We set off around 8:30 a.m.
The clouds were coming in from the west over Brunner Island.
The kayaks, smooth.
The water, muddy.
The sun couldn't make it out of the east,
let alone onto our shoulders.
"You're gonna have wet asses"
Steve's uncle politely mentioned as we pushed off.
"Eh," we shrugged. We've been getting advice from his uncles for years
and they're usually right and we usually ignore them.
Just a few weeks ago, they had to tow Steve's boat back upstream
after the engine died,
after they carved a wooden plug so we wouldn't sink.
Luckily, we were able to paddle hard enough to run into some trees
leaning out into the river and tie off so we didn't get washed downstream.
Just a few minutes later and a about a hundred yards downstream, just past the first bend,
it started to rain.
There was a break in the clouds down past Shocks Mill Bridge
so we paddled. Didn't fish much.
Past the Conoy
Past the White Cliffs,
Through the Haldeman Riffles
skirting Ely and Pole Islands aiming for a big slow eddy where we pulled ashore.
There, under a thick grove of river birch and maple,
we had a morning snack and shot the shit for an hour
until the rain passed through.
We watched the water.
I notched off a piece of skin, right at the base of my pointer finger, last night.
Being stubborn when a simple snip would have done.
This morning, I knew I had to get out and up into the woods.
I left in the dark and hit the dirt roads just as my Stanley mug drained of coffee.
Black winged caddis fluttered and flailed up stream. Inches at a time.
The wind caught some rhododendron and for a second it sounded like
barbed wire on aluminum foil.
Most people are with family today for the holiday. It's why I have this water to myself.
Just a thought
while I change flies, chew on some beef jerky, and let the cold limestone water,
the hue of moss and mud,
wash my wound clean.
Like a Tibetan Buddhist shrine deep in the Himalayas, here stands a trash shrine along the banks of a trout stream in central Pennsylvania. For sure it's ugly, but it's the creation of all the mangled jumbled plastic bits that run down the currents of this stream. A reminder as you cast of our ceaseless over-consumption and apathy for our environment.
It's hauntingly beautiful when the wind catches the used quart of oil bottle and it raps against the beheaded doll. Maybe we need more of these shrines since it's become so easy for us to flush away any semblance of pollution or swipe left when glint of a disturbing image catches your eye.
Things to do before Tuesday's Snow Storm
Drink another cup of coffee.
Build a fire and howl at the cold clear night.
Cut down the tall grass that's browned thru the winter.
Pick up large dead limbs taken down by the wind.
Listen to these records:
Loyalty - The Weather Station
Singles- Sun Ra
Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes
Superwolf - Superwolf
Get out the shovels.
will fall into the river.
Somehow the beavers keep it solid.
The water behind
is murky with mud and bugs,
grasses and dead wood.
It captures the moonlight
as mayflies hatch.
In the spring it flows.
In the summer it shrinks.
In the fall it fills with leaves.
In the winter it freezes.
The ingredients of a great weekend:
A cabin in the woods
Wild brown trout
Winter in Pennsylvania
Hemlocks and pine
The old rust of last season
wake up covered in snow,
Gone by mid day.
hare's ears on ice.
Killed a 6-point buck with the front end
of my car. Early Friday morning.
"A clean patch of ground after a rain
an ancient pine half-covered with moss
such things appear before our eyes
but what we do with them isn't the same"
There's a county up near where I live that is the pariah of the Susquehanna watershed. Whenever anyone has an incest or meth joke to tell, they be sure to locate it there. It gets written off fairly quickly and regularly, even by neighboring politicians who make bureaucratic jokes at its expense. Most people see it from the interstate - a nice farm valley butting up against a slice of the Appalachians. In the winter, like today, the mountaintops have a glittering of frost on them, like grouse tracks traversing the ridge line. Most of the crevices and caverns aren't seen by anyone but the locals; I think they like to keep it that way.
I took a drive up there today to explore two different watersheds. The day didn't warm until right before lunch, when the sun was halfway through. I started on some nice water in search of roaming brown trout. A few deep pockets and nice runs to check out for the spring, when water is up a bit more. I followed it up to it headwaters and found brook trout before cutting up and across the mountain down into a hemlock holler that cradled shavings of some riffles and runs.
