Big Sky, Big Rivers

[In which the lands and waters of western Montana are reflected in the 5th post of my series entitled “Top of the Rockies.” I’ve decided that I’ll need to do an additional post or two, concluding with Glacier National Park and Theodore Roosevelt in ND. As always, thank you for rambling along!]

Royal Coachman over tackle shop in Ennis

Driving north we took an old campsite of mine along the West Fork Madison River. There the main branch of the Madison had a high, uncomfortable flow so I opted for an evening of easy casting on the West Fork. Early the next day, we pushed on for Ennis, the famous river’s coffee and fly-shop haven where we settled in for breakfast.

The Madison near Ennis provided easier wading in its clear but rapid waters. Though I fished for only 90 minutes or so, I caught at least half a dozen brown and rainbow trout, all of them on the smaller side of life, though I had unsuccessful chases from a couple of finny submarines that almost caused a heart attack when they leapt for a high and dry Purple Haze.

Ennis has a fine distillery with tasting tables on its main street, and I think we helped support the business there (as is customary in our role as spirit hunters) but I don’t recall more than a taste or two because we had miles to go before the evening hour reigned us in at Sula. En route we stopped along the Big Hole River.

look familiar? at the Big Hole

I had enjoyed the Big Hole on a previous visit and even took a photo there that eventually became the masthead picture that adorns the home page of Rivertop Rambles. On this occasion we pulled up to a place too low, too weedy and too warm for a catch of grayling, though I found some colder water in a pool with rising trout. An Ant pattern accounted for a catch of two nice rainbows there.

rainbow from the Big Hole

We’d reserved a cabin at the Lost Trail & Hot Springs Resort in Sula, Montana and we arrived there in the evening just in time for some terrific beer and pizza underneath the ponderosa pines. The slopes of the Bitterroot Mountains grow impressive conifers (and trout streams).

a west-slope cutthroat

I noticed how many of the songbirds in this area remained busy raising a second brood of young ones. Rufous-sided hummingbirds, mountain bluebirds, and American robins nested close to our neat little cabin on the slope. After a round of fishing on the East Fork Bitterroot the next morning, a coyote and a small group of young Rocky Mountain sheep appeared before us on the roadway back to Sula.

young mountain sheep near Sula

High up in the national forest, the East Fork offered me some of the best fishing of this trip. The first of several 15-inch west-slope cutthroats was caught in pocket water only a few minutes after starting out. Wading was often difficult in this rocky stream, but the fishing was fast and furious (as it was on the West Fork for me back in 2010, but more on that in a moment). I found a long pool in the evergreens where the white water calmed down and provided the trout with excellent dining opportunities.

whitefish

The first fish that came to me in the long pool was a brook trout followed by a lot of 10 to 15-inch cutthroats and then three whitefish waking up to their breakfast hour and closing down the show. Whitefish are salmonids that grow pretty large but tire quickly after their small mouths suck in a dry fly. A total of 16 fish were caught and released before I quit the East Fork in anticipation of proceeding to the West Fork Bitterroot, and all of those fish were hooked on a single Stimulator dry fly that remained in excellent shape.

cuttie with a previous hook injury

Unfortunately the West Fork was a fishing disappointment, especially in light of the excellent time I had there on a previous visit, but I’m glad I checked it out once more. The poor showing might have been because the midday heat was just too much and the hatch was off, but I caught nothing in the hour or two I spent exploring this venerable stream. It was time to push off and drive up toward Missoula.

smoke from forest fire near Missoula

Forest fires plagued the region that surrounded Montana’s second largest city, and the smoke from several fires seemed to follow us for a while, especially when we stopped to check on the Blackfoot River and its possibilities. It was too damned hot to fish the legendary Blackfoot. With an air temperature in the high 90s, it was hotter here than it was in Alamogordo, New Mexico when we started on our northward trek.

