Fall Fishing Blues


I haven’t returned to the little stream that falls off the eastern side of the Kittatinny Mountains since early July, waiting for rain to replenish the current that grows thin over the summer. I miss the sound as it splashes through the hemlock forest, the feel of the spongy earth beside its tiny plunge pools and ankle-deep riffles, the smell of the damp moss, lichen and fallen needles. But most of all, I miss the wild fish that fin through its cold current. I had waited, but the rain never came. There was nothing to speak of during the month of August, and only a passing shower in September, not more than a few drops of humidity squeezed out of the clouds. It took until this first week of October for a tropical storm to provide two-and-a-half inches of badly needed rain.

The stream is home to three species of naturally propagating trout, but although there are no natural barriers, I’ve never found a brown or rainbow trout in its upper reaches. Under the shadows cast by the hemlocks, brook trout, the largest of which fit nicely in a man’s palm, haunt the ribbon of water that falls off the side of the mountain.

The current flattens as it breaks into sunshine, rainbow trout joining the brookies, the brook growing into a stream, flowing through fallow fields and behind abandoned apple orchards, its riffles in some places deep enough to cover an angler’s calves, its pools rising above his thighs.
Not until the current sweeps back into the forest will you find its brown trout. More suspicious than their cousins, the browns often ignore a fly to which a brook or rainbow trout might willingly rise.

Once more surrounded by hemlocks, the stream has gouged out the sides of bedrock and shale while falling through a ravine with moisture dripping through moss-covered fissures, rhododendron and mountain laurel spreading over its sides. Along the stream’s banks grow skunk cabbage and horsetails. Hidden under the leaves of ostrich and fiddlehead ferns, brightly colored trilliums unfold their delicate petals, followed each spring by bluets, violets and may apples, later in the season by columbine.

Drawn by the natural beauty of this glen, weekenders and sightseers often hike the short distance to sit beside two major waterfalls, unaware that under each are the stream’s deepest pools, the trout there as large as they are wild.

As it often does, life intruded into my plans, but this afternoon, a few days after the rain, I drive the short distance to the little stream. Leaves on the hardwoods are beginning to turn — varying shades of golds and browns more prevalent than reds. Although the first week of October, the temperature remains in the seventies. With the window open, I hear a rush of wings. It’s a flock of blackbirds flying out of the scarlet leaves of a dogwood tree, their flocks taking turns with those of robins, the birds devouring the trees’ bright red berries. Black-and-white Holsteins stare at me from the pastures alongside the two-lane blacktop. A black bear not much larger than the taller of our two Labrador Retrievers forces me to brake as it lumbers across the road, the young bruin looking back over a shoulder before blending back into the landscape.


Sliding my box of small-stream flies into my breast pocket, I slip into my hippers and rig my rod, the shorter one that can cast a fly without hanging it up on the prickly branches of a barberry or wild rose. The few trees that remain in the orchards beside the stream have not been tended to in many years unless you count the deer that rise up on their hind legs to grab the higher hanging fruit. Ignoring the scabs and dark spots, I bite into a misshapen apple, my mouth flooding with its tart flavor. Anticipation mounts as I grab another before walking toward the stream.

Notwithstanding the rain, the current is barely audible as it slips down the skeletal remains of once familiar riffles and runs. Disappointed, I cast a dry fly. It’s a pheasant-tail pattern, and I watch the white post around its parachute-tied wing with little hope of a strike. The brightly-colored leaves and the stream’s sun-flecked surface are in striking contrast to my mood that grows increasingly solemn while working up the meager current. A frog hops from the bank, and around one bend a doe with her yearling stares back at me, hesitating a moment before trotting into the brush. The trout are nowhere to be found. I can only imagine how low the water must have fallen to remain this shallow after two-and-one-half inches of rain.

Seated in my vehicle, munching on the second apple, I wonder if this is the new normal. I know that these fish have survived previous drought and flood, but over the last few years the hard times have outnumbered the good, the weather growing more extreme. I tell myself that like old friends, the trout will be there, welcoming me back once the water rises. But for how long?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: