Joe Pye’s Invitation

The clouds were building over Cedar Run and its forested gorge. The afternon was looking good for fishing in the low clear water but the trout weren’t having anything to do with the several small flies that I offered them. I paused to take a picture of Joe-Pye-weed flowers blooming at head-level on the banks of Cedar Run. It was then that I saw the first Blue-winged Olives fluttering from the stream. I tied on an imitation of the little mayfly, and watched the brook and brown trout race out from their hiding spots to try their luck.

Joe-Pye-weed blossoms

I was thinking of Joe Pye (Jopi) for whom the plant, Joe-Pye-weed, was named. Ostensibly, Joe was a Native American doctor living in New England during the 1800s. Not too much is known about him, so I had the chance to think creatively about his life as a healer known for applying extracts of Eupatorium purpureum and curing patients suffering from typhus fever and other ailments.

boneset blossoms, Cedar Run

I was looking all around me but seemed to focus on Joe-Pye-weed near the stream. Butterflies cavorted there and also stopped for blooms of boneset, goldenrod and aster. I’d been standing still for minutes when I saw a bulge in the shallow pool. A very large brown trout was cruising slowly by. As the trout shifted downstream toward the far bank of the run, its wake cut cleanly through the riffles, and I uttered something like, “Holy Jopi!”

not a big guy, just a pretty one w/ Ant

I’m not one to call Joe Pye a “weed.” No. I call it a pale pink flower, an herb that grows well along streams and forest edges. The plant can grow taller than a pro-basketball player, and can make itself at home in flower-gardens. It’s said that if you crush the flower (please be kind), the fragrance that it gives resembles light vanilla. Man, I love vanilla.

Retreating from Cedar Run, I took the Joe-Pye essence with me to the hotel restaurant at neighboring Slate Run village. I forgot about it while I ate a tasty meal of salad, hamburger, and Two-Hearted Ale. When I left the bar environment I made a short hike into the Slate Run gorge. By the time I reached a favorite trout pool, I figured I had about an hour of fishing before the night closed in.

I was casting with my favorite fly rod, laying out a looping line across calm water to the faster riffles at the head of the pool, when I had the feeling that I wasn’t alone. Earlier I had seen a fly-fisherman passing from my view upstream but, with a quick glance up and down the run, all I saw now was another splashy rise-form given by a heavy trout.

at Kettle Creek where I fished the day after the runs (another tale forthcoming)

Several fish were feeding on the surface of the pool, but I couldn’t tell what they fed on. There were no obvious hatches occurring. No spinners graced the air above the stream. There might have been small ants or midges touching the water, but even my finest imitation didn’t get more than a quick inspection and a snub.

Something other than insects and trout food hung in the air. I turned sharply toward the pine and hemlock trees that stood behind me on the bank. There he was– a middle-aged angler sitting silently on a tree stump as he watched me in the run. I felt a little sheepish but gave the guy a wave, and the fellow kindly responded.

when I switched from an Ant to the larger R. G. King, the bigger brooks in Kettle Creek came out of hiding

I remembered Joe Pye. Up to this point in the day, it had seemed like the Joe-Pye-spirit was calling me to the dance. Now I stepped back from the autumn flowers and waited for some words to leave my mouth. I made a few more casts to the head of the pool and watched the drifting fly.

BWO at Cedar Run

I turned quickly toward the fisherman on the stump and said, “How did you do downstream? Any luck?”

“No. I had one fish come up, but I missed it.”

I made another cast, waited a minute, then found a way to ask a final question: “Would you like to fish this pool? The trout are picky as hell, but you’re more than welcome to try.”

“No. No. I just like watching someone who knows what he’s doing.”

the newt knows what it’s doing…

I was speechless. I glanced at the trees across the head of the pool. Was there someone in there unbeknownst to me? Another fly-fisher who this guy was watching? Somebody who knew what these Slate Run browns were dining on, who knew what he was doing?

