Against the Dying Light

I won’t need to rage against the dying of the light, per Dylan Thomas and his fine poetics. I won’t need to rage because I’ve done all that (for now) in private moments, and my purpose here is really very simple. As autumn deepens time and space with its special brand of darkness, I grab for the sun when it floats above and makes a rare appearance. To position myself and gain advantage, I pick myself up and climb for a different view on daily happenings.

It’s been cold the last few days. The daytime temperatures have struggled to rise above the freezing mark. On Saturday, arriving early for a Slate Run Sportsmen meeting in PA, I decided I had time to climb above the Hotel Manor and the trout stream for a walk on the Black Forest Trail.

I hadn’t walked this section of the ridge in many years. Although I once hiked the entire 45 miles of the Black Forest Trail, and would cover only a mile of it today, the ridge felt new and fresh as I inhaled the cold morning air and sunshine on the mountains. It was good to get reacquainted with the forest supporting one of my favorite trout streams.

After the meeting and some lunch at the Hotel Manor, I grabbed the fly rod for an hour of fishing in the gorge, but already the shadows were deepening and ice was forming in the bamboo’s tiptop guide. The trout were smarter than I was, and just weren’t showing up.

The next morning I was headed to Fall Creek in Ithaca, New York. The sun made a tentative appearance, and the air, still chilly, made a welcome bid for a reading in the 40s. The creek was looking good and strong, full of quickened currents and slower pools, a welcome sight compared to what I’d found here in the past few years.

Fall Creek

The big creek has an autumn run of trout, primarily browns, and landlocked salmon from Cayuga Lake. The trout and salmon can attain large sizes and, not surprisingly, the number of anglers on this stream can be substantial too. I thanked the cool air for keeping angler interest on Sunday morning at a minimum. There were men and women on the water, but not so many that I had to wonder why I bothered coming out. Unfortunately, the numbers of fish seemed relatively low, as well.

bridge graffiti, Ithaca

Casting a streamer, I caught a small rainbow trout but then nothing for an hour or two. Sensing that my luck in finding a brown trout or a landlocked salmon was about to expire, I was walking upstream on a high bank overlooking the creek, enjoying a ray of sunshine pouring through the cloudscape over the city, when I saw a large fish several feet from the  water’s edge.

Above Slate Run

The bank was steep and I descended slowly, careful to avoid all movement other than an inch-by-inch progression of my feet. An overhanging branch personified darkness as it stifled my effort to make an adequate roll-cast to the fish. The salmon sensed my presence and disappeared downstream. Disappointed, I stepped well into the stream and waited, hoping that a landlocked salmon, one of my favorite fishes on the fly, would return.

above Slate Run village on Pine

Luck plays an important part in any fisherman’s life, and I got lucky when the fish returned and paused in the same area of the stream where I first saw it. I got lucky when this salmon didn’t laugh so hard at the bedraggled fly that he let it pass. The fish grabbed the hook and tore upriver, leaping several times and shaking his head, before I could lead him to the opposite bank and take a photo.

on Black Forest Trail

This male salmon (note the kype!) measured 27 inches along the rod and had some weight. I worked at reviving him in the flow of water before the send off, a good fish swimming toward the lowering sun, a spirit helping to keep it in the sky.

landlocked Atlantic salmon

Ithaca Falls

w/ kype, adult male


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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24 Responses to Against the Dying Light

  1. slaterunjohn says:

    Wonderfully written, Walt. I enjoy reading all of you blogs, but this one really resonated. Of course I know Slate and the BFT, but also Ithaca falls!

    • Thanks John, I’m glad this one hit the mark for you! And when it works for someone who knows these waters, too, the feeling has a special edge to it. B/t/w, was wondering if you got yourself a new fly rod, Saturday….

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    Nice fish, Walt! I’m guessing that you needed the fighting butt for that bruiser, eh? Interestingly, I was watching some YouTube videos of the Black Forest trail a few days ago. I love the view of Slate Run from the Vista – I had to blow it up and admire it!

    • Yeah I couldn’t believe how long it’s taken for me to get back to the trail above Slate Run. As you know, it’s an enjoyable walk. I actually took the playbook from a friend who had walked up there just a few days earlier, and I’m glad I did. Would like to see more of those miles. Anyway, the fish was a strong one, as you figured, and the fighting butt came in handy at the midpoints. Thanks Bob, and hope you’re getting out a little in these cooling days.

