Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

A NOD TO VINCE

July 26, 2020

There was grass to mow and weeds to pick, tools to be polished and a shed that needed to be cleaned. Then there was a tractor with that flat tire and the moss growing on the siding along the north wall of our house—chores that kept me close to home last Saturday. The temperature had slowly risen into the eighties. The air had become saturated with a high level of water vapor. Later in the afternoon, I sat on our back porch. With a book in my lap, I was happily sailing toward the Land of Nod when my voyage was cut short by the repeated trills of a house wren that persisted in announcing his presence to any females in the vicinity.

Seeing as sleep was not an option so long as the little Romeo continued his amorous search for a willing Juliet, I decided to drive over to Bonnie Brook to see what I could see. As expected, summer grass rose to my shoulders while the water was as skinny as a fashion model’s jeans.

The stretch I chose to wade was no more than six feet across. A tangle of barberry, bramble, and wild rose grew tightly on either bank. Overhead, the branches of the occasional swamp maple and white oak cast their shadows upon the meager current. It hadn’t rained for nearly two weeks. With riffles only inches deep and runs that held no more than a foot or so of water, my back porch was looking better and better.

I’d recently purchased a Royal Wulff line with a triangle taper that has always worked well with the little cane rod I’d purchased from Art Weiler back when he was still teaching high school. I hoped it would increase my ability to delicately cast a dry fly with the accuracy necessary to heighten my chances of winning a game of tag with the wild fish of this tiny brook in such low, clear water.

There are few sustained hatches on this wild trout stream, and for the first part of the season I was content to cast a pheasant-tail dry fly with a parachute wing, varying the size depending upon the fancy of the fish on any given day.

Listening to a catbird mew from inside a tangle of thorny branches, I stared down at the metal pillbox, with the words SUMMER SELECTION scrawled across the side. After a while, I plucked an ant from the modest array of terrestrial flies hooked into the foam ridges glued to the bottom of the little tin.

Fishing with terrestrials always brings to my mind Vincent Marinaro. I first read his now classic book, A Modern Dry Fly Code, while at college. Although much of what he wrote is now standard practice, back then he’d broken new ground. Many of the pages of my copy are dog-eared, with numerous passages underlined in pencil and the occasional exclamation point reflecting an Aha moment. To this day, I enjoy casting a Jassid pattern at least once each summer, but the Ant is my go-to fly this time of year.

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My ant pattern consists of a bit of brown hackle between two humps of black dubbing without a parachute wing and lacking a post of any kind. It can be fished dry, but can also be effective drifting freely under the surface, but without a parachute wing and post of any kind it’s awfully hard to track.

Sure enough, after casting upstream, I had trouble following the fly’s progress as it floated back over the sun-dappled riffles. When a fin flashed under the surface, the lithe cane bent forward. A moment later the fish threw the hook before I could react.

A few casts later, I again lost sight of the fly, but this time it was the white of a brook trout’s mouth that gave it away. The brightly-speckled fish fit nicely in the palm of my damp hand before slipping back into the stream.

Neither trout had broken the surface, and I assumed the fly had sunk, slipping under the current where the fish felt secure in taking it.

Around a slight bend in the stream, the current fell over a jumble of roots, flattening out for a few feet into a run a bit deeper than the riffles below it. Like a Haiku written by Basho that moment when a nine-inch rainbow trout rose to take the fly will remain with me for some time.

A set of gentle riffles slipped gently down the next hundred yards or so. Here and there were patches of darker water. It was from within these pockets, a few inches deeper than the those around them, that trout, mostly finger-sized, swung up from the cobble-studded streambed to strike at the black ant. For the next thirty minutes or so, I missed two or three for every one released. It was as if the ant had some magical quality, luring the fish from their secret places.

Farther upstream, the current fell against a fallen limb that stretched over one side of the brook. Flipping the line over my right shoulder, I met resistance that prevented a forward cast. Turning, I discovered the wild rose that had grasped my fly. After a few choice words, and a number of minutes untangling my leader, I tried again. This time, I overshot the target, the ant tumbling through the streamside verdancy. To my surprise, the little fly bounced off a branch, onto a bush, and then a boulder before sliding down into the current that carried it along the edge of the limb where I once again lost sight of it.

