[The four posts of my “Autumn Journal” series from this time of year in 2011 were moderately successful, in my opinion. To celebrate the first birthday of Rivertop Rambles, I’d like to add a post or two to the Journal series here in present time, beginning with this entry from a visit to the West Branch Genesee. As always, thank you for your readership!]
It was the last day of the regular New York trout fishing season, so I decided to check a few of the area streams I hadn’t visited in a while. If the streams looked inviting I’d consider one more round of casting on them before their long rest that would last until next April. Unfortunately the streams were low (same old story here because of the long-standing drought) and hemmed-in all too tightly with high grass and alders, so I decided to cross the state line and work the West Branch Genesee where the water level would be stronger and the season open for catch-and-release fishing.
The lower end of the river section that I chose was clogged with new beaver dams, the fruit of wonderful creativity on the part of these rodents with expanding populations, but a questionable activity for the health of a fishery here. I walked upstream through the low, clear water, pushing back some heavy streamside growth, casting hopelessly into shallow riffles, into slow eddies and their log-jams, and into the inevitable catch of alder branches. I came out of the lower end lucky to have caught and released a little brown trout that had made a poor decision.
I thought about some lines from my old poem concerning the West Branch: “September willows/ line the banks and mask/ corn fields, woods…” I approached some pools near the Heagy camp and saw my first good fish, a hefty brown that shot away to the safety of sodden debris. Wild trout and the hatchery fish that have survived the season this long can’t afford a moment’s inattention. I watched a green heron lift away from streamside vegetation and circle off downriver. Again, “…Raccoons leave gnawed/ cobs and pawprints./ Muskrats lengthen trails/ beneath asters…” A season may end, but life shifts onward.
In the upper stretch, by a riverbend where the local watershed group installed extensive mudsills as a rehab project, I saw a mink approaching with a field mouse in its jaws. The mink disappeared in a log-jam for several minutes then approached me again as I stood near the river’s edge. Apparently it had eaten the mouse and was looking for bigger prey. Its black beady eyes fixed on my own. I remembered a recent news story from Pennsylvania regarding a wild otter that attacked a fisherman standing in a river and that had to be beaten to release its hold. I recalled the story of my friend, Bob White, from Hornell, New York, who once got attacked by a beaver while fishing in the Genesee. Bob broke his fly rod over the head of that beaver while attempting to shake it off his leg. He wound up being treated for rabies, I believe. Anyway, I laughed nervously at the little black weasel that approached to a point only nine or 10 feet away. “I want to get your picture,” I said. I moved slowly for my camera tucked away in a pocket of my vest. I’d never actually spoken to a mink before, and I don’t think the critter was any more certain of the situation than I was, so it turned and quickly disappeared.
I made a long cast with a dry Black Ant to the head of a riffle near the riverbend and hooked a nice rainbow trout. Several casts later I was on another rainbow that swam for many feet to get that fly. This trout was larger and more furious than the first ‘bow. It leapt and broke free. And that was my finish for the day.
“…Three brook trout/ seize the fly./ Fog regains the valley./ Twig by twig/ the silent birds/ move south.” The regular season for trout may have ended in New York, but other seasons, special seasons, picked me up for the days ahead.