Grass and Glass (BRB, Part 3)

Intending to spend the whole day fishing the Rapidan River inside Shenandoah National Park, I fished it and even took a pleasant side excursion on a brook trout tributary.

White trilliums were the flower of the day, nodding their invitations to an angler with a camera and a sense of curiosity. The sky was moderately overcast, a security blanket for a guy intent on catching and releasing wild trout. A fellow hiker approached me on the trail and said, “That’s  a nice old bamboo you’ve got there,” and I appreciated the comment, but added, “Actually the rod’s only a few years old. It’s been used a bit, and grown a couple of grey hairs already. Life experience, you know.”

trillium

Life experience reoccurred half an hour later when I took a tumble along a rocky path beside the Rapidan, and Chester the fly rod flew to the ground ahead of me. Thankfully, the rod escaped real damage or serious scarring. My favorite Shenandoah river had a full-flowing body, wild and April cool, and its brook trout rose occasionally from the depths to strike the floating Stimulator and to spike excitement in the bloodstream.

The hiker who commented on the fly rod also asked if I was heading up the Staunton River (no doubt named for my friend Bob S.,the Flyfisher, although the spelling has been altered to protect an innocent stream) . I told him I might investigate it on my way back down the Rapidan, and he said the fishing could be decent on the rocky run.

I’ve tried the Staunton at the lower end, but the so-called “river” hasn’t looked larger than a brook on those occasions that I’ve seen it in the past. The hiker said that the holes and plunge-pools are enticing at this time of year, but you’ve got to hike and climb the stream for a mile or so to really appreciate it.

That sounded good to me. The stream would be like a buffer between a social venue and a wilderness. I hiked and climbed it for about a mile, and I’m glad I did. If I fish it again, I’ll have a smaller rod to cast with, say a 6’6″, rather than a longer stick.

As for the Rapidan, I’ll be quiet at this point and simply say that the world is a better place for a stream like this. Let’s keep it clean and looking wonderful.

My last couple of days fishing in the Blue Ridge were mostly spent trying to find new streams and interesting water close to my napping spot in Blossom Town. My god– the dogwood, redbud and azalea blossoms covered with birdsong were a sweet distraction to a guy putting on his waders (leaky ones at that).

golden ragwort

One day I fished the Pocosin and caught a couple of brookies there. Another time, Leighanne, Richard and I hiked the lower White Oak Canyon near Syria VA. The climb to the lower waterfall was stimulating despite an overabundance of hikers like ourselves. The run’s variety of holes and plunge-pools called to several fly-fishers, including myself and a younger guy from South Carolina. The two of us seemed to leap-frog past each other testing the waters of this pretty stream.

Comparing  fishing rods, the Carolina fellow said that I was using “grass” (bamboo) and that he was casting “glass” (fiberglass). Together, along with a hundred hikers, we reached the scenic waterfall, and some of the  mob continued on toward Skyline Drive.

The trout were as sparse as the hikers were numerous, but one of the trout was memorable…

Switching from a dry fly to a bead-head nymph, I connected with a good fish in a deep, rocky pool. It had shoulders on it and a weight reminding me of stocked fish that had overwintered for a couple of years. Okay, you see it coming here– the fish bent the rod and shook its big head several times before breaking off the fly and digging under the boulders.

No doubt it would have been my biggest Blue Ridge trout to date. It could have been…Well… let’s leave it there. I was happy to bend the “grass” in that pool, and to start packing out some memories from my buffer zone in spring. It was a nice week for rambling– in a place between the timeless mountains and a world that passes all too fast.

[Part 3 concludes the Blue Ridge Buffer series. Thanks for coming along!]

bloodroot

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Blue Ridge Buffer (Pt. 2), No Plan B

1. I love Monday mornings in the Blue Ridge, especially before the hikers, dogs and fishermen start to activate the paths inside Shenandoah National Park. The sun is out; the temperatures are headed for the 70s; Louisiana water-thrushes are at song; the violets and geraniums add their shades of pink and purple to the edges of the trail.

