More Than Fish That We Are After

I’ve returned to fly-fishing the local rivers and smaller streams, my first solo outings on the water in quite some time. These were modest outings, casting bamboo and smaller graphite rods, catching and releasing a few nice browns that rose to a dry Tan Caddis pattern. The streams have looked dispirited, still low from the dry conditions of departed summer, hobbled by fallen willow trees, by fallen leaves, by beaver dams unkind to water temperatures suitable for trout, and even by lost tackle used illegally in water that’s reserved for the use of artificial lures only. But all in all, I was glad for a return to places that could only see improvement of conditions in the weeks to come.

Things were looking better by my fifth outing of the autumn season. I had found some larger brown and rainbow trout in the deeper pools of my rivertop terrain. These fish were not at all interested in feeding, as far as I could tell, and acted as though spawning was the only energy worth expending now. We’ve got to give these stocked fish credit for not losing all their instincts and piscine dignity while growing up in hatcheries. Some of them might have glanced at the drift of my small dry flies or my slightly larger nymphs but, in general, their refusal to completely check them out told me I was wasting my time if I really wanted success. I would come back the next day with a different strategy and a different set of tackle.

Golden rod (Chester)

As H.D. Thoreau once commented, “Many go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Some of us are familiar with that line and may have even thought about it. I, too, have ruminated on the writer’s words and would add but one qualification. Fishing is like many quests pursued outdoors. It might be a favorite activity, or it might be a lesser one, but it’s usually considered very pleasurable. And there’s more to it than meets the eye, of course; there’s more to it than catching fish. But to catch a fish and to note the beauty of its form and its place of life, where so many other wonders can be found, is a key to knowing what we’re really after.

I had come back to the river with a set of streamer flies, with a shorter leader and a tippet of considerable strength. I saw shadows and reflections of large, slowly cruising trout. I had no preview of the fish that seized my chartreuse imitation. It was powerful and heavy, leaping from the surface and pulling me around for what must have been 10 minutes or so. My landing net came in handy, although in this case, it did seem rather small. After several quick photos and a measurement of 25 inches in length, the big fish slowly swam away and disappeared in the depths. Soon the wind and cold rain began to pummel the riverbanks. I climbed the rocky staircase to my car, almost brimming with an unexpected pleasure.


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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19 Responses to More Than Fish That We Are After

  1. Leigh Smith says:

    Glad to see you back on the water and successful!

  2. JZ says:

    First off, nice fish Walt! I like how you subtly down played that last fish and how your net seemed to small for the occasion, lol. Some things change, others do not. One thing that will never change, are that pictures are worth a thousand words.
    Keep River Top Rambling my friend and make good use of that stream bound wisdom you’ve collected over the years. You can always keep on surprising yourself a time or two as well. Whooh!!

    • Yeah, I have to work for these surprises, small & large, but when I get one it’s a charge! When the big fish came to net, only the front half of it would fit inside, so that was interesting. Thanks for your encouragement here, JZ, and for your own involvement with the wonders of our natural environment.

  3. Brent says:

    Where did you land that monster? Was that your Sunday outing right after I left? I went through that area probably just before you–and then on by Alma Pond–and the sky and foliage were gorgeous. A perfect day for being back out on the water!

    • Brent, I had a Sunday outing on the Genny shortly after you left & probably went right through that area, but the rainbow shone the following day when I was prepared for larger fish. As you noted on your travels, the weather was perfect for outdoor visitation (and today I note the first snow flurries of the season).

  4. UB says:

    I’ve just discovered and downloaded some ‘new age’ sort of music and read this, your latest entry on RTR. The pairing of coordinated very nicely. Beautiful fish, time of year (thus the scenery – I REALLY like Chester’s reel-seat with the Goldenrod, Golden rod… and any other iteration of phrasing that one could use … lol ;)). Will be heading back to SR for the Board meeting in about a week. If there’s not too many leaves in the run and the left meniscus holds up I’ll try a short stretch up one. Great pics and time spent in solitude. UB

    • Glad you found some interesting pairings here, UB. The post with music, the goldenrod with golden rod, etc. The weather has been golden, too, though it seems to be changing quickly toward the drab, as of now. I hope that things hold up nicely for your next visit to SR. In any case, I’ll look forward to seeing you there pretty soon.

  5. tiostib says:

    A pleasant reminder of blissful memories of many Fall outings. thank you.

  6. Bob Stanton says:

    Wow! It’s been a while since I felt the tug of a good fish (or any fish) on the end of my line. I’ve really been missing it; I’ve been reluctant to find suitable water to fish at this time of year. Most everything is still very low here and what little rains we usually get runs off quickly. But…it’s time to make the effort.

    • I know what you mean, Bob. I had been too long without and felt the need to cast before the weather changed for the worse, or some other disaster closed me out for the season. Conditions are far from ideal in our region, as far as the water is concerned, but I think you should give it a whirl at the next golden opportunity.

    • UB says:

      Mr. Stanton – I have not forgotten a past conversation regarding the possibility of attempting to get together and fish with you – possibly RTR and myself this past year/season. Due to a left knee meniscus tear this past year I have slowed down quite a bit but will address this in the ‘off season’ possibly January or February. Just wanted to make note that I still would like to get with you and RTR – the way it looks … in season 2023. I hope you get out and have success this fall – how YOU define it – with fly rod in hand. Take care – UB

  7. plaidcamper says:

    Delighted for you that you’re out and about once again, fishing-wise! Also that you’re finding things as expected and unexpected – no two outings ever the same, with the rewards and thought processes often changing. Thanks, Walt, for another good one! (And goodness, that was a big fish!)

  8. Anonymous says:

    Walt, glad to hear you’re back on our waters and had some nice success. It is a beautiful time of year to been on the waters and in the woods.

    • Hi Ross,
      Hope you’re enjoying it all, as well. Wishing we had a bit more water in the streams but can’t complain too loudly. Weather is exceptionally pleasant. Thanks, and take care.

  9. loydtruss says:

    A lot of fly fishermen fish a lifetime and never land a trout that size and those who have never forget the take, landing, stream, and thrill of the fight. Congrats!!!
    Thanks for sharing

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