  3. I really wish that I had a chance to see this in person Walt. Your story and photos make me want to be young enough again to more thoroughly enjoy more of the country. Thanks for taking me along.

    • Howard, This is one of those stories from “home” where I really wasn’t expecting much at first, and where I was thinking that companionship would’ve been nice but, as it was, the “story” had a pleasant ending. Anytime I can take you along vicariously, the outing is a good one. Thank you!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nice story Walt.

  5. Les Kish says:

    Walt, that waterfall makes for an impressive backdrop for an angler. I can see why folks would want to wet a line there. Nicely composed shot of a great fish with rod, reel and maple leaves too.

  6. Brent says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever hiked more than a couple short segments of the Black Forest Trail, but the forests in that part of Pennsylvania are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I think I just particularly love the mix of trees, with the hemlocks overlapping with the most northerly zone of mountain laurels.

    • You’re right, hemlocks are important for the forest and the streams, with laurel commonly found here at the uppermost of its range. And the trail is a great one to accomplish in sections (as I did it) or in one haul with a few overnights included. Lots of special treats can be found here, as well, such as small stands of the rare American chestnut tree.

  7. JZ says:

    Luck plays an important role in everything that life has to offer. However, hard work and a willingness to learn is often times the single most important variable in allowing luck to fall on a given situation. As I see it, being there, along with the years of experience under your belt has allowed you better results. You can call it luck Walt, but your passion has given your luck an easier chance. I wish luck for everyone who deserves that chance. Cheers to you Walt, your a lucky man ….(smile).

    • There’s a lot of truth in those first two sentences of yours, JZ. In my case, the going hasn’t been easy, but I’ll admit to hard work and a willingness to learn. Thanks, my friend. We all appreciate hearing from you.

  8. loydtruss says:

    Sometimes one fish is all it takes to make a trip, and that Salmon fit the bill. I can only imagine what its like to fish below those falls, absolutely breath taking!!! Thanks for sharing

    • You got it, Bill. One good fish is all it takes sometimes to get a satisfying go-around. As for the falls, to fish at or near its plunge-pool is quite an experience. Talk about depth of water, mist and wind!

  9. plaidcamper says:

    Another enjoyable read! The light might be dying as we race towards winter, but you’ve captured the sharpness found on a crisp fall trail day in your words and photos. If the Black Forest trail offers those visual delights along the full 45 miles, little wonder you’d want to return – it looks lovely!
    Thanks, Walt.

    • Thank you for that, PC. Yeah the Black Forest Trail and the neighboring (and longer) Susquehannock Trail are wonderful circuit trails in northern PA. To hike them in entirety was a memorable experience filled with lots of stories from a beautiful landscape.

  10. Great places and great pics. Thanks for capturing these places and sharing!

  11. It sounds like you had an excellent outing. The pictures really make me homesick for the eastern forests.

    Every time I’m back in the east people tell me how great Atlantic salmon are on the fly. One of these days I may have to listen and try for some.

    • Thanks Douglas. Landlocked salmon are a great fish on the fly. Atlantics, of course, are most famous, but this smaller version takes a fly readily while in the stream, and sometimes in the lake. They’re also special to me because they aren’t that common. I’ve caught them here in the Finger Lakes area, in New Hampshire and in Maine, but it takes a bit of effort to find them. If you ever come back this way and want to try them, I can help!

  12. JZ says:

    Walt, the door of winter is now wide open. Its draft can be felt through every valley and hilltop. I often wonder how those trout survive in such harsh conditions. They are the champions of fighters and there feisty spirit should be admired by all, not just fisherman. I raise my Yeti thermos half filled with coffee while sitting at my work desk to there continued survival. Why I’m writing this, I don’t know, but I am constantly amazed by there sheer will. I truly love them, I can say that…just saying!

    • Yeah the door is open now, JZ, and time to batten down the hatches (midges, exempted?) whether we’re a trout a man an insect or some combination thereof. The wild ones are tough, though, they have to be or cease to exist. Truly admirable. I need to go check up on my Blue Ridge friends, but they have a little easier than the northern ones. They’re more threatened by the warmer temps. Hey, happy holiday to you and yours!

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