Southern Mountains, Growing Fins

I recently had an opportunity to spend five days near the Blue Ridge Mountains of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVirginia and in Shenandoah National Park. With snow covering the mountains above the North Fork and with the sun on my back, I took Thanksgiving morning to appreciate and give thanks for a lot of things in this crazy life of mine–for wandering freely on a mountain path beside a beautiful stream, for my friends and family and readers of this blog, and for the bounties of our small stressed planet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn those rare occasions when I manage to catch a trout on my first cast of the day, I’m usually screwed for luck when it comes to catching number two. On my initial outing with the fly rod here, I did better– not only reeling in and letting go a brook trout on the first cast but then, at a second pool, catching a significant number two of the same wild species.

Not to put a price on sweet occasions such as this, I’d say that every good experience OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAoutdoors has its cost in energy consumption and reality checks. After releasing the second trout, I decided to explore the rapids at the head of the pool by edging along a steep bank with sloping rock. There was ice on the logs and stones but I’d be careful. Several inches of water covered a descending shelf but my wading shoes were studded…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, my feet went out from under me, and the six to seven-foot depths of flowing water called my name. I was on my knees and slipping, growing fins as if I were a trout and really belonged down in the frigid but inviting run. One hand instinctively grabbed a root extended over the rocks and, still on my knees, I gave thanks to these old muscles… I would swim with the trout on a warmer day.

The next morning, Black Friday, was cold enough to build ice in the rod guides. So be it…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA At least I wasn’t out compulsively buying stuff I didn’t need, like a puppet for the advertisers. I might have been displaying OCD with my trouting interests (as my wife suggests) but, for now, I chose to see myself as more of a producer than consumer.

The North Fork is a classic mountain stream recovering from floods and landslides that occurred some 20 years ago. There are stocked trout in the lower end, and miles of wild trout higher up. Although I limited my profile and its shadow on the stream, I didn’t catch a lot of fish. I did, however, catch enough to keep things interesting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water was icy cold but the native trout were pretty, and a couple of the wild ones measured close to a foot in length. One of the males, returned to the water and resting on the gravel near my feet, had attractive fins and made me wish my own appendages were as fine and useful.

My final day on the Fork was, for the most part, a pleasant coda to the previous outings. I had an opportunity to hike a little with my son and also caught another brook trout. While Brent hiked to a waterfall that I had nearly reached the day before, IOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA experimented with flies at a favorite pool, and complained to myself about a problem developing with my foot.

After Brent’s return, I limped back to the car and winced from the pressure of rocks on the bottom of my problematic toe. I listened to half-serious ideas of how, in not so many years, the kids would have to roll me in a wheelchair to a handicapped accessible ramp in order to go fishing. Yeah right, I thought…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then I imagined swimming in the stream–with a set of trout fins, orange and white or otherwise, and thought how the fins might be a nice replacement for these feet. I thought of the Beefheart song, “Grow Fins.” No doubt I was too old to “take up with a mermaid,”  but to wear a coat of brook trout colors and to grow a set of fins was a pleasant thought at any age.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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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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17 Responses to Southern Mountains, Growing Fins

  1. Brent says:

    Again, some beautiful color on those fish. As for becoming a trout to avoid the problematic toe, you would have to give up things like beer and, of course, fishing…

  2. will include a comment from the email…
    Hey Walt,
    Nice days on the Moorman’s! And really nice fish. Has me jonesin’ for next April…

    Scott

  3. Mark W says:

    Some gorgeous brooks! Good move going south for thanksgiving!

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Yikes! Be careful out there, Walt. That’s how Datus Proper met his end. As for me, I’m truly surprised that I haven’t broke an appendage or got a concussion during some midstream struggles to stay upright.

    • Bob, I’m surprised about myself in that regard (while knocking on deadwood). We’ve got to keep on our toes, so to speak, and not tip over or go down. I’d forgotten, or didn’t ever know, that Datus met his big change in that particular way. Ugh. But maybe he’s forever finning with the trout.
      P.S. I just did a search on Datus Proper and learned that the writer died at age 69 while fly fishing a favorite stream. Apparently he slipped on a rock and struck his head and then drowned in shallow water. I can readily identify with that personal tragedy, but at least Proper died while doing what he loved to do.

  5. LQN says:

    Awesome, love the shenandoah national park. Haven’t visited in forever, but had some great childhood memories hiking along those streams. Thanks for sharing Walt, glad those brookies treated you well. Looks like the egg fly was the ticket!

    • Thanks Long! The SNP is a wonderful visit. You’ll have to schedule another visit some day down the road. The Egg fly did seem to be the ticket, the only pattern I could get the brookies to move for in the cold water, though I did try nymphs and streamers, also.

  6. Mike says:

    Gorgeous looking fish and the overhead shot looks like part fish, part Monarch butterfly. Glad you did not go for a swim, Walt!

    • Thanks, Mike. I’m glad you saw that “double image” in the overhead view. When the brookies spawn, the orange coloration in the male is not unlike the orange hue of the migratory monarch. I didn’t see that then, but now I do. As for swimming in the freezing water, it would’ve brought a sudden, miserable hike back to the car. Too close for comfort.

  7. good to see some virginia pics in there, glad you guys had fun.

  8. Thanks Patrick! It’s always good to visit the Old Dominion down your way. We’ll be back in spring. Thanks, too, for the fishing updates from the Blue Ridge.

  9. Very impressive to leave your home waters and immediately catch fish. Doubly impressive that the you weren’t scared off after your Yankee hazing at the hands of the river.

  10. Jim, If I’d known that a Rebel river was about to initiate a hazing of my Yankee ass, I’d have gone in with a life-preserver and a shotgun. But southern waters don’t really do that, do they? In any case, I just fish whenever I can, and always appreciate your reading and commentary.

  11. Alan says:

    Lucky man Walt. I fished SNP in October and was so impressed with the streams, mountains, and the beautiful brook trout.
    Well done buddy.

  12. Alan, I was glad you had the opportunity to fish the SNP in October, probably an optimal time, along with April, to look for brookies in the Blue Ridge. I know I’ll be heading back there in spring. Thanks, as always.

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