We’ve had a lot of rain and cool air of late, and Saturday’s tree-planting event was right in the thick of it. Nonetheless, the Upper Genesee Chapter of Trout Unlimited managed to plant more than a thousand small trees along our project water, ensuring greater soil stability and improved trout habitat at least in one small corner of the planet. We got wet, of course, but if trout can live full-time in water, the least we humans could do is to view their aqueous realms and appreciate them for a few soggy hours.

In addition to the trees we planted Saturday, I was given a bag of 100 willow trees and 25 white pines which I half-heartedly accepted for planting on the headwaters of our project stream. I took them, figuring I could get them in the ground within five days or so, as long as the rain held off and didn’t require the construction of a Genesee River ark.

By Wednesday the weather was gorgeous and comfortable and the job got done. I muddled about the stream banks and enjoyed the song of flowing water and the sight of darting trout while accumulating more mud than a tri-claw mud machine in March (I haven’t actually inspected one of those alien devices, but the phrase came handily and sounded good).

Planting trees is a thing we do to reinforce the feeling of hope and continuity. Once the trees are in the ground, we more or less forget about them and perhaps inspect them a time or two each year. Many don’t survive, and the ones that do hang on might grow so slowly that to try to watch them more regularly could drive you crazy. Trees are planted for the long run, for a time beyond my final day, and they help to clarify my own existence. Planting helps to minimize the sense that I’m just muddling through the hours with little purpose.

Naturally, all work and no play makes the rambler a grumpy old bastard, so I did manage to squeeze in a few hours of fishing when the streams receded and grew clearer. I had another good outing on a local brook trout stream as trout rose readily to a dry fly. Next day, however, after planting was done, I fished the West Branch of the river and had less to show for my efforts, although encountering such May beauties as the season’s first orioles belling among the apple blossoms lent a feeling of total freshness to the hour.

Fish were not inclined to take a dry fly. They would strike a weighted nymph and break it off in surging water. Messing around, and losing hope, I cut back the leader to a stoutness adequate for a cone-head Muddler Minnow and fed it to the larger pools. Ah, now there’s something different– a trout sweeping across the pool to grab the fly! Once again, the Muddler Minnow had its hour in the sun.

Muddler on cane

Don Gapen tied the first Muddler Minnow in the 1930s along the banks of the Nipigon River in Ontario. It wasn’t long before his streamer pattern hooked up with a 10 lb. 4oz. brook trout in the famous river. The Muddler could imitate a sculpin, a crayfish and any number of subsurface food items (plus dry terrestrials when treated with floatant). It became one of the world’s best known and most versatile patterns. It’s essential, in my opinion, like a fresh new row of willow trees along a marginalized stream. In seasons of high water, it’s good for an old muddler like myself who enjoys a tightened line.

the muddler takes flight

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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18 Responses to Muddler

  1. plaidcamper says:

    I enjoyed muddling through this one. So many great stories, flowing from the past, through the present and into the future. You might have felt half-hearted, but the rest of us have whole-hearted thanks to you all for being out there maintaining and improving little corners. Wonderful!
    Beautiful photographs once again.

  2. Brent says:

    Planting trees is a nice way to ensure that you leave a longer-term legacy. (I hear children do the same, although I also hear that trees represent less of a drain on natural resources.) I remember feeling something similar when we would float-stock the Conhocton: like I was putting something back in the natural world, while also feeling immersed (literally) in something elemental.

    • I guess I hadn’t thought of it that way before– planting kids and trees for the good of the cause… Kids are easier on the back, perhaps, but they make more noise (till they’re grown and make good sense). And yes, those days floating together in the bath near Bath were fun!

  3. JZ says:

    The grass doesn’t grow much under your feet Walt. You have been busy and it has been good work I see. Those trees you planted, hopefully they take hold. There is something good about trying to be part of the greater continuum. To see something flourish and take root in the continued chain of the forest. The generous act can provide a lot of good. Perhaps someday help conceal those colorful spotted fish you chase with varnished rods. Also, nice to see the muddler given time to shine. Put simply, a classic fly that has many uses, including on lakes and ponds for bass. As usual Walt, many nice photographs taken and I love your awareness of the beauty around you while fishing. I admit, though less now than when I was longer, getting caught-up in the fishing and not always taken more time to smell the roses. I carry a camera, and it has reinforced the notion in me to take pictures of wonderful moments and sights. Love those fly rods you carry and I too am quite addicted to there uses. I own quite a few of them, but nothing pure classic. More just classic tapers from today’s makers, which I enjoy. Especially like Garrison renditions. On a side note, my daughter graduates from Millersville University tomorrow as a social worker. A four year degree that she worked hard in achieving. Her “life’s work”, as Steelers coach Noll would explain to his ageing players, is now soon to begin. Putting forth honest values and sacrifice to people who are in need of help. It makes this parent especially proud. Tight lines to all who read this blog and thanks Walt for putting yourself out there, to those who are out there with you..(smile)

    • JZ, we appreciate your detailed responses, and first of all want to congratulate your daughter on her recent graduation, and soon to embark on the voyage of her life’s work. Yeah, a parent can only be proud at moments like this.
      As for the life work that we do for the environment, it’s an uphill climb, but damn, it’s a pretty nice view from there. Thanks for your appreciation of the Muddler Minnow and the work we put it through, with the help of our favorite fly rods. It’s easy to get attached to the rods and the realization that they’re simply tools to help us achieve a closer connection to the beauty in this world.

  4. John says:

    Thanks so much for your hard work to preserve our special natural world in Virginia for future generations to come. Always great to see your pictures of beautiful trout. Cheers!

  5. loydtruss says:

    The Muddler use to be my favorite fly on Smith Lake for the spots there. They would nail it when they wouldn’t anything else. I think I will give it a try on the Caney when all the generations slows down. We are getting a lot of rain here, so no fishing on the Caney for awhile. What size were you using to land those quality trout? Thanks for sharing

    • I was using size 8 or 10s, Bill, but as you know, the Muddler is a very useful pattern for various species, especially now with high water. Thanks, and good luck with the fishing..

  6. Sounds like a soggy, but rewarding time. It’s amazing what we’ll do for the fish we love to chase and the water they call home.

    • For sure, Doug. Since then we’ve had a few bright days but now we’re back to rain and the possibility of compromised outings. So it goes. I’m wondering if your region is still getting lots of rain. Either way, thank you and good luck!

      • We’re getting hammered with rain right now. Roads are washed out all over the region and creeks that are normally a few inches deep are a several feet deep. It’s the total opposite of the last few years where our rivers and streams have been critically low due to lack of snow fall. Driving around the back country is going to be interesting this summer. I’m expecting a lot of roads aren’t going to be usable this year.

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    Hello Rambler! The action should start to pick up now – a bevy of hatches and little rain in the immediate forecast. Can’t wait. Hoping to hit the Brown Drake hatch just right in a couple of weeks…I have a score to settle with some trout.

    • I hear ya, Bob. I’ve been thinking of Brown Drakes, too. I hit a huge hatch of them years ago, my intro to it, and was skunked. I need to show it that I’m more experienced now, and ready. Good luck!

  8. Douglas, Whoa, sounds rough out there. I figured you had plenty of rain but not that much. Seems like it’s feast or famine these days. Here’s to finding some sunshine and calmer waters and good fishing soon!

  9. Love these pictures Walt. I’m beginning to think that the best thing I can do for my home waters is to continue to pick up up trash left behind by (fill your own descriptor).

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