I love casting there in solitude, although at times like this I wouldn’t mind the company of a kindred spirit with whom the fun of catching brook trout can be shared. Before long, I pause at a favorite pool and see a nice trout rising to the surface at the base of a cliff.

I start by casting the April greys– a Blue Quill and a Quill Gordon– but get nothing other than refusals. When I finally see a bit of hatch activity, I switch to a Little Black Stone, a wet fly, and am not surprised when the brook trout nails it on the first or  second cast.

It’s good to climb the mountains, following the clear, full-flowing river, and fishing in a buffer zone between two seasons. Winter is gone except in recent memory, and spring is here like a long-awaited friend who hasn’t seen you in a while and isn’t sure about where you’ve been or what you’re scheming to do, but who accepts your offer of a beer and a comfortable place to sit.

Chester & the Stitchworts

I love fishing this mountain river near Charlottesville, but to really enjoy it I’ve got to do some serious walking to escape the crowd that also loves the river and finds it readily at the bottom of the Blue Ridge. Although the biggest trout seem to inhabit the lowest mile above the stocked waters, the density of fish seems to increase significantly the closer you get to the headwaters.

2. I love Tuesday mornings in the Blue Ridge, especially when my expectations get deflated and my sarcasm balloons. There is no Plan B for the day, which is a good thing, in my estimation. My wife and I cruise the Skyline Drive inside the park and stop at the headwaters of the river I’ve been fishing occasionally for about five years. The temperature is close to 80 degrees and rising. The stream is too small to bother with (and too difficult to reach given the steep rocky slope). We hike down for a mile and a half before discouragement overtakes us. Husband and wife, wedded in bronchitis (I’m overcoming it but she’s getting hammered), decide to turn around and make the tough climb back to the summit.

Without a Plan B, we’re actually free and able to do whatever the hell we want. We drive down the mountain and hit the Blue Mountain Brewery for tasty fish tacos and some of the best craft beer in Virginia. After enjoying this health spa in the sun, and with the hazy mountains for a back-drop, we head back toward Charlottesville. Leighanne sets me free inside the park to fish the lower river for a couple of hours.

I love it when I’m able to gravitate back toward fishing and manage to salvage a bit of my angling prospects. I catch six or seven brook trout, none of them very large but, as always, pleasurable in their company. The highlight of the evening is a couple of “holy crap” moments where a fish is on and the fly line has been artfully wrapped around an overhanging branch or a log stuck in fast water.

With a beer buzz and a brook trout bouncing in the surge of river, hanging on for dear life till my hand arrives to free it, fun has overtaken me, but I hate the moment, too. My waist-high waders make a poor choice of tearing just above an ankle. The waters come in to get me. It’s all too familiar. The waders aren’t even one year old. I’ll never order waders from that company again. Ah well. Leaks be damned; tomorrow I’ll hit another mountain stream. Plan B does not exist.

[Please stand by for more].

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Blue Ridge Buffer, Part 1

[All photos in Part 1 are recent takes from a grey and partly frozen landscape in the north country. Rainbow trout from Allegheny River. Stay tuned for brighter and more southerly perspectives as this series progresses.]

As the new fishing season opens like the blossoms on the hills and valleys close to home, I prepare for another fly-fishing visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and reflect on how I went to that area in the first place.

Back in the late 1970s I lived for four years in northern Virginia, along the Shenandoah River at the base of the Blue Ridge. I didn’t fly-fish at the time but I got to know the mountains rather intimately through my frequent visits to the nearby Appalachian Trail. I didn’t have any family connections in northern Virginia, but through my work in a private school I met my wife-to-be, and she had family roots throughout this area that I would soon become familiar with.

I shifted back to upstate New York, and when my son grew up and eventually moved south to Arlington and the Washington, D.C. environs, my visits to the region increased dramatically. In 2012, I started to fly-fish the mountain streams of Shenandoah National Park, as well as the limestone waters of the southern district. The Blue Ridge Mountains and the trout streams of Virginia began to form a back-drop to my family and personal history.

