Setting the Tone

The Tradition:

On the opening day of northern Pennsylvania’s trout fishing season I went out to look at the water. Big surprise. It’s what I usually do on this date. I visited all three branches of the upper Genesee River in Potter County, driving past the knots of anglers gathered at the stocking points, and headed upstream. Way upstream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I often look for wild trout in this settled country, but in places where the tracks of deer and mink and raccoon typically outnumber the prints of fishermen.

On the East Branch (or Main Branch Genesee) I surprised myself by tangling with a couple of large stocked browns. These fish were at least a mile above the highest stocking point on the river, so it was fun to speculate on migration possibilities, or if the big one that got away (yeah the one that grows a little every time you think of it) was a wild fish, the kind that’s probably hiding in every other hole secured by logs and brush.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANext, I visited the headwaters of the Middle Branch Genesee. This year my traditional stop was again close to the source. I had permission to fly cast this private water where the hilltop flow is both pastoral and small. By small, I mean only a few feet wide, but with depth and undercut banks for good trout habitat.

To prevent spooking the fish, I approach some areas on hands and knees. Casting is often an underhand swing or a bow-and-arrow shot. Even then, a good percentage of casts will snag on an old weed or overhanging branch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was pleased to land a 10-inch brookie there, an unusually large one for a stream like this. The watershed beginning on this high plateau is considered to be the only triple divide in the eastern half of the nation. Here the Genesee flows north to Lake Ontario and the far Atlantic. Here, Pine Creek sets up and aims for Chesapeake Bay. And here the Allegheny River starts its ramble toward the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. I’m not sure how the brookie felt before I released it, but I could feel myself disintegrating in a pleasant way and heading for parts unknown.

To keep myself grounded, I visited a lower section of the Middle Branch and noticed something interesting. A trout rose to my strike indicator while fishing a beadhead nymph. Aha.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was time for a dry fly, and a Quill Gordon did the trick. A brook trout slammed the artificial and ushered in a favorite season of the dry fly angler in north-central Pennsylvania.

PlaidCamper recently posted a photo of an old Plymouth he found on the prairie. This West Branch baby can't compete with his Valiant but it's the best that I could do.

PlaidCamper recently posted a photo of an old Plymouth he found on the prairie. This West Branch baby can’t compete with his Valiant but it’s the best that I could do.

The next stop, the West Branch is usually the highpoint of my day’s experience, but this time it was disappointing. It was late in the day. The guys still on the water seemed to be getting bored. The ATVs began to rev up, and I heard the sputtering of a .22.

Okay, it says Plymouth.

Okay, it says Plymouth.

The next morning I revisited a quieter section of the West Branch, but again I was disappointed. There was sediment on the streambed and too much trash along the road.

It was time to shift gears and go experimental.

On the Edge:

My 7-foot Pine Creek watershed rod.

My 7-foot Pine Creek watershed rod.

I drove a short distance to the south side of the big divide. I looked for wild trout on a “blue line” I’d been eyeing on the local maps for several years. The stream had intrigued me long enough. I had to explore it because no one had ever mentioned this stream before, and I’d never seen a reference to it in any form of literature anywhere.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a feeder of the upper Pine. I did some casting on Pine Creek but didn’t see a fish. When getting closer to the mystery stream, however, I felt my confidence return.

According to my map, the stream begins on a mountaintop about two miles above Pine Creek. There would be no road or trail beside its banks. There would be no cabin or human settlement or even a human footprint there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It would take a quarter mile of poking and shuffling before I found the evidence. At first, the fish were tiny things that couldn’t even stay on the hook. Soon afterward, however, the heavens opened up, and I didn’t dare to question my luck.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Colorful brookies took a weighted nymph and a floating Stimulator. They ranged in size from infants up to seniors measuring nine inches or more. In one large pool I must’ve gotten acquainted with all eight or nine residents. I sent them all home to count their blessings and to be careful the next time artificial food comes drifting by their doors.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This mountain stream seemed personal because I’d found it for a day of fishing in beautiful weather. The quiet and the solitude seemed perfect. Tradition met experimentation here, and the mixture was fine with me.

Setting the Tone:

It’ll soon be time for a short break here at Rivertop Central. Next week I’ll be looking at home from a different point of view. As always, thanks for your interest and support of my blog. If I’m lucky, my next post will have a salty flavor, seasoned by sun and wickedness.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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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22 Responses to Setting the Tone

  1. Brent says:

    A small, intimate exploration (outside your norm) that sets the table for a larger-scale rambling in the following week. Plus, the expected pictures of beautiful fish!

  2. Walt, I’m still trying to conjure up the feeling it must be at the opening of the season. I would suggest that it’s probably not much different from going to bed in the dead of winter, longing for that which we seek and waking up to warmer temperatures and anxious fish. Well done and enjoy your upcoming adventure.