The pull of good trout made setting the hook unnecessary. The fish fled under the limb taking my six-x tippet with it. With effort, I raised the heavy branch with one hand while urging the trout back into the current where it performed a pirouette worthy of Balanchine. A few moments later, I detached the hook from the jaw of a ten-inch trout with a crimson sash down its side. By then, all that was left of the ant pattern was a bit of dubbing trailing off the back of the hook.

They say Marinaro was a bit of a curmudgeon. At the very least, he didn’t suffer fools gladly. Reading this story, he might certainly have grumbled, “What’s all the fuss about?”

After all, although stream bred, the trout of Bonnie Brook do not have the cornucopia of aquatic insects that the brown trout of his Letort enjoyed and I’m sure he might have observed that the trout of my little brook are neither as selective nor as large as those he’d encountered. But maybe, just maybe, he might have grunted his approval. At least, I’d like to think so.

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SETTLING INTO SUMMER

July 3, 2020

I’m hiking down a path, one that winds along the edge of a field choked with brambles and wild cherry trees. Beside the trail, birds gossip about the salacious behavior of caterpillars that writhe within their gauze-like chambers. My attention turns to the complaints of a red squirrel, the little rodent scolding me from atop a rock wall. As I move on, the thorns of an unruly rugosa pull impatiently at my shirtsleeve.

Slipping under a canopy of hemlock and hardwood, I walk through deepening shadows. Climbing higher, I follow the ridge trail, its rock and lichen sides hidden by mountain laurel. The laurel’s white blossoms are in full bloom on this June afternoon. Wild rhododendrons sprawl down the side of the ravine. Their flowers are biding their time, waiting for July to open. As the sun slips below the western rim of the hills that encircle Bonnie Brook, the heat of the day recedes, but not the humidity. By the time I descend into the coolness of the glen, perspiration has soaked through the back of my shirt.

The trout season begins under gray skies and hard rain, then progresses through a month of pleasant temperatures when the fish are easy to find and the sweet scent of barberries, honeysuckle, and wild rose hangs above the banks of the little stream. The waters of this inconspicuous rill flow high and fast through April and May, but begin to slow as June approaches. By Father’s Day, the raucous laughter of early spring slows to a chuckle.

The creatures of the forest go about their secret lives, unconcerned by the sound of my footfall across the earthen trail. My pace quickens as I draw closer to the current. Below, a vole, (or is it a shrew?), scampers past my boot.

The calls of black-and-white warblers sound like squeaky wheels in the tops of the trees. A yellowthroat flits through the streamside brush. The bird’s notes — witchety, witchety, witchety — seem to tumble down with the current. A redstart snatches an insect out of the heavy air as it darts from one bank to the other. Watching the blur of black and orange feathers, I nearly step on a garter snake. Like a yellow ribbon abandoned upon the path, the snake’s body lies in long curls, soaking up the warmth as another sun-streaked afternoon slips into shadow.

The path widens, more or less level as it follows the course of the brook. Around a bend, I startle a Great Blue Heron. As the gangly bird takes flight, its legs remind me of some knobby-kneed septuagenarian.

The water is cool against my hip boots when I wade across the stream. On the far bank I step around boulders, over roots, and the occasional fallen limb. Careful to carry my little cane rod with the tip facing backward, I stop to catch my breath.

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A few minutes later, I arrive at the pool. It is the largest on this little brook that I’ve come to know over the years. While I sit on a moss-covered log, a dragonfly interrupts its search-and-destroy mission to hover inches from my face. Drawing a neckerchief from the back pocket of my jeans, I dip the thin blue cloth into the pool. The cool damp spreads down my neck and moistens my shirt.

Still seated, I scan the pool’s surface for signs of trout. While doing so, my concern for this sylvan Avalon rises like a fish to a fly. Over the years, I’ve found that heat and humidity descend sooner, drought and hurricane becoming more frequent. These extreme weather events hang like a shroud over this woodland stream, with the difference of only a degree or two sounding the death knell for the wild trout living here. I agree with Joni Mitchell when she sings that “we are stardust, one-billion-year-old carbon,” but although our bits may be eternal, their unique combinations are not. Whether guided by the Almighty or nature’s elegant plan, the stardust that has created each moth, mayfly and mosquito; squirrel, snake and spider; bird, bush and brook trout; and yes, even man, comes together for too short a time, making all life on this planet that much more precious.