It was getting on into the afternoon by the time I crested the last ridge and headed down into Henry's Valley. The last creek turned out to be the most enjoyable. The stone were freer when they tumbled down this ravine and in return, they were rewarded with a plethora of cold springs. Ice shelves created pocket water and opaque slices up and downstream. I found a frozen over beaver pond that will be great to fish in the late spring.
The sultry September summer air drifted in through the open doors of the theater mixing the smell of decaying plaster and patchouli; reminiscent of the mixed generations of people who showed up for a beautifully intimate performance by Steve Gunn in the lobby of the historic Lansdowne Theater. Industrial fans, set up like sentries at both sides of the lobby where the bathrooms once were, blew through the heavy humidity. Light, occasionally flickering in, found its way onto the ancient scrolls of flaking paint on the walls and ornate carvings marking steps across the ceiling. Faded paintings of ships sailed above the cracked concrete where fountains used to stand and greet visitors.
With, at most, 100 seats, the lobby was completely full of people as an old friend of Mr. Gunn's took the stage to introduce him. His preamble was an amazing, rambling homage to the community that he and Steve created in Lansdowne as kids. It marked the occasion perfectly; this was a homecoming and a celebration of community, of saving a special part of the past for the future while performing in the present. As an outsider who never stepped foot in Lansdowne and, honestly, only came because I am in love with Gunn's music, I was moved by the connections to place, home, and family that were celebrated at last night's show that was set up to raise money to restore the Lansdowne Theater.
The meandering introduction to "Water Wheel", relaxed and cyclical, like a a small stream low after a long drought gently pushing the wheel for another spin, set the rhythm for the night. Each song was full of Gunn's sweat and sweet improvisation. "Night Wanderer", about a cat prowling around Lansdowne at night, was next and the first track played off of his latest record, Eyes on the Lines. The song, stripped down like it was, connected eloquently back to the introduction and the powerful connection to this austere place the audience and musician have.
I was giddy when Gunn took a few minutes to tune his guitar and mention that, because of the heat, he was going to take the next song slow and that "it'll be kind of long". I knew it was going to be "Old Strange", a personal favorite of mine. Gunn played the intro for a few minutes and abruptly stopped to let us know that it was borrowed from an old Greek folk tune and that the song was in honor of a local Greek Pizzeria, which drew a loud applause from the hometown crowd. There's this lick inside of that track that, even when the music goes far beyond where it started, is still lifting the tune on its back and taking it through the dark woods and a "path through the fields/to find out what was real....". That riff shows up throughout my days, playing a subtle rhythm while I'm teaching the kids about the rhetorical situation or mowing my grass or walking Whitman down to the river. It's beautiful and I never want it to end. I could have sat there on that hard plastic folding chair with my eyes closed and listened to him play that song for hours, days, forever, just to watch that melody come back and leave, come back, leave, diminish, then expand, endlessly going back and forth and reaching itself out like a patch of mint that grows and dies and with each death comes back even taller and further out from where it sprouted.
Gunn then went into a set of newer numbers from the last two records - "Ancient Jules", "Milly's Garden", "Way Out Weather" and "Ark" with winsome stories about his championship youth soccer team (which, I think, Kurt Vile also played on), skateboarding in the parking lot out back, and his short run with the Boy Scouts scattered throughout. "Milly's Garden" was more of an improvisational track. He sang the first stanza a few times until eventually making his way to the chorus. We were left to fill in the rest of the lyrics as he kept coming back to remind us that "...your faith is savage, your mind is damaged, you're more than halfway there..." while taking the song into all the corners and cracks of the lobby. "Ancient Jules" has been the soundtrack to my summer since it came out earlier this year with the lines "take your time, ease up, look around, and waste the day". It was my mantra for my summer vacation and it took me to some beautiful places. Thank you, Steve.
The show ended with "Wildwood", which Gunn mentioned was his father's, who recently passed, favorite song. He dedicated it to his mother and sister who were in the audience and mentioned how much it meant for him to play it that night; a perfect ending to this great homecoming and celebration of place, family, friends, and great music.
