The Rivertop Construction Company

To seize the time, a tranquil evening in early May, I took a walk to the beaver ponds DSCN6373to see all I could see.

I took a path that was less than a path, a rough walk downhill from the woods, and even before I got to the ponds, I heard and saw the season’s first Baltimore oriole. I heard the liquid fluting from the treetops then saw the striking black and orange plumage, bringing a sense of tropics to this summer home.

DSCN6384A beaver swam the reservoir behind its dam. It hauled yet another well-chewed pole. The beavers change the landscape here; they shake up the riverine environment; they change the lifestyles of a watery domain.

A kingfisher dove in for its fast food; the deer stopped to drink; the shadbush bloomed with snowy petals from the streambank to the top of distant hills.

I paused and sat on a daffodil terrace above the pond. Like the beaver colony, I was DSCN6376reconstructing my world season by season, living off the water, watching the wild, renewing my life’s contract through observation and through writing.

Salamanders floated in the upper layers of the pond, their legs dangling at their sides like those of children on a raft. Beavers worked the bottom layers, building a world as if here to stay. The poplars on the higher ground had dropped one by one, their bases chipped away by the teeth of night.

DSCN6360I imagined the American grannom, genus Brachycentrus, the “Mother’s Day caddis,” hatching on the trout streams now.

The moth-like insects live among runs and riffles, the larvae hatching from small square houses built from plants. The immatures swim downstream, a rappelling motion whereby a silken line anchors them to a rock while holding in the current, one stretch at a time.

Here’s how I tie the Grannom wet:DSCN6345

Hook: Wet fly #12-16.

Tag: Lime-colored thread.

Body: Peacock herl.

Soft hackle: Starling or English grouse.

I climbed my way back up the hill, grabbing a sapling here, a downed poplar branch there, imagining a rappelling motion while reentering the woods.

DSCN6391The next day I would check the river for a hatch of Hendrickson mayflies and the Mother’s Day caddis. If I’d see them and the trout were rising, I’d have one more reason to thank Mother Earth.

Even here in the beavers’ realm, I was plotting my next move with trout. For better or worse, I’ve given up a lot to build my anchor line and hitch it to the streams.

As John Steinbeck said, “It’s always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses, has it coming.”

The next day I would fish the upper Oswayo, the place of wild trout, though I would see no fish there, and no hatches. Going downstream, however, to the place where stocked and wild trout live together, I’d find some action…

Growing tired of pitting “intelligence against the fish” by casting tandem caddis flies and getting no reaction, I would change my tactics. Rather than risk fishing for stockers and losing with a catch of standard trout, I decided to cast for the “big ones” in the deeper holes by drifting a sunken streamer.

So, duck and cover! I’ve got it coming! Hide out in the twilight woods.

I would see the flash of a trout and set the hook. Weight! Energy! Without ceremony, I’d horse the rainbow upstream, away from the logs and faster water. In the net I’d find a trout measurement of nearly 18 inches.

Okay, I heard the barred owls calling. What were they saying? I heard the first woodthrush carolling. Ah, that’s better!

Another half dozen trout, brook and brown and rainbow, would come to hand there in the “Oz” before I’d quit. The migrating warblers would be common, and the wood anemone would star the bank.

Who said I’ve got it coming?

Not yet, not yet. And the catbird’s mellow squawking…

Brother, I made it home.DSCN6403DSCN6374

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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18 Responses to The Rivertop Construction Company

  1. Brent says:

    Signs of the season: Beavers building, flowers sprouting, leaves budding, and fly fishermen analyzing their craft.

  2. I wonder if the trout ever consider the beavers a nuisance. Or if the beavers think the trout are just too lazy to build a proper home.

    • I’ve wondered the same thing, Jim, and if they just ignore each other and deal with elements on their own, or if they somehow see each other as decent or lousy neighbors, and maybe just saying, we’ll leave it to the scientists to figure it all out.