I just waved and went on fishing, and several minutes later the tree-stump sitter rose and yelled, “Good luck!”

the brooks are getting active but the streams remain quite low

It might have been an incarnation of Joe Pye, someone other than myself, who shouted “Thank you!” in return. I don’t know. September nights come quickly to a trout stream in the gorge.


gotta love those autumn asters

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 Joe Pye’s Invitation

  1. Jet Eliot says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this story, Walt, your writing is a pleasure. It must’ve been an odd sensation to be ambling along, content with the creatures, keeping an eye out for the fish, quietly alone; only to find out you’re being watched, even appreciated. Great post.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    I think the spirit of Joe Pye would approve of you wading into the healing waters on a pleasant September evening! Loved the photograph – of Slate Run? – that comes after you write about the night closing in. Man, the days seem too short already…
    Thanks, Walt – glad you responded to Joe’s invitation!

    • Thanks for that, PC! I figured it was tough to get Joe’s approval, but if you’re right (and you usually are) then I’m pleased with the result. Yeah the runs are starting to color up, and I’m always slightly surprised how quickly the evenings fade away when you want them to linger.

  3. Brent says:

    As I read this, I was imagining Joe Pye as a scruffy, earthy dryad. For most of the day, you may have only felt his presence at the edges of your awareness, but he decided to take on a corporeal form to watch you fish the pool. Anyway, I enjoyed this a lot!

    • I, too, thought of Joe as a scruffy sort verging at times into medicine man or changeling, vague enough to allow one’s imagination to adopt the personality. He might even take the form of a modern-day angler. Then it’s time to scratch one’s head and redirect all effort to the bar. Thanks!

  4. angus48 says:

    Reblogged this on Angus48's Blog and commented:
    Not me with a pseudonym!

  5. Walt, I think I enjoyed this as much as anything of yours that I have read! I’ve had similar experiences in my fishing life where I felt spirits were watching and mysterious fly fishers appear briefly. Unfortunately, none of them told me they enjoyed watching me fish. I do believe the rivers and environs hold the spirits of those that came before and I like that.

    • Glad to hear this, Howard. We’re drifting in the same pool when it comes to considering the spirits of the river/stream. Usually it’s hard to make connections with them, but once in a while the cards (or flower blooms) line up for you and then it’s wonderful. Thanks!

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    Nice post, Walt. I love the Joe-Pye weed’s purple-headed tops; as a native, they’re an antidote to the Japanese Knotweed taking over so much of the riparian habitat. Those fall evenings come quick in the hollows, sure enough, harbingers of even earlier sunsets. Thanks for the account!

    • Mighty welcome, Bob. Thanks for connecting the dots when it comes to native Joe Pye vs. Knotweed which, indeed, is taking over way too much of our riparian banks. Hope your river mornings/evenings are good ones this season.

  7. Very engaging story Walt! I was waiting for a bear or beaver to make an appearance!

  8. JZ says:

    A wonderful read Walt and your writing is spectacular! I pictured myself in those deep crevices that the creek is noted for winding through. Such an awesome place! I suspect the leaves are just starting to collect and soon will cover the tail-outs of the pools there. That’s alright by me as they provide needed cover for the browns and brooks that reside. Even though they shorten the pools and make it tougher on the angler gently prying. Its a wonderful place to escape and find a hidden silence. Much the same I found recently on Germania Branch. A nice tributary that enters Kettle. Finding colored jewels along its winding path are there for the angler to explore. Beware though, uprooted trees and vast dead-falls make it challenging for even the sturdiest legs. Plot your course carefully while staying low and rewards will follow.
    Getting back, I love small stream fishing. Where water twists down a mountain-side to only collect more and more. Every drop providing sustainability for all life. Its scope is important and precious. We should never lose sight of that. To do so would be a crime of sorts, at least to my way of thinking. To find tranquility and peace inside the realms of the quite forest is beautiful. We all know that, (chuckle). Thank-you Walt for this post and for writing about these kind of places in your gifted way. Perhaps the best reading I’ve read in quite sometime…

    • JZ, I’m glad this post struck the good note for you; I just say it as I see it or interpret what the spirits offer. Right you are about those little feeder streams, the very soul of the bigger trout streams like Kettle. I’ve enjoyed Germania Branch and look forward to wading its lower waters as well as the upper Kettle once again. This weekend I intend to look at Kettle down below Germania and try to reach the Indian Run area. The brook trout seem to be doing well this season and, if we get a little more rain soon, the fishing could be remarkable. Thanks for the kindness, friend.

  9. JZ says:

    I forgot to mention about the BWO, very nice . (smile) Joe Pye spirit laughing down the canyon..

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