Three Branches, Opening Day

Opening day for trout in northern Pennsylvania offered excellent weather and an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the headwaters. For 35 years I’ve fished three branches of the Genesee (the East, Middle, and West) on the April opener for the sake of exploration, tradition and simple outdoor fun.

Spring Mills…

Back in 1987, when I started this odd obsession, I began my casting not on opening day but slightly later, and on the Middle Branch. I was pleased to note a great white pine tree and various wildflowers marking a fresh new season on the water. I began a poetry project to be called The Wild Trout where “I was happy to explore a backyard region unfamiliar to me, the forested north-central hills of Pennsylvania,” and where “Salvelinus fontinalis, the native brook trout, was a major resource/ inspiration for this work.”

35 years later I was in the same general area and still enjoying the cold clear waters, though a bit concerned about low water levels for early April. I caught a rainbow with a Muddler Minnow at the East Branch and a second rainbow with a small black nymph along the Middle Branch in time for a modest hatch of stoneflies. The West Branch, where I’ve typically had my best luck until recent years, offered nothing in the way of fish this time around.

I remembered beaver ponds on the Middle Branch and found them to be just as prevalent now on all three branches. It was still too early for the barn swallows that were just returning on migration in 1987, swarming for a hatch of flies. I remembered experimenting with… bait… yes, that’s right– the first and only time I ever dropped an angle worm into flowing water. Proving once again that fly anglers are an inconsistent lot, I wrote about it in the opening poem of The Wild Trout, saying “… Casting alternately/ with a Blue Dun wet fly/ and a garden worm,/ I catch sweet glimpses/ of the barn swallow’s first/ appearance, tired traveler/ skimming hungrily/ through an insect hatch.”

East Branch 8-point didn’t make it…

Well, that was then and this is now. I can laugh about it and not feel the need to apologize. As a kid, fishing with a fly in the 1960s, I never used nor wanted to employ live bait for trout but, alas, a middle-aged angler longed to be “more complete” and go against the grain of orthodoxy. No big deal. Bliss Perry, an ivy-league professor/writer and fly fisherman was lured by the worm. His once popular Fishing with a Worm (1916) is one of only several books ever written on the subject (compare that number to the thousands now available on fly-fishing). It presents an honest and humorous look at angling, especially for those willing to drift a baited hook through the wrenching, shirt-sleeve tearing alder alleys often found along our streams.

Got tired along Slate Run…

Some Amish boys dug manured ground for worms to sell or to drop into deep pools of the East Branch when their work was done, an admirable and time-tested strategy, though not my own. A great blue heron rose from the woods along the river, almost like a human body aged and enervating but assured by time and practice. Herons, though, have a talent at the water that exceeds every human effort even in our dreams.

the traces…
Poplars ready for spring…
Pine Creek at Blackwell, PA
Pine Creek, Slate Run…

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 Three Branches, Opening Day

  1. Bob says:

    Wishing you all the best for the coming season. Looks like you are all ready off to a fine start!

  2. What a pretty fly box! I had to look up that book from Bliss Perry – I might have to order that soon. Looks like it could be an enjoyable read. Quite an amazing carcass discovery! A very nice 8-point! No evidence of arrow I suppose? Nice picture of the ‘Hardly’ – 5 wt.? How does the balance feel with it and the cane? take care – UB

    • Hi UB,
      The Perry book is a rarity now, I believe, but I listened to an audio-file which is short & worthwhile… No sign in that carcass but the ravages of time… The Hardy reel is a small one fitted with a 3-weight line & feels nicely balanced on a 6′ 6″ rod. Thanks pal, and take it easy.

  3. JZ says:

    Have not been out since January. The dear loss of my mother recently sure is making this heart broken angler missing water. We all have heard of healing waters and the good they put forth to those who have been stricken in some way. That canopy that instills a beacon of hope through water is an umbrella to all of us anglers. Glad you got to recharge those batteries Walt and shine a lens on what we all need more of.

    • I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your mother, JZ. I went through something similar four years ago when my own mother gave it up, and I know it’s difficult to cope but time will heal, somewhat but never completely. Still, it’s a good time now to start the water therapy in the warm springtime weather. I do hope it goes well for you. Thanks for keeping in touch over here, and let me know how things are going.

  4. plaidcamper says:

    I hope the new season is a good one for you! As a reader here, I appreciate the stories shared, drifting back and forth the decades, making connections. Any piece using the words “Muddler Minnow” is sure to leave me smiling – is there a poem title there?! – thanks, Walt!

  5. Don T says:

    Whetting my appetite Walt. Won’t be long now. Back from the South.
    Thanks for the post.

  6. Should be lots to talk about!

  7. Bob Stanton says:

    Plied a once-favorite stream this past weekend. No trout were captured in the making of this report. This small tributary of an only slightly larger stream used to hold a fair number of wild brookies and some stocked trout that would swim up from the main branch. Alas, beaver pond after beaver pond has rerouted the stream and rendered useless the former best holding water and they have decimated what little riparian cover there was. I don’t get too tweaked about it though, as beavers and trout have coexisted alongside for Millennia. It’s all a part of a cycle that will long outlive me or my fishing days.

    • Yeah I know what you mean, Bob; sounds like many a stream I’ve visited locally. Disappointment, at first, but what can you do. Nature has its own designs, whether it conforms to our best wishes, or not. Meanwhile, other options beckon.

  8. Blaine Emery says:

    I’ve got a couple of friends in northern PA/southern NY who have been sending me many pictures of good outings. Living just across the line in WV, I can see I am going to need to invest some time up there.

    Enjoy seeing the Hardy. I’m finding fly fishing is starting to be like my hunting… I prefer traditional and old.

    Thanks for the post.

    • We’d be happy to see you up here, Blaine. Thanks for getting in touch. This particular Hardy is a relatively new reel but, like any of its kind, the reel makes a connection to the old & traditional which I, too, enjoy employing outdoors.

  9. loydtruss says:

    How I envy you to have 3 great streams to fish and keep the tradition going. You are making me wish I could go and fish my home tailrace tomorrow—-unfortunately I will not get to wet a fly to fish for trout until May. In the meantime, I will continue reading blogs like yours to get my trout fix!!
    Great post, thanks for sharing

    • Hang in there, Bill; I’m hoping that the weather & the fishing gods will be kind to you & yours, so you’ll be fishing before you know it. Thanks, as always, for your support!

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