As a northerner from upstate New York, I look back to my origin as a Blue Ridge angler and see it as if with an autumn migration of birds. In the mind’s eye, swallows migrate southward, not away from their existence or as if escaping their summer homes, but toward a place their bodies know when winter grips the north country. My motive was to get myself acquainted with a more southerly home for native brook trout, and to do that in the context of enjoying an extended family life near the Blue Ridge of Virginia. I was moving from a known place to the heart of something new, at least from the angling perspective.

In my case, the Blue Ridge is a northern angler’s buffer zone. A place where the old and new blend together and interact like voices of friendly neighbors. It’s a place where wilderness and civilization can exchange understanding glances with each other. I like to think that anyone can dig out a special place like this, a buffer zone of body and spirit where meaningful communication and peace are fished for and successfully landed.

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So, How Was the Fishing?

1. Sometimes when there’s nothing new to say or to add to the overall blogging compost, I like to hear that ageless question directed at a rambler on the trail or in the water:

“So how was the fishing?”

Hearing it, I think, well… everything is okay. I may have been ill for three weeks, but now I’m back in the game and everything’s alright.

The sky was overcast, the air was comfortably warm along the trout stream that I’ll call “Fisher Brook.” I hiked the forest trail that parallels the stream for about a mile before I dropped down to the narrow tumbling brook and started casting. It was good to be out fishing once again, but I had to wonder why the water level seemed so low considering that a foot of snow had recently melted from the slopes.

Casting a variety of nymphs and dry flies, I found that the Little Black Stonefly nymph was the most effective pattern of the day (no surprise there, considering the prevalence of the natural at this time of year). After several hours of wandering and casting in solitude, I hiked back to the car. No one asked me how the fishing was, but the forest creatures had a way of forwarding the inquiry. I translated:

“So, how was the fishing?” asked the ruffed grouse and the “fisher cat” and the cherry tree, among other friends in the non-human realm.

“Well, I did better back in January when the springtime seemed a million miles away. That was something, when the brookies rose to a dry fly in 42 degree water. Today was a lot warmer, though the water temperature may have been the same. I caught a few small ones, pretty little things, with the best fish going about seven inches in length. Not bad, but not as good as we’d expect.” And then I added:

“Thanks for asking.”

2. The next day I was on a steelhead stream in the Cattaraugus watershed, and the contrast with Fisher Brook was dramatic. I visit every March, and every year my eyes are opened by the flood damage and the creek’s unstable character. Before arriving, I never know if I’ll be interested in resuming the quest for steelhead (at least here), but once I’m on the water I’m ignited for the two-mile trek to the spawning grounds.

As usual, I parked my vehicle at the tavern parking lot where the tributary enters the wide, brawling river. The tavern owner stood outside and drawled his welcome to me as a fisherman. I appreciated his summary of angling conditions and I promised to return for beer and food when my day was over.

There’d be nothing new for me to say on this occasion, but sometimes even the repetitive mantra, “nothing doing now,” is a welcome sound to the dedicated angler or hiker.

As with Fisher Brook, I basically had the stream to myself. In this case, fishing in solitude probably meant that few, if any, steelhead would be found in the high, chill waters. Maybe the creek needed to warm up a few degrees before the steelhead run began in earnest. The stream’s dark and silted water was a perfect cover for the fish. Unlike my route at the brook trout stream where a forest trail assisted me, this was two miles of crossing and re-crossing the same trail-less, clay-colored waters where hope was as fragile as a first spring wildflower.

Back at the parking lot and inside the crowded bar, fellows I had never met before (some of whom may have never fished a day) shouted their friendly question: “So, how was the fishing?”

Wow, someone actually cares about these fruitless attempts? The inquiries seemed at least half sincere, so I appreciated the chance to tell one and all that even though the fishing sucked, at least I tried and, actually, it was kind of fun.

The question formed a line in the air (not unlike a fishing line with a fly at tippet’s end), and my answer rose to greet it and be hooked by satisfaction.

I considered buying a few of these guys a beer. And, of course, I added my few golden words:

“Thanks for asking.”

