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 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.
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.
Usually 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…
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 chases 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.
At 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.
I 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 casts, 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.