Way Out Weather
You can tell a lot about a person by their favorite Dylan record. If they don't have one, well, I'm not sure you even want to fish with them. I met Justin when I was taking my dog Whitman for a walk and Justin was walking back to his car after an evening of fly fishing on the river. I saw him with a fly rod so I struck up a conversation about the river and the fishing. We quickly discovered that we had a lot of common ground - he teaches writing at the college level, I teach high school English, he likes good music, I do to, and most importantly, we both like to fly fish. We quickly exchanged numbers and set a time to head out to the river in the near future.
He just moved into the area, so I took him to a spot on the Susquehanna that I recently discovered. This is my first season fly fishing for bass and I'm now in full bronze mode. These past few weeks have been terribly hot and humid - horrible weather for trout fishing. In past summers, I would have sulked and been agitated not being able to head out on the water. Realizing that I can have an incredible angling experience right outside of my house has been a gigantic blessing. Instead of driving all over the place looking for spring creeks and limestoners, I've been getting on my bike, riding up the rail-trail along the river, and drifting a crayfish pattern for beautiful bass.
Talk turned to music once we were on the water and Dylan came up. I asked him what his favorite Dylan record was. "Time Out of Mind", he said. "Seriously? Mine too!". Yeah, I know, it's just a record, and really, who cares? But if you don't know that record or why it's one of Dylan's best, then that part of this anecdote will never make sense. Some day I'll do an entire post about the genius of that record. Either way, it's great to meet someone that understands the magnificence of that record. That record is everything that Dylan was meant to do as an artist. It quickly became obvious that we shared a lot of the same interests and that our lives had struck the same chords at some point or another. We hit it off and quickly started catching some really nice bass.
I've lived most of my life within a few miles of this river and only now, in my 33rd rotation around the sun, have I spent a lot of time on it. Enough time to learn its rhythms and seasons. Rightfully so, the Susquehanna gets a lot of bad press. Ask any angler and they'll immediately start talking about how great the bass population USED to be. Ask any concerned citizen and they'll correctly tell you that the river should be listed as impaired and needs a lot of love in order to get it to a healthy, livable, sustainable standard. I agree with all of it. I love this river and it needs our help. However, we often easily get consumed by the negatives and the "what needs to happen..." mentality which can filter our view of the river and keep us from realizing the beauty that is right in front of us. If we don't see the beauty that we have, we'll never be willing to protect the beauty that may be.
Over the past month and half, I've caught a ton of beautiful, healthy looking bass. Only one had a sore on it. I've also caught bass ranging from 8"-16". Justin recently landed a 20" and an 18". It's great to see the bass population seemingly doing well. They've been nailing dark poppers, crayfish patterns, and Clouser minnows; the deadly three when it comes to bass flies for me. If they are healthy and doing well, it also shows that the river has a lot of great things going on. If we don't acknowledge the vibrant ecosystem of the Susquehanna, we'll never care enough to keep it healthy and work to make it better. We aren't only catching really nice bass, but we're seeing a ton of egrets, herons, and bald eagles. Just the other day we stopped fishing to watch two bald eagles circle over use for a few minutes. Their nest must have been close.
It has been a blast discovering this river. For my entire life it's always been in the periphery, but now it's coming into focus and I'm loving what I see. Get out there and enjoy the water.
If we don't acknowledge the vibrant ecosystem of the Susquehanna, we'll never care enough to keep it healthy and work to make it better.
I really dig a spot that makes you feel like you're in a completely different place than where you woke up at. I took my good friend to a stream just out our backdoor that holds wild browns. This place requires some work to get to, which means very few people venture to it. As you drop into the ravine, the air immediately grows cooler and the susurrus of water drowns out all other noise. You are transported to a wildness that is extremely hard to find in the haze and congestion of this area.
I know the angle of that photo is odd, but I wanted to capture the giant slab of a rock that is jutting out the side of the hill. If one was so inclined, a boulder pad and climbing shoes would open up an entire world of possibility throughout this area.