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The Don’t Hurry Isle

I’m pretending that I’m there right now. With a cup of morning coffee at my side, with brain and keyboard fingers operating with reptilian slowness, I imagine just relaxing on a tiny tropical island. What does it matter that a classic Nor’easter whitens the realm outside my actual place?

The Don’t Hurry Isle is not the one where the cruise ships pause in a lonely harbor. If it was, I wouldn’t be there in imagination now. I much prefer the quietude and serenity, the solitude and natural beauty of this smaller place. For me, in the eye of the storm (the middle-March “blizzard”),  the tiny island is my Innisfree, my humble share of the peace to be enjoyed today:

… And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,/ Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;/ There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,/ And evening full of the linnet’s wings... [from W.B. Yeats’, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”].

We had planned to visit our daughter Alyssa in St. Croix this April, but she decided to return home from her second year of island life a little prematurely. She’ll come home to New York State in a matter of days and we’re delighted to have her back, although I, for one, looked forward to pouncing on those tarpon-filled tropics for another cast or two of exploration. Ah well, Alyssa will just have to pack us in her suitcase when she goes back to  revisit the many friends she made down there.

The Don’t Hurry Isle ignores me as I try to hold it in my thoughts. No problem. I’m ignorable. The snow continues falling, one week from the Equinox. Schools are closed. The regional states have levied their emergency measures. I may be sick with cough and sinus issues here, but I’m fine because I’ve found some photos from last year’s island trip. I never posted these images in my “Caribbean Scrambles” series last spring, but here they’ll ease my passage to the Don’t Hurry Isle.

As the great Irish poet said, … I will arise and go now, for always night and day/ I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;/ While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,/ I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

From there, a happy St. Pat’s to all.

 

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Roots ‘n’ Boots

For most citizens living in a modern world, to talk about the “home place” is an unfamiliar exercise. Most of us today are socially mobile and often move from place to place for economic or recreational reasons. Today, we rarely live in one place long enough to establish an emotional bond with our home, or to develop a deeper understanding of how it fits in with the world-at-large.

As one who has been committed to living in a single area now for several decades or more (while appreciating many travels to and from the home), I enjoy such talk occasionally and still attempt to broaden my horizons in that place which I define as “home.”

The mountain trail along Buckseller Run, a minor trout stream, can be found along the northern edge of the 264,000 acre Susquehannock State Forest in north-central Pennsylvania. I consider it a small part of my New York/Pennsylvania home place. I began my latest hike on the Buckseller as a late winter sun began to thaw the slopes after a night of zero degrees (F.), perhaps the coldest night of the year so far.

a cherry tree forest

For years I would drive past the trailhead, not thinking much about it, while travelling to favored streams and hiking paths in Potter and Lycoming counties. One day, a couple of years ago, I finally stopped to fish the lower Buckseller Run for brook trout. On subsequent visits I would hike a short way on the trail and reassure myself that one day I would hike it to the end. The trail is relatively short, but walking might provide a clearer picture of the place, and a better understanding of myself as an inhabitant of this region.

a trail between two seasons

The trail follows the stream, or the run, through a narrow valley of deciduous forest. Today it was interesting to note the steep southern slope and its thin blanket of snow in contrast with the northern slope where the snow had completely melted. The late winter sun hadn’t risen quite high enough to melt the white southern blanket. Total melt-down would arrive soon, but for now I walked a line between snow and mud, between wintertime and spring.

a rail from the logging era, early 1900s

Edging my way up the slope, I sometimes had to step carefully at about a 45-degree angle on the path. I was glad for my old boots and a walking stick for support. I thought about Thoreau’s description of the spring earth thawing along his railroad bank near Walden Pond. Indeed, the sun and the earth were at work here, and it was all about transition.

At about the half way point along this three-mile climb (another trail would link the Buckseller at the summit and descend to Pennsylvania Route 6), the stream simply disappeared for a while. A  spring gushed water, forming the little trout stream, but then above the spring, there was just a trace of moisture and the ghost of Buckseller Run.

