Common Sense is Like Running Water

Moss Lake…

I have a new book of poetry just released from FootHills Publishing in Kanona, New York. From the High Hills to the Bay is a 72-page hand-sewn book with spine– pretty cool, even though I understand that poetry is not a favorite genre for most of us. But modern poetry doesn’t have to be abstract and unemotional, out-of-touch or lacking good sense. Take one poem, for example, the book’s “Common Sense is Like Running Water”:

When straying from the path without/ A compass, even the game trails fade./ In dense fog and fern, the beauty/ Of a wilderness ridge is palpable/ But mind and map sing different tunes./ The notion to get back before/ Darkness overwhelms your heart/ Slowly fills the mind and takes/ A crazed possession of the peace/ You sought and found. Forgotten facts:/ Common sense is like running water./ In each hollow lies the brook/ Whose flowing song will lead you home.

on the mat of the carnivorous…

My wife and I recently visited Moss Lake, a remnant of the glacial age, in the Allegheny foothills of New York. Moss Lake is a classic kettle bog with open water and a quaking mat. There is no feeder stream or outflow to the lake. The water’s 12-foot depth covers another 12-foot depth of peat (the incomplete decomposition of plant matter). The lake’s original 24-foot depth of water is slowly filling with decayed vegetation resulting in low levels of dissolved oxygen and a high acidic value.

Since acidic water inhibits bacteria from breaking down and fully decomposing plant matter, Moss Lake has little of the nutrients typically found in freshwater ecosystems. In place of our common wetland species, the lake has insectivorous pitcher plants and sundews that flourish on the bog mat. These carnivorous species can be studied from a boardwalk, courtesy of The Nature Conservancy that monitors the water and its forested margins.

sundews…

No stream flows in or out of Moss Lake but its stillness brims with wild nature. For many outdoor people, a meandering flow (along with lakes and oceans) is easier to relate to than a bogged-down ecosystem laden with insect-eating plants. But all of these forms are good; they’re all essential elements of life on Earth. Like literature and its varied genres, these creations can invite us to a realm of beauty and enjoyment.

osprey nest at roadside…

Flowing water always seems to beckon. Just before a recent evening on the stream, my friend Tim pointed out an osprey nest overlooking the Conhocton River Valley. We would soon be near the river’s tinted pools and riffles. I would note the arrowhead plants  directing thoughts to the world of trout. We would cast our flies and have some luck, and then, just before dusk, move downstream into the darkness. From there, we would fish until the midnight stars and fireflies winked their messages of sleep.

Arrowhead plants, pointing the way…

I had recently finished reading about E.R. Hewitt, a noted Catskill Mountains angler, author and conservationist, whose name is linked to the historic Neversink River. Hewitt is known for having created the Neversink Skater and Bivisible dry fly patterns, among a host of other accomplishments. Just before our fishing venture, Tim supplied me with a couple of Neversink Skaters he had tied, even though I hadn’t mentioned anything about Hewitt and his fly creations.

Conhocton River…

Friends are like that on occasion. They appear like flowing water when your senses get turned around by the confusion in the world. The Neversink Skater settles on my river space and I’ll give it time to drift. The flies are tied on a small hook, and their hackle is unusually long. Tim advises using a stouter tippet, say a 3x diameter rather than a 5x, so the hook settles toward the surface of the water.

flower of the pitcher plants, Moss Lake…

So we skate off on the warming surface of the summer… If you’re interested in adding “From the High Hills…” to your library, you can order from FootHills Publishing ($16), or you can get a signed copy from me– just send your street address and request to my email, franklinL3@yahoo.com. I thank you one and all!

pitcher plants, Moss Lake…

Neversink Skater, by Tim Didas.

 

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Reflections on a Gentle Art

 

wild river iris…

The Genesee River near Shongo, New York was flowing weakly and with water almost too warm for trout survival. I found a stretch of river cool enough for an evening of fly fishing and began hooking and releasing hatchery trout.

