Big Fish Little Fish Swimming Altogether

Entering Pennsylvania during the hunting season, I knew I was on the right track for the weekend when I walked into a general store and heard the voice of the proprietor. She entered from a back room of the ancient building and inquired, “Whatcha huntin’ for?” Slightly amused, I answered, “I’m not hunting really. Gonna do some fly-fishing pretty soon.”

W. Branch Pine Trail

“No hon,” she said, not skipping a beat, “I mean in here. Whatcha huntin’ for?”

“Oh…um… just some water and a bit of snack food for the trail.”

“Cold water’s over there beyond the hats and stuff. We have cookies, crackers, doughnuts and the like behind you. Just go past the antlers…”

W. Branch Pine Creek

Showers and mist lay on the morning hour. I was on the right track, goin’ fishing. Trout Run was flowing strong now from the recent rains, and the steep wooded hills, barren except for coppery oaks and the occasional golden beech, were comforting as I looked up from the stream.

It was all that I was hunting for– a wild place full of solitude and brook trout eager for a fly on burbling water. The fish were on the small side– none would pass the 8-inch mark, but they were colorful and feisty on a 3-weight rod. In appreciation, I avoided the redds, and was careful not to cast for obviously spawning trout.

Cane and Silk 3-weight

Next morning I was headed north with angling pal, Tim, in search for massive browns. I hadn’t been to Oak Orchard in several years. I was shifting gears. I had given up dealing with the hordes of fishermen there in autumn. At first I thought I might not like revisiting the place, but when Tim suggests a fishing trip together, no matter where it is, I can be sure of an enjoyable experience where I learn a thing or two, of being on the right track for the weekend.

blow-down, Trout Run

In the fall there’s always a circus atmosphere around the Oak’s big dam. But we’d get past the slob behavior at the site, away from much of the littering and snagging of Pacific salmon in their final hours of life.

We’d get downriver and stumble on a stretch or two of deep dark water to call our own. If we worked the river hard, we’d tangle with fresh-run browns from Lake Ontario. We’d find what we were hunting for, even if we had to force ourselves to be peaceful when confronted by chuck-and-duckers. We were on the right track for the weekend.

brookie, Trout Run

Tim had the first good hook-up. I was downstream when I saw him wave. I scrambled from the river and trudged up the muddy trail until I saw him bringing in the trout. Tim extricated his camera and handed it over for a photo but I found that its memory card was full.  I fumbled with my own camera and snapped a couple of pics that didn’t do much for the capture of an excellent seven or eight-pound brown.

on the Oak

A couple hours later I finally felt some weight as a fish grabbed a Woolly Bugger on the swing of a long cast in deep water. The 8-weight line was strained and pulling away; the Echo’s fighting butt pushed into my mid-section; feet stumbled and fought for balance as I wheeled away downriver, saying “Excuse me” here and “Sorry” there, and “Thanks, I’ll go over you with my rod and line!”

Pennsylvania run

The fishing had been slow. A lot of guys saw the big brown chopping through the river, coming down. Tim did a great job for me, borrowing a large net from another angler and helping to eventually guide the fish inside. I handed him my camera but, unfortunately, I had the damned thing on the wrong setting.

I would get several frames of perfect nothingness. White light. Imagined smile. Imagined stance above a net containing one of the biggest browns I’ve ever landed (30 inches long, perhaps, and 10 pounds in weight) blown to smithereens and piscatorial oblivion.

It was my fault completely. The camera setting was dysfunctional or had some other mystifying purpose. But, what was I hunting through it all?

What mattered was the sharing of a fine experience with a fishing pal. And hell, even the supporting cast of neighboring anglers had been a plus.

We were on the right track for a good time. Tim soon found more action, and I managed to deceive another brown. This second fish (about 24 inches) was significantly smaller than my first one, very light in color and with strange blue eyes. I even got a picture of it, as if in compensation for my earlier mishap.

Initially we thought the blue-eyed fish was blind, but I doubt if a blind fish would grab a deeply drifting streamer. It had to have sensed what it was hunting. The fish took the wrong track coming to me, the angler, but then, like the others, this pale trout swam away.

Tim’s brown

blue-eyed brownie, resting in a salmon net


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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20 Responses to Big Fish Little Fish Swimming Altogether

  1. plaidcamper says:

    I enjoyed this one, Walt. That camera of yours was set right to capture tracks and streams in all their beauty – great woodland photographs!
    I wouldn’t mind poking around the shelves and into the corners of the general store you visited, sounds like it has character, and characters. The good stuff should always be just past the antlers.
    Thanks, and enjoy your week!

    • Thank you, Adam. Yeah the store in question is a rarity these days, at least in this area. More than a century old, with lots of “original flavor” and physical structure. I was thinking it could be the subject of a blog post in and of itself. You probably know some general stores like this out your way! They’re a dying breed.

  2. Brent says:

    All of life’s essentials, just past the antlers. The photos of the woodland run (especially the second-to-last picture) are wonderfully framed and really capture the essence of a damp fall day in the woods. The only remaining question is “If a man catches a fish and there’s no digital record of him catching it, did it really happen?”

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    A wall-eyed Brown trout, Walt Franklin? You’ve got the photographic evidence there. As for the one that got away, so to speak, you’ve got that pressed into your memory bank forever, a still life with (brook) trout, as John Gierach ably put it.

    • I was a wall-eyed walt there, Bob. What makes it stranger to me was how much paler the fish seemed then, compared to the way the picture developed. Almost albino-like when in the dark water. But that other one, the big-mouthed brown… it was too much for the camera, I suppose. I’ve got an inch-long cut on my index finger from a trout tooth to remind me it was real, a still life for the memory bank.

  4. I agreed with Bob Stanton! And, I know for a fact that the picture in your mind will never leave even if you can’t pull it out and say Here! Wonderful story Walt, thanks.

  5. Tim Didas says:

    Hi everyone…Walt’s fish was every bit of 10 pounds, and probably heavier! I wish I was able to return the favor and capture his fish on “film” as he did for me. Next time…it keeps us coming back, and it’s always enjoyable to be on the water with him.

  6. Fishing with friends is always a pleasure even if you are in the middle of a circus!

  7. Ralph says:

    Thanks much for bringing us along with you!

  8. Les Kish says:

    Nice shots Walt. Love the color and textures in the scenics….

  9. Ross says:

    Beautiful pictures of Pa streams, could almost hear them burbbling. Interesting contrast, from solitude & small water and fish to busy at the Oak, with more substantial size. Each have there pluses & beauty. Thanks, enjoyed

  10. JZ says:

    Sure looks like your having a lot of fun out there Walt. Keeping up with you on the creek and your voyages could be hard on an angler. Although I can’t complain, my boots see there fare share of water. As always, your pictures only help to invite the mind to wander and stay outside to play. Thanks Walt for your words and welcoming warmth. It helps on the months to follow when the bitter cold comes rushing in…Someday we will run into each other on the water, I am sure. It seems we share the same haunts (smile).

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