Branching Out (from Genesee)

Some readers of Rivertop Rambles may recall that every year, around the Opening Day of the Pennsylvania trout fishing season, I try to fish the three branches of my home river. Again this year, I drove to the state-line village of Genesee, observed the knots of spin-fishermen congregating on the banks anticipating a good day of fishing and camaraderie. I purchased a few supplies then headed toward the branches of the Genesee and set foot on water upstream of nearly everyone casting a line.

I reinforce a personal tradition while preparing for another season on waters far and wide. Each of the three trout streams of the upper Genesee, converging at the village of that name, average about 20 feet wide and 10 miles long. They beckon in the chill of April like a family member who’s been absent a bit too long. They form the early stages of a major watershed originating at the “Triple Divide.” The other watersheds rising nearby are those of Pine Creek and the Allegheny River. A home river is important. If it’s healthy, there is jubilation. If the river is imperiled, then there’s work to be done.

fly rod with hemlock tree

From an angling perspective, the East Branch (or Main Stem) has long been the lesser of the three streams. It begins in the open farmlands of Ulysses, PA and has issues with sedimentation, agricultural run-off and thermal pollution. Its lower half is stocked with trout; some wild fish can be found throughout its length. During the weekend of opening day, I fished new water on the stream, climbing higher on it than I’ve gone before, and catching four nice brown trout, two on a Woolly Bugger and two with a bead-head nymph.

It was another case of finding something new in one’s backyard. You think you know a stream by virtue of fishing it for years, and then you try a new stretch of water and get a different picture or opinion of it. I found gravel beds I hadn’t seen before. I found an evergreen forest with some eye-opening hemlock and white pine trees. The pools weren’t numerous or productive until I finally found a deep one with a difference– two wild browns that woke me like a wonderful cup of coffee.

I didn’t do as well on the mid-stretch of the Middle Branch Genesee. There were anglers ahead of me stringing up their hatchery fish. I got a pass or two from wild fish living in a hemlock grove, but that was it. And then the West Branch– I knew it would be better…

A mayfly hatch was occurring in a long deep pool. The sky was overcast; the air was chilly, but Blue Quills were hatching, and a heavy trout was rising sporadically for a taste of mayfly on the surface.

Tying on a finer tippet, I switched from a streamer to a Blue Quill imitation (or was it a bedraggled Quill Gordon?). A 15-inch rainbow struck the dry fly and tore up the pool before I trapped it in the net. The thrashing action killed the other rises, but minutes later I got hook-ups once again by drifting a Hare’s Ear Nymph.

a battered hatchery ‘bow that took a dry…

The only downside to the weekend was discovery of what seems like a proliferation of garbage dumps and litter along these streams and roadways. In one case, the dumping was abominable, and criminal. Trashing is symptomatic of the lost and careless, of consumerism run amuck, without regard for anyone but the self. I’d like to think that Earth Day can still make a difference, but it only works if it starts today.

On a brighter note… There it was, another small tradition I could pull off in the name of fun and exploration. Spring is here at last, and I can hope it hangs around a while. I’m ready for Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Streamwalker’s Journey is doing well, and I thank all of its supporters as well as those who visit here on a regular or a first-time basis.

Branch out to the season’s beauty and enjoy! As always, feel free to offer your thoughts and comments any time.


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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18 Responses to Branching Out (from Genesee)

  1. Brent says:

    So that hemlock-shaded stretch of water in the last picture is the East Branch? I also tend to think of the road along that stretch and all the farms and open fields. Nice little find!

    On another note related to water quality, there was a lot of rain throughout Virginia last night (1.5 to 3 inches in places), so you may find full streams on your visit to the Blue Ridge.

    • Yeah that’s from the East Branch in a hemlock & pine woods that, from my experience, is rather atypical. The little that I’ve fished before along that water has been old abandoned farmland, rather open, so this deeply shaded area was a pleasant surprise. As for the Blue Ridge, I hope the streams aren’t too full. They should be fine, barring more storms. Around here, our streams are currently bank-full and raging.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Good stuff, Walt! Full of colour and life, and a reward for tradition and patience – you seem to have a certain spring in your step here. The garbage is a disappointment, but seems to be a universal problem. Ought to be unexpected yet often present even in remote locations. Still, the plus was making new discoveries in old haunts, and here’s to many more pleasant spring findings!

    • Thank you, Plaid. Putting spring in my step has been a little effort this year but I’m doing what I can. Garbage is a drag on every level of society. Shouldn’t surprise me anymore and yet… there it is. I’ll keep casting for the colour and discovery.

  3. Bob Stanton says:

    It seems to me, sadly, that litter is becoming more profuse than before. On a recent trip to the game lands I frequent, the parking area was festooned with the sign of what ol’ Ed Abbey termed Slobivus Americanus, or something to that effect. Picking up the trash netted me a Wal Mart bag’s worth of crap. Trash, graffiti and “guerrilla” campsites are getting too commonplace for my liking. Grrr… On a brighter note, Kinzua Creek gifted me a fat, 21 inch Rainbow that ate a chartreuse streamer. Still waiting for some legit hatch matching opportunities, though.

  4. Grrr… indeed. Finding this unwanted stuff is like the snagging of a line at a most inconvenient moment (never convenient). Curses. Anyway, what a rainbow from the Kinzua! Puts a real bow in the rod, and the net. Way to go, Bob.

  5. Dale says:

    Hi Walt what’s up with this weather? 32 degrees here this morning over the weekend was in WV it was 86 degrees! Caught a nice Brooke near my daughter’s house 18 Inches just a very small stream called middle creek. Ps love the book can’t put it down almost finished with it .great job I feel like I’m right there with you!
    Tight lines see you at the summer picnic if not before.
    I still owe you a beer or two!

    • Crazy weather, crazy world, Dale. I may have to check out that WVA trout stream near your daughter’s place. For brooks that size, there’s got to be a lot of protein or alien foodstuff in the water. Glad you’re digging the book. I do appreciate the comments! Meanwhile, I’ll be catching up to ya for some fishing and that beer or two!

  6. Dick R. says:

    Thank-you as usual Walt. Your connection with nature is a breath of fresh air for me and the assurance that Thoreau still lives. -Dick

  7. Walt – Thanks for a story of a tradition remembered. Maybe this comments say more about my age than anything else but traditions seems to be an under-valued commodity these days. Nice to see those markings distinctive of stream born fish! Well done

    • I agree with you, Mark. Traditions in angling and in many other aspects of culture seem under-valued these days, and I thank you for doing your part in rectifying the situation as we see it. Participating in Opening Day activities while doffing our hats to wild fish seems like a good use of our time.

  8. Ross says:

    Walt – there’s something reassuring in maintaining an annual tradition, and great to find a nice surprise on something familiar as you found on the east branch. Yes, it is truly sad to find man’s junk/trash along such beautiful places. Enjoy your trip to the Blue Ridge. Also, just finished Streamwalkers Journey .. excellent, thoroughly enjoyed your tales amongst the Triple Divide.

  9. Walt, I think you’ll understand when I say that I’ve learned to love the explorations my friends go on even more than I used to. You have captured the joy that we all feel when a successful trip is completed and in the books. Well done my friend, well done.

  10. loydtruss says:

    Beautiful array of colors on the trout landed; congrats on a successful opening day fishing in what I assume was crowded at times. Thanks for sharing

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