Genesee River brown…

Earlier I’d been reading about the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete (ca. 3000-1450 B.C.) and reflecting on my visit to Knossos, Crete many years ago. Nicolas Platon’s Crete (Archaeologia Mundi) is a fascinating account of Minoan life and arts, and it was good to reread the scientific accounts of Europe’s first true civilization and of how the peaceful coexistence of its kingships (in which women contributed greatly to the arts and daily life) led eventually to the classic era of ancient Greece.

long deep pool on Genesee…

I approached the tail end of a long deep pool and saw the subtle rise of a large trout. Surprised at my composure, I positioned myself for a cast where only the fly and leader would alight on the water just above the trout. Again, to my surprise, I made a decent cast and quickly had a heavy trout on the line. The fish was a head-shaking brown that battled me and won, breaking off the tippet and fly. Another surprise: no curses here, just another fine link to the realm of natural energies.

Lots of reading these days…

John K., an art restorer from Maine, had sent me his copy of the Minoan book and underscored the following sentences: The fear of death was almost obliterated by the ubiquitous joy of living. The whole of life was pervaded by an ardent faith in the goddess, Nature, the source of all creation and harmony. He also inscribed the title page with his own take on Western culture: “Would that the present world could go back to a time when war was unheard of, and women were held in high esteem.” His sentiment could easily have been my own when I decided to visit the ancient isle in 1982.

shade provided by the canopy…

Wild roses scented the air occasionally along the river banks and helped efface concerns about the rampant growth of Japanese knotweed growing there as well. Marion A.’s  dry fly pattern, an Egg-sac Rusty Spinner, was the only fly I needed till quitting time at dark. I caught a dozen trout– leaping rainbows and stodgy browns, several of which surpassed the 15-inches mark.

UB’s Egg-sac Spinner…

Another book I’ve been enjoying of late is Ed Van Put’s Trout Fishing in the Catskills, an excellent, pioneering portrait of American angling history, and a gift from a good friend, Don T., who once lived in my neck of the woods but now claims the West Branch Ausable as a home river. Ah, the Catskills… As a kid, I spent 10 years living in eastern New York with a backyard view of those mountains, so the Catskills were like a seminal monument imprinted on my wandering mind and angling brain.

Conhocton River, 6.13.20…

The great trout rivers– the East and West Branches of the Delaware, the Beaverkill, the Willowemoc, the Schoharie, the Esopus, and the Neversink, among others, have held a high esteem in the hearts and minds of fisherfolk throughout the past two centuries, and I too have been drawn deeply to their magic over the years.

Genesee River trout…6.17.20.

I can’t quite get enough of them, despite their distance from home. I know some of the streams fairly well, but others, like the Neversink and its smaller neighbors, continue to invite me for a first-time visit. June is a great time for dry fly fishing in the East, for humming along to Gershwin’s “Summertime” and reflecting on the gentle art of casting over pools and riffles. I will get there but, for now, I’m here, and that’s what matters.

The sun was setting on another visit to the Genesee. The large Potamanthid, a yellow mayfly, hatched from riffles near the parking lot, but it was too dark to bother changing flies. I stuck with the Rusty Spinner that remained just visible on the water– for myself and one last brown trout of the day.

Conhocton River…

 

 

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Planted Near Running Water

“Happy the man who does not read advertisements,/ does not listen to their radios/ does not believe their slogans. He will be a tree planted near running water.” — Ernesto Cardenal

a fine Andrew Weiner book donated to the school library in honor of Franklin’s retirement!

Often in times of social and political turmoil, I’ll be reminded of these lines by Cardenal, a Nicaraguan priest and poet who died in March of this year. I read them and remind myself that the natural world can assist with our healing process, similar to the way that peaceful protest and assembly can usher in hope for Earth’s downtrodden…

Slate Drake a.k.a. Isonychia bicolor…

It was good to immerse myself in the freshness of Little Kettle Creek. I might have gone there feeling like an old deciduous tree grasping for greenery, but I walked away (with angling partner, Jim) more like a pliant willow– rooted, but as youthful and content as my old bones would allow. The next two mornings I was ready for more– ready for Oswayo and Eleven Mile creeks and whatever their wild trout, birds and blossoms had to offer the itinerant soul.

