then on Slate and Cedar Run, or so I hear.