Who would have thought that a weekend day in mid-November would beckon the upstate fisherman like this? The weather was sunny, warm and windless. Though my stream of choice, in northern Pennsylvania, was low and clear, the vegetation had been trampled down by frost, and I was ready to explore new water.
I figured that the “real reward” for a catch and release fly-fisherman was out in the wild somewhere. It might come from close observation of a brightly colored trout. It might accompany a lonely mountain view, a glance at an eagle, otter, or migrating bird. It might appear with the chance encounter of another human wanderer like myself.
I looked to one of my favorite trout streams for that autumn reward. A similar outcome might be found in almost any life situation, whether it be in outdoor recreation, in business, or in other personal pursuits. All it takes, I think, is the use of our opened senses and the will to seek and learn.
What I didn’t want to find was the ironic pay-off– the broken-down vehicle, the shattered ankle, that kind of thing. And I certainly didn’t need to discover anything of biblical proportion, like falling off the cliffs at this mountainous stream. I know a fly-fisher who accomplished that distinction, who fell from these cliffs and broke some bones and had to spend a bad night in the gorge before his rescue the following day.
I descended into the gorge to a point where I had finished angling earlier in the year. I assumed that the pool was about a mile upstream in what could be the most remote section of the run. As far as I knew, there was no other way for an angler to get there but to wade against the flow and to revel in the crisp, golden air.
Casting a bead-head nymph, I managed to fool a couple of browns and a brookie. I came to a flat section of woodland crowned by massive white pines. Shale cliffs rose abruptly on the water’s opposite side. A long, deep pool hugged the rocks. It was the first in a series of three fine pools shadowed by the slopes. Small trout darted for cover in the lower pool; a pair of spawning browns (one of them perhaps 15 inches) got startled in the shallows of the middle pool, and at the upper end I saw the unexpected…
A huge wild brown swam slowly for the safety of ledges deep within the blue-tinged water. I stepped in slowly to the level of my knees and made a few delicate casts, knowing there was no chance of a hook-up now, but doing so in tribute to the largest trout I’ve ever seen in this section of the state.
I would have to schedule a return in spring, come Hell or turbulent water. With the vision of a 2-foot behemoth swimming around in my head, I began the long walk back to where I started from. Unlimbering at the car, I saw a truck pull up and stop. A couple of older gents, named Mike and Tom, were curious about the fishing and told me they were headed toward their camp to get some work done while the weather was amenable. They were friendly and humorous and shared a lot of mountain knowledge. I told them I was ready to fish one more section of the stream a few miles up the road.
I parked along the narrow gravel course. I strode into the water, ready to fish for maybe one more hour. Lifting the bamboo rod for a back-cast, I didn’t know the fly was caught by something on the ground. The tip section splintered and snapped in two.
I felt the stab of recognition but didn’t cuss myself for the blunder. At least not as loudly as expected. The break would prove expensive, to be sure, but I was feeling good about the day and found it difficult to get pissed. I could work at getting a replacement tip this winter.
For now it was good enough to think about the real reward. The earlier day had been a pleasure. Although the culmination of events held a certain irony and blues, I paid for it with a minimum of grief.