Leighanne and I returned to Slate Run over the Labor Day weekend. Time became an issue here at summer’s end, a concept that was both relevant and trivial. I’d begun my “odyssey” nearly a year ago, in mid-September. At that point I figured I could fish and hike all of Slate, from mouth to headwaters above the Cushman Branch, eleven miles or so, in one year’s passage. Now I knew it wasn’t going to happen, not by mid-September anyway. The run was bigger than it looked on any map, deeper than my 25-year experience could reflect, and well, I didn’t live close enough to the stream to get the job done as originally conceived.
Not that it actually matters. I could finish my climb to the headwaters in real time, according to the schedule of my needs and that of nature itself. It was more fun to take it easy and enjoy this beautiful stream than it was adhering to an artificial framework.
Okay, so it took one hour and 41 minutes for us to drive down to Slate Run village. The drive from the village to a carefully calculated access point between Morris Run and the 7-Mile Hole (assisted by Tom Finkbiner at Slate Run Tackle Shop) took another half an hour. The drop from there down to the run was like a breeze in the pines (well, a breeze with accompanying gnats, until we reached the water). Once again we entered Slate Run Time, relieved of modern humankind’s desire for instant communication and results. I was rigged up for involvement with the stream and its cast of characters– the continued minimal flow of water, the lovely gorge, the fish I hoped to connect with.
Heading downstream toward the point where I had left Slate Run a week ago, I was forced to fish some long, sleepy pools that I couldn’t just walk around. I started hoping that the trout couldn’t read the t-shirt I was wearing: “Don’t Touch My Fly!”
Casting a #12 Green Weenie onto which I had tied a 6x tippet with a soft-hackle fly as a dropper, I shot a long line to the head of pools, or let the flies snake down from the riffles to where the fish were feeding. This was actually a far better approach to the low-water conditions than my typical upstream-and-across strategy. By stalking downstream to the head of pools, you’re basically shielded from the trout’s window by the rippled surface. Although this was more productive water than the stretch I fished a week ago, I did better because I wasn’t stirring up the dace and little guys that crowd the lower end of pools and then alarm my targets at the higher end.
I hit a series of pools I hadn’t seen in a decade or more. Water with a depth of several feet, protective ledges with significant undercuts. Places with names like Shady Rest Pool, Beaver Hole, Washboard, and Three-Fourths Mile Pool. Earlier in the day I spoke with Dave Wonderlich, a staffer with Slate Run Tackle, who had recently captured and released (with video proof) a beautiful brown trout in this long stretch of remote water, a fish in the 23/24-inch range. Amazing. As for me, I was happy to see good action once again. Several mid-sized brookies took the soft hackle and one of them struck the Weenie. One fish I didn’t catch appeared to be a foot in length. And the browns…
I looked down on a nice one that I hadn’t yet startled. Eighteen inches, easily, the best trout of the odyssey so far. Like several other hefty wild browns, it would soon shoot away for less obvious locations. Fall was coming; he wasn’t about to give it up now, and neither was I. The head of Slate, where the Francis and the Cushman branches converge, was almost in my view.