Several springs would reissue the flow higher up the ravine, but for now the sound of  water stopped completely. I, too, halted in my tracks and listened hard.

For several moments, for a minute, perhaps, there was nothing to be heard. Not a motor from some distant highway, not a jet in the blue dome overhead. Not a breath of wind, nor bird note, nothing but the beating of a heart.

The perfection of silence is a rare and precious thing. A stranger to civilization, yes, and most often associated with death, but this was life, thank god, and I felt privileged. The silence didn’t last long, but it was so unusual that I met it with a combination of surprise, anxiety, and hope.

The deep silence broke, of course, with little sounds that came from here and there. Melting ice popped high in a tree. A kinglet lisped. A woodpecker tapped. I thought the barking of a coyote might become a howl, but some transitions are the mind’s alone.

I exchanged the sound of one heart beating for the breath of real things in the world. Time resumed its harried pace, and Buckseller Run regained its place within the dark ravine. The forest opened slowly as I gained the summit and the logging track known as Ellis Hollow Road.

Ellis Hollow Road, at summit

This area of the state has some of the finest cherry wood on earth, and this summit has been heavily logged of late. Great cherry trees slumbered in piles along the rutted road. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but one that comes with the cost of being human.

cherry wood slumber

The world is filled with wonderful places both civilized and wild. This place, a part of the Susquehannock State Forest, belongs to my home region, its land and water stirring the senses when I hike and fish for trout. It’s appreciated, for sure, and worth standing up for, and giving voice to, if it’s threatened by environmental deregulation or other nefarious designs placed upon it by corporate greed or government neglect.

lookin’ up

 

 

 

 

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The Ragged Edge

The weather and our wishes for a small retreat from winter seemed to coincide or to conspire neatly for several days. We headed south toward Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg, and settled at the Inn at Ragged Edge where old-timers like my wife and I, plus relative youngsters too, could bask in romantic get-away. And sure, a famous trout stream or two beckoned from around the corner.dscn9754

The old Victorian mansion called Ragged Edge has to be seen to be believed. We breezed right into it, with sunny weather, migrating birds, and temperatures in the high seventies. Our hosts at this “boutique bed & breakfast” were gracious and accommodating.

The food was delicious; our third-floor suite was clean and very comfortable; the furnishings and artistic appointments were extraordinary. Everything, from split-level patios and wrap-around porch to winding staircase and Steinway grand piano quietly boasted of contemporary and historical correctness. The fly-fishing was only fair but it was fun (I’m getting to that…).dscn9736

This “summer cottage” of the railroad magnate, Colonel Moorhead Kennedy, was built around 1900, and to walk its nature trail along a lazy wooded stream (visible from the intricate windows in the house) and to browse among the quaint old chambers in the mansion is to meditate on southern history and cultural diversity. Leighanne and I relaxed and, of course, the nearby Falling Spring Branch beckoned every last fiber in the fly rod that I brought along.dscn9756

Colonel Moorhead Kennedy had been active in World War I and eventually functioned as a VP and President of more Pennsylvania railroads than I can wrap my head around, and he threw big parties at Ragged Edge. Early twentieth-century celebrities, bankers, presidents, Supreme Court justices, and generals attended his annual gatherings. The horse-and-carriage deliveries, the private railroad spur, the swimming pool, and the elaborate gardens and orchards were some highlights for this grandest home in Franklin County.dscn9763

It wasn’t easy for a trout bum like myself to take in all this high-brow stuff but the recreational aspect of our stay helped to keep things in perspective. In addition to some fishing adventures, Leighanne and I visited a Peruvian restaurant, a brewery and a winery and other hotspots, so the weather was indeed a February treat.dscn9746

