A Peerless Transition

It looked like a good day to stay home from work and to check up on the trout. The temperature was rising into the 40s, and it said farewell to winter. The streams and rivers would soon be rising from the rains and snow-melt. My fishing options would be few.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I would seize the moment and try like hell to enjoy it. The river would be high and off-color, but fishable, even at 40 degrees of water temperature. This would be my first outing with the Founders’ Rod (see previous post). The robins, red-winged blackbirds, grackles, and song sparrows were singing their new territories, and I was looking forward to this evening– I would climb my hill to watch the woodcock in their “sky dance” flights against the first stars and shining planets.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had the Heddon fly rod with me and it proved to be a casting machine. The cork handle seemed husky and comfortable (with reverse half wells cork). The walnut spacer looked its age, worn from years of “honorable use.” No words will describe the rod’s taper, but I loved the way the instrument could place a 5-weight Cortland Sylk line on the waters. I imagined my casting loop reflected in the circular pattern of a woodcock’s flight at dusk.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trout don’t care about this rod, one way or another, and it probably makes no difference in my catch rate unless, of course, something psychological is kicking in without my knowledge. I checked my copy of John Gierach’s book, Fishing Bamboo, to see what he thought of rods like the #35 Peerless, and this is what I found: “… the top (Heddon) models– the Model 35 Peerless, Model 50 President, and Model 1000– are magnificent.” Okay, I thought, the word “magnificent” sounds… good enough to me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI felt pretty lucky wading around in the deep dark pools, but then I also felt some trepidation. I was casting someone else’s quality rod, and stepping on the knife’s edge of the moment. I would be extra careful until getting used to this. I didn’t want to strain the rod tip when the fly got snagged. If I took a sudden swim in icy water, I didn’t want the rod down underneath me. I would be a bit neurotic for a while because the first step on the road to elsewhere always seems the biggest one of all.

I saw the first few stoneflies of the season, and I tried to get the fish to take a beadhead imitation, but their preference wasn’t for the stone. They fell for a light-colored Woolly DSCN3987Bugger and a Glo-Bug.

I caught four standard rainbows and lost several others. The fishing was less than spectacular, but with a fresh new season in the air, and with a stately bamboo in my hand, the day had been satisfying. As for the prospect of watching the woodcock flights at dusk, I paused to think about the bird.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince 1973, the year I first encountered the species at their evening ritual in March, the “sky dance” flight (thank you, Aldo Leopold) has marked the true arrival of spring. I was looking forward to evenings of participation with these high and circular flights.

With the warm air and the hooting of owls from distant woodlands, the woodcock flights brush against the stars and crescent moon. The bird’s fearless notes, the twitter of air through its wings, present a peerless spectacle of beauty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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14 Responses to A Peerless Transition

  1. Les Kish says:

    Good choice Walt, getting out that is. As they say…… “Carpe Diem”….seize the carp!(?)

  2. Seizing carp, as in Carpe Diem, is in there, too, Les, with a fly rod when it’s time. Or in whatever it takes to live life to its fullest. Thanks, bud, and hope you’re feeling better.

  3. I agree with Les: It’s always a good day to skip work and go fishing. (The only question is whether it’s a day when you can skip and still have a job.) However, I can’t imagine trying to navigate the rocks and trees while casting with a piece of history.

  4. Hi Jim, I guess that’s what I meant by walking on a knife’s edge, not knowing which way it’ll cut. With my job, luckily, I’ve got enough sick days stored up that I can afford to be sick for trout every now and then. As for fishing with a piece of history in my clutch, I’m pretty sure that my enablers at the club would want me to relax and just fish the thing without concern for breakage or whatever. The rod’s lasted for 75 years of so, but I’ll be as careful as I generally am with the rods. And luckily, bamboo is a pretty tough material.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Enjoying your travels with history in your hands and the deep respect you have for it. Nice fish too!

  6. Thank you, Anonymous, for reading this and taking the time to comment. Am pleased that you’re enjoying the content.

  7. Mary says:

    I hope that you were able to see the woodcocks dance in the sky – that must be a wonderful thing to witness. The air’s changed around here this week, warmer, more and more bird calls that are moving into song, Also I heard peepers the other evening – love that sleigh bell sound!
    Enjoyed your post and the photos – especially the first one of the river and the second to last of the water.

    • I’m really looking forward to hearing those peepers, Mary; I think they start their chorusing when the evening temps hit the 50-something mark. We’re finally starting to get some vibrant bird notes here in the high country, and yes, last night I encountered an awesome spectacle of the woodcock flights, one of my best ever, and I’ve been monitoring them since… well, the 70s. There must have been half a dozen males peenting on the ground and flying overhead. It’s great to watch them and feel humbled. Thanks for the good words!

  8. Bob Stanton says:

    Ah, it’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed the “sky dance” of the timberdoodle. Growing up, our backyard ran concurrent with a small field and a stand of young ash trees, perfect habitat for woodcock. It was there that I first saw their evening antics and heard the nasal “bzeee-up” of this misplaced shorebird. Man, I miss the woods that I grew up in. It was a great place to get an education in the natural world.

  9. Bob, It sounds like you grew up in a great environment there, with the woodcock and all to give you a fine education. As I mentioned to Mary, I think the sky dance business is a little later this year because of the cold but, man, it’s on now. Previous to the last of March, it was just too damned cold and uncomfortable for me to climb up and look for them at dusk. Typically the birds have returned to this region by the first week of March. P.S., will shoot you an email later today….

  10. Alan says:

    First off your right on taking the day off to fish. Second trout don’t care what they’re caught on, but they’re to pretty to be taken on a “ugly rod”. And Aldo did love the timberdoodle.
    Nice post.

  11. Hi Alan, I guess an “ugly rod” is incompatible with pretty fish (I gotta think about this) when an angler takes no pride in the aesthetics of the game nor in the beauty of the environment, and is simply out to catch fish come hell or high water. Then the rod reflects the human spirit, sadly enough. As for Aldo, he is one that all outdoor lovers should become familiar with, if not already. He turned me on the timberdoodle, and a whole lot more. Thanks, as always.

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