Keeping Close to the Stream

Since the publisher for my book called River’s Edge is working on a reprint edition, I was looking at the book again and almost randomly opened to the chapter called “Fishing the Runs.” There the subject matter seemed appropo for my recent jaunts to Cedar Run, so I thought to quote a paragraph from the first page…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“I’m reminded that at one point in (Harry) Middleton’s On the Spine of Time the reader finds a campfire setting with a character named Mulligan. Stars are shining brightly on the scene as Mulligan, a Brooklynite who’s found the joys of fly fishing and who’s unwittingly adopted a philosophy surrounding that activity, listens to an inquiry:

Which way’s heaven, you suppose, Mulligan? Autumn leaves rustle at the edges of a campfire light as Mulligan responds:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFollow the trail and keep close to the stream…”

I’ve been busy at work for the last week or so, but I still attempted, in my own feeble way, to “follow the trail and keep close to the stream.” I did it in the typical Franklin manner– visiting the river and a couple of streams as time allows…

1  Genesee River/ stocked trout: I’d been hoping to find the Slate Drake hatching out beneath the evening sky. I found this wonderful mayfly. I had seen a large brown trout on my previous visit and I wanted another shot at fooling him. As luck would have it, the big fish rose to the Slate Drake pattern on my second cast. I hooked him… but I didn’t OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAhold. I blamed the tricky currents that required constant mending of the line, but the currents blamed me right back. They said, “You didn’t set the hook in time.” Okay, so my hold on the massive trout was weak. With a couple of powerful runs, that hatchery trout just spit the fly in my direction.

Although my hope for the evening was deflated, I couldn’t complain. Other trout were slashing at flies that hatched from the riffles. I caught a bunch, including one about 16 inches long. The river had a place for stocked trout. It was compromised by summer heat and other limitations, but it also had OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAa scattering of springs and deeper holes where trout might carry through the seasons. Wild fish were restricted to its tributaries. At a time like this, it was fun to cast for hatchery trout and not feel guilty.


2 Cedar Run/ wild trout: Now I was getting somewhere. To Cedar Run again, if only for an hour following an entomology and fly-fishing program given to the Slate Run Sportsmen by the Pennsylvania angler, Dave Rothrock. If a fly-fisher ever needs to be humbled at the game, he or she ought to sit in on a Rothrock show of great photography and fly-fishing tips.

Leighanne dropped me off midway at the stream for an hour of casting in the showeryOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA woods. There’s no need for stocked fish on a beautiful stream like Cedar. The browns and brookies reproduce in wild abandon. The pristine pools and riffles offered a few Blue-winged Olives and Slate Drakes for the viewing, but a small Elkhair Caddis (#18) was my ticket to the great beyond inhabited by (mostly) browns.

3 Upper Pine/ native trout: This was it, the apex of my angling week. Perhaps the stream, a high country feeder, is the kind of place that Mulligan, the fisherman/philosopher in Middleton’s book, enjoyed while in the Smokies and by which he saw the lights of heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAActually the stream was still summer slow, giving up just a few native brooks, but autumn was arriving with its promise. I could see it in the witch-hazel blooms, in the tinge of browning leaves, and I could feel it in the air.

I enjoyed fishing this stream with my four-piece fly rod, a seven-footer for a four-weight line. The “Superfine” almost seemed to shoot the weight-forward line by itself, without an effort from my wrist.

In another week or two, the brook trout would be deepening their colors, preparing for the spawn. I’d be back at this stream or another one like it, with an artificial fly and barbless hook. Such waters should be cherished.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS 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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12 Responses to Keeping Close to the Stream

  1. John Wallingford says:

    I have been following youi for a year at least now. How can i get your book, first edition, signed. Let me know. I will b e in upstate NY at Thanksgiving. I don’t travel as much as you. Still teaching school. I will gladly getr that copy in the mail, if we cannot meet. Jack W.

    • Thanks much for your interest, John, and for being a faithful reader/supporter of Rivertop Rambles. I will gladly get a copy of the book to you, in person or by mail. If you contact me at my email address and provide your street address I can send you a copy. I’m at That’s a letter “l” after the second “n”. Would also like to meet you this fall if you’re anywhere in the upstate neighborhood!

  2. Brent says:

    The leaves in that last picture look really advanced in the color-change process. Is it really that time of year already or did you sneak in an old pic? (I won’t tell if you did.) It just seems hard to believe, given that we probably won’t see any significant color for another few weeks at least. You’re on the water catching the last of the warmer air, but I’m thinking about the crisp air and the smell of leaves on the hillsides in Greenwood.

    • An astute observation, Brent! Yeah I snuck in an old one. We are not that advanced yet. I decided to include the photo because “we’re getting there” plus the fact that it was a contender for the new cover of RE. The photo actually chosen for the book depicts another season, but I thought this one deserved a little more airing. Like you, I’m starting to look forward to the colors and the smell of fall.

  3. Les Kish says:

    Well written Walt. Lovely streams all. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the East or out here in the Rockies. All are special just the same. Even stocked trout, maligned as they are, add life the the stream and a purpose for us anglers.

    • I agree strongly with your assessment, Les. All streams with a diversity of life are special and, ultimately, connect with us, as well. Stocked trout have an honored place in waters that are cold but otherwise unable to support a breeding population. Thanks and enjoy those mountain streams.

  4. Mark W says:

    Nicely put! We are in the pre-fall season where the weather and the shorter days can tease us a bit but fall is getting closer everyday. You had me going with that last picture as well. Around here the few trees showing signs of color are probably suffering from lack of water more than anything else.

  5. Thanks Mark. Sorry about that last picture. The anticipation got a little out of hand, perhaps, but it’s coming for us to enjoy!

  6. Alan says:

    Such waters should be cherished, words so very true.

  7. Thanks Alan. That’s where fishing is more than just fishing. It’s caring, too.

  8. What an absolute awesome post that compels one to get out on their favorite stream and wet a fly. I have found losing the better trout at times can only serve as a motivator for me to keep improving my trout fishing skills for the next outing. Thanks for sharing

  9. Thank you Bill. Losing a “better trout” does serve to motivate, doesn’t it. Sometimes that loss is due to inattention or not being fully prepared. It happened to me again today. Hooked a large wild brown and lost it after only a few seconds. Lesson learned? Will go back again, a little more honed.

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