Walking the Runs

1. Around here we call them “runs”– the small streams tumbling down the wooded OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA slopes to the river valleys (particularly on the Pennsylvania side of the rivertop region). Nearly all of them interest me, especially those whose habitats include the lives of wild trout.

To get some first-hand knowledge of the many streams and rivers in my region, I walk and try to fly-fish as many as possible. It’s work, but it’s so pleasurable that when I start to fantasize about getting paid for doing it I have to pinch myself with the reminder that I live on Earth and not in some Beulah Land or Blessed Abode of the Eternal Trout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI walk the runs each fishing season in order to know the territory. That is, I try to know it. When I start to think I’m getting good at knowing the streams and land forms, I rewalk the runs and slowly realize I don’t really know that much about them yet.

One thing that I’ve learned through my repetitive walks and fishing excursions is that the face of nature is forever changing its dimensions and textures. The change is slow in some locations and faster in others, but “you never step in the same stream twice.”

2. This past weekend I sampled seven runs in PA and, from the standpoint of fishing, it was pretty much a bust. The nights had been cold and the daytime water temps never climbed above the low 40s. There was little hatch activity, although I saw some Blue Quills and Quill Gordons coming off of Cedar Run.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The outings started on a good note with a Slate Run Sportsmen’s clean-up of the Slate Run Road. In short order I encountered a small black bear and saw a bald eagle or two. Trillium flowers were blossoming on the wooded slopes, and I even managed to catch a couple of brookies on a headwater stream.

For the most part, though, I went fishless, as did several other fly-fishermen I spoke with. The rivertops might have smelled a bit like Skunk Town here, but wait… I was getting reacquainted with the territory. I was getting another look at its plants and animals and geologic formations, even chatting with a person or two who was knowledgeable about the place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking the runs in search for trout is a good way to get a handle on the sense of place. It’s not the only way, of course, and on a pleasant weekend here you might see lots of folks involved with other ways of getting it– by hiking, biking, bird-watching, getting lost on backcountry roads, or floating a canoe or kayak through the Pine Creek canyon.

I enjoy the brooks and mountain streams because they’re beautiful and intimate. They’re small, and I like thinking small– especially when a small thing like a stream includes the possibility of bigness, the chance to find an ocean of significance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I’m walking or fishing along a run, it’s possible that everything outside of this small place will fall away… Goodbye news of the world. Farewell, financial woes. See ya later, dear friends and screwball enemies… For the purity of the moment, for its sheer simplicity, I’ve got something that’s almost sacred. If the stream could talk, it just might tell me something about who I am and where I’m headed.

So you cast a line in the quiet company of streams…

The waters of earth move systematically. The brook trout gets connected to the wood duck that’s connected to the forest that’s connected to the trout lily blossoming underneath. There’s distance here, but the place is also close and intimate.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3.  At a time like this the streams are typically flowing at their annual peak. They carry off the snows of winter, and the angler, too, breaks the shuck of ice encasing his soul. The underwater nymphs begin to shed their exoskeletons and emerge with wings at the surface of the stream. Awakened trout are hungry and they rise to the occasion. This may sound like perfection, but perfection is a state of mind, a step or two behind the rolling wheels of evolution.

Speaking of perfection, native brook trout race from rock and log cover as you approach along the bank. They are small fish and they zigzag through the clear pools in dread of what could strike them from above.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe smallness of their race is perfect and it saves enough of them from predation. They’ll survive, at least for now. If we introduce a large fish here, a big rainbow or a hatchery brown, it won’t live for long. Predation will remove whatever doesn’t fit. To see a small native, though, held briefly in the palm of your hand above a small run in the mountains is about as close to perfection as you’ll get.

Slate and Cedar runs are well-known streams, protected waters, wild and sometimes difficult to access. They get fished by a lot by folks who, for the most part, look after them, so I’m not afraid to mention them by name. It’s the lesser knowns, the fragile ones, the scenic streams that are good to fish, that I’m reluctant to mention by name.

I won’t mention them specifically but I’ll encourage anyone who’s interested to go out there and explore. It’s a good thing to learn about new places on your own and to walk the runs if you’re able.

