Still Life With Trout

The Lily Pool

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI parked the car, suited up, and walked the half mile distance to the stream along abandoned railroad bed. I turned and crossed a field of chest-high goldenrod then dropped to the water like a sinner to his knees.

I went  upstream through the alders, casting a Black Ant dry without success. Finally at the pool, I saw the sunken log where I’d lost a good trout weeks before, and there on the bank– the pair of yellow lilies that had seen their share of fish.

I wanted to uproot one gently for the birthday of my wife, a lily for her garden, though I’d never dug a flower from the wild. These flowers were not native; they were hybrids washed down from above, from a still-life in the hills.DSCN4932

I clambered up the bank, careful with my step and slow insertion of the trowel. To take one flower wouldn’t hurt. We’d place it in a still-life of our own, a piece of work with newfound gravitas.

Unlike medieval lilies of the canvas, the flower has no symbolism. No religion or allegory here, no hint of the virgin, the woman’s breast, or purity of mind (hah!). It was just a flower from a trout pool on a stream in the wild. A flower granted freedom by the centuries.

The  Oven

I went to the Oven, a pool on the Genesee, expecting the worst– warm water… no hatches… no trout.

I went to the big pool as if to a still-life etched in an ancient tomb. Then, surprise! Rivers can do this; they can throw a party for the spirit! They can take you by the hand and walk you through a golden evening, like walking into Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”Vincent Willem van Gogh 127.jpg

There were spinners in the air, sailing down to wavelets with their eggs. The browns and rainbows were hungry; I caught and released a dozen fish, but I worried (a bit) for the lack of bats at dusk.

The brown I taped at 17 inches ate up my concerns, the way a waking moment devours an anxious dream.

The Cairns Pool

My friend Leigh Smith (from the blog FinFollower, who also posted on this visit) and I were on the Cairns Pool of the Beaverkill. We had just enjoyed another visit to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAannual Summerfest (a fly-fishing flea market, of sorts, laden with history and future prospects) at the Catskill Fly-Fishing Center and Museum, and we were ready to catch a trout.

The afternoon sky was overcast; the river looked full and lively. The water temp was a decent 64 degrees. Trout were rising, chasing caddis emergers and sipping unknown bugs at the surface or just below. The scene could have been the subject for a still-life, ready for a painter to arrange the elements for best effect.

DSCN4929Oddly enough, we had this famous river pool almost completely to ourselves, despite the anglers in the neighborhood, some of whom were trying out their new or used bamboo rods and reels near Summerfest. I suspect that we were like canvas painters, fly rods weaving through the air like brushes laden with summer hues.

What insects brought these trout to their table? Leigh and I spotted fish for each other; we conjectured on the fly– were they ants, emergers, olives, sulphurs? We threw the book at the pool and its fish, some of which had seen the contents many times over. But finally we solved the mystery.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trout were taking midges– miniscule flies best imitated with a #22 on a 6 or 7X tippet. After a series of missed strikes and break-offs at the blood knot, after we each caught a couple of browns and had tangled briefly with a fish to haunt our dreams, we finished our work at Cairns.

One leg of my waders had filled with water; Leigh took one of those stumbles we all have when it’s least expected. We were in our element, a river of great traditions. The scene could have been a still-life– filled with forward moving lines, with small flies directed at rising trout.

Friendship had strengthened in another river that knows how to throw a party. Then Leigh drove eastward, and I drove west. He would listen to “Blue Sky” by the Allman Brothers. I imagined an evening sun touching down on Van Gogh’s flowers.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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8 Responses to Still Life With Trout

  1. Mike says:

    A fine outing. Fished Cairns as you saw but it was the Willow that did it for me this past Tuesday. The festival looks fantastic!

  2. Mike, I’m glad you hit the Willow in a good place. We fished it on nice looking water but the trout had apparently moved on into colder areas. The festival usually is a lot of fun. Next year keep an eye out for it in early August.

  3. Mike
    Great post with some remnants of the movie “A River Runs Through It” or at least close to it. My wife would love to find lilies out in the wild, they are her favorite flower. She has numerous improved versions. The festival reminds me of the our Trout Fest coming up in the fall. I really envy where you are fishing. Thanks for sharing

  4. Bill, I’m sure the Blackfoot knows “how to throw a party,” too. Our wives share a love for lilies, that’s for certain. We have gardens full of hybrids. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  5. Leigh says:

    And what a day it was. Looking forward another study in still life, but first I need to load up on midges.

  6. Me, too, Leigh. You never know when you’ll need them.

  7. Alan Petrucci says:

    CFFC&M Summerfest is always interesting.

  8. I agree, it’s always interesting, Alan. In the future, let me know if you’re attending. Would enjoy meeting you there.

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