In the Deep Woods

Pennsylvania has 88 waterways managed as “Wilderness Trout Streams.” Seven of those are located in nearby Potter County, and on Saturday I fished one of them that was on my bucket list to explore while I still had a chance to do so.

PA wild stream

PA wild stream

What passes for a wilderness trout stream in Pennsylvania is one that’s deemed by state officials to be capable of sustaining a wild trout fishery, especially for native brook trout. It also has to be a stream that offers a backcountry experience, an aesthetically pleasant outing for a person who values solitude and a rugged terrain untouched by motorized vehicles.

The forest along my mountain stream was drenched in morning fog, but the air was unbelievably warm for January (into the 50s!) and would soon be cleared by a gentle sun. There are no large boulders, or glacial debris, along this narrow stream that averages only eight to 10-feet wide along its lower mile, but the gravel bed was clearly visible and, no doubt, conducive to the health of native trout.

home to a nice brookie

home to a nice brookie

I was casting a wet fly but, in retrospect, I probably could have done as well, if not better, with a dry. It was that kind of day– a pleasant one, with the prospect of surprises.

I love the deep woods for the way it brings the ego to its knees, and for the way it reconstructs a balance in the seeker of solitude, who needs to see the wild resurface in his or her life. That act of balancing the wild and civil elements within the self may be only short-lived but, as long as the tumbling water sings of rocky passages or the wind strums its route across the hemlock boughs, the balance is real.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love the deep woods for the magic that’s imparted here, and for the hint of danger, too. I detected or imagined some kind of a motion just behind my back…. A wave from the ghost of “Wild Boy Stevens” (a local hermit from pioneer days)? The subtle fade-out of the last cougar to have lived here in the 1800s? Or was it the insidious creeping of a legendary Squonk (which I’ve written of in an earlier post)?

Most likely it was just the machinations of a mind gone wonderfully crazed and free of civilization. A soul gone roaming with a fly rod in the deep, dark woods near home. There would be no “alternate facts” provided here (as famously announced in Washington, D.C.). Just the low-down served up straight from Mother Nature.

And speaking of fly rods, my old glass Fenwick, a short six-footer (FF60) worked fine for rolling out a five-weight to the brook trout hungry for a fly.

6-ft. Fenwick glass rod

6-ft. Fenwick glass rod

My fish (all of them safely returned) were small ones, with one exception. A thin male native measured 10.5 inches long. This adult fish had probably thrived in its deep undercut pool for several years. And its colors struck me so hard that, later, I would link them to the pink hats worn by thousands of women marching in our nation’s capital this day. Kudos to all participants in cities everywhere, from the wilds of Potter County!

On Sunday I returned to another stream in the state forestlands because the weather was even warmer and more inviting than before. I climbed a little feeder stream, a tributary of the upper Pine and, again, no sign of humankind– no cabin or ATV track, not even another boot print like my own.

a Pine Creek feeder

a Pine Creek feeder

I enjoyed this little stream, and vowed to return with dry flies later in the spring when maybe I could walk it to the source. I captured and let go a couple of small trout and missed one that appeared to be as large as the best one caught the day before.

I returned downstream and waded into upper Pine Creek and its heavier winter flow. It was time to try a favorite dry fly pattern, a Stimulator on a #14 hook.

on a dry fly

on a dry fly

I’ve caught January trout while casting dry flies on a limestone creek, but I’ve never hooked them on the surface of a freestone here in rivertop country. Not in January. Not until this warm day on the upper Pine.

I landed several with the dry fly and admit that casting a floater with a bamboo stick in winter was a hoot. It was soothing to be out in the deep woods in a time of thaw, but the weather felt absolutely daft. I don’t like to complain, but maybe a little snowstorm would make a sweet topping for a seasonal dish like this event…

Well, let’s wait a day or so.. And now what do I see?

upper Pine

upper Pine

A snowstorm, by god. A wet, fluffy present from the deep woods of the earth and sky. Enough to close the schools, and business as usual, this day.



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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29 Responses to In the Deep Woods

  1. Brent says:

    I like the thought that wild spaces “bring the ego to its knees.” Probably not too long before/after your reflection, we stood a thousand feet above a river junction, on a canyon rim, with only the sounds of wind and distant whitewater in our ears. It was a humbling experience, akin (I’m sure) in some way to connecting on a beautiful little brookie. I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    In these days of alternate facts, I’m not going to challenge the possible near sighting of a Squonk. Squonk or not, I enjoyed the description of your rugged backcountry and the delight of potential danger. Given that what passes for civilization isn’t particularly civilized just now, long may you wander in the woods enjoying yourself.
    Thanks, Walt, for another fine post!

    • It’s an alternate fact that if I’d met up with a Pennsylvania mountain Squonk, I’d probably still be out there, in deplorable condition. I’m glad you don’t have to challenge it. I’m also pleased that you liked this little post, PC, and thank you for the wish for happy wandering. May you enjoy a similar felicity!