Jim releasing a Kettle brookie…

An angler or a hiker stands near running water but appreciates the movement of imagination like a breeze through pine and hemlock boughs. This privilege of leisure is a modest one, certainly, but one that’s sadly unobtainable to many who are sick or unemployed or just plain kicked around by social injustice.

Oswayo morning…

Green Drake, Sulphur, and Slate Drake patterns were functional, as was a Perdigon nymph fished deeply. Songbirds vocalized– wood thrush and veery, oriole and tanager, even Louisiana water-thrush with a grub in its beak. Wildflowers caught the roving eye–Dame’s-rocket, lady’s-slipper, starflower, and ragged-robin (a wetland species getting difficult to find in many areas).

a forest starflower…

I might have been planted near running water but, luckily, I had motion and could still get my feet wet.

Ragged robins, rooted near wetlands, ready to fly…

I was fishing through the woods along Eleven Mile when I caught a whiff of natural gas. The smell grew stronger as did a noise that sounded like compressed, escaping air. I came to an old gas line laid above the stream from bank to bank, and there it was– a broken juncture spewing air and gas and liquids into the trout stream and on the ground. I made contact, eventually, with Potter County Emergency Services and directed a response team to the otherwise pristine and remote location.

it made the local news…

I could be planted like a tree whose roots grew deeply but it didn’t mean I had more safety or security than anyone else. I looked above and saw a bald eagle soaring in lazy circles high against the blue. It drifted along at such a height that, without binoculars, it appeared no larger than a tiny red ant. Then, through 10x glasses, I could see a symbol of the freedom that every being has a right to own or have an access to.

Eleven Mile…

Recently I took a morning walk up the South Ridge near my home. I crossed the stream, preparing to climb, when I heard another strange sound emanating from the nearby shrubbery. The grunt or squawk reminded me of an alarm call made by a deer or a great blue heron. Then I saw them– a black-furred creature followed by a reddish-brown animal leaping through the water only feet away then disappearing into the alders.

Owl’s House in a great black willow tree…

I had never seen a pair of fishers before. Fishers, a large member of the weasel family, are typically solitary creatures with extensive hunting ranges, except at mating time in early spring. The dark one was probably a female and the lighter one a male, both of them the size of small foxes, but with short legs and large bushy tails. And yet, this was early June– I had to wonder what was going on.

from the Weiner book…

Questions begged an answer but I knew enough to let them go. I stood near the water’s edge then climbed away, content with the company of creatures I could apprehend by sight or sound, and those left almost wholly to imagination.

Down by the River… a story great for kids….

Lady’s slipper/Moccasin flower bloom…

 

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Operation Perdigon

I’d intended to fish the brook ever since a friend indicated that his son had looked for trout there years ago. Through my decades of digging into local history, especially with regard to native fish populations, I had never seen a reference to, or heard of, brook trout being found in that stream. More recently, I received a gift of Perdigon trout flies sent from a former resident of this town, and I figured that these neatly-tied creations (new to me) might be the perfect ticket for exploring the little-known waters of the brook.

the Perdigon emergence…

It was a beautiful morning to commence with Operation Perdigon. I wanted a quick, unobtrusive visit to the deep culvert pool found about halfway up the hollow. There were few people living in these woods, but I did know a couple of them, and I preferred not being visited while performing my surgical inspection, even though the fishing operation would be legal in every aspect.

