The Serbian term slabo translates into “weak,” or “poor.” The great blues guitarist, Peter Green, recorded “Slabo Day” on his album In the Skies in 1979. The instrumental is a classic tune, serene, contemplative, beautiful. Slabo also suggests a feeling that there’s often more to say about a subject or experience than words can express. In that case, it’s better to keep quiet, to keep listening to the music, casting to the fish.
I packed a melody in my head for a day of fishing at the springs. The end result was slabo — something weak or insufficient, maybe, but also something more. I experienced no panoramic views on Headwaters Mountain, but I did receive an in-depth view of forestland and streams. Three river systems have their sources on this Pennsylvania summit. They have streams that step down for their journey to distant gulfs. Selecting several of these waters in one river system, I began a day trip skyward, and this is what I found.
Stream #1: This was on my bucket-list for several years but I’d never been able to find it till today. The thin blue line on my topo map had never actualized when I searched for the stream, but today I made a solid effort and discovered it at last.
I figured that the stream, rolling off the Triple Divide of watersheds, was probably the home of native trout, but there was only one way to be sure. I took a Sunday hike along an ancient rail bed. The sky was cloudless and the air was clear. I paused so many times to watch and listen to arriving warblers in the treetops that it wasn’t long before I felt that I was in the sky myself.
After walking a mile and a half, I slowed down even more to study the wooded hill formations. I was looking for an indication of a hollow perpendicular to the valley. I found a slight cut in the forest canopy and took it for a sign. Perhaps a stream was hidden underneath those trees.
Descending from the trail to the main stream and beyond, I crossed a marshy area formed by beaver dams. There it was– a feeder stream in the forest punctuated by massive trees. Those great white pines could bring a searcher to his or her knees.
A brook trout darted from beneath a log to take the floating artificial. I removed the barbless hook and returned the native’s freedom. I felt welcome in these woods.
Stream #2: This stream’s formation near the summit is actually the start of a well-known river. It kicks out in a westerly and then a southerly direction to become one of the longest river systems on the continent. Stream #1, mentioned earlier, is a feeder to it, the first of many tributaries to come.
The stream was inexplicably turbid today. Other streams in the vicinity seemed clear. I saw no sign of logging or disturbance in the headwaters; no rainfall had occurred in the previous day or two. I hoped it had nothing to do with the fracking wells just north of here.
The air was clear and ringing with the voice of migratory birds and the occasional amphibian. The woods and water were enchanting, but I should’ve found more than two small brookies in the stream. It felt like a slabo day, and words were not enough.
Stream #3: This second feeder to the river is becoming one of my favorites. It’s a brushy one but there’s volume here and its holes and undercuts provide good structure for wild browns and native trout. This “Class A Wild Trout Stream” is a challenge and I like it best before and after all the foliage is on. Remote and lovely. And the trout are relatively large.
I raised a splendid 8-inch brookie, then missed another one of similar size. Occasional insects took the air. I recognized a spiral-shaped pool I fished two years ago. I heard a splashy rise. I had caught a heavy brown here on that first visit and I wondered if the trout survived. A fish rose and missed, but on the second take I had it on.
It fought like the brown I’d caught before. It didn’t want its photo taken, breaking free before I found the camera setting.
It was slabo day for a trout with its soft bronze sheen.