Clearly it was time to think about Glacier National Park.

a nice westslope from the East Fork Bitterroot

South Fork Flathead River near Glacier Nat’l Park

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Of Grizzly Bears and Cutthroat Trout

[In which Yellowstone National Park becomes a focus in the 4th part of my “Top of the Rockies” travelogue. I hope that you enjoy.]

Yellowstone cutthroat

The wide sagebrush spaces of western Wyoming finally narrowed in a series of canyons near the headwaters of the Snake River. In the mountain village of Alpine our motel was handily located adjacent to a fly shop and a rustic tavern. There I learned a little more about a subspecies of cutthroat trout, the Snake River fine-spotted, that I could cast for if I wanted to climb 18 miles of the neighboring Greys River (beyond the stocked fish and the dabblers) but, alas, time was running short.

near the geyser belt, Yellowstone

I was intrigued but we needed to push on to Yellowstone in the morning so I added a Snake River tributary or two to my bucket list of streams if I ever come this way again. Native trout help me to define the country that I’m in, and here the native is the Snake River fine-spotted, one of a dozen subspecies of cutthroat trout, all of which are struggling to survive in the face of local and planetary threats. Since I don’t enjoy being a stranger to beautiful creatures, I wanted to return.

wolf track, Soda Butte Creek

Along the Palisades Reservoir of the Snake, we saw the osprey (the fish hawk), lots of them. I counted at least seven active osprey nests along the shoreline of the massive waterway, each one constructed on cross bars of the powerlines we passed beneath. I had never seen such a congregation of this bird before. An adult bald eagle, too, flapped above the currents of the lovely South Fork Snake that looked good enough to stop and fly fish on. Then we passed the Henry’s Fork in Idaho, and the wheels of our machine just had to pause.

on the Henry’s Fork Snake

I bought a one-day fishing license at the anglers’ shop across from the Trout Hunter Lodge, remembering how, years ago, I had fished here at the Harriman Ranch in August and received a royal skunking. It was time to clear the slate. Intending to fish with dry Pale Morning Duns and Cinnamon Ants, I stepped into the famous “spring creek” river and went at it. If I was lucky I would catch a wild trout and then rejoin Leighanne inside the lodge for a great burger lunch with an IPA.

Well damn, I fished for two hours in the company of lazy white pelicans and caught not one but two fine rainbows in the tricky currents of the Henry’s Fork! I couldn’t have asked for more.

Edging our way past the tourists and the bison of Yellowstone’s Lamar River Valley, we stopped to watch a distant grizzly bear and cub. The Lamar River was flowing too high and muddy to fish, but Soda Butte Creek invited me for a late evening casting session. I finished a long day of travel with a leaping Yellowstone cutthroat that would measure 16 inches. It was getting dark and we had one more hurdle to accomplish.

All the camping sites inside the national park were occupied so we exited near Cooke City, Montana to find another place to crash. I had been here before, camping on a primitive mountain site a mile from the Soda Butte Campground where a fatal grizzly bear attack occurred in 2010, the night I was leaving the neighborhood.

On this occasion we didn’t have much choice. We paid for a woodsy, isolated campsite at Soda Butte where now the use of tents is not allowed. Only “hard-side” camping is permitted, in RVs and the like. We slept inside the car and locked our doors.

The next day, intending to fish a high meadow of Slough Creek, I got lazy and blew it off (unfortunately) but I sampled some alluring new locations on Soda Butte. The fishing was slow in the cold but clearing water of the bison fields and wolf escarpments but the trout I caught were nice ones.

At the last stretch that I sampled, I saw a fine trout make an unsuccessful pass at a drifting Stimulator (as well as other patterns). I decided to hike upriver, fishing along the way, and then return to this trout when I was done and ready to quit.

The afternoon sun had grown quite hot when I returned to the site of my initial failure. I was tired but determined to give it another shot. I fished the undercut bank and log jam for about 10 minutes with several flies and had no sighting of the fish. Then, deciding to give the Cinnamon Ant one last cast, I dragged it from the current and… yeah… the fish was on!