A caddis crawling along my sleeve catches my attention. Looking closer, I notice others fluttering in the air. A few skitter along the stream’s surface. I pull a pill box from my breast pocket and choose a pattern from the half dozen or so collected in the metal tin—one similar in size, shape, and color to the little bug that flutters above my head like a tiny tan helicopter.

White-throated sparrows that had earlier called for Mr. Peabody have grown quiet now that the light has waned, leaving only the occasional pip, pip, pip of a wood thrush as it scratches among the fallen leaves.

For the next hour or so I cast my fly, now and again feeling the pull of a good fish. As darkness falls, I cast one last time. Twitching the fly when it slips onto the far edge of the pool, I provoke a strike, water spraying outward when a trout, larger than the rest, slashes at the surface. The little cane rod momentarily bends under the strain of the fish, but when I pull back to set the hook, the knot fails, the line springing backward, lying at my feet in an impossibility of tangles.

Climbing back up the trail, I look down upon the pool that shimmers in the moonlight. A field mouse scampers over my boot. The rodent disappears in the leaf litter beside the path. In the distance an owl hoots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIRST FISH OF THE SEASON

March 28, 2020

Like so many others these days, I awake each morning plagued by a feeling of dread. Over the last few weeks, the weather here in the northwest corner of our state has matched the mood of the country. The temperature has vacillated between the mid thirties and high forties. On occasion, it had slipped into the low fifties, but only when accompanied by a cold rain.

This morning, our dogs follow me onto the back porch of our home. As I take a first sip from my mug of tea, that uneasy feeling slowly dissipates. Finnegan, the younger of our two black Labs, leaps down the steps. He chases Winslow Homer, who is three years his senior, down to the gate that leads to a small pond tucked into the woodlot that is part of the twelve acres where we live. I tell myself I should adopt the youthful dog’s philosophy—Why walk when you can run?

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The sky above us is as soft as a baby’s blue blanket. Sprinkled here and there, daffodils join with forsythia, doing there best to bring a bit of relief to the otherwise drab landscape. Under the leafless branches of maples and oaks, the little periwinkle flowers of creeping myrtle join in the conspiracy.

In the corner of our house, by the side door, is an aluminum tube that holds the fly rod I recently purchased from Jim Becker, the bamboo rod maker from the State of Maine. He constructed the seven-feet, nine-inch- long elegant cane for use on larger water than that found in Bonnie Brook, but on this first warm day of spring, I can’t help but call upon it to keep me company on the little stream.

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Worry returns on the short drive from our home—worry over my health and the health of my family, worry over whether my business will survive, worry over the state of our fragmented and leaderless country.

After buckling my hip waders to the loops on my jeans, I slip the rod from its tube. Last season’s leaves crunch under my boots as I tramp through an abandoned apple orchard. Pecking for worms in the damp earth, a pair of robins raises their heads in my direction while a phoebe calls from the side of the wooden bridge that spans the stream.

As I approach the brook, the sound of the current is strong from recent rain. The brambles along either bank remain bare except for the barberry bushes that are beginning to leaf out. Coltsfoot flowering between the stones of a shoal provides a flash of color.

I sit on the trunk of a fallen tree. The sun is strong enough to warm the back of my neck, and I decide to roll up the sleeves of my flannel shirt. A black stonefly, its wings all a flutter, drops onto a dark slick of water along the opposite bank. The insect is immediately lost when a trout rises to engulf it.

Anticipating the appearance of these aquatic insects, I carry with me a single box of flies. Although unable to convince a fish to rise in a run beyond the fallen tree, my first cast below a tiny plunge pool brings a five-inch brook trout to the surface.

The first fish of each new season is always special, and taking a knee, I hold the little trout in my damp palm for a moment longer than usual.

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Over the next two hours, nine fish rise to my fly—six brook trout and three rainbows. None are longer than seven inches, each more beautiful as any I’ve seen or at least that is how I feel after being away from the stream for nearly four months.

Walking back to my truck, I realize that for at least a short time my only concern was avoiding the prickly thorns of wild roses and the low-hanging branches of hardwood trees.

 

March 28, 2020

 

 

 

 

SOCIAL DISTANCING

March 14, 2020

I’m a loner. Always have been. I’ve never been a joiner. As a kid, I suffered through Little League, plagued by anxiety over what my teammates might think if I struck out (which I did routinely) or dropped the ball (which I did more often than not.) As an adult, I spent an evening at a meeting of a well-known national association never to return. I pay dues to my local chapter of Trout Unlimited, but must admit I rarely attend meetings.

