More Than Fish, Alone

Back in the day when I read poetry to the public and published lots of stuff in magazines and in books, I had a small but certain following of people who, for the most part, haven’t followed my transition over to this blog. I’m not happy about the fact but, honestly, I OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA don’t regret my moves from pure poetry to personal narrative because I’m doing what I enjoy and I’ve made a lot of new friends and found appreciative readers here.

Some of my earlier readers balked at coming over to the blog because (so they’ve said)…”I don’t fish.” Well, to each his own. As you folks know, fish are important in countless ways, but at Rivertop Rambles, there’s more to the sandwich, so to speak, than fish alone.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the opening day of northern Pennsylvania’s trout season, I resorted to my personal tradition of visiting the headwaters of the Genesee River, wetting a line in each of its three branches.

The early morning weather was already beautiful as I drove past fishermen knotted together near the bridges and stocking points. For the most part, I was headed to higher ground, to the smaller, colder waters where the wild fish hopefully were thriving.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUsually I don’t catch many trout on the East Branch (aka the main stem of the Genesee), and I didn’t catch one there on this occasion, but I found the visit interesting nonetheless. I like the “feel” of the river’s farmland, now retired and reverting into forestland. I like the fact that I got an electrifying jolt there from a trout living in a log-jam.

I had worked an old streamer (a gift from a tree along the upper Cedar Run) into the log-jam after deciding to use it even though its hook was a little dull and rusted. The trout, a large wild fish or possibly a hold-over that had traveled upstream, struck the weighted fly and held on long enough to let me see its broad and colorful side…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The natural world is full of mystery and surprises. If we’re caught sleeping or are simply unprepared, we’ll miss out on some of that. If our senses are dulled like my streamer’s hook, we’ll probably lose that big fish of life, and there’ll be no one to blame but ourselves.

I typically do my best Genesee River fishing on the West Branch. I covered several sections of it late on opening day, but the slow action was almost anticlimactic. I did manage to bring in and release one hefty brown, but only after a deliberate change of strategy.

Casting a streamer across the water and allowing it to drift downstream, I was getting OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAchases from trout that never connected. I tried different ways to vary the drift at different levels of the stream but nothing was working. As soon as I changed my course, however, from a downstream walk to an upstream wade and by casting at an angle toward the head of pools, I started to see the light.

That’s the fun of it, of course. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on one aspect of the fishing game, the picture changes and you’ve got a new puzzle to unscramble.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the start of the year I set up a short list of angling challenges to consider for the months to follow, and on opening day in northern Pennsylvania, I got around to completing one of those personal challenges…

I’d wanted to fly-fish on the Triple Divide, itself. The Triple Divide is the only triple watershed divide in the eastern half of the U.S., a major hilltop where three great river systems have a singular point of origin. It’s the place near Gold, PA where the Allegheny River starts its flow to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, where Pine Creek has its source and gathers steam for its journey to the West Branch Susquehanna and the Chesapeake Bay, and finally, where the Genesee River starts its northward flow through New York to Lake Ontario and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was familiar with fishing the divide a few miles downstream on all the rivers, but I’d never wet a line at the actual summit. I’ve wanted to fish the big divide for its native brook trout but the land is posted and its Genesee River (the Middle Branch) is tiny– by which I mean, it’s three or four feet wide and, in places, is impounded by beaver dams and crazy avenues of alder growth.

But I got lucky. I received an invitation to fish on private property and I finally caught some brook trout at the site, a place where the Genesee River is born on a wooded slope, not far from the source of two other rivers that just happen to be favorite trout streams in my world.

Oh, the fishing there was tough– I had to stalk on my knees and utilize bow-and-arrow OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcasts, along with dapping and underhand swings. And yet the challenge had an aspect of sublimity, as well. The owners had provided a park-like character to a section of the stream, with a mowed path and log bridges for convenient crossings. I was lucky, and quite thankful, too.

“Geez,” said another angler later in the day when I told him where I fished. “That’s a whole ‘nother world in there, and no way in hell would I want to do it.”

I understand. It’s all about our attitudes and relationship to nature, how we see ourselves in the world. I enjoy not fitting in well with the norms, but I like the sense of natural community, the place where human beings, bird and tree, and trout and stream all blend together in a lively configuration.

Once again, it’s Earth Day (or close to it) all around the globe. It’s about fish, of course– and a whole lot more, as well.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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23 Responses to More Than Fish, Alone

  1. Brent says:

    Was it a fly-fishing acquaintance who invited you onto the land or someone you met by chance? On another note, that’s a great old tree in your last picture. It’s always about more than fish!

