One of the great joys of fishing small brook trout water is that it forces me to focus on what's right in front of me. Too often I get ahead of myself and pass over great water or fish it too quickly just to get to the next hole or riffle. With small freestone streams, every little slice of water and pool may hold a beautiful brookie. Water has the power to shape us; much like it has shaped our physical world, it can shape our emotional one as well. Sometimes, most times, I find myself too busy anticipating the future or what's next to enjoy the single moment before me. Brook trout, and the water they inhabit, push me to practice being in the now, of being completely in the present.
Spring in south central PA. The waters are slowly warming up, the soil is sprouting, and bugs are beginning to hover over the water as the mid-day sun passes by. The rays reach into the ravines that traverse the Susquehanna watershed. The mixture of solid, water, and spring melt creates a ferruginous, milky stream bottom.
One of the nicest brook trout I have ever had the pleasure of running into. A perfect specimen of the species. A flagship for their brand of rootedness and subtle beauty. The many colors and hues are only found in something that is true to its self and its place.
It was a day of losing count, of traversing a rhododendron ravine, moving up from one plunge pool to the next. They were keyed in on my hear's ear, a fly that has worked on countless number of trout and types of water. If I could only have five flies to fish, the hare's ear would be one of them.
The patterns on native brook trout are beautiful. The blue halos surrounding the red spots, the curved lines flowing down from their back like tributaries reaching an ocean, all mark a species that is native to a place, that is of a slice of water coursing through a freestone valley created long before us by glaciers, springs, and rain.
Our first day of spring here in south central Pennsylvania felt more like an early November day. Cold, wet wind blew out the spring air that had set up shop the week prior. I didn't have a lot of time to get out, so I decided to stick with my local fly fishing only stream, which also happens to be my home waters. This stream is where I learned a lot about fly fishing. It's a small limestone creek that meanders through your typical Lancaster County farm fields until draining into the Susquehanna. There has been a lot of work done on it since the 70's in order to make it a sustaining fishery. Just a few years ago, it had a Class A biomass of wild browns. However, due to a decrease in water levels and, I think, poaching, the wild browns have diminished greatly and now we are left with a stocked stream. There have been a ton of new developments in its headwaters, which exacerbates run-off and sucks up the groundwater. If you're lucky and know where to look, you'll lay into a wild brown or a nice hold over here and there.
Knowing one of the landowners has its perks. I started right in the middle of the fly stretch and worked my way up to the top section. I was hoping that, because of the weather, I wouldn't run into another angler. I didn't, however, I could tell based on the amount of fresh boot prints that this stream had seen a lot of traffic since it was stocked earlier in the month. The water levels were nice: not too high and not too low. This stream gets wicked low come June and the stinging nettles make it a treachorous experience.
I stuck with what I know works really well on this stream - a tandem nymph rig with a hotspot pheasant tail as my lead and a hare's ear as my dropper. I catch most of my fish with that hare's ear since it imitates the scuds & sowbugs that litter the bottom of the creek very well. I also played around with my indicator. I have mostly been using Loon's Biostrike as my indicator. I love how easy it is to control line depth and with tight-line nymphing, it acts much like an indicator tippet would. However, there is water where tight lining isn't an option so I decided to go back to the thingamabobber. I think I had this aversion to using them because of some sort of elitist belief that bobbers are only for bait fisherman. But you know what? I want to catch fish, and if George Daniels uses them, so can I. It came in handy especially for long, slow pools where, due to lack of proximity and not wanting to spook the trout, I had to stay back. I was able to put weight on my line to get the nymphs down quick and also control the depth through the entire run & pool. I landed quite a few trout using that rig.
I ended up bringing a few rainbows and browns to hand. Most were freshly stocked, so there's that, but a few were holdovers. I also landed a pretty nice sized 'bow with a beautiful hook jaw. As much as I love fishing for wild & native trout, when I only have a few hours to kill, it's nice to be able to get out on a stretch of water and land a fish like this and practice different techniques or just hone your skills and knowledge. A nice fish will go a long way in warming up your day, even when there's a cold wind blowing down your neck.
I stumbled upon the name "Raftman's Path" walking the river trail that traverses through the little town I live in. It was named during the days when lumber was a huge commodity in this area. The Susquehanna River was an industrial thoroughfare - bearing down loads of lumber from the northern reaches of Pennsylvania towards the Chesapeake. Marietta was a stopping point, a place for the lumber either to go to the mills lining its banks or shoot further downstream through pig iron smoke. Raftmen would guide the lumber down to the mouth of the Susquehanna into the Chesapeake - an estuary of salt, water, lumber, ore, eel and shad. When their job was done, they would walk the raftman's path back through the Susquehanna Riverlands of Lancaster County towards their homes. The path is now wooded and meanders through some of the only "wild" places left in the county.