My buddy brought quite a few nice fish to hand with a beetle smacked on the water. The fish are spooky and with the low water they were mostly found in fast riffles hugging boulders and rock shelves.
Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?
- Han Shan, Cold Mountain Poems
I spur my horse through the wrecked town,
The wrecked town sinks my spirit.
High, low, old parapet-walls
Big, small, the aging tombs.
I waggle my shadow, all alone;
Not even the crack of a shrinking coffin is heard.
I pity all these ordinary bones,
In the books of the Immortals they are nameless.
- Han Shan
#4, Cold Mountain Poems.
Head for the mountains; my first inclination and instinct when my summer vacation starts. I packed some books, fly rods, good food and brew, and headed up to Potter County to get away from the constant murmur of traffic and work that seems to have taken a strong, subtle hold of life here in Lancaster County.
The winds shot up Route 44, tracing along dark early spring clouds and short bursts of showers as I weaved my way down into the valley. Within a half hour of pulling into my campsite, I was set up and back in the car to pick up some flies from the Kettle Creek Tackle Shop, one of my favorite fly shops. The owner is always eager to share some stories and knowledge and he has over 300 of his own, hand made fly rods for sale. One of these days I'm going to pick up one of his bamboo rods. One of these days. I was on the water soon thereafter and quickly hooked into a mess of rainbows and native brook trout.
I got up early the next day and hiked up into a beautiful wild area. I only scratched the surface of one of the more remote places in Pennsylvania, and am looking forward to taking a full day to fully explore the stream.
The afternoon brought more rainbows. So many that I started trying new flies and different techniques, just to see what would happen. I was hoping for more wild fish, but I'll still take a 30-40 fish day over getting skunked every time. Every time a few bugs started coming off the water, a burst of wind would tumble down the mountains and put them back down. A hare's ear variation that I tied up before the trip landed most of my fish. In fact, most of the fish I landed the entire trip were on flies I tied. A big improvement over the last time I was up here a year ago where I didn't even know how to dub a hook.
That evening, after a killer supper of rotisserie chicken soft tacos, I ventured upstream and soon found myself in a thick haze of bugs - mayflies, some sulphurs, and even some slate drakes. This part of the stream held a lot more wild fish and browns. They were keyed in on Light Cahills and the evening quickly became one I'll remember for a long time, a memory that I'll go back to and re-fish when I'm lost in a daze of work and habit. One after the other, these trout would swoop up from their deep lies and hit my fly. Eventually, I realized that I didn't need to count fish anymore and instead fell into the upstream moment, looking for the next seam to throw my dry. I fished until dark and took a nice long stroll back to camp under a beautiful summer night sky.
I settled at Cold Mountain long ago,
Already it seems like years and years.
Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams
And linger watching things themselves.
Men don't get this far into the mountains,
White clouds gather and billow.
Thin grass does for a mattress,
The blue sky makes a good quilt.
Happy with a stone underhead
Let heaven and earth go about their changes.
- Han Shan
#7, Cold Mountain Poems
My buddy Scot came up to meet me early the next morning. We had a quick chat about the state of the world over some coffee and oatmeal, then headed out to a nice size trib teaming with wild browns and native brookies. Within the first run I fished, I hooked a double on a GW emerger and hare's ear. My first time ever catching two fish on both flies I was fishing. This was definitely one of my favorite streams I fished the entire trip. It's a classic mountain freestone with deep pools, fertile riffles, and plenty of room to make a back cast. When I head back up there later in the summer, I'm already planning on spending more time fishing it.
To get over to Scot's camp, we weaved our way through the mountains bordering a Wild Area and down into the next valley over. I love these long dirt roads that traverse the mountains. It reminds me of being out west and driving through National Forest lands. You could spend a day just getting lost on them, stopping where it seems right, fishing for native brook trout. There's a freedom you only get where there are no stop signs or pavement and if you break down, your walking miles to get to a camp with a phone.