I beached the trout and quickly measured it at 19 inches along the length of “Chester” the fly rod. As it swam off to its cold-water lair, this Yellowstone beauty seemed to thank me for being persistent and then letting it return. In actuality, though, it was an angler who owed some thanks– to a trout and a very special place in the world and, lest I forget to mention, to a patient wife who almost understands this crazy passion….

[Next: Montana!]

 

 

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Dinosaurs on the Green

It was a cool day with light rain showers as friends from Salt Lake City joined us for a cold-desert romp outside of Vernal, Utah. Emma and Brendan joined Brent, Catherine, Leighanne, and yours truly for a visit to the fabulous Quarry Building in Dinosaur National Monument (replete with walls of actual dinosaur remains unearthed by paleontologists)followed by a full day of hiking and exploration in remote northeastern Utah.

The beauty and geological complexity of this region found a showcase for us on the “Sound of Silence Trail,” a 3.2-mile loop through a “cold desert” habitat for many wild creatures such as golden eagles, mountain lions, desert cottontails, white-throated swifts, canyon wrens, lizards, and the occasional rock-climber such as ourselves. Brent, Leighanne and I had done this hike on a sweltering day some 20 years ago, but this was more comfortable. We had learned a few things from mistakes we made back then, and were now well-equipped to enjoy the desert solitude offered by a cooler morning and overcast sky.

skull of T. Rex (nay, Allosaurus!)

With our desert hike complete, we traveled in two vehicles to a trail accessing Harper’s Corner look-out, a one to two-mile jaunt along a rocky spur to a point near the junction of the Yampa and Green rivers. The canyon views from Harper’s Corner are simply spectacular. Again it was a second visit for us, although Emma and Brendan, the folks from Salt Lake City, were new to Dinosaur in general and to the Green/Yampa river canyons in particular. For all of us, this high-country wilderness, bringing rushes of time travel to and from the far reaches of geologic history, was a humbling experience.

Sound of Silence Trail began in an arroyo

Back at our vehicles we gathered and lubricated our senses with a slug of cold water and some very tasty Scotch (I think it was) that Brendan happened to unearth. A Clark’s nutcracker, a black-and-white jay-like bird of the timberline regions first described by William Clark on the expedition of 1805, chattered and flew about the pines and junipers. After an excellent meal with local brews in Vernal, Utah (yes, the Mormon state does have such delights if you know how to find them), we said goodbye to our western friends and, next morning, Brent and Catherine began their own tour by revisiting Colorado.

on the trail of Silence

Leighanne and I (not yet dinosaurs ourselves) departed from the vast national monument in search of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and the famous tail waters of the Green. Armed with a new fishing license and an old desire to fish the mighty Green (sans guide and drift boat), I descended the steep canyon stairs and started off along the anglers’ trail down-river. Lucky for me, the sky was overcast and lightly raining.

petroglyph at Dinosaur

I had just broken the “flip-focal” device that attaches to my fishing hat, so I couldn’t see well enough to tie on a small BWO to match the vigorous hatch that was occurring. I went the other way, casting a large dry fly and (more successfully) a #10 Pheasant-tail Nymph. While the violet-green swallows and white-tailed swifts were busy with the olive hatch, golden eagles were at play above the canyon, and an osprey, nesting on the nearby cliffs,  carried a large fish (probably a trout) low across the river’s edge.

eagle/owl petroglyph

I decided I did pretty well for a first visit to the Green, catching several wild trout from the wide, deep waters of the canyon– a small brown trout, a “cut-bow” hybrid, and a 17-inch rainbow that fully exercised the Orvis Superfine rod and brought shouts of encouragement from anglers in a passing drift boat.

drift boat on the Green

It was a good way to bid farewell to Utah and to prepare for the wide open spaces of Wyoming.

my Green River ‘bow

[Next: Alpine, Wyoming; Idaho’s Henry Fork; and Yellowstone!]

my son climbs the slickrock

L. makes an inspection

the Green down there…

looking down from Harper’s Corner Lookout

 

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Top of the Rockies, Colorado

Our re-introduction to the state of Colorado began with the upper Rio Grande, especially near Wagon Wheel Gap and Creede. I felt a bit remorseful for passing by the Conejos River, an excellent trout stream that I’ll have to visit if I come this way again, but the Rio Grande was welcoming. Sort of.

