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.
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.
Next, 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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.