The personal journey is important. To allow ourselves to participate in the push and pull of the seasons is a fun experience and it helps us to accomplish something of significance.OLYMPUS 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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25 Responses to Walking the Runs

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    “A small native…is about as close to perfection as you’ll get.” Amen, brother, amen.

  2. Brent says:

    I think I recognize that very last picture. Is that at the bottom of where we scramble down the rock face to access Slate, below the Manor Hole? Of course, if it’s one of the “lesser knowns,” no need to publicly divulge anything…

    • Actually it isn’t from Slate, although you might recognize it because I’ve posted other photos of the pool on previous posts. It’s on the Cedar Run drainage, and I don’t think you’ve been there yet, although your mom has.

  3. marymaryone says:

    Love your descriptions of getting in tune with nature.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    As of yet, things are still slow. I fished the run I’d visited last week, a bit more intensely this time, with no better results. But oh, what a place! It’s not remote, but it’s seldom visited – which I guess is the new “remote.” Poking through the hemlock bottoms and beaver meadows, I felt like Nick Adams in Hemingway’s “The Last Good Country”, which made the trip well worth the visit. As the water temps creep toward the 50 degree mark, I expect things to pick up.

  5. Bob, It sounds like an interesting locale, trout or no trout, but hopefully the fish will prevail. I had a chance to fish the DH water on the Allegheny this afternoon and it was pleasant. Water temp was up to 50 degrees; the Quills were hatching and the trout were active, but only with the nymphs. Half a dozen rainbows and about that many lost in the air.

  6. loydtruss says:

    That first steam needs to be framed, such beauty and I know will be a pleasure for you to fish soon. The closest I can get to a small stream with native trout is the Smoky Mountains, about 5 ½ hours from me. Oh how I wished I lived in a state like yours so I could experience fishing these beautiful streams.
    By the way what is the make of the fly reel? Enjoyed the post!

    • Bill, Thank you much for the appreciation of the post and its subject matter. Yeah, the streams in this foothill region are really nice and I never take them for granted. They’re slowly starting to warm up for some good hatch and fish activity. As for the reel, it’s an old Hardy Uniqua that has had a lot of good use and remains a pleasure for me despite the fact that it is now close to… 90 years old??

  7. Gramps says:

    Though I am along way from your area of the country, I really enjoyed this post. Not only for the beautiful pictures, but, the meandering way you took us all along on your walk. Very motivating! I don’t get to chase small stream trout much anymore, but, will cherish my next opportunity.

    • It’s important for me to know that, although our distances from each other may be great in some cases, I was able to “guide the walk” for readers. I enjoy having you aboard, Mel, and I’m glad you sensed the motivation. Thanks!

  8. I too felt like I was on a peaceful walk along these streams! Wonderful post.

  9. I want to fish there! Beautiful water. Thanks for taking us along.

  10. You’re welcome, Howard. Right now there’s plenty of water to go around. Just let me know!

  11. Gary says:

    Very nice. When were you at the stream in your first picture if I may ask?

    • Thanks for the comment, Gary. Looking back, I’d say I was working my way up the stream in that photo on a Saturday, probably April 25th, if memory serves… Were you in the area then?

  12. Gary says:

    I took that exact photo April 25th as well.

  13. Very interesting. It’s a pretty remote location and I saw no signs of anyone around. Were you there in the afternoon?

  14. Gary says:

    I was there in the afternoon and didn’t catch anything. The initials for the creek are DR. My photo was of the exact same pool. Looks like I took it slightly below where you took your photo . Water temp. was 46 according to my thermometer. How did you do? I’ll email the photo to you if you wish. Good luck fishing.

    • Wow, DR it is! The water temp was about the same that morning. All I caught there was a very small brook, and a couple that escaped the hook. The cold water made a slow day of it all around. Would love to see your pic of the site via email. Thanks!

  15. Gary says:

    I’m amazed that we were there the same day and took a picture of the exact hole, what are the chances. I had many opportunities to take pics but that was the only one I took.

  16. Gary says:

    I don’t see your email but I was required to put mine in to post. If you’ll email me I’d be happy to send the photo.

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