That last few days of my trip were spent at Scot's camp with Kurt and Andy, helping them christen their new-to-them old-school-trailer that they rented (appropriately named Wild Boy Hops & Trout Camp). I am blessed to have good people in my life willing to share their places, their knowledge, their jokes (Kurt is the best joke teller I have ever met, a master of the lost oral tradition of making people laugh with great timing and a good pun), and cured meats (not a euphemism). We explored the valley, caught a ton of fish, sat by the fire while an old white skunk skulked around us, and ate great charcuterie. It was an awesome trip and just what I was looking for to start my summer. I explored a bunch of new water, landed over 100 fish (most on flies I tied), embraced some magnificent solitude, hung out with good friends, and had beautifully deep sleep each night. I can't wait to head back up there.
Waking up in a fog
of early morning rain
amid the leftover smoke
from last night's fire,
Where will I fish today?
When I first arrived at the stream this morning there were already two cars parked. Being a wild trout stream that gets stocked, I usually don't see anyone on it after the first few weeks of opening day, so I was a bit surprised and had an "Ah, man" moment. Do I stay and fish behind these guys or go somewhere else and do some exploring? It had rained all morning and the clouds coming up over the next hill seemed to want to tell the same story as their fellas that ran through in the morning, so I decided to stay and see what I could conjure up.
I walked a bit upstream through tall grass weighed down with fresh rain until I came up on a nice, deep hole. With my third cast, I brought to hand a wild brown. Then, another, and another. It went like that for a good hour as I worked my way upstream. Every hole, riffle, and eddy I fished gave up at least one fish. I eventually ran into to the guys that had gotten here in the rain and realized why I was doing so well; they were both fishing with spin rods while I had been nymphing low and deep. We were fishing the water differently.
And that's how the day went. I stopped trying to keep count after 20 and fished through many small spurts of rain showers. The water was a bit high and murky and the wild browns were keyed in on my prince nymph hung off of a greenie weenie. It turned out to be one of the best days of fishing I've had this year. If I had let those two cars dissuade me earlier in the day, I would have missed out on some awesome fishing. I'm glad I didn't let another fisherman tell my story.
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.
Our first true winter day came about this weekend. Blustery, cold, and raw. I decided to explore some new water in southern York County, Pennsylvania. Heading downstream, making my way through a landscape of naked trees and scrubby oaks, I met an injured doe and spooked a nice buck. Luckily, rifle season just ended so I didn't run into any hunters, though out of habit my eyes kept scanning the second horizon of the canopy in search of tree stands in use.
With the temperatures dropping, the fish were sliding into their slow, spooky winter state of mind.
This stretch of water runs through some farm fields and wooded pastures. The water was on the lower side, so fishing upstream and far back proved to be most productive. A stealth approach, something I'm in dire need of improving, was needed.
The wild browns were keyed in on flashy stuff: greenie weenies, frenchies, & pink san juan worms drifted low and deep. They hung up at the bottom of pools and tucked in the undercut of the bank.
It's always good to explore new water, to test your knowledge and skill, and to push yourself to get caught in brambles and accidentally step into some sweet holes in order to find new fish and new stories. I'll be heading back to this stretch in the spring, when the water is higher and the top-water action on point.
No, just kidding. Well, kind of.
I landed the largest fish I've ever laid into the other day. I was working a big piece of water (at least for the area I'm from) that had been stocked with rainbows a month before. This water also has a nice population of wild browns that use its many tribs as spawning ground. The geology of this stream lends itself to big holes and even bigger boulders. I stalked up to one and starting casting above it, letting my nymph tandem of a prince and wet fly get low into the feeding channel before it swept past the boulder. With my third cast I thought I snagged a rock as I set the hook, but after a second, my line began to shake back and forth and I knew I was into something bigger than normal.
He was sluggish at first as I lifted him off the bottom of the deep run, but he soon started to fight. He kept trying to get himself back under the rock, but I played him out. I knew he would try to take off downstream, so I waded with him and worked him over to the other bank and eventually landed him directly across from where I was originally casting. I quickly took a few pics and released him to see another day.
Here's what I mean when I said "luck" earlier. I didn't even know he was there. Knowing me and my giddiness and general lack of couth, if I'd had known he was there, I would have most likely spooked him. I read the water ahead of me and planned an approach that kept me hidden. The boulder that I was casting over shielded me from the brute, which enable me to lay into him and have a nice quick conversation about the beauty of the world and spontaneous nature of life that lead us to meeting and saying goodbye.
