Brook Trout Basics

For some it was the first day of archery season in the woods of Pennsylvania, but for me it was a day for brook trout basics. I was on a favorite brookie water with the forest brightening on the slopes around me and with the colors of native trout intensifying with the spawn. The morning sun had disappeared and by noon I was stalking like a heron through “a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.”

The creek, clear and cool at 49 degrees, was flowing at a normal pace. Brown caddis hatched sporadically. The day seemed perfect for my work with a seven-foot fly rod and a #14 Elkhair Caddis tied to a tapered leader. I worked upstream slowly through a series of pools and riffles, making long casts where the opened banks allowed, dropping roll casts and bow shots where the boulders, logs and undercuts gave promise.

I recalled it was the birthday of my father who died a few winters back. I wasn’t sure what triggered the memory but I reasoned that the misty hours and their colorful accents might have spurred the recollection. My father wasn’t a fisherman but he loved the rural life and he taught me a few things early on. I was seven years-old when he explained the wonders of bird migration and the beauty of tiny creatures called wood warblers. I’d be lucky to learn of them, and I never forgot. Perhaps Blackburnian, yellow-rump, Canada and other warbler species had lent their migratory colors to the hues and patterns of the brook trout in my mind.

Brook trout action kept my thoughts in line and eyes focused on the water. At a wild camp location where a spur of the Susquehannock Trail connects the stream to the valley heights, I found a wood turtle basking in the warmth of mud and autumn grasses. I asked the turtle if it wouldn’t mind me placing it on a nearby picnic table for a photograph. The turtle didn’t seem to mind, but only if its head could be withdrawn from view. Less shy was a green heron I encountered later in the afternoon. I was pulling in the tiniest brook trout in all of Penn’s Woods when the heron, unbeknownst to me, flew out from a bank of tall grass and nearly grabbed the infant trout before sighting me and pivoting downstream.

Although a lot of anglers think otherwise, herons are not typically a threat to healthy trout populations. Maybe the fishermen are jeolous of the long eye and the dominant, infallible beak, but think about it– herons and trout have evolved together for eons. If we want to worry about a threat to trout stability, we’d do better to become involved with slowing down man-made climate change and, on a local level, run-away hydrofracking operations for the gas inside Marcellus Shale.

Herons, turtles, warblers, witch-hazel blooms– they were all a part of brook trout fishing on a day in late September. A dozen brookies came to that singular caddis dry fly, and a dozen trout returned to their haunts in the upper Pine Creek watershed. It was good brook trout economics and a very good exchange.

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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7 Responses to Brook Trout Basics

  1. sonofwalt says:

    I enjoyed the journey as usual, and especially loved that you quoted Keats’ “To Autumn.” I love the September mists and the cool mornings. I didn’t get to get out to one of the hawk watches yet, so I’ve missed the broad wing migration. Sigh. Always love watching the fog burn off from up on a ridge.

    My youngest and I spotted a green heron along the West Branch of the Susquehanna near his home in Lock Haven last week. I wasn’t sure if he’d gotten the nikons focused in until I heard him gasp. Then we watched her roll on those wings down stream to the island. I love this blog of yours. I have started coming here for my Zen moments!

    • SonofWalt, It’s great to have a poet like yourself aboard. Thank you for the comments. Yes, Keats is one of my favorites, and this season always brings him in a little closer to me, like a heron keeping its eye on the riffles. As for Hawk Mountain, I’ve been meaning to go there for years at this time of year, but haven’t made it yet. It’s on my list.


      • sonofwalt says:

        Thank you!

        I tend to go more often to Stone Mountain, south of State College because it’s far less crowded. Just a small group of folks with field glasses and scopes on or around a 12 by 12 deck build onto the rocks along the spine of the ridge. You park and then walk out, maybe a quarter of a mile, over the boulders. But if you haven’t been hawk watching before, Hawk Mountain is great for the sheer amount of resources and information. That’s where I first learned the basic skills of identifying a speck at a distance, but you’d be surprised how many small hawk watches are out there worth spending a day at.

        I did a youtube reading of Keats’ “To Autumn” about two years go or so. I’ll have to dig that out for this season and repost it to the blog.

  2. Thanks for the info on Stone Mountain. I may have to check it out. Hawk could be too famous/crowded for me, but a small watch on a less known outcrop sounds real good. I’ve watched raptors for most of my life, but have usually opted for a local ridge when migration is underway.

    • sonofwalt says:

      Yes, sadly Hawk Mountain has become something of a victim of its own success, though I do appreciate the educational opportunities they provide and the environmental work they do. There is a fire tower on private property (the owner likes hawk watchers though) above Tyrone on Bald Eagle Ridge. There is also a great spot on Jack’s ridge, south of Stone that is right beside the parking lot. And a great lookout in a notch north of Carlisle called Wind Gap. I’ve had some success in recent years at a lookout on Shade Mountain, but the winds need to be more northerly since it doesn’t look over the southeast side. I love having other Pennsylvania bloggers to chat with about these things. Thanks, Walt!

      • I may not get down that way this season of the big migration but the next time I’m heading toward VA in spring or fall I’ll plan to hit one or more of these locations. In the past I’ve stopped to fish in the Carlisle region so it wouldn’t be out of the way. Meanwhile I’ll keep an eye on the local ridges. Always catch a number of hawks and eagles (golden eagles thru November). Thanks!


  3. Pingback: Of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness | The Dad Poet

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