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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.