I suppose that is why I write, for writing demands time alone.

That also may be why fishing with flies came so naturally to me. It is an endeavor I can engage in with only red squirrels, chipmunks, and the occasional kingfisher or blue heron as onlooker.

I’m at ease with both activities.

While in college, I naturally gravitated toward Thoreau and good old, Billy Blake, the godfather of the British Romantic movement, Good old, Bobby Blake. Like most students of American literature, I came to admire Hemingway and Fitzgerald. But between McGuane and Harrison, Kerouac and Ginsberg, I read the stories of Judge John Voelker aka Robert Traver, and soon discovered his: Testament to a Fisherman. Although every line is a treasure, one stood out to me:

“Because, in a world where most men seem to spend their lives doing things they hate, my fishing is at once an endless source of delight and an act of small rebellion.”

In 1990, a line from an essay in Gary Snyder’s book, The Practice of the Wild, also struck meThe world-renown poet and naturalist wrote:

“The wild requires that we learn the terrain, nod to all the plants and animals and birds, ford the streams and cross the ridges, and tell a good story when we get back home.”

For most of my life, I’ve tried to nod to the plants, animals, birds, and fish, mostly brook trout, perhaps because brook trout prefer those streams the farthest from town and city.

I was able to find a wife, who shares my propensity to spend time away from others. Although Trish does not share my piscatorial passion, she often accompanies me into the forest. While her husband wades upstream and down, she collects bones, skulls, and other detritus found along the shoreline or woodland floor.

Many of my non-angling friends have never experienced the quietude found along a forest path, the anticipation upon hearing the sound of a mountain brook’s current at the end of the trail, or the smell of balsam drifting from the shoreline as early-morning fog rolls across its surface.

All this brings me to Social Distancing, a technique the world is using to reduce the effects of the Coronavirus. While others complain about the disruption that this is causing to their day-to-day lives, Trish and I are simply going about our usual routine—packing a lunch, herding our dogs into the back of the truck and heading for Bonnie Brook.

CHANGE OF SEASON

December 9, 2019

As the days shorten and the temperatures drop, I vacillate between the trout stream and woodpile. Catbirds no longer chatter from the tangles of streamside brambles. Redstarts have ceased to sing from the branches of hardwood trees. The birds of field and forest that accompanied me along the banks of Bonnie Brook will not return until next spring.

For the next week or so, the stream’s wild trout will continue to look toward the surface for their food. A wet fly with a soft-hackled collar twitched at the right time or a big, bushy fly, perhaps a Hornberg or Stimulator, bounced off a far bank may trigger a surprising response.

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Back home, the pair of phoebes that raise their broods under the eave of Trish’s potting shed and the little wrens that make their nest in an old watering can that hangs from the wall of our porch have also gone.

The last flocks of robins have fattened up on the dusty blue berries of our cedar trees. As they have done for many years, waves of blackbirds recently darkened the sky. The black horde descended upon our dogwood trees, only leaving after they devoured nearly every blood-red berry.

Between our barn and house is a mountain of stove wood that I raised last season. Across from this pile of billets is a row of logs that will supply heat for next winter. They can’t be split until I stack the mountain in neat rows under the eave of a nearby lean-to.

Eventually, ice will encase the little stream. Its trout will fall into a semi torpor until the skunk cabbage once again erupt from their moist beds and the trilliums add color to the shadows cast along the forest trail. At about this time, little chickadees will return to the feeders Trish and I keep filled. By then, the mountain of wood will be stacked in the lean-to and our home will once again fall under the warm embrace cast by the woodstove.

This is when I set my fly rod aside and pick up my maul. I can rent a log splitter, but that seems like cheating to me, not much different than using worms to fool trout rather than flies.

For many years, I swung a six-pound maul that was light enough to handle with relative ease, but strong enough to split all but the most recalcitrant log. I’d wrap layers of duck tape around the base of the maul to reduce the damage caused to its wooden handle each time I missed my mark.

No so long ago, a friend presented me with a maul constructed with a metal arm that was shorter than the one I’d been swinging. It took a while to become accustomed to the shorter arc, but eventually I found it to be quite satisfactory. Nevertheless, for someone who prefers bamboo fly rods to those constructed of graphite, the idea of an arm made of metal irked me.

