I love investigations, especially when they involve fish, birds, and wildflowers. Investigations involving politics, economics, or health– not so much. Returning to familiar Pennsylvania headwaters for a second consecutive weekend, I began to ponder the presence of brown trout in a time and place where I’m not accustomed to finding them.
Locating big fish in this section of the river was like Zen illumination– a flash of realization that I’ll call First Mind, a beautiful condition that one encounters when everything is fresh and new. It was like an early memory of pleasant youth, or like the first stage of love or some experience that you anticipate. First Mind/Fresh Mind has the virtue of simplicity, it seems, but it sure can be deceiving.
I love investigations that involve the natural cycles. Browns head upstream to spawn in autumn; rainbows find their strongest spawning urge in spring. The browns I found in January hadn’t been there in the fall, as far as I could tell. The trout didn’t look like hatchery fish. In fact, they appeared to be healthy– bright and free of clippings or factory scrapes, a wondrous edition of First Mind Salmo trutta.
In all my years of fishing this stream in winter, I’ve never found wild brown trout to be numerous. I would catch a nice one every now and then, but the typical winter residents were stocked rainbows. To catch substantial browns here was like being a kid again, connecting with my first trout at 12 years of age while casting a shabby fly that I had tied.
In an effort to regain some book shelf, I skimmed through my 20-year collection of a favorite fly-fishing magazine and recycled the issues when I finished. I had over a hundred yellowing copies of the magazine and I hated putting them out to pasture. It wasn’t easy to dispose of the many articles and angling tips from the masters but I needed room. I did enjoy the newfound shelf space which was like the clarity I got when I revisited the river and caught some trout.
My several outings produced eight browns that ranged from 16 to 19 inches in length. Another one, even larger, broke away. They looked and felt like wild fish born here in the watershed. But why would they congregate in pools once dominated by rainbow trout?
I’ve never cared to know the stocking schedules for trout in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, but when I took a lunch break at my car and asked a local angler who had just arrived about the brown trout here, the mystery was solved. He had been here when the fish came to the water in November.
I hate my own investigations when I snuff the flame of mystery. First Mind disappears like smoke. And yet, I was glad to learn that the fish were planted by a local hatchery– not the big state facility, but a small place on a cold stream where the trout are given special care and feeding.
Here, Salmo trutta was a picture of wildness, health and color, like free-range chickens as opposed to caged birds in the factories. I was glad to have caught and released them, but acknowledging their domestic origin made a mess of First Mind and its sanctity.
Before the mystery was solved, a couple of guys, casting spinners, told me that they catch big browns here every winter. “Wild trout. Yes! Did you notice that their fins weren’t clipped? They swim up from the reservoir to spawn.” I didn’t buy the latter statement, knowing that the long stretch of river from the Kinzua Dam to Port Allegheny is a warm water fishery, but I let it pass. However, their comment on the reservoir reminded me of something.
A wastewater treatment facility for the fracking industry is being proposed for the river several miles downstream from where these trout are found. The Coudersport area has supporters for the treatment plant but there are also many who oppose it, like the representatives from the downstream Seneca Nation who implored the public in attendance at a recent hearing to stand with the environment and denounce the plan as both untested and potentially dangerous.
42,000 gallons of treated wastewater per day would be released into the Allegheny headwaters at Coudersport if construction is completed. That’s a lot of treated frack water from an industry with a track record of numerous spills both accidental and deliberate. The water would be tested for many chemicals prior to release but, oddly, testing for radioactive particles associated with fracking extract is exempt from review. Some of the local business interests may see money here, but I see the potential for serious problems.
Rivertop Rambles stands opposed to this facility and supports the Seneca Nation and others who care about First Mind and a healthy life along the river. It stands in favor of cold, clean water and of those who speak for the earth and its creatures that cannot protest with a human voice.
As Water Rat said to Mole about his river in the classic tale, The Wind in the Willows: “It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing… It’s always got its fun and its excitements.”