Falling Spring Branch is a small limestone run, nearly as renowned as its sister streams the Big Spring and Letort Run, one of the few Pennsylvania waters capable of sustaining a wild rainbow trout population. It’s reported that some of the rainbows grow to outlandish sizes but I didn’t see many fish in my days of exploration here. It’s a difficult stream to fly-fish but I certainly enjoyed the challenge of casting on a small run filled with cress and silt and wild trout hiding from the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Falling Spring has environmental issues but is benefitting from a lot of stream improvement projects headed by cooperative efforts of Trout Unlimited, local businesses and landowners. At my first stop here I walked toward a small bridge and a young guy with a fly rod working the water. There are catch-and-release/fly-fishing-only signs posted all over this stretch of water and at the bridge, but it was obvious that the angler was slinging a fat night-crawler to the edges of the watercress.

looking down from the back of Ragged Edge

looking down from the back of Ragged Edge

 

The guy knew I was watching him and, in a minute of uncharacteristic behavior, I said nothing at all. I didn’t feel like starting a war this early in the game, and I watched him slink away downstream, hoping that he thought about his contrary actions though he probably wasn’t very capable. Luckily, I would encounter several others along the stream in the next couple of days who were different– friendly, ethical and stimulating conversationalists– like a ray of sunshine on a snowy day.dscn9766

To fish this little stream is to walk along the ragged edge of lavish yards and gardens of cooperative residences in gentlemanly fashion– never mind those sudden (thankfully uncommon) moments when you sink to your knees in “quicksand” like some floundering idiot in quest of the Holy Grail.dscn9744

I knew that fish do not come easily from Falling Spring Branch. I tried casting with scuds, streamer, dry fly #20 on 6x tippet, etc., and finally settled for just a small rainbow taken on an olive emerger. No great shakes, but I did better the next morning when, en route home, we stopped at Big Spring Run and I managed a couple of wild rainbows near the source of this well-known stream.dscn9741

Although the sky was overcast and promising another quick change of weather, the songbirds were vocal along this clear, attractive waterway a few hundred yards below its major source. Even here, this limestone run has a greater volume of water than the 2.4 mile special regulations stretch along Falling Spring Branch. I quickly caught and released a couple of wild rainbows. I tried to hold up a pretty 13 or 14-inch trout for Leighanne to photograph but all she managed was a mediocre head shot of the fish.dscn9742

My wife is a better romantic get-away partner than she is a fish photographer, but hell, we all know what these trout look like, and no one said it was going to be easy fishing on the pleasant banks of life’s ragged edge.

another little one

another little one

rain & snow will return

rain & snow will return

black stonefly on reel

black stonefly on reel

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Brook Land Tonic

A long fine weekend with the family set things moving in the right direction.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made our annual visit to the Maple Tree Inn (unlimited pancakes with maple syrup manufactured on the premises), hit the summit of Alma Hill (the highest point in western NY), refreshed ourselves at Four Mile Brewery in Olean (good food and craft beers), and hiked at nearby Pfeiffer Nature Center where our outlook from the crest of the Allegheny Plateau was witnessed by a bald eagle sailing over our heads.

I was ready for two days of dry fly fishing (yes!) in the warming forests of northern Pennsylvania. A couple of years ago when we were fighting frozen pipes and bitter winds at this time of year, I never would have imagined setting forth like this, to cast my way toward the source of a mountain brook in February.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe world may be changing faster than I’m able to make sense of it, but one thing is certain: I love a four-mile brook that’s totally removed from human presence, that has no trail or road or camp or house along its banks, whose savior is a vast state forest land and, not inconsequentially, is close to home.

To keep me humble while casting toward the 2500-foot summits, I did find one piece of human debris. No matter where you go, to the moon or to an ice-shelf in Antarctica, you’ll find at least a shard or two of evidence, a souvenir from man’s polluting ways. In this case what I found was yet another sample of ethereal plastic, a balloon that had drifted down from the blissful skies of a birthday party many miles away.

the wild stream litter

the wild stream litter

It looked like a battered brook trout in the tumbling waters of this stream. A trout that had bloated to the size of a basketball and had a long synthetic tail. I could still read the HAPPY BIRTHDAY message scrawled across its ugly back. I thanked it for the sentiment, even though I still had months to go before another birthday took its toll. These wayward balloons are found on all too many wild outings.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The good news is that my two long fishing hikes produced a lot of brook trout taken on a barbless dry fly then released. To fish this mountain stream confirmed my earlier suspicion that to cast a floating artificial might bring faster action than fishing with a wet fly. In fact, three-fourths of the numerous brook trout that I caught while experimenting were fooled by the dry fly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Again I reminded myself that, despite the pleasant weather, this was still winter fishing. The trout (bless their wild little hearts) were rising when the water temperature never exceeded 42 or 43 Fahrenheit degrees.