    • It’s someone your mom works with, or knows through the job, someone who understands the madness of it all. The white pine tree is amazing. I’ve taken lots of photos of the tree and none can do it justice, but I keep on trying to capture an essence of its size and beauty. It’s a guardian of the fish!

  2. I would love to see the triple divide. Sounds like an incredible place. Sort of the ultimate in river tops.

    • Jim, the Triple Divide is a beautiful thing to me because of its subtle powers, being a source of great waters, and yet being so unassuming that most people from out of the area, passing by, have no clue about its physicality and other aspects. It’s a great place for being a humble biped out to do a bit of fishing. Thanks!

  3. Walt, thanks for your thoughtful post. I think it took me most of my life to understand that the fish are only a small part of the equation for me. Being in the outdoors allows me to challenge myself, to open my eyes and most of all, appreciate the good, the bad and the ugly.

  4. You’re mighty welcome, Howard, and thanks for your reflection on what I’d say is one of the most important challenges that the natural world can offer us– allowing us to become even more attuned with whom we are, participants in the wonderful evolution of life. And fishing is a helluva good way to challenge ourselves and have fun doing it.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Sounds as though you had a more fruitful opener to the season than I. I fished a small trib of the West Branch Tionesta last night, one that I’d not fished in years – no trout, but the dace population is thriving. Puzzling, because there is plenty of holding water. There is, however, A LOT of oil production activity along the stream, and I can’t help but wonder if that has something to do with the dearth of trout living there. The beavers too have been running amuck on the stream, as they have on a lot of the little tribs in the ANF, and that no doubt has or will have an effect on the fishing. Happy Earth Day, in advance!

    • Thanks, Bob. Well, I hope that the trib is still in health, despite a bad reintroduction for you. Granted, it sounds bleak with all the drilling going on and with the beavers working overtime, but you might want to give it another chance in a couple of weeks or so, after the bugs start hatching. Sometimes the creeks just come alive overnight. As for me, the fishing was kind of slow– I went out both days this weekend and put in a lot of pleasant hours even when the fish weren’t actively feeding. Have a good one!

  6. Jason says:

    Great post. I’d love to check out the triple divide some day. I absolutely love the pictures, they look awesome!!

    • Thanks Jason! I’m not sure yet what state you’re living in, but if you’re ever in this neck of the woods I’d be happy to show you the way toward the rivertops of the region. Appreciate your reading and the comment!

  7. Gramps says:

    Walt, as I like to look at it and often say, “Every picture tells a story”. Once we take the time to look around and encompass all that make up our various fishing trips, we clearly should see that there is so much more that we are blessed with in the totality of the experience. Thanks for sharing.

    • And thank you, Gramps, your experience here is showing. The totality of one experience, fishing or otherwise, may never be fully achievable, but it’s something we can all strive for, and be thankful for, as well.

  8. Bill Ragosta says:

    Nice, I know those places well.

    • Yup, and Bill, a lot of us in the area appreciate not only your photographic reflections of the natural world, but your professional services toward protection of the area, as well.

  9. Walt
    Landing wild trout is a cut above landing stock trout, to me the fight is stronger and their beauty is beyond compare. Beautiful streams you were fishing; I am really impressed with the narrow stream, what length fly rod were you using on this trip? Thanks for sharing

    • Bill, the wild trout in these streams tend to be found well above the stocking areas, and yes, the wild ones definitely have it over the others in beauty, stamina, and the ability to adjust to nature’s whims. On this trip I was fishing a 7’6″ South Bend 290, vintage 1950s, which was good for the larger streams, averaging 20 feet wide, but I used a 6′ Fenwick on the headwater stream where the water was very thin and constricted. The larger rod would never have cut it there on the rivertop; there were too many alders in the way. Thanks, as always, for your interest and your reading!

  10. Mark W says:

    Well said my friend! It is about “More than fish alone”. The love of the small stream is about noticing the subtle things most people pass by, listening, smelling, thinking, and reflecting.

  11. Les Kish says:

    The day is about a whole lot more than (just) the fish. Sure is nice to visit a new piece of water and catch a few though. It was a good way to spend, and reflect, on Earth day and the trout opener.

    • Les, To fish a new piece of water and enjoy the outing is, to me, like making a new friend who shares the fishing experience with you. So I’ll agree with you, for sure. And a good way to spend some hours on Earth Day, opening day. Thanks for reading!

  12. Ross says:

    Walt, loved the description of your latest outing .. it painted a wonderful story about time on the water and discovery of what is out there for us to enjoy. Great pics too.

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