Perdigons are basically an attractor fly designed to sink quickly in fast deep water. These small, tapered, barbless flies are based on an original Spanish pattern (less than a decade old) that my friend, Don Tolhurst, follows, tying the weighted flies with his own creative spin.

an old pattern, farming tool, left behind…

The “Pliva Perdigons” are usually tied with a large bead, a tail of Coq de Leon fibers and a steeply tapered body often covered with a UV resin. They aren’t typically fished in headwater streams, said Don, but work well in rivers like the West Branch Ausable, Genesee, and Farmington, and in smaller waters like Pine and Kettle Creek in Pennsylvania.

an old boat found inside the woods reminds me of my book title, Uplands Haunted by the Sea…

Nonetheless, I was ready to attempt a tricky culvert pool with a pair of Perdigon nymphs, ready to straight-line into deep headwaters situated 20 feet below the steep edge of a gravel road. I heard no vehicles coming or going on the wooded slope. I assembled the two-piece rod, already equipped with tandem Perdigons, and left my fishing vest and other tackle in the car. So far, so good.

things are looking up…

Seeing an overgrown path leading toward the pool, I abandoned my original idea of casting from the road, and stepped toward the path. I wore street shoes and a pair of shorts containing my camera in a back-pocket. The slick soles of my footwear let me down, quite literally… I fell on my back and took a mud ride toward the bottom of the gully. Luckily I broke no bones, rod or camera on this inauspicious debut.

yellow-flowered archangels must’ve been looking over me…

Eye-to-eye with the pool, I saw the flash of something at the Perdigons. I worked out a few technical problems concerning my position here, then hooked and lost a small fish. Damn! Would I get another opportunity? I did…

should have read, “Elated Fisherman Xing”…

A six-inch brookie came to hand, was quickly photographed and released. At last, the stream could be added to the list of local waters still containing “endangered” natives– good news, certainly, though I wasn’t about to publicize exact locations.

Before the Perdigons were broken off and lost, I caught yet a larger brookie, a fish about eight inches long and, like myself, unwilling to be photographed. With that, the operation was successful.

not the larger specimen, but one caught earlier, on a dry fly…

It’s important to have personal experience with the natural world, both close at hand and at the frontiers of our knowledge. It may seem a small thing to have found a remnant population of a struggling native species, but I now have another stream to lend my voice to if and when the stream requires some defense in a court or village office. Also, it just feels good to know that a native fish is there– plain and simple.

the culvert pool…

Thank you, Don, for my intro to the Perdigons, and thank you, readers, as always, for your interest and support. You bring a positive accent to this delving into nature.

the Perdigon emergence…

 

 

 

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Halfway Lake

The small seven-acre lake was a good choice for a meeting of the clans. My son and his wife would drive north from Arlington, VA to meet us at Halfway Lake, a feature of Raymond B. Winter State Park in mid-state Pennsylvania. The 695-acre park is situated in a Ridge and Valley Province roughly halfway between my son’s home and our own place in the Southern Tier of New York State. Rocky ridges, covered with oak and pine forest, proved to be a pleasant setting for us at Rapid Run and Halfway Lake, a cold-water fishery impounded by a hand-laid sandstone dam.

spillway from the CCC dam…

Rapid Run…

Raymond Winter was a young forester who dreamed that a park could be created from the ruins of massive lumber operations and forest fires in the early twentieth century. Winter devoted his life and labors to establishing a site of natural beauty where original European settlers had traveled the “14 Mile Narrows Road” between Center County wilderness and the Susquehanna River.

the site is also along PA’s long Mid State Trail…

The original stopping point at Halfway Lake was known as the Halfway House– a barn and tavern built along the tannin-colored waters of Rapid Run. The teamsters could stop and refresh themselves, half way through their travels over Sand Mountain and through Pine Swamp. And here, during the pandemic of 2020, Brent and Catherine, and Leighanne and I converged for a family gathering, respecting the dangers of Covid-19 and trying to maintain our distance from other Memorial Day celebrants.

walking the nature trail…

forest in succession…

My wife and I had reached the park before the two Southerners were scheduled to arrive, so I had an opportunity to fly fish for native trout and stocked fish dwelling in the laurel shade of Rapid Run. I didn’t do too well. I broke a bamboo rod tip under abject circumstances, thus joining the “UB Broken Rod Club” just days after UB (a faithful reader of this blog) disclosed a similar misfortune up near Slate Run. Luckily I had a spare tip handy for continued casting.