Among the Collegiates, Colorado

Entering the big mountain river, I had only minutes to fish before another thunderstorm crept in like a bad competitor and drove me off the water, swamping an afternoon of possibility. Ah well, all we could do then was to head back downstream, passing by a pair of golden eagles near the highway, for a food and drink stop at Del Norte’s Three Barrel Brewery. Obviously it wasn’t the end of the world yet.

Arkansas River browns were colorful

We had an entertaining camp-out in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreational Area with subsequent stops along the famous river. I did well there, especially after leaving the brawling muddy waters near Salida for the clearer, colder flows below the towering Collegiate Peaks. Rafting parties and kayakers were a constant sight on the Arkansas but most of the participants were mindful of an old guy casting about, not wanting a fly hook in their costume or inflatable craft. The brown trout were colorful and feisty.

En route to Denver to meet my son Brent and his wife, Catherine, at the airport, we hit a big storm while descending from the heights of Copper Mountain on Highway 91. Rain turned into snow (accumulating quickly) transforming into a fury of hail. The air temperature dropped 40 degrees Fahrenheit from the heights of that mountain to the bottom where we gladly sought sanctuary at a truck stop.

My son drove us from our downtown Denver hotel to a campsite near Estes Park, outside of Rocky Mountain National. In the big park (a second visit for most of us), I stopped to fish the Roaring River and Fall River in the hope of seeing more greenback cutthroats but all I caught there were brook trout. Eventually I would learn that a destructive flood, occurring several years ago, pushed out or destroyed the iconic cutthroat from this area of gorgeous streams but that the fish could still be found in places such as Dream Lake.

We joined the throngs of tourist hikers heading into backcountry sites such as Dream and Emerald Lake and, as much as I’m reluctant to admit it, the beauty of the majestic Rocky Mountains in this region made the long climb more than bearable.

When we reached the outflow of Dream Lake I stepped away from the trail and strung together my four-piece fly rod. Greenback cutties were rising in the crystalline flow and now everything made sense to me. Back at Fall River, the presence of water ouzels, the American dipper, had promised that cutthroats would appear before long, so I thought of the birds again and thanked them. Here the fish rose to carefully presented Pale Morning Duns, the largest of them measuring about 12 inches.

a smaller greenbacked

The drive to the tundra region at 12,000 feet-plus is always memorable along the Trail Ridge Road. While climbing about the marmot and elk-studded snowfields, we enjoyed getting lost in the wind-driven vistas toward the Never Summer Mountains and elsewhere. I added a couple of birds to my life-list there: the rosy finch and the diminutive white-tailed ptarmigan.

Next day, we traveled westward through the heights of the park once more, descending toward the Colorado River headwaters where we paused for a stretch and waterside ramble. Audubon warblers were busy scarfing up a heavy mayfly hatch above the river. We moved a young moose from the streamside alders (much to Catherine’s delight) and I told myself that if I ever came back to Rocky Mountain National Park I would have to sample the fly-fishing along this attractive young stretch of the Colorado.

“Bridging the Gap” bridges the summit

[Next stop: hiking the astounding Dinosaur National Monument in Utah; fishing the mighty Green]

Fall River where I caught a lot of brook trout

near the Arkansas River

near the top of Rocky Mountain National Park

a greenbacked-cuttie resting from the ordeal

 

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Top of the Rockies, New Mexico

The best-laid plans of mice and fly-fishers often go astray, and  that’s what happened on our recent road trip. I hadn’t anticipated being so relaxed or busy with new experiences that I couldn’t find the energy needed to dig out the computer from our camping vehicle in order to post here on the blog, but that’s my story and I should probably stick to it. I missed the regularity of posting and being in touch with friends and readers, but Leighanne and I enjoyed a wonderful journey through the Rocky Mountains from southern New Mexico north to regions near lovely Canada.

