The High Bridge

The high bridge that I have in mind is not some railroad or passageway on a trestle over an impressive gorge or canyon. It’s a simple concrete bridge that takes a forest road in northern Pennsylvania over a favorite trout stream and provides a bit of access for an angler seeking solitude and recreation. Any mountain stream that flows 40 miles or more through a populated region of the country is bound to have a number of bridge crossings and, on this stream, the bridge I’m referring to is the one that’s closest to the uppermost springs or sources of the watershed.

you might have to duck while passing under

The morning sky was bright and the remaining October foliage was golden as I crossed the summit of a hill and began descending into a wooded valley where this well-known watershed begins. The weather forecast promised the appearance of the first big autumn rains that afternoon. The prospect of precipitation in a dry season was exciting in itself, but I was mostly eager for some brook trout fishing with a dry fly while I had the opportunity.

I found a grassy pull-off near the highest bridge and suited up as the first gray clouds appeared above the hilltops. I hadn’t actually fished near the bridge before, but noticing several small pools and riffles modulated by log deflectors covered with moss, I couldn’t resist a start in that location.

Efforts to help Mother Nature by creating habitat through the careful placement of log and stone were obviously successful here. The volume of water was minimal and less than desirable for wild trout in much of the headwaters, but this deeper, well-oxygenated section was home to numerous brook trout eager to investigate a fly dropped on a tapered leader and a 3-weight line. The fish were small but pretty and, upon release, were eager to shoot on home and warn their kin about deception in the world.

From the highest bridge I traveled downstream for a mile or so to fish in Butternut Hollow. Here the stream was a little deeper and, again, partly structured by deflectors. The Butternut Pool, like all the mountain stream sites at low water, required a cautious  predatory approach. Despite my best effort not to spook the residents with Halloween terror, I sent the bigger fish into hiding and landed just a fingerling trout.

At the Lower Green Drake Pool (named for a green fishing camp nearby), I did better, landing several larger natives and seeing a peculiar male– a spawner with a golden back and with sides like dusk on a river. The oddball native chased a fish that I was reeling in and stopped at my feet so suddenly that all I could think of was a human spurned in love.

As the sky darkened slowly with a promise of rains to come, I ventured up a small feeder stream. This tributary has lots of natural structure in the way of fallen trees and undercuts but its multitude of small fish shot away at the slightest motion of a fly rod or an arm. A 24-hour rain was coming and the level of this stream would surely rise. For a little while, at least, the wild trout would be freed from the constrictions of low water.

Flushed by a series of pleasant thoughts, I turned around and descended toward the bridge.

on the Sliders Branch…

another shot from home

coming into focus

Green Drake Pool

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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16 Responses to The High Bridge

  1. Brent says:

    The foliage is still so vivid in places, which is quite a contrast from down here. We’re now into the colored stage but it’s pretty dull. We had soaking rains on Sunday, which I’m sure was related to the weather system that you hoped would raise the water levels on your home waters.

    • The bits of colored foliage hanging on to the dreary end have been especially nice this year, but maybe that’s just me appreciating the remainders. Otherwise, good rain here beginning late Saturday almost verging on snow yesterday.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Pretty scenery in Penn’s Woods, for sure. I always like to see well constructed stream habitat projects. Too bad we need ’em in the first place.

  3. JZ says:

    As always, nice pictures Walt. It is a wonderful area, especially so this time of year. The splashing colors of the fish and the fall background create a spectacular montage. It dazzles the imagination and lends credence to natures romantic side. I am a believer that fly fisherman are romantics at heart. To walk along side the brooks while casting fly’s into a pool with only a fleeting heart, would make Shakespeare scramble for words. Walt, those intimate waters carry a soul. They are a part of me and help nourish and heal any anguish that resides. Often times, my mind wanders reminiscing past scenes and episodes like someone’s lost love. A foolish heart, yep-have one! Places like these always keep me wishing. Wishing I was there! Here’s to wishing I get back soon, but soon won’t be soon enough…(next week, smile).

    • I would drink to that, JZ. Those who get wrapped up with fly-fishing, especially those who like the wild places with plenty of solitude and room for the imagination, are the die-hard romantics of the age. They enjoy immersing themselves in the soul of flowing waters, being cleansed and soothed by the beautiful places where the wild trout swims. Yeah, there’s poetry out there, my friend, waiting to be heard by those who seek and cast… Here’s to getting out there again, real soon….

  4. plaidcamper says:

    That unassuming bridge certainly connects you to some very pretty country! A gateway to quiet and solitude for those seeking such, and who can resist the call of a place named Butternut Hollow? I enjoyed your photographs highlighting the late fall foliage – we are leafless already in Calgary…
    Thanks, Walt, for another good read!

    • Always a pleasure to deliver what I can, PC, and thanks, again, for your thoughtful comments. Yes, an unassuming bridge, and a fine connection to a big beyond… You might be leafless in Calgary, but those majestic mountains are just a bridge or two away!

  5. There’s something romantic about fishing around a bridge. I have one particular one in mind that reminds me a lot of the one you pictured. Beautiful photography as well.

    • It can be romantic as long as it’s not the kind where the stocked trout are unloaded and the anglers hang around while leaving it a mess. This one’s definitely not in that category, Howard, so yes, and thank you!

  6. loydtruss says:

    Gorgeous stream, and the fall colors that compliments its surroundings; I’m a big fan of driftwood and that stump really adds to the beauty of the stream. Thanks for sharing

  7. Jet Eliot says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure, Walt. You do such a great job expressing the anticipation of the rain, and the beauties you’ll find under this bridge. Gorgeous autumnal photos. And your last line is my favorite.

  8. I knew this was PA before I even read any of your words; just scrolling through the photos I said to myself, “This looks like home.” I grew up in Pennsylvania and love returning there for visits still. The mountains and foliage alongside rolling fields of corn are just stunning.

    • Adrienne,
      You are fortunate to have grown up in the beautiful mountain and valley country of northern PA. I’m sure it forms lasting memories and an ever-present draw. Thank you for the words and appreciation.

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