December 30. Nearly all the streams and rivers of the region were flowing high and muddy from the recent rains, but I found a headwaters stream that was manageable for fly fishing. I was close to the source of one of the longest river systems in North America and, for an hour or so, I felt comfortable casting a Glo-bug in the cold, dark hemlock woods of northern Pennsylvania.
I landed only one wild brown, a nice fish with color and, all in all, I got in some good practice for winter fishing– reabsorbing that slow-motion feel of rod and reel and line and (sometimes) fish with half-frozen fingers, toes, and brain.
January 1. Tim and I got together for a fly-rod outing once again, our fourth consecutive New Year’s work-out, despite some challenging conditions. Our options in New York were limited due to closed seasons, snowy weather, and a lack of time, but we did well, considering…
We opted to fish a Steuben County creek that neither one of us had much experience with. We knew that Mill Creek had a reputation for excellent wild trout fishing, if you don’t mind casting on a small stream through some really tight, brushy corridors. It’s an under-utilized fishery, at least by fly casters, so, of course, we thought it might be fun. The weather reminded us of steelhead conditions but, in fact, it was New Year’s Day, so what the hell…
I found myself up in one of those brushy corridors of Mill, in knee-deep water, when I hooked a nice brown. I pulled off my new gloves– a pair of cheapos from the Dollar General store– and stuck ’em between my knees while pulling in the trout. With a quick photo and release, the trout said goodbye and slipped into the roiling water, along with one of the gloves. Actually it all happened so fast I never saw the glove depart.
It’s possible. If so, no amount of winter practice could have prevented the theft. In that case, the trout had some New Year designs of its own– even if the use of a glove is less than practical in a trout’s small world.
We almost met the planet’s sorriest spin fisherman, a fellow who had just worked a deep ravine. Giving him credit for venturing out on a cold first day of the year, we approached him to say hello and to ask about fishing access on the creek. The guy was young and owned a nice truck. It seemed to us that he had reasons for being optimistic about his life, but when we said hello, he merely grunted and never even slowed his pace while heading toward his vehicle.
It seemed that something had stolen his sense of human worth, and it’s doubtful that the culprit was a trout. Even if he had just lost a massive brown in that ravine, he would have come out with a smile and a shake of the head, but no, a wild fish seldom steals a human soul.
After hiking for about a mile on an abandoned railroad bed and doing some scouting for later in the season, we resorted to a nearby river, the Conhocton, upstream of Avoca.
It was getting colder. The wind was picking up, and snow showers filled the air. Ice began to form in the guides of our bamboo rods, but it was good to try the deep river waters, to cast in the dark winter air, and to catch a second brown.
The trout never stole another item from us. In fact, fishing for trout gave us something to remember, a gift to be shared among friends.
All I really wanted was to feel the big woods again while practicing my underhand Glo-bug swing on tiny water.
I fished for an hour, dropping a fly into miniature pockets of the brook. Buckseller Run doesn’t have much trout “structure,” but it offers me a chance to get into the woods on short notice, and to hike away as far as I like.
I enjoyed pulling up small natives, even though they all got away before I could release them manually. Getting chilled, I put away the fly and hiked until the winter warmth returned and made the solitude feel perfect.