I was looking past the evening hatch and peering into the night. At home, I was rereading Jim Bashline’s nightfishing book, subtitled “The Final Frontier,” and preparing for darkness.
Bashline’s Night Fishing for Trout is probably the most absorbing read of its kind. It’s all the more inspiring to me because the late author, one of the leading outdoor writers in this country, and editor of Field & Stream in the 1960s, was from Coudersport, Pennsylvania, a place near and dear to my own madness. Coudersport, built around the junction of Mill Creek and Allegheny River, is the town where night fishing for trout (particularly with flies) developed into the witching sport that it’s become.
George Harvey, Bob Pinney, Gene Utrecht, and Jim Bashline were among the group that spurred the night-fishing game for massive brown trout on the upper Allegheny when the Goodsell Hole (at the junction with Mill Creek) was reputed to be among the most amazing places anywhere for catching browns on moonless nights (when big fish lose their inhibitions and go prowling).
Bashline died in 1995. Tom Dewey spoke at Bashline’s memorial service by the former Goodsell Hole. Dewey had been a neighbor of Jim Bashline, and he spoke about the days fishing here with Jim and many of his cohorts. Dewey was just a youngster when he first met Jim and learned how to nightfish with the masters.
I once had the privilege of fishing the nearby Oswayo Creek with Tom Dewey. We didn’t nightfish, but I learned a thing or two from this friendly elder. Tom had once wrestled a 30-inch brown trout in an isolated pool of the Oswayo– at night, when you couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. And as we fished near that pool again, we were struck by one of the fiercest thunderstorms I’ve ever experienced while far from a vehicle. Thinking of it now, my head reels like a test pattern on a screen.
That reminds me… I’ve been tying some North Country Spiders, patterns loved for their simplicity and effectiveness when trout are feeding just below the surface. Simple?
What should have been a simple job turned out to be a comedy of errors. I had a couple of botched productions looking at each other as if they were the 70s stoners Cheech and Chong:
“Hey man, what you watchin’ on the television?”
“Oh man, I’m watchin’ this western movie. You know, cowboys/Indians.”
“What?! Wait a minute, man. That ain’t a movie. That’s a test pattern!”
It was late evening and I was on the Genesee. The trout began to rise to what was probably a hatch of Isonychia. I presented an imitation of the spinner fly– the Purple Haze, or “Hendrix fly,” as my friend Dale refers to it. My best fish on the pattern would be a brown of 15 inches.
I was testing patterns for late day fishing and for casting after dark…Experimenting for the main event that happens when the evening sun goes down… Practicing for the Maine event next week when my wife and I spend time in the northern forest… We’ll be going off the grid for a week while camping on the waters, and hopefully it’ll be more fun than an equivalent of going off the “movie” into a test pattern of sorts.
I was reading Bashline’s book about the old days on the Goodsell Hole and similar haunts, of Jim’s friendship with the legendary Robert Pinney who clerked at the Crittendon Hotel and lived for flyfishing, particularly with a set of wet flies after dark.
I tied a Yellow Dun (#8), a locally famous pattern now lost to history. Bashline had provided a skeletal recipe for it in his book. My variant of this pattern first tied by Caroline Phillips, of Coudersport, shared one thing similar with all other variants ever tied– there was no yellow or dun-colored material anywhere on it. I could only hope that the fly would be productive and echo the proclamations of night-anglers who had said there was nothing like it for meaty browns before or since.
After Caroline Phillips and her fly-fishing husband left for California in 1920, the secret for concocting a Yellow Dun vanished forever. Imitations abounded but nothing could really reproduce the Yellow Dun’s body of rosy mohair. In the water, the original body is said to have appeared like “a glob of bloody flesh.”
I even tied up a #8 Governor, another old pattern, simply because Jim Bashline considered it one of the most effective patterns for night fishing in “God’s Country” Pennsylvania, and because I’m a sucker for the history and traditions of this game.
I visited a huge river pool below Coudersport. It’s nothing like the Goodsell Pool that the Army Corps of Engineers tore out to the horror of Bashline and his friends, replacing it with a concrete trough abomination. My selected pool, however, is about 200 feet in length, and deep enough for swimmers to leap from a rope tied high above an old abutment.
The water was a fair 66 degrees, and I quickly caught a nice brown on the surface with an Ant, but darkness was approaching and it was time to string up for the night. I switched my reel, line and leader for a brace of wets, the Yellow Dun and Governor.
Several large fish were feeding underneath the surface and displacing water well beyond my casting range. This pool is deep, with high banks dense with vegetation, so maneuverability is limited. As darkness overcame me, an occasional splash or burbling noise raised the hairs along my neck. It was time to face “The Final Frontier,” as Bashline called it.
What was that? A beaver, carp, muskie, trout? A test pattern for the brain and heart! I had my escape route to the highway all planned out, but at times like this, especially, it helps to have a fishing pal nearby.
I’d like to say I hooked into a monster (of the trout variety) and contributed something to the night-fishing stories of the Allegheny but the best that happened was a jolt on the iron of a hook.