I've always loved fishing in the winter. It may be harder to catch anything, but there are far fewer people and with all the undergrowth dormant, you can really see the riverine landscape you're exploring. I started the year with a pretty beautiful brown trout and then began to fall in love with exploring post-industrial watersheds.
I took advantage of the high water we had throughout the spring and fished smaller streams for large brown trout. I also continued exploring streams throughout the Pennsylvania anthracite region that are in acid-mine recovery. Some of these streams have brookies and browns returning and thriving in their orange waters. I also landed what was probably my personal best wild brown trout while casting a black woolly bugger upstream and stripping it down through a riffle into a deep hole under a sycamore tree.
Summer was fun. I started it off up in Potter County for the annual #POCO trip and ended up finding some beautiful brook trout elders in small streams. Then, we took a few days in the Catskills before I ventured up to the West Branch of the Penobscot in Maine for a week of fishing. Maine was, as always, beautiful and inspiring. But this time the fishing was tough due to their long, wet spring and the black flies were mind-bogglingly torturous. Finally, I ended the summer with a ten day trip out to Yellowstone and the Bighorns with a good friend I hadn't seen in years. I ended up camping 4 out of the 12 weeks I had off. The only downside to this summer was the lack of good bass fishing on the Susquehanna River. Something is up with that waterway.
After my epic summer of traveling and camping, I slowed down quite a bit in the fall. I went back to work and fell into that routine. I didn't catch a ton of fish, but I did manage to land a few really nice ones. I was really hoping to finally get into some bass on the Susquehanna River, but the river never really seemed to wake up. I did manage to get into two of the most beautiful trout I've ever landed.
I just got back from ten days of traveling through Yellowstone, the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and the Big Horns. It was an incredible trip with an old college buddy (the winds of North Dakota nearly swept us up across the border) with too many highlights to discuss. Each place, each alpine lake, each nook below a peak offered some sort of unique beauty that I'll hold till I can't anymore. One day in particular will shape my days for a long time to come.
The day before, we woke at 4 a.m. and took the hour drive to be first in line at Slough Creek Campground. Well worth it as we got the best site, right along the river, with a great view.
We fished a lot of the big waters in the park - Soda, Lamar, Slough. All were really cool in their own way. But it was the freestone creek that required a long hike into the backcountry that provided us with the best memories and fish.
Within about a half mile of the trailhead, the valley keeps opening and Jesus it's beautiful and you forget who you are and why you are there because all you can do is just try to take it all in
Within a mile, there were no other people on the trail. The more dirt we put under our wading boots, the wilder it became. We both had bear spray and were both convinced we'd run into one. Just the night before, two black bears were rummaging about twenty yards from our tent. We kept coming across scorched bones of bison. Had these bones been washed down in the spring run-off? Had they been taken down by something right where we stood? Yellowstone has such interesting and diverse landscapes. The juxtaposition of seemingly foreign elements is jarringly beautiful. Femuroles next to spring creeks with brook trout, bones next to wild sage, high peaks next to deep ravines.
The trail kept descending until, finally, it reached the Yellowstone. It was day 5, we had no showers, and there was this long eddy and beach. What else is there to do but swim for an hour?
Big salmon flies and stone flies were hatching and fluttering in the air. I had some massive cutthroats nudge my flies, landed a few small ones. It was already mid day so we started to work up the stream we hiked down. Soon, we found this pool. Soon, we couldn't stop catching beautiful Yellowstone Cutthroats on big dry flies. The water was so clear, the cutties so bright, that you could see them streak up from the bottom or from the far banks for these flies.
We kept fishing until we got hungry and had a great lunch of peanut butter and bacon sandwiches next to some antler sheds...
We kept fishing and working our way upstream and catching cutthroats in ever pool and riffle Then regular afternoon storm clouds came through and we decided to make the trek back out. It was exactly the day I covet - backcountry exploring for wild trout in wild places. Yellowstone is pretty awesome... especially if you get off the road and away from the popular spots.
A day after school let out, I found myself rambling up hollows of Potter County.
It is here, where rock tightens its grip to water, that everything grows more full.
Color, life, sound, smell, the way deadwood lays across rock - patterns stitched by the quick wind that slices down these drafts.
Patterns of the elders
It is a good way to start the summer - sitting on the tailgate with mountains in the windows, looking at maps, tracing hyphenated courses and blue lines, waiting for the sulfurs to hatch. One night, after we caught brook trout on little bright yellow flies, I made burritos. We sat around the fire and ate them. The thin moon showed us the movement of night. The next morning we sat on the porch and drank coffee for a few hours, watching the valley and the clouds slowly shake by. During the day we bushwhacked through thick brush and found plunge pools. The long thin red marks across my shins, those are good scars, tattoos of exploring.
The heat of the summer was getting too much. Coupled with the continuous rain, I was feeling cooped up with the river blown out. No bass fishing. No kayaking. Every bike ride ending in a rainstorm. I woke up last Sunday knowing I had to leave for a few days, shed some of this summer skin.