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    Wonderful post, Mr. Franklin! It refreshed me vicariously, though Sunday brought a hike on the NCT that was equally invigorating, and hiking in shirtsleeves no less. Like you, though, I’m more than ready for some weather a little more appropriate to the time of the year. Let it snow!

  4. Well, between reading this and the wonderful gifts you sent me, I’ve come to again realize how insignificant we are in the scope of things. I’m enjoying my hikes with you Walt as much as the fishing.

  5. Between this and the wonderful gifts you sent me, I have come to (again) realize how insignificant we all are in the scope of things. Thanks for taking us along on one of your hikes.

  6. Doug says:

    This is great. You all in the North are so fortunate to have this thing called Snow. Even if it arrives sporadically. Here in the South, we are lucky to get this invitation to the white dance maybe a couple of times a year, and that’s if we’re lucky. I went hiking along a small river near my home here on Tuesday and was blessed with the gigantic swells from the rain we got in the past week. Muddy but with sky color reflecting upon the brown surface, I in deed felt that humbling experience. Got some nice photos, but no fishing without risking being swept downstream in the rushing current. I know this river is full of bass, but the trout are more up in the mountains, which I can say makes me appreciate the photos you’ve posted here Walt, even that much more. The new administration has already begun to rape the EPA and I can only be happy with what we presently have now, before that all disappears. Walt, thank you brother. A short-lived smile is much-much better than no smile at all.

    • Doug,
      You remember the upstate winters and the snowstorms we used to have, but recently (the last few years) there has been damn little of the white stuff. That’s been depressing for those who enjoy the slipping and sliding and peaceful meditation that the snow can bring. And others are just as glad to be done with it. The climate’s changing, no matter where we live, and in the long run this spells trouble.
      Glad that you enjoyed some river walking, even muddy water has its beauty in the right kind of light. And I’m pleased that you enjoyed the photos here. As for what’s already begun with the new administration, the environment is gonna take the heat, unfortunately. I’m bracing for the worst, and hoping we don’t get blown away. Thanks for being here, man; we’ve all got to stick together.

  7. JZ says:

    Nice fish Walt and am glad to hear someone is taking advantage of the mild climate.! I miss those deep woods terribly and the sound of standing in running water. My day will be coming I tell myself. It cant come soon enough! I look forward to the show in Somerset and acquiring a new cane rod from Art. Hopelessly addicted to them. I am always glad that you share your adventures and your pictures help bring back memories. Thanks my friend..

    • You’re welcome, JZ, and thanks, as always, for sharing your side of the story. I’m sure it won’t be long before you’re back in the forested saddle and casting with a bamboo rod. A new one coming from Art Weiler, is it? That’s exciting. I’ll want to know the details on how you enjoy it. And I hope the show is a great one for you. If I lived closer, I would check it out, too.

  8. Beautiful, full-colored fish. I’m a bit south of you and also love wild country — of which we have all too little.

  9. Wonderful post, Walt. Thanks for sharing the beauty of your countryside back your way. Some beautiful waters to cast a fly upon. I yearn for the day the colder winter weather is behind us and we can all share fishing stories about our time on the water.

    When you get a minute would you consider adding my new blog link to your Blogroll…..
    Blog title is “Fly Tyin’ Times”

  10. loydtruss says:

    Beautiful colors on those brook trout; I’m impressed with the easy bank access to the stream you were fishing. Those type streams don’t exist in the area where we live, high banks covered with brush is the norm. Thanks for sharing

    • Yes, thanks, Bill. These streams do have easy bank access, and that’s partly due to the fact that they are high forest streams on state land where flooding is unusual, thanks to soil stability.

  11. A fantastic read. Thanks! It looks like you were able to enjoy some nice quiet time on the water and even managed some fish. I can’t wait for the more peaceful waters to open up here.

  12. At this time of the year, any chance we “northerners” get to be on the water is like icing on the cake. Glad you had some fun out there!

  13. Ross says:

    what a great post Walt. Loved the “reconstructs a balance in a seeker of solitude” … Amen to that. I too was out for a hike that weekend, no fly rod in hand, but still incredible time in the woods for January. Loved the pictures of the brookies & babbling streams … created some good feelings for our upcoming spring, thanks.

  14. Good to hear from you, Ross, and that you’ve found some time to hike the January woods. There’s something special about the place and time, when all of nature seems stripped down to the bone, but when we know that underneath it all, the pulse continues and gets stronger bit by bit.

  15. Benjamin V says:

    Nice read- man they are such a pretty fish. I also can’t get over the fact how different colored our Brookies are in upstate NY compared to PA. Such a color difference!

    • Thanks, Ben, good to hear from you. There does seem to be a color difference in the brookies that seems to be dependent on factors such as location and time of year. Streams at higher altitudes (with colder water?) may have brighter specimens than streams at lower height, and, of course, the spawning season of the natives really brings it out.

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