It’s A Beautiful Day (For Fish)

Day 1 (for steelhead)

The Lake Erie trib was flowing high and muddy, but the sun was out by mid-morning OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and the sky was April blue. The air temperature would rise into the 50s today, and the water temp would reach a mild 43. There was hope for success, even though the stream was as high and muddy as I’ve ever seen it, even though the last few steelhead seasons for me have been minimal affairs.

Gone were the days, not so many years ago, when a fly-fisher could hit a tributary of Cattaraugus Creek, or even the big stream itself, in early spring and catch upward of 20 steelhead in a day. Those days were gone because new landowners posted the water now, or wanted steep fees for the privilege of fishing there. And some of the problem was due to fishermen themselves, who socialized too freely on private lands and left their garbage behind.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyway, it felt great to fish upstream in solitude for more than a mile, searching for lake-run trout in the likely holding waters. I enjoyed casting streamers with my old South Bend 7-weight while listening to the birds and finding animal tracks in the mud. In addition to coon and mink and heron tracks, I found the possible paw prints of a fisher– the furbearer, not the fly-flinger (although I saw his boot tracks, too). I enjoyed working my way to the gorge, but I never saw a single fish.

J.K. w/ 1 of Walt's fish 4/12/05

J.K. w/ 1 of Walt’s fish 4/12/05

Several young men with spinning rods raced by me to reach the falls where the fish could swim no farther. I would learn that they saw a couple of steelhead there and even had one briefly on the line. But for the most part, there were no fish being caught on this stream today. For the most part, the spring run hadn’t yet reached this tributary 40 miles above the lake.

Usually the spring run of fish is well under way by this point in April or, as in the past few years, it’s mostly over at this time. Walking from the gorge back to the car, I looked into the cloudless sky and had good news for the trout (as if they didn’t know)– we caught no fish. The water was warming. It was time to lay some eggs.

Day 2 (for kids)

On Monday morning one of my young students came to school excited about the

coon or fisher?

coon or fisher?

beautiful day he’d had (while I was out traipsing around for steelhead). On his i-phone were images of a 24-inch rainbow he had caught while fishing Cold Brook with his father. He would show these photos through the day at every opportunity.

The water had been cloudy, and no one on the stream was catching fish (sound familiar?). He’d been fishing from the rocks where the water swirled deeply and took his egg-sac (on a single hook) to the bottom. He was apparently beside himself when the fish hit, when his dad rushed over and counseled him on how to keep the line taut and how to stay cool when the big spawner leapt into the air.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I told him he did well. He did a whole lot better than me. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Day 3 (for personal history)

On Sunday, while walking down the steelhead stream in excellent weather, it seemed natural to peer at the azure sky and think of the late 60s, early 70s folk-rock/psychedelic band called It’s A Beautiful Day.

DSCN4016The band’s artistry was unique among the groups that issued from the fertile San Francisco music scene of the period. Essentially a vehicle for the classically-trained violinist David LaFlamme, It’s A Beautiful Day peaked with its superb self-titled debut album of 1969 [youtube/it’sabeautifulday/fullalbum]. The album’s six-minute introduction called “White Bird” established the band as a progressive and sophisticated stand-out in a heady period of musical expression.

This song of personal freedom was often played on the FM “underground” play-lists of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe day, and I often heard it spun from college dormitories, campus center, and pubs. Four decades later, while tramping from the fishless wilds and exploring the limits of exhaustion, I heard the vocals and instrumentation of “White Bird” in my head.

It was like I’d been wrestling steelhead all day long. I felt both young and old. I had an ancient cane rod in my grip. I almost had a pair of wings.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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10 Responses to It’s A Beautiful Day (For Fish)

  1. Don Whitehouse says:

    Hi Walt. Thanks for sharing your experiences living in the headwaters region of the Genesee River. Reading your blog has helped keep my sanity while trying to make it through the long, cold winters of Northeast Ohio. I’m so looking forward to spring and seeing the first Hendricksons floating down the gentle waters of the upper Genesee. I was pleasantly surprised seeing the album cover for Its a Beautiful Day. White Bird was one of my favorite tunes while attending school in the early 70’s. And if memory serves, I had quite the schoolboy crush on the female vocalist! But that was a long, long time ago.

    • You’re welcome, Don, glad I could be of help, and thanks for making contact with me. So you fish the Genny in April? Awesome. Hope to meet you some day. The Hendrickson hatch on the river can be quite productive, as you probably already know. We’re getting close!
      And I’m pleased to have reminded you of the album and of White Bird. I think the album was a cultish favorite on the campuses for a while. I believe it was Patty Santos who was the vocalist at the time, and I think she was killed in a car wreck years later. I can see why the memory survives.

      • Anonymous says:

        It would be nice to meet you too Walt. My favorite section of the G is above Shongo. I’m the one driving a later model Subaru Outback with Ohio plates “Tiefly.”


  2. Our springs down here discharge water at 65 to 72 degrees or so. We call that “icy” cold. I’m trying to wrap my mind around fishing in water that is 43 degrees. I think our species would be floating to the top at that temp.

  3. Around here, Jim, 43 is cool but warming up. At least it’s not ice. Warmwater species wouldn’t do well in it. 65 to 72, for trout, is a tad too warm for coldwater species like trout, but what a lot of our streams will reach by summertime. Right now 65 degree springs sound kind of nice.

  4. argosgirl says:

    Our rivers are finally open and trout opener is just over two weeks away. Your post has me even more excited to hit the rivers. I love that your student got that fish. One nice fish really makes the day.

  5. Thanks Rebecca, and congratulations on nearly completing your degree in a new field of endeavors! I hope you have a great new season on the lakes and streams and rivers.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    My grandfather used to fish the Catt for steel around the Zoar Valley. I remember that he used to catch a few salmon too, when Lake Erie had some semblance of a run. And good for your student and his big catch. I think that’s the reason – well, the main reason that I fish anyway. Inside, there’s a boy who’s thrilled that we can catch these beautiful fish on bits of fur and feather (or corn. Or worms or powerbait, for that matter).

    • Bob, You make a good point about the beauty of fishing. It re-energizes, keeps us older folks youthful in spirit. Viva the young one inside us, casting a fly or lure or worm or whatever, to see what will strike.

  7. Mr. Anonymous Don, “TieFly”, I’ll keep an eye out for your Suburu. My favorite stretch of Genesee in NY is also above Shongo to the state line. Hope to see you there sometime!

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