I managed to fish 2o streams and rivers in six terrific western states. We visited with friends and family, explored four national parks and one incredible national monument. We probably added seven-thousand miles to our modern equivalent of a stagecoach. Now it’s time to reconnect with bloggers and other friends, and I’ll do my best with catching up and sharing some of our experiences from the beautiful backbone of America.

Rio Costilla

I’ve decided to try to organize events on a state-by-state basis, one posting for each of a half-dozen states beginning with New Mexico and then proceeding through Colorado, Utah, Idaho-Wyoming, and Montana, concluding with a touch of the Dakotas. Here we go…

at the Taos Pueblo

There’s nothing like the smell of desert rain as the southwestern monsoon season kicks in. My brother-in-law, Rich, and I revisited Dog Canyon near White Sands, New Mexico, enjoying the redolence of air produced by moisture interacting with creosote plants. I watched small birds in the riparian zone, especially verdins reconstructing their globular nest, and wondered how close we were to rattlesnakes and javelinas. Leighanne and I would soon be traveling north toward Taos and my fishing license followed by a fascinating tour of a Native American Pueblo.

We re-inhabited a primitive campground on the Rio Santa Barbara beneath the storming peaks of the Sangre de Christos. We got to walk and to fish about a mile of this beautiful churning water before the weather turned us back. I caught and released a lot of wild brown trout in the canyon and near our camp, but was saddened to learn that the Rio Grande cutthroats that I had caught here in the past have retreated to higher ground, thanks to competition from the browns and the likelihood of climate change.

why they’re called cutthroats

Anyone interested in natural history and in Native American culture should visit the Taos Pueblo when passing through this region. Listening to and observing the Pueblo artisans where the sunlit waters of Red Willow Creek sparkled nearby, and where the scent of sage and cedar filled the air, was simply wonderful.

The Rio Costilla, or Costilla Creek, can be found in the Valle Vidal, near the Colorado border, about 20 miles east of tiny Costilla, New Mexico, and it offers the best Rio Grande cutthroat fishing in the state (special regulations apply). It’s a magical place, reminding me of Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley– without the crowds. We camped in solitude. The Costilla and its little tributary, Comanche Creek, are easy to fly-fish. There are no trees or shrubbery along the banks to snag your fly. You simply walk along the scented grasses and cast a dry fly for the hungry Rio Grande cutts.

New Mexico mountain high

A devotee of wild and colorful places, or a lover of small stream fly-fishing, can imagine entering heaven in a locale like this. The signs were everywhere.

[Next time, Top of the Rockies, Colorado]

a wonderful dry fly stream in elk country

impatient for release

Comanche Creek is only 3-4 feet wide but is loaded with cutts (special regs apply)

 

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Rivertops West

On July 13, two residents from western New York State, plus four fly rods and reels, and other assorted camping gear, will be headed for the Rocky Mountains. Actually we’ll start our explorations in Alamogordo, New Mexico with a brief stay at my father-in-law’s place and then drive northward. I have a lot of hiking and fly-fishing that I’d like to accomplish on this road trip, and I hope to do a series of short posts here on Rivertop Rambles as we work our way toward Glacier National Park in Montana.

picture of a photo taken some years ago at RMNP

Follow me as I try to fish some or all of the following streams while also visiting four or five national parks and monuments: Rio Santa Barbara (for Rio Grande cutts, one of the most beautiful canyons I’ve ever experienced), Rio Costilla (another much anticipated NM stream for cutts), the Conejos and upper Rio Grande in CO, the upper Arkansas, Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park, the Green River in Utah, Slough Creek in Yellowstone, the Madison in MT, possibly the Bitterroot, the Blackfoot, and maybe the Flathead in MT before climbing into Glacier.

greenback cutthroat, CO

This may sound ambitious for a 3-week drive, but Leighanne and I are roughing it for the most part with occasional lapses into “luxury” thrown in for contrast, and our schedule will be loose enough to feel the freedom of the road. I hope to do some birding, hiking, and connecting with interesting people, as well.