    • It’s hard to describe, Howard. For some people, opening day is something as you imagine it there, and maybe that’s the way it was for me as a kid. As I see it now, it might be more like going to bed in the dead of winter and then in the chilly morning heading out to find that a bunch of guys are standing at your favorite casting spot. That’s why I prefer to get chilled in some place with more solitude. And actually, opening day isn’t much more than a token exercise for folks like me who are nuts enough to fish all winter where the waters are legally open and the ice still freezes in your rod guides. Thanks!

  3. plaidcamper says:

    This was quite wonderful, Walt! I really enjoyed these opening day ramblings, and the teasing tension between hope and expectation. There’s no doubting your commitment/dedication (obsession?!) with your hands and knees approach, and the willingness you had to uncover new stream possibilities. Seems the weekend had it all there – love the old wreck, it appears firmly anchored.
    Looking forward to reading about your upcoming sea-salty adventures – have fun!

    • Glad you liked it, PC. Yeah that Plymouth has really gone to earth but it reminded me of your excellent Valiant discovery, which is a world apart, of course. Yup, commitment/obsession… Who knows which way the wind blows. As for the sea salt, well I’m hoping for a pleasant taste. If nothing else, it’ll be good visiting with the youngster and her set.

  4. Ross says:

    Walt, really enjoyed this rambling. The exploration, the expectation and wonder. Beautiful fish, beautiful stream. Enjoy your trip.

    • Hey thanks, Ross. Glad you caught me on that new device of yours. Hope you have some excellent outdoor experiences in the upcoming weeks. I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening here.

  5. Mike says:

    A thin blue line that you’ve been eyeing for the past couple of seasons? What dividends it paid! Beautiful, Walt! The streams, the fish, the adventure, the wreck, and all. Thanks for the PA opening day journey. Enjoy the salt.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    I too bushwhacked a blue line upstream on opening day, to a point where it flows a foot or two wide. Several wild brook trout graced my hook, from dinks to relative lunkers, as I progressed from actual casting to dappng the water with a dry attractor or the occasional bow and arrow cast. Probably not the best idea to wear shorts while pushing through willows, hemlocks, and a hellish amount of bramble – people keep asking what I did to my legs. Have a great trip, Walt. Channel your inner Hemingway and catch a ‘poon or two for me!

    • Sounds like we had a similar opening, Bob. Nice going, except I was still in waders because I had to deal with crossing Pine. It felt memorable, and my legs are probably not as raw as yours. Luckily for me, because it’s time to wear new shorts and get some color. Thanks for the good wishes. I won’t channel Hemingway too closely. I’m not up for getting towed or playing solitaire, but I’ll tip my hat!

  7. Doug says:

    Good to catch up. Spent a week without my glasses and missed a lot. Won’t get all caught up due to missing glasses and a 2 week break from the computer. Nice to see things are still rambling on in nature’s way.

    • We might have to get you one of those neck bands for your glasses, Doug. You’re too much like me if you’re misplacing them. Anyway, glad you’re back in nature’s way and having a good season so far.

  8. loydtruss says:

    Walt
    It’s always special to find a stream that no one has waded in; colorful brook trout taken. My hats off to you for going the extra mile to find those hidden gems. How deep was the little narrow stream? What is the average size of the stocked trout once they released on most of the steams there? How often do they stock? Really enjoyed the read—thanks for sharing

    • Hi Bill. The depth of the little stream varies from several inches to several feet depending on the structure of the flow. Actually that refers to the wild stream that I fished later on. The earlier stream, the narrow one was only inches deep in the riffles but a good foot or more at the bends and undercuts. For this time of year, both streams made for comfortable short-range casting of the fly. The stocked trout also vary in size depending on different factors. The average is around 11 inches but there’s always a smattering of 15-inch two-year-olds, and at least one local club stocks German browns that can go well into the 20s. A lot of the streams get stocked a couple of times in spring and some get a fall stocking as well. So, thanks for the questions and the comments, Bill, and have a good one!

  9. Our trees look a bit greener than yours do even! I thought Alaska was always last. 😉 Sounds like you found a peaceful and fish-full spot.

    • Gotta find that sweet place every now and then, even if it isn’t green yet. As I understand it, your section of Alaska, Mary Anne, has been generally warmer than upstate New York. Crazy new world, eh? But we’re all sailing out to sea together, for better or worse. I hope you’re enjoying all the new changes this spring, and thanks!

  10. Mark Wittman says:

    Walt – lovely pictures and words to match. That upper section of the middle branch looks like the kind of stream I love to explore! I am looking forward to hearing more of you exploration along your new found stream. Have a great trip

  11. Nice. I love those kinds of days.

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