another tip bites the dust…

native trout not responsible for broken rod…

The Rapid Run Nature Trail, traversing “one of the first State Park Natural Areas,” presented a white pine and hemlock forest pretty much “as it appeared in 1850.” Painted trillium blossomed beside the trail. Warblers sang from the multi-green shroud above. We found gelatinous orbs of wood-frog eggs and salamander haunts in the vernal pools adjacent to the stream.

vernal pool with eggs… photo by Brent…

Our stop at Halfway Lake provided a good holiday visit, live with food and conversation, as in simpler days before the age of Zoom. Spring was shifting its weight toward summer and the halfway point of the year. The past few months have been strange ones, for sure. Let’s hope that the balance of 2020 is a healthier half for all.

the beach at Halfway… photo by Brent…

painted trillium….

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Spinners, the Final Stage

“Spinners” form the fourth and final stage in the life cycle of a mayfly. The aquatic insect lives through egg, nymph, adult (dun), and spinner stages. The adult typically rises from the stream as nature says, “It’s time to mate.”

Genesee, the stage is set…

The back of the newly hatched adult splits open and the spinner form emerges, frail and ghostly, to collect on nearby vegetation till it swarms above the water. Spinners have opaque or transparent wings that splay on the surface of a stream or stick together once the females have deposited their eggs. This final act in the life cycle can provide a food source for the trout, as well as an exciting opportunity for the fly fisher.

Jim K. works the Kettle…

Marion A.’s “Super Spinners” came to me as a gift, a medicine to lift the spirit of an old spinner-tier from the existential gloom of worldly matters and, let me tell you, it was good, a medicine that worked according to script.

Good stuff… A-Flex-Arod comes to bat!

I marveled at the Hendrickson and March Brown spinner imitations in sizes 10 and 12. The doc explained how the March Brown spinner was constructed: “The two colors in the body are achieved by using a dubbing loop and dubbing each thread with the different color… then twisting and winding on the hook shanks.” The effect is neater than the spinners of my own construction.

A March Brown spinner…

I’m reminded of  Marion’s “Two Old Spinsters” designation– two pursuers of fishes who could be defined by the Cortland Line Company in 1962:  “… A FISHERMAN is a composite. He has the appetite of a bluegill, the digestion of a shark, the energy of a muskellunge, the curiosity of a native brook trout, the lungs of a farmer bawling out a trespasser, the imagination of a lure manufacturer, the irresponsibility of frayed tippet, the usefulness of a backlash on a dark night, the glamour of a hellgrammite and the staying power of a relative…”

I was anxious for an evening on the Genesee, looking for a spinner fall, perhaps a swarm of March Brown breeders that would have the trout looking up and tasting frail meat on the surface.

As it was, I saw few insects on this bright, cool evening, but I did okay. The catbirds mewed behind me in the bushes. Sparrows flew across wide riffles, scarfing up occasional caddis flies or Blue-winged Olives as they hatched. And brown trout rose to Marion’s “Super Spinner” dry.

Egg sac ready to deposit…

sweet medicine…

I thought about the two pandemics of our day– coronavirus and stupidity (techunionnews.xyz), believing that all good people would do well to heed Bertrand Russell’s thoughts on graceful aging… Russell, the philosopher, advises everyone to…Widen your interests gradually and make them more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life.

The wife’s river pose…

Genesee hatchery ‘bow…

In other words, be like the river on which the mayfly settles when its life is done. Be like a river that is small, at first, a river that’s contained yet passionate in its rock-bound flow. A river soon to widen and to slow down as the banks recede, as it merges quietly with the sea. A river transformed. Like a medicine, perhaps, a gift to be acknowledged as one character is exchanged for something more.