Western Green Drake, one of many dry flies recently tied

Not the least part of our excursion, we’ll be meeting up with son Brent, and Catherine, who’ll be flying out to Denver for vacationing at various locations in the Mountain State. Together we’ll explore, again, RMNP and Dinosaur Nat’l Monument in Utah. Should be fun. If you’re interested, plan to follow us on RR. As always, we love to hear from you. The posts will be irregular, and I may be slower in responding to your comments but rest assured I will get to them. It’s one of the perks for doing what I love.

Dream Lake cutthroat

Rio Grande cutthroat, Pecos watershed, NM

Genesee River brown says See You Later. Late evening hatches of Yellow Drake and Potamanthus have been strong.

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First Cast Similes

After my first day of volunteer work with the New York DEC Region 9 small stream electro-survey crew, I found that my long-awaited fly rod had arrived. The rod is a small bamboo, a 6’6″ 3-weight custom built by Mike Kattner at Cane and Silk. This well-crafted instrument is a pleasure to cast. The next evening, following another day of scooping up trout for a quick assessment and live release, I took the “Little Gem” fly rod for a christening in the woods of Orebed Creek.

new rod with old Hardy winch

It couldn’t have happened this way if my casting guidance was under the spell of anything other than Serendipity…

My first cast was like the start of a teacher’s summer break. The line went forward and a whole new field of opportunity opened through the confines of that brushy little creek. I imagined my upcoming weeks of fishing out West, among other things…

stocked rainbow soon to be freed

My second cast would be fruitless, and my hundredth cast would likely be fruitless also, but the all important first cast would connect…

It was like going to a Bob Dylan concert two nights earlier (my daughter bought us tickets for the amphitheater event) and discovering that Dylan’s voice, alive and well after all these years, was strangely complementary to the sunset on Onondaga Lake and to the lights reflecting from the water as the six-piece band cooked up a storm.

evening on the Genesee

It was like fishing on the West Branch Delaware with Tim while sulphurs hatched throughout the afternoon, while standing ready with my net as a large wild brown trout shook its head one final time and snapped the fly from my friend’s taut line and leader. It was like fishing on the main stem Delaware after midnight as fog rolled in across the eerie quietude and stole the last shining star and then the distant lamplight.

on the Delaware

It was like the world encompassed in a grain of sand, as William Blake might have said.

The first cast held a basket of events, including the solitude of big dark water when heavy fog and river currents tell a tale of death. Yeah, it was a bit unsettling…

brook trout, Genesee Forks

Like wading through the deep silt near a bank of Japanese knotweed and then the next day finding that a mass of invasive didymo, or “rock snot,” had invaded the confines of my new waders and shoes and would require a thorough scrubbing with bleach and hose.

July, Genesee Forks

Mostly, it was like feeling the sense of freedom (hail, O Independence Day!) while fishing a small stream for wild trout as the warblers and song sparrows and veeries sing their splendid notes from the verdant banks. There’s nothing quite like it, actually, for the lover of solitude and peaceful surroundings. A casting wand, something like a Cane and Silk bamboo (no, I’m not being paid by anyone or anything for saying it) helps to make some fine distinctions.

Greenwood contemplations…

I could have said all of the above more simply by stating that I caught a brook trout on the first cast and then let it go, but something would have been lost…

Something like pure enjoyment.

nice touch, the appointment of an agate stripper…

with Tim on the West Branch

 

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The Rough Country

the home waterfall

Whether we enjoy the notion or not, everyone who strives for well-being needs to stay in contact with the wild. Such contact is readily attained in sanctified places like our state and national parks, but we can’t always reach those wild enclaves when we need them. The “rough country,” on the other hand, expands availability and is readily attained nearby. In such books as Gary Paul Nabhan’s Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves (Pantheon Books, 1993), we’re reminded that the rough country, or the therapeutic contact zones of nature, is as easy to reclaim as stepping into a backyard or a local green place and opening our senses.

