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.”
“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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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?
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.