Good Morning, Steelhead (Wherever You Are)

At last, on the first full day of spring, a day that followed an unusually difficult winter in upstate New York, I was out there fishing and moving once again…I felt like a steelhead, perhaps, off on a “swim” from a frozen winter past to the start of a springtime near (appropriately enough) Springville, New York. DSCN6154

Fly-fishing has always seemed like more than any one event or experience for me. Somehow it has its own connections to my varied interests in the natural environment, ecology, philosophy, music, tradition…You might say that fishing has to do with trying to live a full life in the present moment. Keeping this in mind, I stepped into a feeder stream of Cattaraugus Creek in western New York where the season for steelhead is open and about to kick into high gear with the spring run of rainbow trout from Lake Erie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was happy as a bluesman sitting on top of the world, but that state of mind came only after I had put some less than cheerful aspects of the season on the back-burner.

A good friend of mine, from West Almond, passed away in January. Sean Phelan was my age, a fine craftsman, conservationist, and birder who, like other leaders, had come to the defense of Allegany County when this area was threatened by the placement of a nuclear waste dump. Sean was also my collaborator on several projects that ranged from the successful placement of Keeney Swamp (Allegany County) on New York Audubon’s list of Important Bird Areas to the production of a first-time checklist called “The Birds of Allegany County, New York.”

More recently (this week), I learned that another musical mentor died on March 13th.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Daevid Allen was a co-founder of Soft Machine and then the various incarnations of the band Gong. From the wake of the renowned Beat Poets, Allen became one of the true originals of psychedelic and progressive music through work in his bands and solo career. Over the past 45 years, I’ve spent so many hours listening to the likes of Daevid Allen and Robert Wyatt that today I carried the fly rod like a sad song in the heart.

It had been a helluva winter, filled with more losses than I cared to experience, but such is life, especially with the onset of deep maturity.

DSCN6150That said, it was time to fish!

The morning snow had turned into light rain, but the stream, its banks choked with blocks of stranded ice, was flowing well, its water heavily stained but fishable.

It felt great to be walking and casting again. There were no other anglers on the stream, as far as I could tell, and I made good progress, casting my streamers across the creek and down, through the various stretches that suggested holding water or had been productive in the past.

Usually when there are no other anglers in view at a place and time like this, it means OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthat the big fish probably aren’t around, and that looked to be the case today… So be it. I had heard that a few steelhead had been recently caught, but there were none in sight now.

The important thing was being out-of-doors, on the stream, with trout or no trout.

Although I covered only half of the two-mile distance I had hoped to fish if trout were evident, that was better than being stuck inside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe rain intensified by noon and then turned into heavy snow. It was excellent steelhead fishing weather, actually, but when the wind increased and brought on the chills and a consequent numbing of hands, it was time to pack it in.

With winter losses set aside for now, it was time to celebrate a new season. At the Zoar Valley Inn, a fine area roadhouse, I enjoyed a Southern Tier IPA. I gave a toast to the Equinox and to inspirations past and present.

Daevid Allen had returned to his beloved Planet Gong. Friend Sean would be with me on my birding expeditions. Spring, at least in the scientific sense, was here.



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 Good Morning, Steelhead (Wherever You Are)

  1. Mike says:

    “Trying to live a full life in the present moment” is surely at the heart of it and the fastest way I can become fully present in the here and now. I had a similar outing last Sunday after my aunt passed on Saturday and it was with her at heart that I attempted to stir the shy trout to no avail.

    Sorry for your losses, Walt. Great post. Here’s to spring!

  2. I hear you, Mike, and back at you with sympathy and best wishes for a fully momentous spring. If we’re out there, they will come (eventually)! Thanks for all.

  3. Brent says:

    Nice post. I remember Sean from Bird Club. I spent a lot of hours in or around that room at the county building (and/or the BOCES) in Belmont, especially back when you were finalizing the Keaney designation. And of course, I’ve heard way more Soft Machine than the average Joe. Glad you were able to spiritually rejuvenate a bit on the still-cold waters.

    • Thanks Brent. Yeah I guess you WERE there in those rooms and seats of youth, lending your ears and eyes to whatever the folks were dishing out. Sometimes I think we elders didn’t have the younger ones pay enough “growing up dues,” but I’m glad you were paying attention. So, Sean will be missed. And so is the wild and whimsical era of a hugely creative musical era… We’ll see you soon.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Sorry for the loss of your friend, Walt.

  5. Walt
    Sorry for your loss of your good friend, all of us baby boomers are getting to the age where each passing year in our lives are so precious. Thanks for sharing

  6. You’re welcome, Bill, and you’re right. It gets to be more so than ever, even though we knew it all the time. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

  7. Very sorry to hear about the recent losses you’ve experienced. Sounds like fishing and getting outside is a pretty good way to honor them. Looks peaceful out there. I’ve been itching to go fishing, but between ice-fishing season and “spring break-up” (the melting of the ice, though the ground doesn’t have any snow or ice here now!) is an awkward season of waiting. Sounds like life!

    • Mary Anne,
      Just getting out there to hear that break-up of the ice (which you may not be seeing this season) would be an honorable, and exciting, way to greet the spring, but otherwise, like you, I think a good medicine is to be outdoors with one arm to the sun, while fishing or hiking or exploring or whatever. Anything to put that sense of “waiting” or “enduring” behind us for a while. Thanks, and happy trails to spring!

  8. Glad you were able to dig out of the ice and snow and enjoy some time outside. The fish down here haven’t been very cooperative either. Let’s hope they wake up soon.

    • It’s kind of reassuring to hear that even down South the fish aren’t yet quite in the mood. Maybe they’re all unionized, no matter where, and are ready when conditions say they’re ready. Hopefully soon! Thanks Jim.

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