I’ll call the small stream “Panther Run.” This Pine Creek tributary, once renowned for mountain lion sightings, is now a freestone tumbler that’s unwilling to reveal its actual moniker. I fished the run initially on a sparkling day in May, after being told by another angler that it probably was devoid of trout, that its former life and status as brook trout habitat had likely been erased by excessive climate change and resource extraction. I thanked the angler whom I met near the junction of Panther Run and Pine. I switched my small stream wand for a river stick and began my outing with a walk down to the larger water.
Something gnawed at me as I fished the high-flowing Pine. Caddis were hatching sporadically but no fish rose to a dry fly or a wet. Several other anglers were reporting “skunk” conditions, and even the osprey circling just above the sycamores seemed to wonder why the prey was so reclusive. I decided to walk down to the mouth of Panther Run, if I could find it, then proceed to fish back toward the car. Unfortunately, discovery of the tributary’s mouth was tougher than imagined, so I headed back the way I came.
The trout lily blooms (see photo on previous Rivertop post) were already dying but I thought of them as I drank some water at the car and got prepared to fish the small stream flowing through the woods nearby. Trout lily: also known as fawn lily, adder’s tongue and dogtooth violet. Trout lily, with its edible leaves like fawn’s ears perked to the sky, with its markings that resemble the design found on a brook trout’s olive back. Perhaps Panther Run, like a trout lily, had more to it than a common name or legend could suggest.
With a short rod, 3-weight line and 6-foot leader, I presented a floater to a smattering of pools and riffles, hoping for the sight of hungry natives. I thought about the Pine Creek angler who was doubtful that brookies had survived in Panther Run. Here the Pennsylvania mountains and the widespread rivertops seemed to blend as one. A giant pine, one of the largest white pines I have seen– perhaps a remnant of the great wild forest that prevailed here more than a century before– gently raised its massive arms as I walked beneath it toward the unknown mouth at the creek.
A brook trout rose to meet the hook, first one and then another. They were here– from the pine tree to the mouth of the run, surviving against all odds– the trout lily’s brother, a sister to the pine. A big picture of the wild. And why should it matter? Well, I’d say it helps to know whether or not native trout still flourish in any given locale. If a stream with wild or native trout is threatened by destruction or effacement by our kind, then a small voice in defense of threatened species can be better than an unsung passage into death.
So, hey there, adder’s tongue lily! Stamen serpent-tongued. Your seed pods loved by deer; your dogtooth bulb enjoyed by bear. Ah, sacred flower of the goddesses. Erythronium of the eastern woods. Companion to the trout.