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 The turtle didn’t seem to mind, but only if its head could be withdrawn from view.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.