Old Woodenhead’s Wish

[In this rapidly changing world of ours, I’m glad that some things are relatively stable and unchanging. For example, it’s December and the winter snow and ice are here again, and Old Woodenhead (my alter-ego of December’s Holi-Daze) has made another visit to this small stream world. Last December he went skating on the thin ice of reality (the special regulations water of the Allegheny River) and caught a few trout and even got featured once again on Rivertop Rambles. This December, he sampled the headwaters of the Allegheny, as well as a new section of Nine Mile Run, a Pine Creek tributary. I decided to run a slightly modified version of last year’s post (below) because it felt right, and because it’s also an excerpt from my recently finished book of creative non-fiction, entitled Wings Over Water, which I’m hoping to publish in 2019.

the return of Old Woodenhead…

Given our weather conditions of late, I feel lucky to have fished at all these past couple of weeks. I do hope you enjoy this narrative re-run that’s accompanied by recent photos from the headwaters region, and if Old Woodenhead doesn’t wish you all a Happy Solstice and Merry Christmas as well as he should, allow me to make it clear: Have a Happy & Merry Everything as a new winter season opens its door.]

Nine Mile Run


Old Woodenhead (my alter ego on cold December streams) was on the Allegheny River by noon. The weather had warmed a bit, became more seasonal, with an air temperature peaking at the freezing mark. Old Woodenhead had decided that winter fly-fishing was certainly an exercise in patience and layered clothing. Fingers freeze while attending to snags and tangles. Every action, whether short line casting or reeling in a stubborn fish, is accomplished as if with wooden hands.

on the banks of the old Allegheny…

He was not alone there by the river. An army of eleven orange-clad deer hunters advanced across a forested slope nearby. For safety’s sake, Old Woodenhead had added a fluorescent-orange vest over his usual Orvis tans. He may have grumbled, wondering why he bothered with this masochistic behavior but, when all was cursed and settled, he would have it no other way. To fish in winter was to feel alive.

He was on a river pool with depth and more than a few large trout. The one side of the pool from which he could cast had 10 to 15-feet of thin ice on the surface. He watched the shadowy forms of trout shift on the river bottom out beyond the ice. Casting an Egg fly to the open water, he allowed the lure to sink and slowly drift. Eventually, a trout grabbed the fly and rose toward the edge of the ice. Fish on!

Merry FishMas to All!

Old Woodenhead kept the line tight while scrambling downstream to the tail-end of the pool. He didn’t want the ice to sever his connection. Gaining the proper position, he worked the fish into the net and removed the hook. The brown trout measured 17 inches long. He took two photos and quickly returned the catch, adding holiday wishes to all with fin or fur or feather (and to all who appreciate the beauty of their domicile!).

Each December, Old Woodenhead skates fearlessly on the thin ice of reality, resuming his quest for fun and knowledge in unusual ways. A traditionalist, he fly-fishes, hikes and makes a nuisance of himself to those he loves and cherishes, but much of what he does in winter occurs on the snow and ice. No one will accuse him of being graceful or particularly wise, but he means well and, by god, he even catches a trout now and then.

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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17 Responses to Old Woodenhead’s Wish

  1. Some really nice photos of the icy, winter scenery. Appreciate the fact that Old Woodenhead doesn’t hide inside an just tie flies this time of year.

  2. Bob Stanton says:

    The Yuletide return of Old Woodenhead! Beautiful pics and congrats on breaking the 400 followers mark!

  3. JZ says:

    The tribute to the wooden figure frozen in time stream-side is a classic. Symbolic attributes, metaphorically speaking, is his willingness to share experiences, lifestyle and holiday greetings to all. Old Woodenhead reminds us anglers that the spirit of giving and sharing is a contribution we can all be a part of. While we revel in the thanks that are bestowed upon us during the season, lets not forget tomorrows gestures that we can do for others. Thanks Walt for the pictures, blog and roll-call of comments that are sure to last longer than your warm fireplace inside. Brook trout fly’s will soon be tied..lol!

    • JZ, thanks for your appreciation of O.W. and the spirit of giving & sharing in this season and throughout the year. Best wishes to you & yours over the holidays, and some happy tying & casting hours, too!

  4. Brent says:

    What a great holiday tradition. I always enjoy hearing about Old Woodenhead’s adventures along a quiet wooded stream. The green of the moss along the banks in some of those pictures is especially appealing!

    • O.W. had a difficult year– broken rod & other mishaps– but he got it together in time to keep alive a modest little tradition in its own right. And that bankside green seems to hit the spot at this time of year, doesn’t it. We’ll see you soon!

  5. mary says:

    Great pictures! Love the artistic angle of photo with the pine cones. Happy Holidays

  6. loydtruss says:

    Those are some beautiful images showing some Christmas greenery. I need Old Woodenheads help here in Alabama to stop the rain. In fact as I write this he may have already intervened, next weeks forecast is all dry! Thanks for sharing

  7. plaidcamper says:

    Wonderful photographs! Patience, layered clothing, and, I hope, a glass with warming contents when you head back inside. Cheers, and enjoy the season!

  8. Bob says:

    Merry Christmas Walt, wishing you & yours a great 2019!

  9. Summer says:

    funny to fish fishing bait

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