  3. loydtrussb says:

    The beaver has to be my favorite of all the warm water creatures I see often when I am fishing. Its ingenuity is amazing and really a tremendous asset to the streams, ponds and lakes they inhabit.
    I am so impressed with the Grannom wet, what technique do you use when fishing the fly? I have really got into fishing wet flies and soft hackles this season, and having success with both patterns. Thanks for sharing

    • Hi Bill,
      Yes the beaver has to be impressive in many ways and is rather fascinating to watch, although I’m wary of them while fishing. They’re a fine asset to a healthy stream, if their numbers are in balance with the carrying capacity. I like to use the Grannom both dry and wet. and often use a tandem cast, with a dry fly and a dropper of the same pattern. Then it’s upstream and across over riffles and runs.
      Thanks much for your support.

  4. Gramps says:

    Very well described, Walt. I felt like I was there just a step or two behind you. Interesting, for sure, to just sit and take it all in as the Beaver does this thing and the stream trout do theirs. Co-existence in nature is a beautiful view!

    • Thanks for the pat on the back, Mel, and for the oppportunity to have you along. Trout and beaver don’t always get along that well together here in the East, as far as stream health is concerned, but when there are no ecological conflicts it is a beautiful view.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Ah, yes, the grannoms. I’ve had my rear end handed to me the last two nights by stockies rising to emerging pupa, boiling just under the surface. A variety of techniques failed to produce more than one fish each time out – floating nymphs, dry/dropper, greased leader, a wet fly swung in tandem with the “Leisenring lift” – all were met with nothing more than the occasional strike followed by a missed hookset. The fish I did catch took a mayfly cripple, so go figure. Sometimes I’m convinced the only trout I catch are the village idiots. Of course, all this will send me scurrying to the tying bench to whip up a fly that I’m SURE will work, and when that one disappoints, I’ll come up with another that has to be the answer. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the May evenings when it really is nice “just to be out there.”

    • Bob,
      These May evenings have been wonderful so far; smell of apple blossoms in the air; lilacs out already (early, for god’s sake); the sighting of a black bear and fox kits, etc., great stuff even if we’re dealing with the frustrations of a caddis hatch as you describe it. Your experience there is something I haven’t run into for a while, and I’m not sure I’m ready for another… I think immediately of a frustrating autumn caddis hatch on the Genesee, and the tan caddis hatch on lower Pine at this time of year…Maddening, but wonderful, too, in the way it helps us evolve, or should I say, devolve….

  6. You’re quite a storyteller Walt. Thanks!

  7. trutta says:

    Always refreshing to read of your awakening spring in the US. I don’t know if it has to do with the extremes of your seasons relative to ours, or maybe you are just more aware than us, Walt, but you and your kin are superb in your knowledge of the fauna and flora on your trout streams. Your writing has the tones of Aldo Leopold in it, and is every bit as good. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Trutta, and for your own continuing reflections from the trout streams and the fields of South Africa. Reading your blog has provided an excellent view of a bright world “downunder” relative to the northern hemisphere. Knowledge of the flora and fauna, as I see it, comes with the territory of being a nature bum where wild trout are a focus. When we’re kids, hopefully we have an interest in what happens out of doors, and we get involved. With age comes experience, and the reading of such modern bibles as the work of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson and the best of fly-fishing writers. It’s a great world to become involved with, when we let our interests grow.

  8. Great pictures of the beavers! Are they aggressive at all? We have a lot of them at a lake in town where people walk their dogs all the time, and the beavers are nasty to the dogs! Also, I love the line you wrote that contains “the teeth of the night.”

    • Thanks Mary Anne! Yes, although beavers typically fear the approach of humans and rarely show aggression, they can occasionally be aggressive if one is in their territory. A fly-fisherman I know was once attacked and had to beat an animal on the head with his fly rod till it broke. The beaver wouldn’t let go till he dragged it to shore and used a rock. Had to receive rabies treatment. That, however, was not a usual response.

  9. Les Kish says:

    And so, another beaver story. Some years back Fish and Game was floating a local river doing a bit of fish shocking. One section of stream was known to be inhabited a big, old, brown trout (is there any other kind?). As the crew floated on through, they arrived at the undercut bank favored by said fish. They got ready, did their thing, sent out some electronic stimulation. A huge brown shot out from under the bank. A deft thrust of the net yielded …….one pissed off beaver.

    • Whoa, great beaver/trout story… glad I wasn’t the one yielding the net there. That’s a lot of weight and angry fur! I wonder if it had been mistaken for a grandfather trout at one time, thus the start of a local legend… Thanks Les.

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