Last winter, I may have found the perfect implement while perusing a Garrett Wade catalogue—a four-pound maul, with a hickory handle measuring only thirty-one inches. As a bonus, a steel collar is fastened to the base to avoid damage while raised “cheeks” on either side of the head provide additional power when splitting wood with difficult grains.

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Aesthetically pleasing, wonderfully balanced, and lightweight, I’ll spend the next few months raising another mountain of stove wood while swinging what to a log splitter is the equivalent of a bamboo fly rod built by the late George Mauer.

 

 

 

 

 

BIG FISH ON THE LITTLE LEHIGH

October 21, 2019

More than two dozen years ago, my wife and I went on a two-day pilgrimage to southeastern Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County where I had cast my flies in limestone streams once fished by fly-fishing luminaries, Charlie Fox and Vincent Marinaro, and more recently by another member of fly-fishing fame, Ed Shenk. It was late summer, and the brown trout that call the state’s limestone creeks home were especially spooky.

I did my best to fish with the upmost stealth. Although I never entered the water, at the sound of my boot steps, the trout in Big Spring Creek fled toward the undercut banks and under the vegetation that grew in long wavering strands.

I had no better luck the following morning, casting my flies on the Yellow Breeches.

But it was the LeTort Spring Run that I really came to fish, to follow in the footsteps of the amiable Charlie Fox and those of Vincent Marinaro, who had a reputation for not suffering fools lightly. I carried with me a dog-eared copy of Marinaro’s A Modern Dry-Fly Code. A book, I purchased while in college. Since then, I’d underlined many of its passages while adding notations along the margins. It had never occurred to me that the first edition of this groundbreaking book would have any value beyond the wisdom I’d found between its covers.

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As you might expect, the brown trout of the LeTort were no kinder to a mediocre angler than those of Big Spring Creek or any of the other streams I’d sampled as we toured the region. Like the ghosts of those anglers who spent their lives beside its banks, the brown trout of the LeTort would momentarily appear in those few openings between the watercress and other sub-surface vegetation for which the stream is known, only to fade from sight whenever my fly touched upon the surface.

Last week, with the water in Bonnie Brook as low as I’ve seen it, Trish and I decided to travel to another of Pennsylvania’s hallowed waters, the spring creek known as the Little Lehigh. In particular, I wanted to fish the short stretch of stream from the parking lot below the fish hatchery to the Route 78 overpass. I’d read about the stream’s fussy brown trout and wondered if whatever skill I’d acquired over the past twenty-four years would serve me well on a stream that was once the home water of another fly-fishing legend, Jim Leisenring. Big Jim, as he his friends called him, became known for the wet flies he created and the methods he used to fish them. His technique of swinging a wet fly to a holding fish and then lifting his rod to simulate an insect rising to the surface became known as the Leisenring Lift.

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Trish and I were pleasantly surprised to find a park with a manicured lawn adjacent to this stretch of the Little Lehigh, with a high ridge bordering the far bank. On this sunny day in the middle of October the hardwood trees along the stream were ablaze in hues of yellow and gold.

A path bordering the stream provided easy access to a number of placid pools and gentle riffles. Although in early spring, local songbirds take advantage of the many houses set out along the path, this afternoon, they chattered from bushes, perhaps gossiping about the change of season. Located within the City limits of Allentown, the park makes for a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

Trish decided to hike up a trail that extends above the parking lot while I tramped across the road onto the grass beside the Heritage section of the stream. There were a few other anglers present, but plenty of room to get off by myself.  I began by knotting a #20 wet fly to a 7x tippet (Think small!) and swinging the soft-hackled pattern through a set of riffles. Like Leisenring had espoused, I lifted the tip of my fly rod at the end of each drift, but without any result.

After an hour or so, I decided to employ a technique I learned on the West Branch of the Delaware, where the fish are also known to send the novice home grumbling at their selectivity. It’s called look before you cast. I placed my fly rod across my waders and sat upon the bank, my eyes on the surface of a glassy section of stream.

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It took some time, but eventually a set of rings emanated from the far side of the pool. Still, I waited, unsure of whether what I saw was a beechnut falling from an overhanging branch or one of the stream’s resident brown trout.