"I ain't good with numbers I just count on knowing when I'm high enough..." - Mike Cooley, Drive-By Truckers. This rainbow was easily pushing 22+ inches. He was fat, too, which leads me to believe that he was a pretty recent stocker. He did have some really nice dark spots considering he was a stocked fish.
As I worked my way back upstream, I decided to do a quick run up a trib to see if I could find any wild browns. I switched from tandem nymph rig to a dry/dropper (yellow stimulator and a green caddis) and started working some nice runs. I landed quite a few wild browns; most would slap at my dry and then take my dropper. Sometimes it's best to just follow your curiosity and see where the water leads you.
I woke up at 4:30 yesterday morning and headed up to Penn's from my place in Lancaster. I was stuck in thick fog for most of the drive up until I gained some elevation around Lewistown. The yellows, reds, light greens, and browns of fall reached out through the fog once I got up int o the Kishacoquillas Valley. They were relentless and beautiful.
It was cold when I got up to Poe Paddy, right around 38 degrees. I put some miles on my waders and found a nice secluded section of Penn's. I spooked up some doe when I got to my spot, but one stayed on and followed close behind me (15 yards) and ended up standing and watching me fish for a good 20 minutes. Her fur was darkening, mottled, becoming the same color as the dried tall grass enclosing the riverbanks.
I had a great section of riffles and pools to myself all morning and was blessed with some nice fish and beautiful fall foliage. Every time I come up to this area, I fall in love with it a bit more.
Fall has to be my favorite time of year to be outside. Everything is trying to get its last bit of life out of world before things go dormant and hard. Trout seem more aggressive and leaves want one last look before they fall. The days start cold and end warm - perfect beanie weather. They browns were hitting the nymphs pretty consistently when they were swung close to the bottom.
After fishing all morning and into early afternoon, once my yellow stimulator stopped drawing attention, I hiked back to my car the entire time singing that Dylan line "I was walking through the leaves, falling from the trees..." from that masterpiece "Mississippi". I had to pause one last time to take in the whole valley and its wide range of color this time of year. I was easily reminded why I love Pennsylvania, especially in the month of October.
Oftentimes in the middle of the winter, when I'm feeling cooped up from the cold and drained from constant interaction with my students, I begin daydreaming and plotting where I'll go over my summer vacation. A lot of those ideas and plans fall through or get pushed aside for others. This one stuck and turned out to be a great time for reflection, rejuvenation, and landing beautiful fish.
My grand plan was to spend a week camping and fly fishing in and around Potter County. The Wilds of PA, God's Country. There were quite a few streams I wanted to check out so I chose two camping spots as my home base - Little Pine State Park and Ole Bull State Park. These would put me in the Pine Creek and Kettle Creek Watersheds respectively.
I spent the most of the week at Little Pine State Park. I fished Pine Creek proper and landed some beautiful browns and some beat up rainbows (all on really small prince nymphs). I spent another few days exploring some of Pine's great tribs (Slate, Cedar, etc) and some other watersheds that run parallel to Pine through Sproul State Forest. Slate Run is a crazy stream. I drove way back Slate Run Rd. to access the stream and successfully freaked myself out after a few hours of slipping on the slate-like rocks and convincing myself I was hearing Rattlers around every bend and branch. It's streamside is covered with high grass and ferns. Beautiful to look at, but creepy to walk through when your by yourself in the middle of rattler country and far from anyone or anything. It's good to be humbled by nature on a regular basis. The only downside to fishing alone is that there is always a small voice in the back of your head reminding you that if you were to fall, get bitten, etc, no one would likely find you for a few days. Eh, it's worth it though.
