The Slate Run Odyssey, Part 11

“It’s time this group consider having Slate Run stocked with trout again, like it was before 1995.” Actually the local camp-owner who declared this, who belatedly entered a sportsmen’s meeting near Pine Creek, had it wrong. The Slate Run stocking program didn’t end in the 1990s; it actually ended in the 1970s. But what’s a little misinformation at this late hour, and let’s bury the notion of a hidden agenda.

“I’ve fly-fished all over the world, from Argentina to Montana to New Zealand, and if anybody knows wild trout, I know wild trout. I’ve fished Slate Run twice this year, and I know there’re few trout left in it. I recall when anglers came here from all parts of the state and country to fly fish; there were paths on both sides of the stream, and now nobody wants to fish the run because the trout aren’t here.”

We won’t tell that to the guys who caught and released 20-inch browns, wild fish, in the run this year. We won’t tell that to the PA Fish & Boat Commission that electrofished Slate Run this past July. Those college-educated fellows might start disbelieving all their data. No, we’ll keep our fat mouths shut. We know we can’t argue with a guy who knows it all, a guy who’d like to see big hatchery trout in Slate Run near the camp for all his well-heeled buddies. They could all drive down to Pine Creek and its mile on mile of fine stocked  waters, but it wouldn’t be the same as catching factory trout near camp.

Not to worry, though. Under current angling legislation in PA, it would be illegal to stock Slate Run with hatchery trout. The run is listed as a Class A Wild Trout Stream that, by definition, needs no more enhancement than a beauty queen needs a boob job. And the folks who love Slate Run and wish to keep it free and wild, through thick and thin, greatly outnumber the few braying asses who push a personal agenda.

I wish I knew Slate Run as well as I thought some years ago. I’ve learned I don’t really know it very well at all, despite a quarter-century of fishing there. That’s why I decided to review the run by fishing and hiking its entirety within a year or so. If I meet my goal, I’ll have earned a more honest picture of a wild place and its watershed. If I accomplish what I say I will, I’ll probably continue shooting off my mouth about the fishing here, but at least I’ll have a notion of what in the hell I’m talking about.

If you ever start getting bored with life and feel it’s just a simple thing, you might do well to go outdoors and take up with a trout stream. Place a wild trout stream under your wings and decide to fish or walk it from the creek’s mouth to its source. Fish or hike the stream until it’s but a spring that issues from the ground. Try to know it as if you and the stream will never be apart.

There’ll be twists and turns and dark unfathomed pools. There’ll be undercuts and long interminable stretches that will make you wonder how the hell you ever came to such a pass. There’ll be dark matter, and beautiful bursts of light. You’ll get turned around at times and lose sight of your goal; you’ll have thoughts and expectations pulled out from beneath you like a wash of gravel, but you’ll always come back to the point you started from. You’ll always learn something more. You’ll have the inspiration to wade on and discover what the scene looks like around the bend, to see if maybe that’ll be the place where a mythical trout strikes the fly.

Life is never simple, but of course we try to simplify it when we can. I try to simplify long-standing thoughts and feelings of Slate Run by fishing it from mouth to headwater in a year. That makes more sense to me than compressing myself into some religion or a mind-set that allows someone else or something supernatural to have power over what I think and do. Maybe I’m like the beavers up above the Washboard Hole that try to dam the run and ensure their own survival. A dam won’t last forever, but it makes sense for a while.

And so I dropped down onto Slate last week following the autumn meeting of the fly-fishing group. I had limited time for casting, and I had a gap of stream to fill. The gap was maybe half a mile or so. According to the rules I set for myself last year, I had to fish the run sequentially, so I had to cover what I missed the last time out before I could head upstream. The Slate Run gap could be approached more readily by a drop-off from the high gravel road, but the problem was I never really found the way. Not yet.

Covering old ground from the Shady Rest Pool down to the Three-Quarter Mile Pool and beyond is a long haul when you’ve only got an hour or two to fish. A gap, a shorter gap, remains to this day. I’ll get it next time with a long wade up from the Morris Run Bridge. I knew long ago that my quest wouldn’t be an easy one. I’m glad I can simplify it with the fun of fishing with a fly.

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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8 Responses to The Slate Run Odyssey, Part 11

  1. Jed says:

    Good job Walt.

  2. Dale Houseknecht says:

    Well put my friend!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Good post Walt. I’ve really enjoyed “The Slate Run Odyssey” posts. What a fine concept or ideal or whatever one calls it – to know a waterway from start to finish, and more importantly, to divine it’s secrets. I know a few waters like this, and they are like old and dear friends to me.

    • Bob, They’re like “old, dear friends,” indeed, and mentors, too. When I first settled in my place, some 30 years ago, one of the first things I felt compelled to do was hike the neighboring stream to the top, to see what was there and to learn something, anything, that the waters brought along. The trout in the stream were history, but a lot of other clues were offered. It’s recreational activity that can teach us stuff, as well.


  4. Dan Helm says:

    What a great piece, Walt! Thank you! To many of us there is a difference between “fishing” Slate and “loving” Slate. It’s evident that you and many of the rest of us can do both but it’s not possible to just “fish” Slate and remain totally satisfied. There will be high times and low times but we still love her and always will!

  5. Dan,
    Exactly! There’s something about Slate that is special and extraordinary, something that puts a spell on our fishing moments there and makes us want to keep returning and enjoying. If it were simply a matter of fishing, we’d stay on waters that are more accessible and maybe even more dependable (if they’re regularly stocked). I’m glad there’re folks like yourself who appreciate the wild beauty of this Keystone gem!

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