The brook changed its character several times before I finally reached a point where summit alders and swamp terrain put stamps of approval on my forehead. As far as I could tell, this forestland had never been farmed, although the stream’s  first half mile above Pine Creek had several locations that reminded me of aging meadow going wild. Vines and high grasses hugged the banks, inviting ruffed grouse to leave the woods and check things out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Upstream, the deciduous slopes closed in tightly on the stream and presented casting challenges with fallen trees and overhanging branches. At about the one-mile mark, the forest really opened up and treated me with more traditional casting opportunities. Cliffs and mossy boulders (glacial debris or the fruits of hard erosion) were encountered. Pocket water tempted the floating Stimulator.

Although the rocky stream was in excellent form as snow melted from the slopes above, I knew that its presence would be different later on. No doubt the spring wildflowers would allure me, and the summer brook, while still sheltering little trout, would seem a mere trickle compared to this pleasant water.

a mossy chair at lunch time

a mossy chair at lunch time

In closing, I’d like to add a few words about one of my favorite predators. Once again, I was privileged to encounter a golden eagle, a species still uncommon in eastern portions of America.

On the morning of my second visit to this stream, I saw the great bird hunched in a small tree above a roadkill near the spot where I would park my vehicle. I slowed to a stop and rolled down my window.

as high as I could go before the alders stopped me

as high as I could go before the alders stopped me

The dark bird prepared to launch, the rust-colored sheen of its nape reflecting the first hints of morning sunshine. Disgruntled by my interruption at its dining table, the golden uttered a few low kee-er notes and lifted its wings.

Ready to resume my fishing hike, I thought, “God, what a way to fly.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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The News from Fisher Brook

There’s an old fellow coming down from the forest trail this afternoon to fish for an hour or two. He claims to be suffering from a serious cold, but to cast here for brook trout won’t be detrimental since the air temperature is a mild 43 degrees F., and he really needs to get out on the water. Yes, it feels like it could rain here at any minute, but the snow-lined stream looks and sounds inviting, and he’s ready to give it a shot.

club moss & reel

club moss & reel

Our February angler wields a 7-foot fly rod, and he starts off by casting an Egg fly but he’ll soon switch to a bead-head nymph. Time passes and, oddly enough, nothing seems to work as well as expected.

Ah, but here’s some consolation– fisher tracks on a snowy log across the brook. The angler has seen these tracks on several visits here, and he fondly remembers a brief encounter in the area when, about a year ago, he crossed paths with the dark-furred predator hunting its way upstream.

fisher tracks on log

fisher tracks on log

He’s not feeling very well today, but he’s happy to find some time to freely work the stream. He checks the water temperature and notes a cool 42 degrees, almost identical with that of the air. Recalling a recent outing on upper Pine when brook trout rose to take a surface-floating Stimulator, he wonders about the dry fly possibility and then decides, no, it’s just too cold to expect a trout to rise and take a floater.

Our mountain angler, you see, has been stuck in a rut for years. When considering what a trout will feed upon, he relies too heavily on his past experience which, believe it or not, has been rather limited when it comes to mountain streams in February. Maybe he’ll desire some reader input on personal experiences from casting dries on winter creeks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This fisherman’s been casting 90 minutes or so, with only one brief hook-up on the nymph. He’s about to quit the effort but decides to sample a dry fly. Doing so, he’ll be able to drive home thinking that at least he tried it. No regrets.

He ties on a small Stimulator, a pattern that resembles a light-colored stonefly, and he lays it on a tiny pool where a drifting nymph had not prevailed.

