Brook Land Tonic

A long fine weekend with the family set things moving in the right direction.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made our annual visit to the Maple Tree Inn (unlimited pancakes with maple syrup manufactured on the premises), hit the summit of Alma Hill (the highest point in western NY), refreshed ourselves at Four Mile Brewery in Olean (good food and craft beers), and hiked at nearby Pfeiffer Nature Center where our outlook from the crest of the Allegheny Plateau was witnessed by a bald eagle sailing over our heads.

I was ready for two days of dry fly fishing (yes!) in the warming forests of northern Pennsylvania. A couple of years ago when we were fighting frozen pipes and bitter winds at this time of year, I never would have imagined setting forth like this, to cast my way toward the source of a mountain brook in February.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe world may be changing faster than I’m able to make sense of it, but one thing is certain: I love a four-mile brook that’s totally removed from human presence, that has no trail or road or camp or house along its banks, whose savior is a vast state forest land and, not inconsequentially, is close to home.

To keep me humble while casting toward the 2500-foot summits, I did find one piece of human debris. No matter where you go, to the moon or to an ice-shelf in Antarctica, you’ll find at least a shard or two of evidence, a souvenir from man’s polluting ways. In this case what I found was yet another sample of ethereal plastic, a balloon that had drifted down from the blissful skies of a birthday party many miles away.

the wild stream litter

the wild stream litter

It looked like a battered brook trout in the tumbling waters of this stream. A trout that had bloated to the size of a basketball and had a long synthetic tail. I could still read the HAPPY BIRTHDAY message scrawled across its ugly back. I thanked it for the sentiment, even though I still had months to go before another birthday took its toll. These wayward balloons are found on all too many wild outings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The good news is that my two long fishing hikes produced a lot of brook trout taken on a barbless dry fly then released. To fish this mountain stream confirmed my earlier suspicion that to cast a floating artificial might bring faster action than fishing with a wet fly. In fact, three-fourths of the numerous brook trout that I caught while experimenting were fooled by the dry fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Again I reminded myself that, despite the pleasant weather, this was still winter fishing. The trout (bless their wild little hearts) were rising when the water temperature never exceeded 42 or 43 Fahrenheit degrees.

The brook changed its character several times before I finally reached a point where summit alders and swamp terrain put stamps of approval on my forehead. As far as I could tell, this forestland had never been farmed, although the stream’s  first half mile above Pine Creek had several locations that reminded me of aging meadow going wild. Vines and high grasses hugged the banks, inviting ruffed grouse to leave the woods and check things out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Upstream, the deciduous slopes closed in tightly on the stream and presented casting challenges with fallen trees and overhanging branches. At about the one-mile mark, the forest really opened up and treated me with more traditional casting opportunities. Cliffs and mossy boulders (glacial debris or the fruits of hard erosion) were encountered. Pocket water tempted the floating Stimulator.

Although the rocky stream was in excellent form as snow melted from the slopes above, I knew that its presence would be different later on. No doubt the spring wildflowers would allure me, and the summer brook, while still sheltering little trout, would seem a mere trickle compared to this pleasant water.

a mossy chair at lunch time

a mossy chair at lunch time

In closing, I’d like to add a few words about one of my favorite predators. Once again, I was privileged to encounter a golden eagle, a species still uncommon in eastern portions of America.

On the morning of my second visit to this stream, I saw the great bird hunched in a small tree above a roadkill near the spot where I would park my vehicle. I slowed to a stop and rolled down my window.

as high as I could go before the alders stopped me

as high as I could go before the alders stopped me

The dark bird prepared to launch, the rust-colored sheen of its nape reflecting the first hints of morning sunshine. Disgruntled by my interruption at its dining table, the golden uttered a few low kee-er notes and lifted its wings.

Ready to resume my fishing hike, I thought, “God, what a way to fly.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



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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26 Responses to Brook Land Tonic

  1. Brent says:

    How often have you seen both eagle species within a few days? That seems like it’d be a rare occurrence…

    • It’s happened before but seems to be occurring more often of late. In fact, this afternoon, while driving the Ridge Road near the house, I saw two young eagles in the same field. They were immatures, with black/white markings, one of them (with a white tail) was definitely a young bald eagle, and the other, with a black tail, was possibly a young golden but I couldn’t be sure.

  2. Ross says:

    What a weekend for adventure; Pfieffer is a nice spot. My family & I also hit Maple Tree Inn this past weekend for our annual allotment of those buckwheat pancakes .. yum. Sounds like a wonderful hike & fishing trip up that brook, what an amazing way to spend a February day (s) in western NY! And to see a Golden, how special. Great pictures of the brook & brookies; really gets my dreaming going, thanks Walt.