Genesee brown took the doctor’s medicine– w/ different side effects…

Golden ragwort stars the Kettle banks…

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Between the River and the Rail

Railroad fever gripped the nation during the latter decades of the nineteenth-century. As the New York and Pennsylvania timber and tanning industries burgeoned from dreams of endless forest and mineral wealth, many towns in the region clamored for a train link to the outside world. Industrialism gained a heavy hand throughout the rural East.

remnant of an area rail bed…

The New York & Pennsylvania Railroad (The NYP, or the “Nip,” as it’s been known) was an obscure short-line railroad 57 miles in length with an on-again, off-again history. Its origin can be traced to the 1870s and a junction with the Erie Railroad in Canisteo, New York. Its problems were rooted in the national economy as well as in local threats of floods, wash-outs and abandonment.

springs & marshes along the rail bed formed a good stage for bird observations…

A railbed had been laid from Canisteo south for 15 miles until its funds ran out. Two decades later it was joined by the Olean, Oswayo & Eastern Railroad that had swung northward out of Potter County, PA, setting a stage for the end of muddy horse roads and the problems stemming from dramatic seasonal events.

on the Baltimore & Ohio…

Influential businessmen and property owners helped to make the railroad possible. Three locomotives, two passenger cars and 23 flat cars brought visions of a booming economy to the agricultural district. A first thru-train left Oswayo, PA in 1896, transporting passengers to the Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hornellsville, NY. The railroad offices would be moved from Pennsylvania to Canisteo. A local poetaster sang to Progress, “There’s grain upon the hills,/ And lumber in the woods,/ The cars will carry them away,/ And bring us back our goods….”

great hemlocks still remain along the river & the rail…

Sawmills, tanneries, glass-works, chemical producers, and agriculture flourished for a while… “The rocks are cleft, the trees are felled, the stumps are blown to flinders;/ The grade is laid, the ties are made, there’s little now that hinders.” In 1903 The NYP leased mineral rights between Rexville and Whitesville, NY to Standard Oil, but despite industrial potential, it was hay, milk, potatoes, and fertilizer that sustained the railroad’s ledger.

back in those days, trout fishing was strictly for food…

Additionally, the railroad often carried schoolkids, mail, and people eager for activities in the larger towns and cities. It was never noted for its speed. A passenger might step from a moving train, grab a handful of blackberries then jump back on most casually, but the train compensated by accommodating special needs. It could wait at the station for a late ticket-holder or even stop along the line if someone flagged it down.

Throughout its history, The NYP was plagued with difficulties. A weak infrastructure was unable to withstand the yearly floods. Accidents occurred on a regular basis, often staging photo-ops for the curious and vain. The snow and ice curtailed months of operation. Once, a car broke loose from a Rexville siding and rolled away through Greenwood, following its downstream track till stopping, finally, in distant Canisteo.

Fuel became expensive. Stockholders disputed power and control. Plans to terminate were drawn and redrawn until 1919 when purchase came from the New York & Pennsylvania Railway Company. The new organization scrimped and saved and trimmed its labor force. Booster groups appealed to farmers and community members to help save the industry, to no avail. Ironically, The NYP’s final transport hauled supplies for road construction– tools to nail down its own coffin.

a wild brown from the headwaters…

Daily passenger service ended in 1923. The Great Depression offered a glimmer of hope for a merger, but the Flood of 1935 delivered the final blow. The last freight was run in April 1936. The NYP’s fate was similar to that of many small railroads at the time. The company dismantled and sold its scrap to a business in Japan.

Nature has reclaimed the path formed by The NYP. Slight traces of this former economic backbone can still be witnessed through private property– the trees and brush and backyards near my home ground in New York.

nature has erased the railroads from many locations…

A green railbed of the Baltimore & Ohio, a neighboring track in Potter County, PA, offers an opportunity to walk and fish the headwaters of the Genesee. In fact, between the river and the rail today, I had my senses loaded with not only trout and wildflowers, but also an eagle, a bear, and a bundle of migrating warblers.

Couldn’t have asked for more.

trillium– sepals, petals, leaves– in threes…

 

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An Early Canisteo Cabin

[On the first white settlement in this watershed– a place that became my permanent home two centuries later… Understandably, no photo of original cabin is available.]

