Fall (The Starred Horizon)

I spent most of Sunday morning in the comfortable waters of the Allegheny River. I had little reason to move. The weather was perfect and the fish (both hatchery and wild) were rising in a long deep pool. For the most part, the tranquility was broken only by occasional chattering of a jay or kingfisher, and the splashing of hungry trout.

Allegheny morn…

Sometimes the fish were taking an emergent insect just below the surface film; other times they were nailing the adult flies on the surface. My problem lay in finding out what turned them on.

I tried the usual suspects on a long fine tippet: Black Ant, Trico Spinner, Blue Quill Spinner, Adams, soft-hackles, midges, caddis pupa… and all the fish would do was follow, make a close inspection, and depart. I tried various strategies– drifting, mending, twitching the fly, mostly to no avail. I felt like I was in church, trying to figure out a sermon, making sense of the insensible, wondering why, with all the possibilities before them, the attendant feeders had to be so finicky.

finicky ‘bows…

“They were real finicky yesterday,” said an arriving angler from New Jersey. “Refused everything except an Ant. And even with Ants, the hook-ups were few and far between. One of them, though, was a 25-inch rainbow! Caught it right there where you’re standing. I made a video, but it wasn’t easy.” Since Jersey anglers (and those from metro Philly) tend to speak the truth about their Potter County catches (lol), I had little reason to doubt this fellow, though the largest rainbow I’ve ever landed in 33 years of fishing the Allegheny measured four inches less than that behemoth.

“Finicky” seemed to be the operative word this weekend. And come to think of it, I was finicky in selecting the Allegheny for this outing… The day before, Jim K. and I fished a lovely but challenging stretch of Wiscoy Creek in western New York and walked away with catching and releasing just a few small browns. The drive was long; the weather was hot. Today I wanted something easier, so I made a careful and deliberate choice…

I wanted a fuller flow, with cool water temperatures, close to home, and with a chance for larger trout. I looked across the expansive pool and watched the rise forms that eventually told me to be patient, to retract my vision from the starred horizon, focusing on the mystery hatch while trying to match it with an artificial in my boxes.

Wiscoy browns were small & wild…

It’s not my favored way for studying bugs and what it is that eats them. My survey, and others like it, seemed too modern, specialized and calculating. I prefer to look askance at the whole spectrum of events if possible, to see connections in the full view of nature, even if it lacks a scientific focus. But that’s not what the trout were doing; they were keying in on one stage of one specific hatch at a time. If I wanted to be as smart as a fifth-grade hatchery fish, I had better figure out what those guys were feeding on.

I got lucky. I learned that what the trout were taking (at first) was  Little Blue-Winged Olives, the smaller the mayfly, the better. I made good catches, and transitioned slowly as the fish began to feed selectively on Ants later in the morning.

Allegheny brown…

What relief! And hatchery trout are dumb, right? Well, disadvantaged, maybe, through no fault of their own. They didn’t choose to grow up in a factory eating but a single kind of manufactured food. They probably enjoyed this weekend’s smorgasbord, selecting one winged species at a time.

It was Sunday morning, looking at the start of Fall. My soul was saved, for now.

Happy Autumn to you all.

Wiscoy Creek @ summer’s end…

J.K. on the Wiscoy, bringing on the Fall….

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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11 Responses to Fall (The Starred Horizon)

  1. plaidcamper says:

    All the seasons have something special about them, but my guess would be you favour fishing in the fall? Finicky fish or not, looks like a pretty good fall outing for you last Sunday, with a soul saved, and challenges met. A morning well spent!

  2. Brent says:

    It looks like you’ve had a much healthier rainfall pattern than we’ve had lately. No measurable rain in a couple weeks, and none on the horizon.

    • I think we’re still benefitting from the surplus of rain in the early season, but it’s getting dry here, as well. Farther south in PA, the situation is worse. It’s time for some autumn rain (please).

  3. Nice coloring on the ‘bow. Stocked fish? If so, when was it put in? Wonder if it’s starting to ‘get native’ as its Fall colors may be setting in. UB

    To answer UB… (above)…
    Marion, Not sure when these hatchery ‘bows were planted, but I think it was recently. Sometimes they color up with time, but I’ve noticed over the years that Allegheny rainbows tend to be more colorful in general than the same species in New York waters. Maybe a hatchery expert/veteran out there can clarify the reason for this.

  4. loydtruss says:

    Don’t it just irritate the crap out of you when you see the trout feeding subsurface and can’t match the hatch. I lose a lot of trout when they are feeding subsurface because of late hook set and not watching the take closer. Congrats on landing some really quality trout using the tiny patterns. What size flies and tippet size were you using. Thanks for sharing a great read

    • Bill, Yeah it can be totally exasperating when you’re close to matching the hatch but not quite close enough, as when trout examine and refuse repetitively. I had better luck with size 18 dry flies drifting on 6x tippet. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    Finicky is certainly the operative word lately. My few outings have been less than fruitful, resorting to calling missed strikes and tugs “good” days. A little rain and we’ll have to get together to see if we can positively effect each other’s catch rate.

  6. JZ says:

    Looks like your out and about and taking in the sights along stream Walt. Wish I could say the same, but a granddaughter born last week (Piper) and house renovations have taken time away. I’m thinking next week I might make a solo trip to Slate Run and say hello to the wild turkey’s I always see this time of year. Strange thing, the last couple of years they make a stream-side audition and don’t seem to mind a fisherman’s presence. I do miss the fishing as of late, but am sure glad to hear and read of your excursions. Sometimes reading about other peoples ventures saves the day. However, this time, its making me miss a sport I love most, fishing. Take care Walt and thanks for saving the day and missing it too. USMC, rock on…

  7. Glad to be of some assistance to you here, JZ, and maybe helping to inspire your next visit to Slate, but you’ve had good reason to celebrate (congrats on your granddaughter’s arrival!) while keeping busy with renovations and such. I, too, have noticed the turkeys of late, feeding quietly near the streamside, probably anticipating the arrival of colder weather soon. I hope you have some good outings on the water, and enjoy the company of your expanding family.

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