Remote, Obscure, Essential

1. Redwater Creek is a small, remote stream in the upper drainage of my home river and, in terms of my fishing experience, has been regarded as something of a “last frontier.” It

upper Oswayo

upper Oswayo

was the last significant tributary of the upper river in New York State from which I hadn’t yet caught a brook trout.

After the lumbering carnage of the early twentieth century, followed by the rapid rise of agriculture and other land use in the region, Redwater was one of only several streams in my region whose brook trout population continued to flourish for a while, according to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut something detrimental happened after the lumbering era hit its peak then faded. According to some recent reports from conservation officials and older fishermen, something happened to this stream (and others like it) that caused its flow rate to diminish and, not inconsequentially, its fishing to “go south.”

My several previous attempts to catch a native trout in Redwater Creek were fruitless. Granted, the stream is an obscure blue line on the topographic map, a blue line with resurgent forest cover, but it just didn’t look like a home for brook trout. The stream is tiny, averaging five to nine feet wide, mostly shallow, and without the kind of pools and undercuts preferred by native trout in hilly or mountainous terrain.

2. The day before my visit to the stream was a day of “almosts.” I almost made positiveOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

identification of a bobcat stepping from the roadway in the distance. Several miles later I almost surely identified a coyote running across the road, and then I stopped to check a boggy area for moccasin-flowers.

I finally found several of these interesting pink lady’s-slippers but their blooms were only in the bud stage, or were almost at their peak of color.

It was that kind of day, almost perfect.

Kettle Creek

Kettle Creek

Early in the morning of May 23rd, I felt the need to revisit Redwater Creek (my alledged OCD kicking in?), to see if I could finally locate a brook trout in the stream and to state with confidence that the water was alive.

I almost didn’t have my way.

3. I parked on a rough seasonal road and dropped down to the stream, as I’ve done a few times over the past several years. Access is difficult here; an angler needs permission from the timber/mining corporation that owns the land, and then needs to be prepared for a bushwhack.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was armed with a 5’9″ three-weight and a short tapered leader with a weighted fly. There was frost in the valleys, and the likelihood of dry fly action, as sweet as that could be, was minimal.

The first half-mile of water looked familiar– shallow, flood-torn, and littered with the detritus of industrialism– old tires, bottles, shards of plastic– washed down from the road. But I’m glad I forged on and didn’t quit, as in previous years.

The forest became more attractive. Foamflower and wild geranium colored the floor. Vireos and ovenbirds gave an auditory dimension to the heights above the stream.

11" brook, W. Br. Genesee

11″ brook, W. Br. Genesee

I finally found a little pool with some depth but its roof of fallen trees prevented a traditional cast. I made a bow cast through an open “window” and the fly plopped into the center of the pool. A sizeable trout took it but quickly twisted free. Damn! Another lost opportunity? My almost link to Redwater Creek?

Ordinarily, I would’ve moved on, but this pool might be the only one I’d find, so I waited several minutes and tied on a different fly.

The trout took again, and I pulled him out– a hemlock-colored native more than seven inches long, a small fish but a nice adult from a tiny feeder stream in rivertop country.

Green Drake, W. Br. Genesee

Green Drake, W. Br. Genesee

So, what does it mean to catch a singular fellow in a stream that might otherwise be seen as totally devoid of trout?

Could Trout Unlimited do a little project there (assuming it was willing and able) to help improve the habitat for trout, or should everyone just keep their hands off the place and let nature take its course as it’s done for many years?

Granted, my little survey of the stream was amateurish, but it’s given me a fresh look at its flow. It looks to be a microcosm of the world of brook trout– as it was before the day of European settlers and as it is today. It speaks of both diminishment and hopeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA.

There are numerous brook trout streams in my rivertop country that have more fish and have better brook trout angling than Redwater Creek, but now there’s a new addition to my family of waters that I’ll have to keep an eye on.

I could say that my Redwater quest is almost done. Considering my attempts over the years, I almost proved that brook trout could no longer be caught in this headwater stream. Instead, I found the creek essential.

pink lady's slipper

pink lady’s slipper


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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16 Responses to Remote, Obscure, Essential

  1. plaidcamper says:

    OCD or well honed instinct?! I enjoyed reading this, a fine combination of words and images – for me, almost like being there! Enjoy your evening.

    • Plaidcamper,
      Well, I guess it depends on who you’re asking. My wife would probably answer one way and I would answer the other. She’s a therapist, though, so maybe she just doesn’t get it. Say what? After all these years? Just kidding here, but I’m glad you asked, and am thankful that you enjoyed the post!

  2. I admire and envy your confidence in finding fish in these obscure places. I’m only confident if I’ve been there before and caught fish. Otherwise, I start doubting myself and losing patience quickly.

    • Jim, If truth be told, my confidence is rather schizoid– I am confident that I’ll try to fish and get to know as much of my local watershed as possible, but confidence in my ability to find and catch trout in its more remote streams is another matter all together. It’s like a crazy game that I’m serious about and try to have fun with. And as you know, confidence needs a place to begin growing with… Thanks again for being here.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    You’ve inspired me to revisit the small stream I’d mentioned in some previous comments (when the water levels come up a bit). I refuse to believe that there isn’t at least a marginal wild trout population residing there. I haven’t seen any drakes yet, in fact, the mayfly hatches seem to have been fairly sparse so far this year, while the caddis have been thriving. I guess more field research is in order.

    • I was thinking you’d relate to this from your own small stream quest that you had mentioned. I’d say keep on, as opportunity allows. It’s getting tough now with all the growth out there, but if the water levels remain decent, there’s always a chance. Especially with a dry fly. In my case it helped to know that brookies definitely had been there in the past.
      Mayflies have been sporadic at best. Trout were feeding hungrily on midges, of all things, this weekend, till at last on Sunday the sulphurs got serious. I had yesterday off from work, so I fished in the rain and, finally, the sulphurs, BWOs and, yes, the drakes came off to the excitement of the trout.

  4. Bill Ragosta says:

    Very nice, as always. Loved the photos and the narrative.

  5. markw says:

    Well done in being hopefully persistent.

  6. Brent says:

    “Almost” can seem almost (see what I did there?) fatalist. In these cases, it implies that one has tried, and having failed by a small margin, given up. Here, “almost” (as it applies to Redwater) seems to mean “try harder next time.”

    As a side note, any idea where the name Redwater comes from?

    • Yeah I almost proved it couldn’t be done but, negatives aside, there’s a positive element here. As for the name, it’s part of my intrigue for the place; I’m looking for its source. One can imagine and “almost” get a sense of what it might come from, but then it disappears. Maybe someday.

  7. Walt
    This post proves the worth of stream restoration. I hope someday that Redwater Creek will get its makeover. Beautiful brook taken!!! Thanks for sharing

  8. Bill, I share your enthusiasm for the stream. At least a small part of it might benefit from habitat assistance so that the trout regains a foothold. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  9. My favorite has been going through a restoration one rock at a time it seems. Yours is beautiful!

    • Thanks Howard! One rock at a time is how I started up a headwaters project before I finally enlisted TU and the state DEC to help with digger placements, logs, etc. I think it’s helping, and I hope your stream is showing improvements as well.

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