on Dryden Hill behind the house

Technically speaking, I live year-around in some pretty rough country– a rural place where humans can live in health among wild plants and animals, among hills and valleys rich with the essential forms of nature. But every now and then I feel the calling to expand, to explore adjacent territory that I haven’t yet managed to map inside my head. And so, on a recent day of heat and great humidity, I finally hiked to Apple Tree Hollow in the highest reaches of the Slate Run watershed in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Bob-O-Link enjoys the open hayfield country

Apple Tree Hollow may sound a bit pastoral, echoing a lost paradise or Eden, but it’s nothing of the sort. It’s actually a heavily forested rivertop, among the wildest tracts of land in Pennsylvania. It’s been on my fishing “bucket list” for years, ever since I overheard a conservation officer extol its wild brook trout population in hushed matter-of-fact tones.

honeybees cover their queen on my lawn

The place is also locally renowned for timber rattlesnakes, a beautiful reptile that can grow quite large. Until recent decades, ignorant people slaughtered these docile creatures or collected them for bounty money. Thankfully, the rattler is protected now, but in places like Apple Tree Hollow where one bushwhacks with a fly rod or a walking stick, it pays to  ramble with an open eye.

Dale heads up Cushman Run

I pulled off the narrow mountain road and prepared for a half hour hike. The early morning air was already heating up, and the blackflies and mosquitoes were on the hunt. The 7-foot cane rod was for brook trout, and the wading staff was for serpents sunning in the high grass and rocks. It wasn’t the best time of year to be invading such haunts, but I figured it was now or never. Life is short, and trout streams are many.

a waterfall on Bear Run

When I reached an old log cabin at the end of the trail, I knew I had arrived. I climbed down to the stream and started fishing. The wild brook trout were obliging, but the black flies and mosquitoes were hellacious despite my bathing in a spray of OFF. Rattlesnakes were the least of my concerns while fishing in these beautiful surroundings and their insect hum. I think the wading staff split more clouds of no-see-ums than it separated jungle growth.

my old Pennsyltucky home…

It was rough country and it wasn’t far from home. I’ll go back some day when the air is clear and the weather more inviting. I felt satisfied for finding a new “contact zone” and for brushing up on outdoor basics. It was yet another portal to the wild, and good practice for the summer road. It won’t be long before the rough country of the Rocky Mountain streams and hiking trails entice an upland rambler.

the mayfly said, “Use the Light Cahill, brother…”

an 18-inch brown took the Hare’s-Ear Nymph..

fishing was good on the Genesee…

I was listening to Beefheart’s “Moonlight on Vermont” on the incomparable Trout Mask Replica…

“smooth country…”

 

 

 

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Flycatcher

When the weather finally turned irresistible for the craft of venturing into the stream-lined depths of mother nature, I got on the West Branch Genesee and, later, the main stem Genesee. There, among the hills and hollows of the dual-state watershed, I made my evening peace with the caddis fly. For three nights straight, I was ready for the Grannom fly (Brachycentrus americanus), and the hatches were spectacular.

scruffy but effective

The West Branch is typically narrow, rocky and alder-lined, but the dark gray caddis was fluttering moth-like from the surface, and the wild trout were punchy drunk with expectation. I was reeling in a small brook trout when I was saw the golden flash from a larger fish beneath it. Releasing the little fellow, I decided to try a Muddler Minnow for the bigger trout. Before I could tie the Muddler on completely, though, the wild fish, a lengthy brown, made an unsuccessful but gorgeous leap while chasing a Coffin Fly (Ephemera guttulata) that sailed low overhead.

This was the kind of stuff that passionate anglers live for, though I don’t know many who are willing to sacrifice their ease to fish this kind of brushy water to obtain its sweet reward. I abandoned the Muddler Minnow for an imitation of the Coffin Fly and quickly put the brown trout on the line.

