September Quickenings

The road dead-ended at the state forest lands in Potter County. I knew that the trout streams would be low but, given the sudden coolness in air temperature, I figured that the water temps would be cooler also, and safe for casting with a barbless dry fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gone were the dog days and some of the hottest, most stifling weather in… well, at least a year. Gone was that sense of late-summer lethargy that could really sap the energy of a student or a teacher or a highway construction worker or a factory clerk. Gone was that sense of entrapment or frustration or imminent doom– at least for now. It was time to wet wade in a mountain stream near home, no matter how challenging because of dry summer conditions, and to play with the wild trout.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASure, it would be important to step along as carefully and quietly as possible, to measure each side cast or bow-and-arrow cast before it was delivered (I’m like every other small stream fanatic– perfectly capable of making death threats unto goldenrod or alder branches intercepting a wayward fly or tippet). And it’s important to make a quick release of every captured trout. The weather may be cooling and the spawning colors brightening, but these low water conditions of late summer remain stressful to these otherwise tenacious and beautiful fish. Hold the fish gently; release the hook quickly and place that creature back where it belongs.

mushroom head

mushroom head

Fishing for Potter County natives on a crystalline September day was thoroughly relaxing. The trout rose readily for one of my favorite autumn dry flies, the Rio Grande King, a dark floater with white wings that can imitate any number of insects including mayflies, caddis, and black ants. I lost count of how many small brookies came to hand, and when I hooked a 10-inch male trout in a long placid pool, it fought like Moby Dick, if only through a wild pastoral dream.

colors brighten

colors brighten

The quickenings brought on a flood of colorful images and memories from recent days: from a crazy ramble through the gorge at Watkins Glen with friends and family and a million tourists from across the sea, from a subsequent tour of wineries above Keuka Lake, from a poetry reading on the summit of Wheeler Hill, from a holiday bonfire blazing with the call of owls, the clinking of bottles, and the bursts of laughter, and from a dozen other small events where the table of imminent autumn was being set, and where, hopefully, we would all take our seats with anticipation and joy.

wild brown

wild brown

puffball on a deerplate

puffball on a deerplate

above Keuka Lake

above Keuka Lake

winery glass

winery glass

poet George Wallace

poet George Wallace

in the glen

in the glen

evening beerhead #1

evening beerhead #1

in the land of pink and gray

in the land of pink and gray

evening beerhead #2

evening beerhead #2

Wheeler Hill thunderhead

Wheeler Hill thunderhead

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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 September Quickenings

  1. Brent says:

    Great reflection on the unofficial beginning of Autumn: Feeling the back-to-school trepidation (which I know some adults can get too!), but also embracing the cooling temperatures, the waning days on the water, and those last few evenings by the fire. As always, stunning pics!

  2. You’ve painted a beautiful picture Walt and thanks for soothing my hurt feelings about the flies lost to the trees.

  3. Mike says:

    I really enjoyed this one tremendously. The moment itself and the near past reflections but past nonetheless. Makes you realize how fast it all goes.

    Also, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to find out that you, with your ease of educated writing and poetic sense, are not above death threats! Ha!!

    Beautiful fish too!!

    • Mike, I thank you for those kind words, and I’m pleased as hell that I can make you happy with the revelation, too. Yes, we’re all included in that wonderful passage of time, so death threats to intervening thorns and overhanging branches seems appropriate on occasion (very often while fly-fishing small streams!). Language adds spice to the great solitude available to all.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    It’s good to read you’re free of late summer lethargy and embracing early fall, challenges and all. A careful and considered step, accurate casts finding their marks, and all under those striking thunderheads and beerheads – your post illustrates how life picks up this time of year, and it’s pretty good!
    Mike already said it, beautiful fish.

  5. Pete McKenna says:

    Nice post and pictures Walt. I didn’t realize that the brookies colors intensified in the fall.
    I to look forward to each changing season with all its new adventures.
    Pete

    • Hi Pete, glad to hear from ya! Yes the colors on the wild trout intensify in fall as the brookies’ spawning time arrives, especially on the males. Those colors are hard to beat. Here’s hoping you have some great autumn adventures.

  6. JZ says:

    Nice reflections Walt. Encapsulated memories fishing over skinny water where reconnaissance like stealth was mandatory sums-up the summer of 2016 nicely. Must admit, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Those brook trout seem to sense every ripple, don’t they! Under a canopy of trees that shade there existence and hidden rock shelves that offer protection, they persevere. It is rough out there for these fish. Heck, it’s rough out there for the lonely fly fisherman enduring rugged terrain and sweltering heat. We press on though, as do they, showing respect along the way for these kind of small intimate waters. These cold water fisheries that run down mountains and pick-up strength flowing down are there lifeblood. They are also the lifeblood of every creature that inhabit the forest floor. Somehow, almost mystically, it breathes life into me Walt. Replenishes my soul and wipes clean the slate of my thoughts. Thanks Walt for taking me on another ride. I am taking off work tomorrow and am going to fish Slate Run. Bamboo and brooks, nothing sweeter..

    • Glad you had a fine summer, JZ. Yeah the brookies really need to stay in tune with their surroundings if they’re going to survive the tough times. And they’re much better at it, of course, than their stocked brethren. I know what you mean about getting replenished along those mountain brooks. In places like Slate Run! I don’t suppose you’ll be there on Saturday but, if so, would like to meet you in person for some talk and casting. I’ve got a Slate Run Sportsmen meeting and then hope to get in a little fishing, as well.

  7. JZ says:

    Wish I could be there Saturday Walt. Would love to meet you and put a face to a name. I have plans to be at a baptism and witness a newborn become united in faith with his creator. I will be on the banks tomorrow of Slate Run. It’s a three hour journey one way for me, got to love it (smile). Low water marks there have hit almost historic levels. I was told at the general store, that recorded matching levels date back to 1939. Sorry for reviving bad history Walt.
    Fished Slate Run two past Saturdays and it resembled nothing like I’ve come to know of this fine stream. Except the fishing was very good and the water temps were still ideally cold. All of the fishing involved a very low profile. Literally hands and knees to gather position and casting while remaining seated. I’m not sure “combat fishing” is a remotely viable term, but it somehow fits the described billing here. Uncomfortable as it was, I quickly became comfortable catching its inhabitants. Hope to do the same tomorrow….

    • Thanks JZ, we’ll cross trails on another SR occasion. Yeah I hope you have some luck tomorrow, and then enjoy a weekend with the youngsters. I know the fishing won’t be easy, especially with regard to the low water situation. I haven’t been to Slate since June, so I’m bracing myself for the shock. I’ve seen it in deplorably low condition before, so can picture it now. It’s kind of sad, too, because the fishing was getting back into good form last year after a decade or more of weather-related problems. Oh well, let’s cross our tippets and hope for the best.

  8. Here’s to autumn! May she be everything we dreamed of this long, dry summer!

  9. rommel says:

    Very beautiful looking fish. Not a wonder why you are so fascinated with them. You talk or write like poet, I love it! Very nice sky pictures. I’ve been ready for autumn. Can’t wait to see fall colors.

  10. Thanks Rommel! Autumn rocks with color and renewed spirit, here, there, anywhere in the north. More to come!

  11. Amy says:

    Amazingly beautiful, especially the last capture!

  12. Doug says:

    This was a very successful outing pal. Those are some of the prettiest trout I think I’ve ever seen, and I ‘ve seen a few. Great job Walt and thanks again for wowing us blog readers with another beautiful batch of fish and photography. Well, very much all nature.

  13. Very kind of you to say, Doug, and it’s much appreciated. The trout are coloring up again at this point in the season.

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