Image result for images of old log cabins

The American Revolution had ended. General Sullivan, acting on the orders of George Washington, marched through western New York destroying Iroquois homes and native life (sadly enough), effectively opening the land to European settlement. A scouting party from the East, having found potential farmland on the flats near present-day Canisteo, stacked huge piles of summer hay for two families who would travel up the river in late autumn. The fodder would provide for driven cattle, the first livestock in these vales and rivertop heights.

old cemetery, names and dates effaced, near Adrian, NY…

The Stephens and the Crosby families, with their cattle plus a herd belonging to several other prospective families, started for Canisteo in 1789. Their trip began near present-day Elmira. The Chemung River narrowed into the Tioga and then the Canisteo River, navigable for their seven-ton shuttle laden with provisions such as food and furniture and ammunition. Several young men and boys drove the cattle on an Indian trail along the waterway, striving to keep the herd from bogging down in marshes or scrambling off on small streams tumbling from the cliffs.

There were logs and driftwood to be cleared with axes. Cascades and shallow riffles would require everyone to line the bank and haul the boat to deeper water. Autumn woods were drab and bare except for evergreens and chalky birch trees leaning from the river bluffs. The cold November wind brought fears of animal and Indian, anxiety of an unknown wilderness alleviated only by an evening’s fire, food preparation, and sleep. Their progress was slow, discouraging, and pressed by an oncoming winter.

They passed through the future settlements of Addison, Rathbone, Cameron, and Cameron Mills, arriving at their destination through what historians would describe as “howling wilderness,” a distance easily traveled in an hour’s time today.

the backside of Addison village on the lower Canisteo…

The stacks of hay, cut months before, seemed wonderful, even as the first snow squalls of a season blew across the valley. Cattle were fed. The first large pines and hemlock trees were felled. Teams of oxen hauled the big logs into place. The outlines of a log house, 24′ x 26′, rose beside a tributary soon to be known as Bennett Creek. Flat river stones and clay were hauled for fireplaces built into each corner of the house. And the boys began to plow…

The high brown grass was cut. The deeply matted roots were ripped from the resistant earth. The bottomland was burned, and smoke filled the sky. Three acres of land were sown with wheat.

cabin site near Canisteo, 2020…

Then came months of winter isolation. Days and nights of hunting, fireside plans and stories told. In March the wild geese would pass high overhead. The Stephens and the Crosbys would be joined by friends and families from the East– their summer dreams unfolding, labors just beginning, minds and bodies always leaning toward the West.

shadbush, or Juneberry, blossoms– often appearing in May as the shad begin their spawning runs…

Canisteo River near Cameron, NY…

 

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Picket Pin

One of my older fishing pals told me that his favorite fly pattern for night angling on the home river was a Picket Pin. Another elder told me that he likes to cast the same time-honored pattern (first developed in early twentieth-century Montana) on the upper stream because it imitates the plentiful stick caddis when tied with only peacock herl and squirrel-tail for a “wing.”

a typical meadow stretch…

I tied a few Picket Pin dry flies but they didn’t look right. Hopefully the trout like them better than my photo editor does. Other than a trout fly, a picket pin is a steel stake with a rope and swivel useful for tethering a horse. Additionally, it’s a nickname for several Western ground squirrel species that stand up on the prairie, looking like a stake, while gathering sensory data for their own survival. The Montana fly pattern took its name from the  squirrels and eventually became an angling favorite across the land.

old rail trail at the river…

springs like this provide cold water through the seasons…

It had been a good week fly-fishing the upper stretches of the home river, rambling through some interesting hemlock woods and pasture edges in Amish country. I was fascinated by what appeared to be unusually good numbers of wild and holdover browns– much better than I found in larger, downstream sections of the river. I surmised one reason for the difference: the upstream water had sufficient shade and more than ample springs to keep it cool throughout the rainy seasons of the previous year.

wild brown…

one of many holdovers… larger browns ranged from 14-16 inches…

The Hendrickson mayfly hatch came off each day at mid-afternoon and lasted for the better part of 90 minutes. I was lucky to observe the feeding habits of hungry trout before the local Amish families finished their work in order to fish the big pools that were new to me. I spoke to several of the pleasant farmers, young and old, and they were eager to fill their grocery bags with trout. Where Jim K. and I had fished one pool in solitude on Tuesday afternoon, there were close to a dozen family members on Wednesday slinging earthworms as the mayflies reemerged.