After a few days in the Pine Creek valley, I packed up and moved on over to Ole Bull - up and over the next set of mountains and into the Kettle Creek Watershed. Unfortunately, due to a few days of downpour, I only got to fish Kettle Creek and missed a few gems that I really wanted to get to. I landed quite a few beautiful browns in the FFO section of Kettle Creek and even got a few to take a wicked small grifffith's gnat. I'm hoping to make this an annual thing and to make it back up to Ole Bull sooner rather than later. Having explored new water the entire trip, I quickly realized how much I had to realize on my instinct to find fish. This, in turn, showed me that I actually have learned quite a bit over the past year or two since fly fishing has become something I do quite frequently.
A few random non-fishing thoughts - it was really great to get away by myself for a few days and to let things settle. I end up spending a lot of time alone anyway simply because of what I enjoy doing - fly fishing, biking, etc - but this was different. Most days I barely interacted with more than two people and probably only said a total of a few sentences. It was nice to get away from the ego a bit, to wake up and have nothing to do but explore remote streams and try new water, to get of routines and to get back into just being. It's all pretty simple, really - just be.
My soundtrack for the week of solitude and fly fishing including a lot of Steve Gunn. Love this guy's music. His album Time Off is actually what got me into the Dead a couple of years ago.
With ice flows coming down the river, freezing up currents and slowing down time, my thoughts are turning to the upcoming year and what my focus will be. I've decided that I'm going to go native this year.
Last year, my goal was to get out as much as possible and to finally figure out the motions and philosophy of fly-fishing. This year, it's going to be brookies. Brook trout are native to Pennsylvania and though usually smaller than the 'bows and browns you'll find in this area, I tend to think they are much more beautiful and detailed. Plus, the fight these little wild ones put up is a ton of fun on a 3 weight.
I'm also a firm believer that fishing for these natives pushes me to become a better fly fisherman. You have to be silent, observant, and make every cast count when your trying to land one of these beauties. Much like the blue halos that speckle across a brook trout, every movement and cast becomes magnified when fishing for them. Therefore, I hope to learn from these fellas. I'm excited to see what they can teach me about being an angler and a student of place and wildness.
That said, I'm not going to just fish for brookies. In end end, I think we too easily get caught up in the names and types of fish - wild, native, stocked, etc - and forget that the real pursuit of this is to get out there and fish. Catching trout on a fly rod is a heckuva lot of fun, no matter their heritage and lineage.
I first fell in love with trains after watching Stand by Me when I was a kid. It’s a story about a group of boys that decide to take an adventure in search of something. Their way out of town? The train tracks. These tracks lead them on a journey that shapes all their lives in very different ways. At the core of this journey is a sense of freedom that resonated with me. I would daydream about hitching a pack on my back and wandering through the secret crevices of America all the while creating deep bonds with my fellow travelers. From that point forward, trains symbolized the possibility of living a truly unique and inspired life. They symbolized an untaken path, an alternative way of traveling. Something different.
Eventually, the likes of Jack Kerouac, Johnny Cash, and Tom Waits came into my life. Waits’ gravelly, sandpaper scraped voice took my love for trains and created magnificent sculptures of freedom loving train jumpers and other-side-of-the-tracks poets waving poems around like trainmen’s lanterns lighting my way away from my small hometown into big cities and tall mountains. From boyhood dreams to adulthood meandering, the symbolism of trains has always found a way to seep into my world view.
I took all of the weighty connections trains have developed for me in my head and I went traveling on my own journey, searching and experiencing. I filled my backpack with all my camping gear, a few choice books (I’m pretty sure some Gary Snyder made its way in there), a journal, and some clothes and set off. For three years I stretched myself out across this country: Baxter State Park in northern Maine, up and down California, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, and plenty of places in between. It felt good to have everything I needed on my back, a home wherever I laid my head and lit a fire. I learned more in those three years of working in the woods than I did in my four years of college.
That journey eventually led me here, to Marietta, where my wife & I bought a house and settled in. The train comes through every few hours, just a few yards away from our front yard. I hear that train working in my garden, sitting at Shanks weaving tales with friends, eating dinner with my wife in our kitchen, and I can’t help but feel light and free every time I hear that rumble of steel on steel or the low call of the horn. I no longer feel the need to pack a sling and “walk those tracks” away from the place I live, but it’s nice to know that right out my front door somebody could and somebody will. I’ll look forward to hearing their stories.
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.