Fishing the Forest Shade

It was a beautiful May morning on one of my favorite trout streams, Kettle Creek.

Chester and the Foamflowers

Chester and the Foamflowers

Everything looked terrific although there was no discernible hatch activity as yet, and the trout were still lethargic in the cool water as the sun bore down overhead. Some spin and bait fishermen were on the upper creek and reported that they “killed ’em” at the bridge where the stockers reigned, but elsewhere they weren’t having any luck at all.

I tried a dry fly and a beadhead nymph in the pools and riffles where I typically do well at this time of year, but nothing was happening. I had an issue with my back and wasn’t sure if I could make a full day of it or not, so I decided on a change of venue.

brookie on the run

brookie on the run

That is, I left the unproductive waters of Kettle and ascended a tributary for a short distance, where I also found no action, and then headed up a forest brook that fed the tributary, a small stream that had been kind to me in previous springs.

The brook is on state land and flows through a big forest. It took a while before I found a sizeable pool, a spot capable of holding a native trout larger than just five or six inches. That’s the thing about these remote brookie flows. You won’t find fish anywhere near the average size of the trout downstream on the big creeks, but for what they lack in length and girth, they make up for in beauty– in themselves as well as their surroundings.

in the forest shade

in the forest shade

And I knew from experience that every now and then a little brook like this can yield a wild fish of surprising proportion.

Sure, the trout are always hungry in a small springtime brook, but the forest and its canopy keeps out the overbearing sun which can be a problem in the open valleys where the big waters flow. Down there, at times like this, the sun can keep the fish hunkered low and hidden from predators and fellows like myself.

swallowtail luncheon

swallowtail luncheon

What you do up here is pinch off the barb on a small dry fly that floats well and has good visibility. You tie the dry fly to a short tapered leader and you work upstream, slowly and, where possible, along the bank.

You might think about the guys downstream who like to fish the bridge pools. There the stocked trout tend to be short-lived, but they’re hearty eaters for a time, even on days like today. They’d probably chase a cheeseburger if you tossed it to them.DSCN8686

I don’t intend to be mean about hatchery fish, in general. They have their place in the scheme of trout fishing, but in some streams and rivers they are overly relied upon and are potentially injurious to their wild or native brethren. I enjoy fishing for them at times, and some of them are capable of surviving and adapting for a season or so. In that case they become a challenge for the fly caster, as they should be, but they’re not designed for such inside the hatchery.

wild and native in the Northeast

wild and native in the Northeast

There’s something different about the forest solitude, as I’m sure you understand. Today the foamflower was in bloom along the stream, the dominant wildflower, and the ovenbirds and scarlet tanagers were in song.

It’s often the case that the higher you climb on these feeder streams, the better the habitat becomes for native trout. I approached a small pool formed by water tumbling over a transverse log, a spot that’s been productive in other years.

sometimes a tiny pool can yield a surprising trout

sometimes a tiny pool can yield a surprising trout

The first cast of the dry fly from below the pool produced some drag on the fly, and a sizeble trout rose and missed it. I was afraid I might have put it down for a while, but decided to switch to a beadhead nymph. The trout took the nymph immediately and came out shaking in all its heavy, blue-spotted glory.

I took a picture or two and quickly returned the animal. That one, plus some other nice specimens, made me glad to have hit the forest shade while the sun warmed up the valley down below.

forest glade, Dryden Hill

forest glade, Dryden Hill

  •                     *                    *                    *

P.S. In conclusion I’ve added some May photos taken nearby while working on the island series. I hope they add some visual spice….

muskrats have moved into the beaver pond

muskrats have moved into the beaver pond

can you see me? i'm a red fox pup. at my den.

can you see me? i’m a red fox pup. at my den.

there's my bro

there’s my bro

bald eagle nest in pine, Cryder Creek

bald eagle nest in pine, Cryder Creek

an Allegheny River brown

an Allegheny River brown

Beautiful like a... March Brown. OK, so I've lost some tail...Say, if you haven't seen a copy of the book yet, check out BLAM. and thanks!

Beautiful like a… March Brown. OK, so I’ve lost some tail…Say, if you haven’t seen a copy of the book yet, check out BLAM. and thanks!

upper Kettle Creek

upper Kettle Creek

there was an awesome sulphur hatch on the "Oz," 5/22/16

there was an awesome sulphur hatch on the “Oz,” 5/22/16


Spring Mills brookie #2

Spring Mills brookie #2

upper Allegheny with shadbush blossoms

upper Allegheny with shadbush blossoms

rose-breasted grosbeak

rose-breasted grosbeak



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!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Fishing the Forest Shade

  1. Brent says:

    Some great photo grabs of the local fauna, especially the little fox puddie-uddie-ump-tays. Nice to see that your back condition hasn’t quenched your thirst for brook trout!