You got it… Err, I should say… HE got it!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A bit of color on this otherwise drab, cold afternoon. A small trout but, nonetheless, a fish that makes him a believer, someone who can see new possibilities in winter fishing on chilly mountain creeks.

He’d been hearing and reading accounts of dry fly success on streams like this, but he always worked on the assumption that dries have been productive where water temperatures are warmer than these Fahrenheit readings in the high 30s or low 40s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leaving Fisher Brook, our angler friend decides that it can work… Small, high floating dries can be effective on cold water brooks, even when temperatures seem too low for this approach. It can work on little streams where trout mobility isn’t as great as previously imagined.

It can work on Fisher Brook, he thinks, but not so well on medium-sized streams or rivers where trout would have to move substantially farther to the surface.

He’s a believer, and he breaks into an old Monkees song, but much prefers a tongue-in-cheek version by the idiosyncratic master of British songwriting, Mr. Robert Wyatt. Like a Valentine from trout.

What do YOU think?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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Winter Hike, Mt. Tom

Like many of us these days, I was feeling the tension that resulted from a sense that our country was bursting at the seams. I didn’t feel above the moral degradation that seemed to be plaguing the land, but I felt entrapped within a culture leaning toward right-wing extremism, one that looked to be devaluing science and intellect, that kicked at public education and environmental law, and one that put blinders on the view of recent history. dscn9706

I needed to climb a mountain, and I found a good one near my place of residence. I had nothing to prove; Mt. Tom was there; it would help me vent; it would help me get a better look at the place where I lived and, hopefully, I’d gain more insight into the ground that I called “home.”

It was an overcast Sunday, with winds and snow flurries, with a temperature expected to peak around the freezing mark. I parked along the banks of Pine Creek near Ansonia, PA and proceeded on my climb.dscn9712

I was looking at a modest 2.15 mile climb to the summit of a mountain overlooking Pine Creek, a mountain relatively small even by Pennsylvania standards (ranking #135 in the state), but one that promised a work-out through the several inches of crusted snow, and one whose final push to the top would put old Winter Knees to the test on its critically acclaimed “1100 vertical feet” of rock.dscn9687

The trail’s first half mile of trail above the valley was a pleasurable walk above a small stream through enchanting stands of white pine and Eastern hemlock. After that, it crossed the stream and took an S-shaped turn into more open deciduous woods. Where the trail took on the character of an old timber road, it forked, with a sign to Mt. Tom summit indicating that a hiker could choose one of two ways to proceed. The long route would be 1.5 miles of moderate climbing, and the short route would be a “Steep” .6 of a mile.dscn9688

I figured that the short route wouldn’t kill me, despite the literature claiming “vertical” ground, and I hoped I wasn’t wrong.

I heard myself huff and puff and felt the sweat begin to form beneath my layers of clothing. I heard myself say, Be Gone. Be gone you noises in my head. Be gone you killers of freedom who would drown the voices of mystery past and present. Be gone, you demons of divisiveness and habit. Be Gone, dammit! Let me huff, and puff, put one foot in front of the other. There– a nice view!dscn9709

I was getting somewhere. The small brown creeper on a cherry tree, the common raven tearing through the wind above, helped me on my way.

Wildness was an urge that spurred me through the “1100 vertical feet” near the summit. It told me I belonged here for a minute or an hour, that the views would be worth the effort of climbing, that I’d come to know the buffer grown between myself and the world below.dscn9690

Whoever described the final push to the top as a “vertical” climb was prone to hyperbole but I know what he or she was getting at. I’ve had easier times trying to convince my wife that I was innocent and didn’t drink (that much of) her favorite liqueurs.

It wasn’t easy but old Winter Knees made it to the summit cairn, and the views, though tossed by wind and snow, were healing, like a craft beer savored in a bar (or a pull of European spirit pilfered from a shelf), the palate and the soul refreshed.

near the summit

near the summit

the view from Mt. Tom

the view from Mt. Tom

the palate and the soul refreshed

the palate and the soul refreshed

looking down on Rt. 6, west toward Galeton

looking down on Rt. 6, west toward Galeton

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