I decided to head down to West Virginia to check out some water. I camped near Seneca Rocks and took a few days to roam around the Monongahela National Forest. It's beautiful rugged country. Steep wooded hills flooded with rhododendron.I got into some wild rainbows, which was super cool. I met an old lady whose job it was to park at an intersection of two gravel roads six miles deep in the forest just to tell people not to turn left. Pipeline Construction. She warned me about the rattlesnakes. I kept an eye out for them the entire day. We talked about the storm coming over from Elkins.
I came across the Green Bank Observatory. A surreal place tucked deep in West Virginia. They listen to the universe there. Afterwards, I caught brook trout in the middle of a thunderstorm on big dry flies. This is the summer of rain. I drove down countless ravines. I drove up miles of mountain. It was a good week.
I ended it in western Maryland after stopping for some of the best burritos I've ever had at Hellbenders in Davis, WV. I caught brook trout. I had a fire. I fell asleep to the stream, the throaty call of the frogs, and the sharp gossip of crickets. It's been a good summer.
I rest easy when I'm in the north woods. The deepness of the green and the water and the night are a comfort for me. We spent the last week camping in northern New Hampshire and western Maine.
I spent a lot of time exploring water - the Rapid River, the Magalloway, the Upper Connecticut. Many wild fish were caught, some big ones lost. A thunderstorm came in over two hours one night. We sat by the fire and listened as it worked its way south out of Canada and finally fell asleep as torrential rain rolled its fingers across the roof of our camper. It was a good, hard sleep that night.
The humidity hit later in the week, slowing us a down a bit. Another storm came early Friday morning - 4 a.m. - and pushed in a cold front. The breeze stuck with us for a few days. We woke up late, ate a hearty breakfast at the local diner, hiked Magalloway Mountain, and in the evening caught landlocked salmon, brook trout, brown trout, and rainbow trout on a high floating caddis.
Yesterday I drove up switchbacks
through the Tuscarora Mountains
- these that create a a few fertile valleys in central Pennsylvania-
to a small stream with native brook trout and wild brown trout.
Most people wouldn't consider driving
this far just to fish a small stream.
Destinations are different
for those of us who like to spend
their days in large swaths of public forests
on water with wild trout
and no people.
It was still cold in the morning,
April has been a long March,
and a black woolly bugger jigged
through the deep pools
worked until noon.
The sun stretched itself out over the valley
by early afternoon.
Bugs - caddis, midges, a few black stoneflies -
little puffs of bug smoke
in the warm spots.
There was a pool that,
with every cast of my caddis,
a trout would strike it.
This, that little ten foot pool
and those hungry fish,
is always worth the drive.
I love driving down dirt rods. The ones that go through public lands and arch their way around mountains and into ravines. That follow streams up into their headwaters.
The road splits when a tributary enters, where the mountains fold into each other and you have a choice. Right, Left. I'll pull off when there's space and search the water for wild trout. I fill my days with their dirt and their mysterious bends as much as possible.
That plunge pool is at least fifteen feet deep. I was hoping to see some brown trout rising, but the water this far north is still cold, still in its early spring mode. No bugs to be seen, still ice in the north side hollows.
This bend mirrored the roads I drove around this weekend. Long slices of rock curving, cutting deep into the dirt, hiding dark runs still waking up from winter.
Shade mountain, Jacks Mountain, Penn's Creek.
A Bobcat in the rear view mirror
with still a few gulps of coffee left in the parking lot.
I got pissed at the big water by noon.
A morning of slight takes and spitting flies
ended with two dudes dropping into the middle of the run I was fishing.
I cut up the bank, crossed into the meadow and threw some hoppers.
It was lunch, I was hungry.
I had eaten my last granola bar an hour ago.
I walked back to my truck and drove up the mountain
until I found a pull off
and the stream winding itself out and away
into the rhododendron and mountain laurel.
I took one fly and my 6'10" rod.
Hiked into the woods
following the only path the water cut.
A few deep plunges,
some shallow riffles,
a cut bank that bled
into a hill of ferns,
some small brook trout
and I was fishing.
Eventually I reached the road,
walked back to my truck and off to find lunch.
I love how music can take you back to specific moments in your life. Every time I hear this song I slip back into the first time I heard it taking a lonely drive from Millinocket back into Baxter State Park after doing my weekly laundry and making my weekly phone calls on the payphone downtown to friends and family back home or scattered about.
The drive was always bittersweet for I was blessed with a not-so-subtle landscape of Kathadin and its brothers & sisters captivating my eyes while simultaneously feeling subtle pangs of loneliness. Though, that feeling never ventured into disconnect for I worked hard at sending letters and making calls on my weekly visits back into town.
Oddly, whenever I look back at that particular time in my life - living out of my pack, traveling every six or so months to a new place that would most definitely be in the middle of nowhere due to the nature of trail work, finally learning how to cook since no one was going to cook for me - I feel like I was more connected to my family and friends than I've been since. My relationships were more deliberate - laying in my tent at night writing a letter instead of sluggishly scrolling through mindless chatter and meaningless memes, taking a trip to town to find the only pay phone and dialing those 20 numbers on my calling card hoping the entire time someone will actually pick and if not, opening my tattered "address book" to find someone else to call I hadn't talk to in awhile - and therefore kept me more connected to those in my life, even if they were thousands of miles away.
