A couple of weeks ago I traced out a blue line into a state forest, took a drive, and fished for brookies and browns. It was nice not to have anyone around; so much so that I almost ignored the No Trespassing signs in order to hit one really deep hole under a hemlock. I reached the downstream border and knew I had to turn around. I did swing a bugger out, across, and down into the water a couple of times before I left. I doubt you could fine a fly caught in a current for trespassing. Especially after a few days of heavy rain.
I went back to the deep pool a bit past the bridge and quickly hooked into a pretty nice sized brown trout super low on a hare's ear. I lost him at the tail end of the pool, never getting the hook set well enough. Upstream, after the downed oak made for an interesting redirection - a plunge pool only about a foot long, seven feet long, into a quick run before hanging left again - a nice long slow pool and a dead raccoon. No fish rising.
I fished the whole afternoon, but only covered about 3/4 of a mile of water. It was one of those beautifully intricate mountain freestone streams - every few feet a new piece of water to be read. The trout were in their late fall colors. The brookies were getting bright and ready to spawn and the browns had the yellows melting off their red spots.
I don't fish for numbers. Once you start down that road the only places you have to go are down or up. I don't get it. Calculating my fishing experience based on how many caught or lost or missed or just didn't see seems archaic and too much like a competition. I'd rather catch one wild trout on a stream without anyone around than 20 stocked fished sharing the water with others. Anyway, I went antiquing with the wife last week and, tucked behind a small counter in a corner of a basement shop was an old fiberglass fly rod in great shape. It's a 7' 5 wt AFTMA (?) with 10 guides. 20 bucks. I figure it'll be a great small stream rod for throwing some streamers and heavier nymphs. I can't wait to take it out, not to see how many trout I can catch on it, but to see how the rod will change my approach, my cast, the flies I use. Maybe it'll help me to see the water in different ways. Maybe it'll teach me something I didn't even think about learning. If I'm always going out to catch the most amount of fish, I'll be less likely to be surprised. I'll just high-stick nymph with the same three comfort flies over and over again. Sure, that's a blast at times, but it's also good to cast a rod you found for 20 bucks with a new fly pattern you tried to tie last night while it rained.
The palette of colors that make up our winter world seem to be muted in comparison to the rest of the seasons. Summers show us blazing hot yellows and deep blues, fall has all those gloriously burnt oranges and reds, and spring has the advantage of being able to reveal only a slight stroke of green to catch our attention. Winter has its grays and dirty whites. I'm not complaining; I actually enjoy the relief that winter offers our eyes. Its muted colors are able to exaggerate the smallest details.
Here in February, late winter, the trout are post-spawn and slowly regaining some color. They may not offer the brightness they do in late summer or early fall, but looking closely you'll find some beautiful patterns. The darkness that has been building through the winter adds new textures, much like snowfall adding another dimension to our visual landscape; contours and shapes are redefined once a layer of snow accumulates.
The little bit of fishing I have done this year so far has been mostly for native brookies and wild browns. I've found that I've had the most luck on colorful patterns. I think the trout are a lot like us during this time of year - they're attracted to anything that adds a splash to the palette of their life. They may be slow and hunkered down deep in their pools and under their rocks, but if they see a flash of blood bright red go by, they're likely to snap out of their stupor and take a stab at it. Much like we are more likely to head outside and take a cold, invigorating walk through the woods if we see the sun break through a horizon of clouds and scrape the surface of an icy snow pack.
One of the most effective patterns this winter has been the red weenie. Yup, it's exactly like the greenie weenie, just with red chenille. Simple, bright, effective. What the winter calls for. I've been tying them with copper and gold beadheads, mostly on size 14 hooks. I like to use them as an anchor fly on a tandem nymph rig. I've seen a few fish dart out at the red weenie from a series of fast riffles only to take my dropper, usually some sort of simple pheasant tail or caddis pattern.
Maybe it's a reminder of what's to come in a few months or what used to be: the reds that we yearn to see once the snow melts and the sun stays up past 7 p.m. or those full bodied maple reds of floating fallen leaves, the flotsam of the fall.
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.