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.”
First Mind, eh? Ratty, I couldn’t have said it better.
That’s some disturbing news. Pennsylvania’s track record with the extraction industries in general and the Marcellus bust in particular do not offer a lot of encouragement. Funny, the money never seems to follow whatever scheme is touted as the next windfall, but people keep falling for the sales pitch. I was pondering the brown trout spawning period today as I traveled up Brown Run, one of the few tributaries of the Allegheny in the “trout zone” to offer suitable habitat for reproduction. I’ve seen some big ‘uns in there, but I never get the timing right. When I find them they are disinterested in my fly, they’ve got one thing on their tiny brains… Took a vigorous hike today (not enough snow for xc skiing) up the Rimrock trail that goes from the reservoir to the base of the overlook. Followed coyote tracks almost all the way up. He must’ve got something as there was blood spoor at the base of a tree – maybe one of the maxi-sized squirrels that live thereabouts. Investigations are the order of the day!
Locally, the latest pitch is another variation of the old song & dance where money calls the tune and the blind start tapping their feet until they fall out in exhaustion. So it seems. I wish that river folk investigate the issue more thoroughly. Anyway, Bob, glad you’re getting out there with your own investigation into places like the run and the Rimrock Trail. Such activities help to keep us balanced.
Bob’s comment is interesting, that the main argument in favor of these activities never seems to pan out…at least not for most folks, and certainly not for the trout. The Seneca, too, represent another angle. I’m not sure what kind of pull they have in PA.
As far as the allure of the investigation, I remember that pretty well as the kid who felt compelled to find the uppermost source of all the local rills!
I’m not sure, either, but the Seneca reps made a strong impression (from what I could see on video) in front of the DEP and others. Money speaks louder, unfortunately, but who knows… As for youthful forms of investigation, I’m glad you got the knack for the upstream haul and carry it on today!
“First Mind and a healthy life along the river…” and anywhere else things live and grow – well said, Walt (and Ratty), but I’ve an idea closed minds and grasping hands are the order of the day in this present political environment. The short term quick buck thinking is so fracking frustrating. I know it’s just common sense, and restating the plain truth (not the fake stuff, haha) but we all live downriver. Right, I’d best calm down, and I’ll do that by looking at the delightful fish and fly photographs you selected.
Here’s hoping your environment isn’t further sullied, and the waters run clean.
Ah yes, the fracking frustrations, but we’ll cast on, or place one foot in front of the other while we voice our concerns and do the right thing and hope that a springtime of the spirit is around the corner somewhere. Thank you, Plaid, and may your own rivers flow unsullied.
Frustrating to hear of the rivers, and environments challenges… but, those are some absolutely beautiful brown trout – huge tails, amazing spots, buttery sides… What gorgeous fish!
Thank you for the comment, Will! Although the sky is overcast and the air be pretty darned cold, the sights of fish like this can warm the blood and bone.
Thanks for the Kenneth Grahame quote.
You’re welcome, Dick. Ratty made me say it, and I’m glad you caught it.
Beautiful fish Walt !
Thanks Jed! I try.
Great trout and post.
It’s pretty disheartening to see what is happening to our waters and public lands as well. Great post Walt, thanks.
Yup, it’s disheartening, here and almost everywhere. Thanks Howard.
It seems with each pasting year there is more encroachment by the powers that be, on our environment, waterways, and beautiful streams; let’s hope sane minds prevail.
Those are some of the most colorful images of brown trout I’ve seen in sometime. Great post–thanks for sharing
Right you are, Bill. But getting some First Mind imagery in nature keeps us going, and we do what we can to help it along. I appreciate your thoughts.
Great read, Walt. Those browns are truly beautiful. I hope to cross paths with one this year. It would be a shame if that wastewater facility went in there.
Thanks Douglas. Yeah we’ve got enough problems as it is, so it’s best to avoid this. As for those browns, I hope your line tightens on them this year!
I hope so, too. I have to do a fair amount of driving to find any water with them in it, so here’s hoping for a year filled with wandering.