Over the next few minutes, I fidgeted with my gear, until a dorsal fin broke the surface, not any dorsal fin, but one large enough to make me shudder with anticipation. I snipped off the wet fly and tied a #22 blue-winged olive emerger (Think really small!!) to a twelve-foot leader. (Think really long.)

Taking my time getting into position, I cast the fly a number of feet above the fish and watched as the fly floated back down. After a number of casts, I noticed that my exceptionally long leader had become tangled. Back on the bank, I told myself that I hadn’t expected to actually entice one of these fussy fish to my fly, and so there should be no regret. After all, it had been a lovely afternoon, on a fine piece of water.

I switched to a more manageable nine-foot leader, but was unsure as to what fly to use. With one eye on the water and the other scanning my fly box, I remembered a chapter in Marinaro’s book about the use of patterns that imitate terrestrials. At the time, it had been a revolutionary insight, but these days it is common knowledge that fish will readily take any ant, beetle, or grasshopper unfortunate enough to fall into a stream. Heeding the ornery sage’s advice, I knotted an #18 black ant (Not so small) to my tippet.

Two casts slipped harmlessly over the seam where I’d seen the trout rise, but on the third, the surface erupted, the ant lost in a vortex of water. Unbelieving, I nevertheless had enough presence of mind to pull back on the butt of my fly rod. To my utter astonishment, I felt the power of a serious fish on the other end of my line. The Little Lehigh is not a wide stream, no more than thirty or forty feet from one bank to the other, but the fish used what water it had by swinging from the far side to the near while taking line from my reel.

After a number of runs, the trout drew close enough for me to confirm it was one of largest browns I’d encountered. I was sure the fish would break me off or slip the hook.

Whispering a prayer to the fishing gods, I imagined Marinaro growling at my ineptitude as the fish fought on, while after a number of minutes, Big Jim Leisenring merely smiled when Mr. Brown measured twenty inches against the side of my rod.

I was still trembling with excitement when Trish came walking across the lawn.

“Any luck?” she asked.

“Nothing but,” I replied.

SKINNY WATER

July 20, 2019

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The level of the little stream is lower than I anticipated, down right skinny, with tan, rust, and bluish-colored cobble winking back at me through the current. My expectations had been raised when a rainstorm swept through our region earlier in the week, but the little stream appears subdued since the last time I waded through its cheerful riffles and runs. Approaching high summer, I should’ve known better.

Earlier, while walking down the path to the stream, I could hear the periodic sound of the season’s first cicadas high up in the hardwood canopy. Gone were the bluets and violets that graced the trail along the edge of the brook. These days, summer grass, garlic mustard, and jewel weed compete with various species of ferns.

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When I step into the stream, a frog hops into the water with a loud plop. Above me, sun-dappled spider webs glitter with dew. Rhododendron blossoms are nearing their end. Now and then one of the delicate petals floats past my wading boot.

Runs that had been as high as my calves are now lifeless sloughs. Riffles are ankle deep. Thankfully for the fish, springs keep the water quite cold, and although at first glance, the little stream appears low, upon closer inspection, the current remains frisky in a few places. Now and again, I spy a piece of water no more than a few inches wide and at best a foot deep. A high-riding dry fly dappled over one of these variations in otherwise shallow water brings a splash. More often than not, a brown trout flashes under the surface before I manage to set the hook.

Farther along, there remain numerous plunge pools as the gradient steepens. The consistent force of the current falling between boulders carves into the cobble below. The cavity formed by the rush of water provides room for a fish to enjoy oxygenated water while feeding on whatever the current may sweep its way.  The miniature fall of water also provides a safe haven under which a brown trout can dash at the hint of danger.

Fishing this small stream, a river angler might think it easy to take a trout in such tight quarters, but nothing is farther from the truth. Each pool might be only twelve inches wide and perhaps twice as long, but dissecting it is no easier than comprehending a run measured in yards rather than inches.

At the head of the pool, a plunge of white water falls down between a series of boulders, creating a brief run for a foot or so before the current widens into the next set of shallow riffles. A palm-sized brown trout may be lying under the fall of water, on either side of the current, or in the tail of the miniature run, before it dissipates into the riffles below. On larger water, it is often necessary to solve the puzzle of which fly pattern to use. Here, any fly will take fish if drifted with care. The problem is that the first cast will spook these trout if not placed an inch or so above where it’s holding.

