Chester’s Home Visit

[I’ve been away for a while, unfortunately, living in the land of no computers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I’ve missed being able to communicate with friends and fellow bloggers. I’m back now, tentatively, and have a lot of catching up to do. If all goes well, expect a flurry of posting as I try to come to speed. As always, thanks for your support.]

About a month ago I took Chester the bamboo fly rod to his home state of Virginia. He didn’t mind my rounds of social visitations as long as he could get out on the water and fish every now and then. DSCN8848

En route south, we stopped at Big Spring Run near Newville, Pennsylvania. I had fished the run about a year ago but this was Chester’s introduction to the stream made famous by the likes of the Letort Regulars and then by the fish hatchery that almost killed the water by releasing effluents not so many years ago.

It was midday at Big Spring, and the hot humid air registered close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. These were not the best conditions for casting in the limpid waters of the resurgent “Ditch”– one of the most difficult and challenging trout streams in America.

DSCN8849I gave myself two hours to cast for wild brook trout (they can grow to 18 inches in length here) and for massive rainbows with a long tapered leader. I could only hope to meet the minimum expectation.

A robin flew across the stream from nowhere and somehow caught the tiny fly in its feathers. I knew better than to set the hook, and recalled an April day when a muskrat intercepted a drifting fly. On each account, the animal released the fly after drawing out a quantity of line. Believe me, I don’t do these things on purpose. It’s just that, if you fish enough and put in the time, odd hook-ups do occur occasionally. Sometimes I even catch a trout or two.

redside dace, Rapidan

redside dace, Rapidan

I saw any number of large scud eaters cruising through the watercress and maze of submerged logs. Given the heat and the bright light of early afternoon (not to mention my lack of expertise on southern Pennsylvania limestoners), I was lucky to catch a small wild rainbow on this Fly Fishing Only stream.

I was told that a secret to possible success here is to cast a tiny #28 dry fly on a 7X or 8X tippet, but Chester and I weren’t feeling up to it at that point. I mean, conditions were miserable enough without considering the anguish of losing a five-pound grass trout on a gossamer thin line.

More favorable was an evening hike into Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park with friends and family. Chester came along for some casting on the lower Rapidan River, one of my favorites in the Old Dominion.

cracked boulder, Rapidan River

cracked boulder, Rapidan River

The river had warmed to 62 degrees and had a strong flow from the recent rains. The trout seemed lethargic and less than hungry, but I caught several nice brookies and even some redside dace that rose to a Light Cahill dry. Obviously the bloom was off the springtime feed in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but the wild roses on the forest edge were sweetly scented and lent an excellent air to the songs of thrush and warbler.

The next morning I was fishing on the Moormans west of Charlottesville. The river trail into the national park was crowded with holiday walkers and joggers but, luckily enough, the anglers were few and far between.DSCN8881

I fished familiar pools and runs with both a dry fly and a nymph and did pretty well. The trouting was slower than on northern waters at this time of year, but the ancient mountains seemed as beautiful as ever.

Chester was comfortable here. He had been crafted thoroughly by human hands not far from this location. While we were walking back to the car, I heard two joggers approaching from behind. “Careful,” said one guy to the other. “There’s a fishing pole ahead.”

in the bamboo grove

in the bamboo grove

Last year, when he was really young, Chester might have shuddered at hearing himself described as a “pole” instead of a fly rod, but the more mature stick didn’t even flinch. He and I just stepped aside comfortably on the trail and let the joggers pass.DSCN8883DSCN8884DSCN8889

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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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20 Responses to Chester’s Home Visit

  1. Very nice to have you back Walt. I was beginning to worry. Beautiful water, fish and a tip of the hat to Chester. Does he ever answer you back?

    • Thank you, Howard. I’ve got some catching up to do with my blog readings, but it’s good to have the old machine repaired. I was a little hesitant to call Chester a “stick” there at the end, but I think he understood that I was only poking fun and testing his fiber, so to speak. But no, he’s kind of quiet, and I appreciate that.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Delighted you have returned from your unplanned exile Walt, I’ve been missing the rivertop trips. You’re back with a fine post here, and what a wonderful friend you have there in Chester – he has character! Thoroughly enjoyed each river description, and that dace is a beautiful little fish.

    • We’re glad to be back in the hyper-busy blogosphere, PC. Missed communicating with friends like yourself. I should have hung out a sign, GONE FISHIN’, but it wouldn’t have accounted for the work and frustration that also went down this past month. Anyway, always great to hear from you.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Welcome back, Walter. Technology is great when it works, innit? Looking forward to hearing more tales from the river tops!

  4. Thanks Bob. I’m only surprised that this 10 year-old computer hadn’t crashed years ago. It’s got a new hard drive now but things are still shaky. Will get a new outfit soon. Yeah… when it’s working… I hope you’re having a good fishing season!

  5. Mark Wittman says:

    I Love the Shenandoah mountains! Glad to see you were able to get out even though it might not be the best time of year there. Have you ever fished the Rapidan up by Hoover’s camp?

    • Mark, This year I didn’t get to the Blue Ridge until later, but it was still a pleasant visit. Yes, fishing up by Hoover Camp is a stimulating experience, one that I hope to revisit some springtime to come. Thanks for commenting, and best wishes for the summer to be!

  6. Brent says:

    Nice first post back from the technological wilderness! It hadn’t seemed like such a long time that you were out of commission, and then this post reminded me that the computer crashed when you returned from the Virginia visit. I’m glad Chester didn’t let a slur spoil his weekend.

  7. Kevin Frank says:

    I miss that area. I actually was hiking the Rapidan Trail once with the intention of fishing its waters. My son had a diaper explosion and that was the end of that.

    • Hopefully, Kevin, you’ll get back to that beautiful area, and maybe with your son, who’ll no doubt be a little more independent then, and maybe even interested in fishing with you.

  8. Doug says:

    Really nice to have you back Walt. Nice to you and Chester back at it in the great outdoors, connecting once again with the wilderness.

  9. Les Kish says:

    Walt, it’s good to check out for a while isn’t it? It wasn’t too awfully long ago that we didn’t have computers, and we managed.

    Now, that little red side dace sure is a smart looking fellow……

    • Les, You’re right, in at least one sense it is good to check out for a while. I reminded myself that most of us did pretty darn well before the PC and the fancy phone came around to divert us from the remnants of nature (the way TV did it about 60 years ago). That redside dace has no need for such stuff. Yeah, he looks like a graduate student of fishes, eh?

  10. loydtruss says:

    Walt
    Fishing beautiful streams, that know Chester enjoyed; I’m still thinking of getting a Chester as my companion as well. Glad you are back with us—thanks for sharing

    • Hi Bill, thanks for commenting. Yeah if you do get interested in a Chester (google Chester Fly Rods), I can highly recommend its sweet casting stroke and companionship potential. A lifetime investment, and you can always pass it on as a family heirloom.

  11. Salla says:

    Your posts always make me miss fishing. I’ve never tried fly fishing but maybe some beautiful day… As a kid I loved getting up early in the morning to go fishing with my dad. I always fell asleep at some point in the boat but those were the best sleeps I remember ever having. I would think Colorado is the perfect place to try it out.

    Also that is a beautiful rod.

    • A sweet memory of fishing and sleeping on your dad’s boat! Yeah fly-fishing is a fine way of getting out in nature and communicating closely with it, and Colorado is a special place to enjoy. I miss fishing in the Co. Rockies and would love to return for another round. Meanwhile I’m enjoying a return to that region vicariously through your writing and photographs!

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