I guess sometimes the further away you are from people the closer you feel.
Random Note About the Song:
This is a quintessential "Maine" song for me. Probably because of the geographical location of the son, but more importantly also the length and cadence.... it's the perfect song to drive down seemingly endless dirt roads in thick forests where you can lose yourself in a beautiful story.
"What a way to ride... ah, what a way to go..."
Ah, a week later, and I'm slowly falling back into the "home for the summer" routine - waking up, drinking coffee, riding down the bike path to Shock's Mill Bridge, reading on the porch, and planning my next fishing journey. I've also had a bit of time to reflect back on our Vermont/New Hampshire road trip we just got back from. First off, we absolutely fell in love with Vermont. The greenness, the mountains, the vibe, the water, Everywhere we went, there was water and there were inevitably people enjoying it - fishing, rafting, swimming. It was great to see. We will be going back there, maybe for a long while some day. Montpelier was especially awesome.
The first piece of water I fished was the West River, which ran right next to our campsite in Jamaica State Park (great place to put up a tent, by the way). It's large water and would probably be great in the spring right after a stocking. However, it was more of a Warm Water Fishery during the time I was there. I got a lead on a small brook outside of Jamaica that I got to check out one evening. Big boulders, gravel, black bears. Great stretch of stream that put me on some beautiful Vermont natives. Jess & I also hiked up to Hamilton Falls one afternoon. I decided to take my glass 3 weight and got into a few small brookies right below the falls. This is how we do vacation - find a great little hike that takes us to a good place to sit and I meander down the stream fly fishing while Jess sits and water colors. It's a good life.
Rock Art Along the Trail
Eventually we made our way up to northern Vermont to a cottage we rented along the North Branch of the Lamoille. I got to stop in at Green Mountain Troutfitters for some intel and flies. A perfect fly shop - nice folks, willing to help, and even to laugh when I said LAMWHAA instead of LamOIL (not Frenchy...). We really dug that area - vibrant small towns, beautiful meadows that roll right up into mountains. The streams are different up there than the brooks I was fishing in the southern part of the state. Giant, round boulders giving into really fine gravel. As the gradient increased, so did the amount of random "potholes" formed in the swirling water. I got lucky and landed some wild rainbows on a yellow stimulator and rolled some nice browns with a crazy looking bugger that I picked up at fly shop.
We ended our trip with a few days in the White Mountains. Probably the closest to feeling like I was "out west" anywhere on the east coast - dramatic mountains and alpine lakes strewn throughout. Cool place, but way too touristy for our liking. I'm glad we saw it, glad I fished it and landed some beautiful natives, but it's not on our list to get back to anytime soon. It's a fine line between preservation and exploitation. It's hard for me to enjoy a place of natural beauty when everything is monetized - want to go see this cool flume? gotta fork over 15 bucks. Oh, you'd like to canoe on this lake? 20 bucks an hour. It's great to see these places "preserved", but sometimes I can't help but feel like they are being "loved to death", or in the case of the Whites, bastardized by economics.
One last thing - I think Jess & I are finally figuring out how to vacation. One of the highlights - the first night we got to Vermont it was raining. We set up our tent and canopy and sat in our gravity chairs (the ones Jess made us buy and which are amazing) and just listened to the rain hit the top for hours. That's vacation. We did miss Whitman and his stupid little face, which is why we are on the hunt for a small fiberglass trailer...
And because I've been listening to way too much Dead this summer (sorry Jess), here is a great "Eyes of the World" (gotta love that Lesh bass). Watch out for that dude with the fire.
Whitman & I looking out over the West Virginian mountains from Spruce Knob.
We just got back from our short trip down to West Virginia. Man, what a beautiful place. We stayed in a nice cabin along the Glady Fork. Unfortunately, it didn't really hold any trout, but it was still idyllic. Only 5 hours outside of Marietta and we felt like we were out west or up in the North Woods.
Because of the length of the trip, I didn't get to do as much fishing as I wanted to. The only stream I got to fish was Seneca Creek - a really nice brookie (and wild 'bow) stream. We hiked down from the Witmer Road side. The water was really low so I ended up spooking more fish than I caught (and my dog Whitman kept running into holes). I did manage to land a few, all on little hare's ears nymphs. The hike itself was beautiful. The trail use to be a road, long ago. Over the years, its reverted back into a nice walking path.
A native West Virginian.
Seneca Creek Geology.
We were continually impressed with the shear beauty of the place and the varying ecosystems we encountered. The above photo is of Dolly Sods Wilderness. Right after this photo was taken, clouds started to pour in over the mountain and the trees become dimmer and a dew started to collect on our clothes. I hadn't felt like that since I lived in Maine and I would take naps on the side of Katahdin during our lunch break.
This is the view from the Spruce Knob overlook. Spruce Knob is the highest point in West Virginia sitting at 4863 Ft. It's an easy drive up to the top and affords some great views. On our way there, we stopped to hike around Seneca Lake. Once again, I felt like I was back out west meandering around an alpine lake. Next time we go back we'll be bringing our kayaks along.
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.