This morning, my first few attempts have resulted in fish fleeing toward the head of each pool. Crouching low, I now false cast toward the far bank, changing the course of my forward cast to place the #12 pheasant tail, with its parachute wing, at the top of the diminutive run. The fly is undisturbed as it floats down the edge of the current into the bottom of the pool. Subsequent casts aimed at the other edge of the current, and then into the foam below the fall of the water, prove equally ineffective.

A few steps farther upstream, I try again. This time there’s a splash, but I only prick the fish that streaks for cover. Through frustrating trial and effort, I determine that the fish are holding at the back of the current rather than along its sides. Another plunge pool, this time, the pheasant tail alights at the center of the run, traveling innocently for a few inches until it’s lost in a swirl.

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By the end of the morning, my shirt is soaked with perspiration. My neck and ears sting from the relentless attack of mosquitoes and gnats. Sitting on a boulder, I unknot my neckerchief and dunk it in the cool water. I run the dripping wet fabric over my head, face, and the back of my hands, wiping away the bug dope while providing momentary relief from the heat and rising humidity.

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Breaking down the seven-foot, three-inch Starlight Creek Special, I take a few moments to reflect on today’s outing. I’ve nicked a number of fish and spooked even more. With air temperatures rising into the nineties, it may be some time before I return to this little stream. Until then, I’ll have the memory of six wild brown trout, each with brilliant orange spots along their flanks and plump bellies the color of butter dripping off summer corn.

 

Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away!

July 6, 2019

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As the month of June meanders toward summer, catbirds complain from the bushes around our home while wrens chatter from their perches. Listening carefully, I may hear the sweet song of a bluebird calling to its mate.

Each evening, a doe slips down to our pond. Her newly born fawn follows a few steps behind her. Chipmunks scamper over stonewalls and across garden paths. Cottontails munch on clover and plantain. There are weeds to be plucked and a lawn to be mowed, but beckoning from within its aluminum tube is the fly rod, a six-foot, three-inch Sweetwater model crafted by George Maurer, the Pennsylvania rod maker who died much too young.

Shade cast by the forest cools the upper stretch of Bonnie Brook. Humidity drips from the leaves of hardwoods. It percolates on the shoulders of moss-covered boulders and off of lichen growing upon the trunks of the hemlocks that are slowly dying as a result of an aphid-like insect called the Woolly Adelgid.

By the middle of the month, pink-and-white blossoms of mountain laurel brighten the hillsides. Their showy flowers will be followed by rhododendrons, those most patriotic of our wild bushes that wait until the first week of July to burst forth with color, our eastern forest’s version of fireworks.

Downstream, sunlight dapples the brook’s surface. The flowers of April and May have given way to varying shades of green while the sweet scent of barberry and honeysuckle has been replaced by the heady perfume of wild rose that sweeps across the current upon the slightest breeze. Brambles alongside the stream have thickened. Grasses in the meadow rise to my hips. Ticks are a bother. Snakes are something to consider.

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A freestone stream, Bonnie Brook depends upon rain to sustain its population of wild trout. Without it, the riffles and runs of early spring dwindle to a trickle. Becoming moody, the fish are unwilling to leave those hidden places where they spend their afternoons thinking dark thoughts.

For this reason, the sustained drought and unusually high temperatures that gripped our region over the last few years had caused me to search out other streams to fish as early as the end of May. But not this year. Beginning in May, extreme rain events continued throughout June. What my father in law once called gully washers flooded rivers keeping them unnaturally high. As a result, I’ve heard more than one angler complain that this season has been a washout.

Although the rain has discolored the larger rivers and streams, I’ve found Bonnie Brook running clear and cool a day or two after each storm has passed through our valley. It is for this reason, that on this last week of the month, I grab the tube containing the little cane rod and head to the brook in the hopes of finding a trout, or maybe two, willing to come out and play.

Tramping down to the stream, I slip down the bank behind one of my favorite runs. This section of the brook is no more than six feet wide. A chaotic tangle of barberries, wild rose, and brambles have filled in the bank to my right. Their branches threaten to grab my line should I be so foolish as to make a back cast in their direction. I must also remember to avoid the boughs of a massive spruce tree that has fallen across the brook a foot or so behind where I am crouched.

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Ten or twelve feet above me, the current sweeps around a bend where it joins with a lesser braid that broke off from the main branch a few hundred yards upstream. The two branches form a shallow riffle that is separated by a large boulder about eighteen inches from the left bank. The pool below the boulder is perhaps three, maybe four feet deep.