    • Thanks Brent. The pups are sand hill graduates of The Brook and Mustache School of Earthly Composition. Gotta love ’em. The back problem was killing me for a couple days but now is in retreat. Gotta love that, too…

  2. I hope that your back problems don’t stop your trekking about taking more of these gorgeous photographs Walt. My only knowledge of Kettle Creek is the Kettle Creek Riffle glass rod a friend made for me. After seeing your photo of Kettle Creek it gives me a greater appreciate for the rod. It’s beautiful.

    • Howard,
      Your Riffle rod, or the blanks for it at least, came from the fly shop downstream on Kettle, not far from the subject of this post. Cool place, by the way. The shop has an impressive selection of graphite, glass and bamboo sticks. I bought one of the Riffle bamboo rods there and use it frequently on the mountain streams. Anyway, I’m glad you have this fishing connection here! And yes, I’m sure to be trekking on. Thanks!

  3. Salla says:

    Never get tired of the beautiful colours of all the different fishes.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Lovely pics, all of them. Y’know, the March brown just might be the most beautiful of all the ephemeroptera – but whose’s asking me, eh? Hopefully the fishing gods will smile on me tomorrow as I hit the stream, maybe even encounter some Maccaffertium vicarium!

  5. plaidcamper says:

    Chester and the Foamflowers! Thoroughly enjoyed this, Walt. Your usual combination of witty words and splendid photographs raised a smile. We’ve had a solid mix of rain and snow here through a holiday weekend, so the warmth of your post is very welcome. Are you trying out potential band names or book titles with the photo captions?!
    Thanks, and stay supple.

    • Heh, heh, I’m glad the Chester caption hit you that way! I liked the name potential there from the moment I laid the rod beside the flowers, but better that it brought a warming moment to those beautiful flurry-filled moments in the mountain province. Thanks, as always, and I’ll keep some titles/names in mind!

  6. Mark Wittman says:

    You definitely make the right call heading up into the forest shade! We are seeing the grosbeaks around here too, what a magnificent song they sing.

  7. Les Kish says:

    Walt, those small forest streams are full of surprises and rewards for us explorer types, even if the fish aren’t “cheeseburger eaters”! Nurse that back into shape carefully……

    • Les, While we’re fishing those forest beauties we leave the cheeseburger crowd behind us. For a while it’s just water and maybe some trail mix, and we don’t even seem to mind! Thanks, and will do….

  8. Anonymous says:

    I made a jaunt to your area last Saturday. The backcountry is simply wonderful this time of year. The brooks showed themselves very nicely and there wasn’t a lack of them. Fished a little 7’2 cane rod made by Wyatt. Relish your posts and the special places you take your readers. Sure looks like you had fun Walt and I bet your back and mind feel better after fishing. Great therapy…

    • Anon.,
      Glad to hear that you made a visit to the PA rivertop country. I say this is the best time of the year to find good fishing in the backwoods, and probably through the month of June, although any season has its rewards. The Wyatt sounds like a sweet one, probably an excellent choice for many of the streams. Don’t know the builder but will try to learn more. Thanks for responding here, and I hope you have many more pleasant visits!

  9. loydtruss says:

    It is amazing how the larger brook trout survive in the those small pools. I would think they would be a limited amount of food to sustain the 2 or 3 trout in that size pool. I assume the trout will move on to another pool during floods and even normal flows.
    I could see where landing a native trout is special coming from these small streams. Beautiful area you were fishing, thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      It is amazing that a 10 inch trout can survive in a pool like this. Food supply is limited as it passes through, let’s say, a pool of 2 to 3 foot depth, with maybe a log undercut, a rock or two for shelter. That trout may be 3 or 4 years old, and constantly on alert for danger. It survives for a time, while numbers of its brethren do not. When it dies, hopefully there will be another survivor to take its place in that pool or maybe in another location nearby. It’s fun to think about, but it’s no game for a trout.
      A beautiful place, regardless.
      Thanks for commenting!

  10. Doug says:

    Beautiful. That fox looks too close for my comfort though.

  11. Mike says:

    Gorgeous fish and pictures, Walt. Haven’t been around much but got to fish the Lehigh River Gorge…it was pretty remote and some good hiking and fishing…thought of you. Looks like all is well! Hope the back is ok!!

  12. Thanks Mike! All okay except I’m still waiting computer repair so I can get back into blogging. I’m looking forward to reading your Lehigh River report. Haven’t fished that one that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.