On each night of the Grannom hatch, I was greeted by the Vreep! Vreep! shrieking of the great-crested flycatcher and the quieter, weepy notes of the alder and willow flycatchers as these songbirds posted nesting territories along the stream and took their share of hatching insects. A fly-fishing lover of birds could go bonkers in a place like this.

On the second night along this headwater stream I hooked and lost a large fish in addition to catching and releasing a lot of smaller brown and brook trout. The big one grabbed the drifting Grannom fly and fought me hard, flipping in all directions till it tangled line and leader in an undercut and freed the artificial from its lip. I like to think that specimen was 17 inches, plus.

The third night I was down below Genesee village where the headwater branches all converge to form the main stem of the river in New York. The Grannom was hatching by 6 p.m. and only intensified as night came on. As if gravity was giving up the ghost, the wild and stocked trout rose with the emerging insects.

Fishing the river with a nine-foot four-weight rod was calm and leisurely compared to nights of casting on the headwaters, but the Grannom fly, the songbirds, and the willing trout were equally exciting. In a day or two, this caddis hatch would be over, and the fishing would be downbeat for a while.

an extra on the set

The Genesee angler will be happy if the fly box held a reasonable imitation of the caddis, or be frustrated by refusals if the imitations lacked a similarity in color, size and profile. Either way, the angler will be ready when another late spring season sends its dark gray caddis to the world beside this river.

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Good Days

I prepared for the long holiday weekend by assisting middle-school students in the planting of flags at the gravesites of veterans and fallen soldiers. The Veterans Administration Cemetery at Bath, N.Y. is a huge place, with thousands of gravestones on a landscaped hill, and the kids did an impressive job while trying to grasp the meaning and immensity of it all.

wild columbine, one of my favorites

My son and his wife joined us Saturday from D.C. and we revisited Letchworth State Park where the home river falls dramatically through an impressive gorge. The weather was dreary and wet, but our walks to the Middle and Lower falls and other sites were stimulating. We eventually hit the road and headed for Corning’s Market Street Brewery and the Glass Fest revelers jostling in the streets. We settled at a second floor table of the brewery on a deck above the crowd. Our food and drinks were delivered by a waitress named Alyssa– who doubles as a daughter of Leighanne, my wife, and me.

Good times.

family contemplations

On Sunday we buried my mother’s ashes at the family farm beside memorial stones established for the parents. Following some special recollections, we repaired for food and drink at my brother’s home nearby. The good times would continue as I visited the upper Allegheny River and worked through the selective feeding habits of rainbow trout responding to insects hatching near the surface.

above Kettle Creek

On Memorial Day, in Slate Run, Pennsylvania, we said goodbye to Brent and Catherine (returning to the tropical and politically toxic environs of Washington, D.C.) following a tasty lunch prepared by Wolf’s General Stone which, conveniently enough, is enjoined to one of my favorite fly shops on the planet.

a black swallowtail, methinks

After lunch, I assembled Chester the Fly Rod and equipped him with the first of several imitations to be cast while walking a familiar creek. Several mayfly species hatched sporadically along this beautiful water and suggested that a dry fly was the ticket to success. It took a deeply drifted nymph, however, to connect with a wild brown trout measuring 16 inches in the net.

a wild brown

Good fish.

Returning home in late afternoon, we stopped at Pine Creek (above the mouth of Babb) where I hoped to re-experience the fabulous Brown Drake hatch that had vexed me there some 30 years before. Those problematic drakes had left an indelible impression on a young angler’s mind. Well, the hatch was there again, much smaller than the one that introduced me to it long ago. The big mayflies rose up from the water like a net for catching dreams.

gave Chester quite a bend

It wasn’t easy getting action from those trout. The browns would snap at the big dry fly, missing, till I switched the “Catskill tie” to one that had a parachute design. Finally, a heavy brown trout fell into the net, and it was time to bid the waters adieu.

The month of May is wonderful, but gone for now.

I hope you had some good days, too.

Middle Falls, Letchworth

Middle Falls, Genesee River

Lower Falls, Genesee River

Lower Falls @ Letchworth

Pine Creek @ Blackwell

 

 

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