A few inches below the boulder, the branch of an unruly raspberry bush droops down from the left bank. Around the boulder’s other side, the current falls unobstructed, but it is the narrow braid that looks “fishy.”

Although I’ve taken smaller brook trout at the bottom of the riffle to the right of the boulder, earlier this season, I fooled a nine-inch brown below the braid.

I’m sweating, and dunk my neckerchief into the water. Removing my wide-brimmed hat, I squeeze the cotton cloth over my head. The temperature of the  water is shockingly cold. After placing the hat back on my head, I knot the damp cloth around my neck.

It takes a few minutes to tie a pheasant-tail dry fly, one with a parachute wing, to my tippet. Avoiding the brambles and spruce tree, I manage an upstream cast.

The fly bounces off the side of the boulder, and for a moment it appears that the raspberry’s branch has grabbed it, but when I twitch the tip of the little rod, the pheasant tail floats free. As it reaches the deeper water, there is a sudden splash and flash of gold. It’s going to be a good day.

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OPENING DAY

April 4, 2019

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I admit it. I enjoy beginning my fishing season on my own schedule, getting out on the stream on that first spring day when the weather warms rather than some arbitrary date set by the State. This year, Pennsylvania’s trout season opens on April 13thwhile New York and Maine begin their open-water season on April 1st. New Jersey has declared April 6thas its opening day. More often than not I’m content to spend the official opening day of trout season working around my property, content to leave our State’s rivers and streams to those anglers, who will drop a line for a few days, and then leave the water until the following year.

So, with the temperature rising into the high sixties on this Saturday afternoon during the last week of March, I decide its time to head over to Bonnie Brook. You see, New Jersey permits fishing all year around on those streams that it does not stock, and since Bonnie Brook has not seen a hatchery truck since the nineteen seventies, I’m able to engage in this little conceit.

There is a smallish blue wing olive on the water this time of year, but I’ve only encountered this hatch once or twice on Bonnie Brook. I remember one season while fishing downstream with a wet fly, I noticed a trout rising close to the bank under the branches of a wild rose that hung over the side of the stream. I let line out, using the current to drift the soft hackle in that direction, but after two tries was unable to interest the fish. Nevertheless, the trout continued to periodically rise, grabbing something from the surface film that I could not see. Checking through my fly box, I knotted a #20 Adams with a parachute wing and drifted it downstream. As the current swept the fly under the branches of the rugosa, the fish rose, and few moments later I held a ten-inch brook trout in my moistened palm.

A hatch of black stoneflies closely follows the brief appearance of this little mayfly. These early-season stoneflies crawl from the bottom of the stream in abundant numbers, providing a reliable source of food for the trout of Bonnie Brook. This afternoon one buzzes past me before landing on the naked branch of a barberry bush. Another sweeps over the surface of a pool that extends only a few feet from one side of the brook to the other.

Stoneflies have four wings that make them look like tiny helicopters when they are in the air. The one flying past was quite large, perhaps a #12 while the one drifting down with the current was noticeably smaller, maybe a #16. I’m not sure if they are the same species or two separate types of stones. No matter. I open my early-season box of flies that contains black stonefly patterns in different sizes. They are meant to imitate the adult form of these aquatic insects as they return to the stream’s surface to lay their eggs.

I knot a fairly large fly, with a dun-colored CDC wing and a body dubbed with beaver fur dyed black. It is a very simple pattern, but quite effective this time of year.

I’m unable to raise a fish from the first pool and after a number of casts move upstream. A flash of crimson takes me by surprise as the pattern with the CDC wing floats down a crisp riffle running out of plunge pool. I’m able to dislodge the hook without raising the rainbow from the water. I estimate it to be at last eight inches, a nice size trout for this little stream.

A brook trout, an inch or so smaller than the rainbow, is the next fish to grab the fly.  It goes on like this for the next two hours. I release three rainbows, each measuring eight or nine inches and four brook trout that are smaller. In between, another nine or ten fish flash below the fly.

I end the afternoon on a perfect note. A rainbow, a bit smaller than the rest, rises from the bottom to inspect the stonefly pattern that bounces down with the current. I watch the fish float side by side with the fly. I can see it clearly—the red stripe splashed over parr markings, the black eye following the fly, and the splayed tail as the little trout turns and then descends out of sight.