three Amish boys fished a deep pool while standing on this fallen hemlock…

Jim lands one during the Hendrickson hatch…

I want to go back and find new holes and undercuts far from boot tracks and discarded bait containers. They’ll be found, I’m sure, and maybe I’ll report on them while keeping old Ben Franklin, scientist, diplomat and inventor, in mind.

trout lilies were abundant…

one of many new river scenes…

I’ve been reading some of Franklin’s inspirational letters that reflect his multi-faceted interests and I’ve noted what’s been said of his own requirements for good writing. Everything that the good doctor wrote had to be “smooth, clear, and short.” The writing helped to keep his unusual talents focused and attractive. Like a Picket Pin on a riffle or a short stake in the ground.

[And from the picket pin of Benjamin to the horse of a different guy with identical surname, a gentle reminder that his latest is available on Amazon if you still need some tasty literary fodder…]

 

bonus pic#1: Canadice Lake, the smallest of the Finger Lakes…

#2: tried for lake trout with a fly… no dice!

 

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River SCOP Rambles

Scop, you say? Well, my dictionary defines the word as a bard, or poet, of the Anglo-Saxon days in ancient England. I was drawn to the word and to the scop’s role in medieval time because of the pandemic and the way its subsequent restrictions have revised my own approach to the environment.

Unlike all other photos here, this one is from Pine Creek where I saw no sign of trout.

A midday visit to the upper river struck me as the start of something new. Although I’ve admired this particular stretch on numerous occasions while passing by on other fishing trips, I had never taken a closer look. This was my home river and I should have known it better, but the word had been out– the water was marginal, of minimal interest to an angler looking for wild trout and its habitat.

on the new stretch…

My inner scop was ready to begin from scratch… To fly fish on a clean stream of experience close to home, to scope out the poetry of earth the way that minstrels did in days of yore, if only to appease my need of trying something different in these difficult times… It was like teetering on the brink of new creation all over again.

heading upstream…

I saw a woman walking to the mailbox with her dog, then parked my car along the road nearby. Was it still okay to fish the posted river out beyond? Certainly. I thanked her and began my walk into the valley with its views of tamarack slopes and greening fields. The old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bed provided a scenic walk along the river with its prospects of wild trout or holdover browns.

large hemlocks shade a portion of the stream…

For a fringe-dweller like myself, imagining a scop’s intent was fairly easy. April sunlight and the warming air felt good; there would be no one else around for hours. Spring could make a rambler feel both old and young at once, and I was hell-bent on investigating the river and its poetry in whatever form it might be given.

just can’t get away from phones these days…

As I said, the stretch was new to me, but I had recently enjoyed two previous occasions on this river. I had learned to be ready with a landing net. There had been several encounters where I could have used one.

The hemlock-shaded holes and riffles were productive. I ignored the hatch of blue-winged olives and the smaller blue-quills since I saw no other interest in the mayflies. The fish were hungry for a bigger meal, and they readily grabbed a Woolly Bugger– each fish a surprise here in the woods where I had thought the stream had largely given up on trout.

The scop’s surprise received a double shot of wonder as he worked the longest and deepest pool without success. What the hell… Not a single fish responded to the big fly in this pool. Then he heard a loud splash in the riffle just upstream. Imagination? No, another splash, and then a first large mayfly– the blue-gray Hendrickson (E. subvaria)– fluttering past his vision.

the long-awaited hatch…

3 p.m., April 20th, northern Pennsylvania. The time and place coincided perfectly with past experiences of fishing to this hatch! The Hendrickson was on, emerging in profusion, and this was where the dry fly season kicked off new excitement for the angler. He would net five brown trout in that riffle with a floating Hendrickson and then return them with a shake of his head.

The fish, from 12 to 16 inches long, appeared to be holdovers from a year gone by… The scop looked around… A dream? No boot track in the mud, no discard at the water’s edge. The river spoke with syllables of water over stone.

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