The Break-Off

The afternoon was hot and humid. The long holiday weekend was coming to a close; the family gathering had been energizing and fun. It was time, now, to bid farewell to the summer season with an hour or two of fishing in the shaded riffles of the Slate Run gorge.

The water temperature was on the warm side, 68 degrees F. (my upper limit for trout). I attached a 6x tippet and a small Red Ant to the leader and began to cast comfortably with  Chester, my three-year-old bamboo. The upstream wade was an easy one. I quickly caught two brook trout colored like the first trees in an autumn’s turning.

I approached a long glassy pool. A steep cliff rose from the left bank and a pine woods opened on the right. I was feeling hot and tired (and a little sad to see the summer end)– like an old fishing rod, a nameless 1930s wand, perhaps. Luckily, I had a young and spirited instrument in hand, a good split-cane that would pull me through. If I was feeling rough and worn out like an older stick, well, I could still throw an easy line despite my spirit’s fraying silks, a broken tip, and drying varnish.

Not much was happening at the pool, so I started to reflect… It had been a good summer.  We had traveled out West. Back at home, I had an opportunity to start and finish the first draft of a new book that I’d had in mind. And now, school was ready to commence again.

Suddenly I saw the swirl of something just below the surface– out there, near the middle of the pool… Not quite believing my luck, I thought about the summer past, as if to dispel an illusion of a big fish near at hand… Yeah, there had been a lot of rain. As a consequence, my outings had been fewer but, actually, I had done okay. Tim and I had caught big browns one rainy late-night on Oatka Creek. And I had recently enjoyed the upper forks of the Sinnemahoning. I was ready to move on with the autumn promise. But, wait… Wasn’t I feeling like… an old bamboo?

Chester, the young split-cane dude, wasn’t about to let me wallow in self-pity. No sir. He delivered that artificial Red Ant to the middle of the pool, three feet to the right of where I’d seen the surface swirl. A large trout drifted over to inspect the morsel and… take it.

First Fork Sinnemahoning

The fish was strong and heavy, but I gained control and played the give-and-take while putting all the action “on the reel.” As the trout came in close, I could see bright autumn colors and presumed the fish to be a German brown, a recent migrant up from Pine that had sought the cooler temperatures of Slate. On the other hand, the trout could have been a large stream-bred fish since, by most reports, Slate Run was fishing stronger every season.

First Fork brown…

You can see where I’m going here… yep, the fish broke off. The thread-like tippet snapped at the barrel knot and gave the raison d’etre for this writing. I could curse that breakage (actually, I did curse it at the time) but I quickly acknowledged that I shouldn’t get complacent; I needed to take more time with knots; it was only fishing, etc. There was no reason to succumb to a late-summer funk. A new season would be on us soon. The fishing would get better. Chester and I had work to do.

wild brown, PA….

Looking back… a Snake River fine-spotted….

Looking back… the Rambler in the Colorado Rockies….


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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12 Responses to The Break-Off

  1. Anonymous says:

    How about I come out next year and do some camping and fishing.

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Another fine one, Walt! That rambler in the Rockies, or the other guy escaping a late summer funk will find themselves in good form as the season turns, I’ve no doubt. Yup, sometimes it’ll slip away, but maybe that’s a positive, because it’ll be out there next time? It’ll keep you coming back. Whatever the elusive “it” may be…
    Delighted to read you’re working on your next book!

    • That “coming back” keeps us in shape, ideally. The one that gets away, that comes close to the ideal, is the one that stays. In that regard, the lost fish story outlasts the tale of the fish in hand. So yeah, thank you Adam. And the book that still needs more work? That, too, is like the fish that keeps us coming back.

  3. Brent says:

    A nice, optimistic recap of a fine (if damp) summer. I remember you had been concerned at various points about Slate’s fishing health, so it’s nice to know that such a beautiful stream is showing signs of improvement.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Interesting it is, and frustrating too, that though you’re only a few hours away, central and eastern PA and NY seem to have got the bulk of the rain that has fallen this summer. We’ve been pretty dry here, so much so that I’ve skipped out on fishing the smaller streams for the most part, except right after a decent rain. Still though, it’s been a pretty fair year, piscatorially speaking. Perhaps fall will throw some more fishy days our way.

    • Interesting, indeed. Rainfall in my neighborhood has been localized with mixed results. Some area streams went bankful but not beyond, and others were seriously damaged. I’ve just learned that one of my favorite brookie streams in NY, just 10 miles away, was devastated. The DOT got a permit from the DEC to “clean up,” and, well, the damage from the dozers is appalling. I’m still in shock. Anyway, it’s climate change here and elsewhere, and we’ve got to deal with it. Meanwhile, thanks Bob, and here’s to better days….

  5. JZ says:

    Walt, you have had a great mix of fishing this summer. The places you’ve seen and the people you’ve met along the way make the trips all worth it. Its nice to be back though, I’m sure, no matter where you’ve been, to experience home water and its familiarity. Stretches like Cedar, Sliders and the Cushman have been my go too the past 2 weeks. Brook trout always welcome me with shining colors. Also, hiking those back trails in the forest puts my mind and soul in peace. Rough edges become smooth and a sense a gratefulness comes to the forefront. I’ve seen some places many haven’t. Bear scat, sweaty humid days and mosquitos found in the wilderness are a part of it. Sometimes being uncomfortable is finding comfort in places we find. It is for me! Dispelling notions about a stretch of water of what may or may not be there can haunt me. I’m sure for you too Walt. Picking up a fly rod and marching onwards with a trusty staff cements in memory these places and what they hold. That’s me too Walt. I work hard in a gym, lift weights and push cardio conditioning to higher limits. I’m a Marine so staying in shape so I can see these places are important. Also, being there for my family in the long run is important too. Enjoy your fishing Walt! Amazing trips and the time spent exploring what’s out there is just outside your door…

    • You hit on a lot of important points here for good health, JZ. Family and physical work-outs so that you meet the streams and forest on good terms. And yes, the fishing excursions make me appreciate my home place and home waters more than ever. All the rough edges eventually make for smooth wading opportunities. You mention some streams that I am looking forward to revisiting in the next few weeks– Cedar, Sliders, Cushman, beautiful places. Glad you’ve had a chance to stay acquainted. Maybe we’ll cross tracks out there pretty soon!

  6. loydtruss says:

    We call the late days of summer here in the south “The Dog Days of Summer” as we all get older they seem to come around more often; another beautiful stream you and and Chester were fishing. Why do we lose the better fish?
    Is the first image a paperweight? My wife and I have collected a few through the years. Thanks for sharing

    • Thank you, Bill. Maybe we lose those “better fish” in order to keep them closer to our hearts and memories. Who knows, but the streams are really nice and make those almost-catches possible. The first image is just an experiment, a first take with a new camera, but it would make a cool paperweight, wouldn’t it. Something to hold down all the bills and scraps of memos floating around this place.

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