    • Yeah, thank you, Ross. Sounds like our adventures and early spring dreams are running on similar rails. It was nice to see Pfieffer once again, the morning after getting full on those buckwheat babies. Family traditions like this are hard to beat. Hope to see you soon!

  3. Great post Walt! What a wonderful treat to get fresh made maple syrup!

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Well, the world might be changing in strange and unpleasant ways, and we’re facing interesting environmental and political challenges, but there’s a lot to remain thankful for. Thankful for writing that captures the sheer delight of a near perfect weekend. Thankful for times when hope and expectation meet in the best possible way, and maybe exceed both. Thankful that there are special places – close to home! – that retain a wildness you have to work a little harder to experience.
    Another splendid post – all of the above, and pancakes, and craft beer? Life is good…
    Thanks, Walt!

    • Amen, PC, a lot to be thankful for, and worth striving to maintain when the shit hits the fan. As for the pancakes and the craft beer, I didn’t say much about them here, but let it be known, they carry more than their weight when considering the tasty wonders of a long, pleasant weekend. Thank you!

  5. Sounds like another fantastic outing. I love the thought of unlimited pancakes. Glad to hear the brook trout are coming willingly to a dry fly like that. I made it out briefly over the weekend, but the snow was too high and the water too low for anything to come of it. I found some nice looking water that I’m going to have to return to when things warm up a touch, though.

    • Thanks Douglas. It sounds like your area is in an early transitional mode and will blossom with opportunities later, if not soon. I worry about my own place warming too soon, then freezing up, or worse. But we’ll take it while we can. I wish I could send you these pancakes with syrup produced on site!

  6. Mark Miles says:

    Love your familiar touch with this beautiful stretch of river. I wish there were more areas undisturbed by pollution and urbanization. Have a great early weekend.

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    I guess I’m going to have to start following you around if I’m gonna see a golden eagle…

    • I don’t think you would jinx me, Bob. Around here, a lot of the eagle migration or movement occurs along the ridge out back where the wind company wants to set up the giant turbines. I’m rooting for the eagles.

  8. Doug says:

    Haven’t seen any golden eagles here, but the area does have a few hawks that bless us with their presence. I’ve been fishing twice in the last couple of weeks and just haven’t been lucky enough to catch anything to release. I wish someone would tell these fish here that I’m not out to harm them. Oh well, guess I’ll just keep on trying. Some day will be my jackpot day, I’m sure. Pancakes and beer. mmm, great breakfast with a light chuckle.

    • Doug, Good beer is more than just a breakfast drink but, admittedly, I’ve never tried it with pancakes, preferring real maple syrup on the cakes. Glad that you’re tempting some fish these days. Don’t worry, they’ll give it up when they see that you’re serious!

  9. Anytime, anywhere, dry flies can be used successfully is special. To do so on a stream away from any form of civilization is indeed something to put in the memory bank. Thanks for sharing your hikes, Walt!

  10. JZ says:

    Two full days fly fishing for brooks in the northern forests of PA is indeed a wonderful treat Walt. Don’t tell me, let me guess, it was your birthday present to yourself and the brooks had something shiny and colorful for you to find (smile). It is amazing what you find sometimes being out there exploring. Artifacts that were discarded years ago, that told a story of life and times are found haphazardly all the time. Sometimes ground-breaking discoveries of significance. Sorry yours didn’t fall in that category Walt. But those brookies were a find, along with the moss covered rock formations and trees left for decay on a February forest floor. Those eagles you saw, majestic beauty to say the least. I would say you found your way nicely Walt. Much like that stimulator you cast that found those never ending seams that hold fish. Thanks again Walt, hopefully I find my way soon too…

    • It was like a birthday present of sorts, JZ, despite the presence of a crummy balloon in the water. A winter treat, a getaway, with rising brook trout like icing on the cake. The eagles helped to put another sweet dimension to the outing. I’ve just returned from a few days in southern PA, fishing the spring creeks, and the weather was out of this world, as you probably also experienced. I’ll get a post up soon on that experience. Till then, wishing you the best, and hope that you’re on the streams real soon.

  11. loydtruss says:

    Glad you were able to make the dry fly work for you on this outing: outstanding images, especially the last one and the moss covered boulders are worth framing. Thanks for sharing

  12. loydtruss says:

    I lost your last comment on my latest post, feel free to post the comment again—thanks Bill

  13. Walt – We used to go to the Maple Tree in back in my college days. I had no idea it was still open! Keep fishing those dries!

    • Mark, Amazingly enough, the Maple Tree Inn is still in business, probably more popular than it was when you and I first went there, but it hasn’t lost its charm or ability to crank out tasty cakes and syrup. As for winter dries, indeed, I’m hooked!

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