Although this year's visit has been shortened, the group is committed to taking more weekend trips into beautiful Pennsylvania in an effort to fill the trout adventure pages with additional content. We're looking forward to putting in the leg work so those that can't make it themselves can at least enjoy our trips via the internet!
05.09.08 - 05.12.08
(Porcupine, bear, deer, high winds, 30 degree temps. and toppling trees… OH MY!)
Our adventure begins with Floatman arriving at my home to load the D-Box. Although it is diminutive on the outside, it is deceptively roomy. With gas prices hovering just below $4/gallon, the 32mpg highway is well worth the long stares and pointing from the locals we’ll surely pass in route. Promptly at 4:30pm, Friday 5.9.8, our travels toward Youngstown to meet JDM are underway. We’re making good, all is well and we’re on time according to the paper calculations that have plagued my mind for the entire week. The looming thoughts surrounding the drive durations between points “A, B, C, and D”, became a constant nag and source of pondering. At this point, we’ll discover how accurate my calculations have been. Cruising at 70mph, all seems well navigating 271 South toward 480. As we round the bend, passing Chagrin, we’re suddenly wedged into the jaws of a lengthy traffic jam…a little dismayed at the additional 30 minutes of bumper to bumper stop and go routine, I make a quick call to my little girl to say just one more time, “I love you and Daddy’ll be home soon!” and then to JDM to let him know that we’d be arriving late.
Once flushed from the schedule constricting entrails of a 5 mile traffic jam that existed without purpose, the wheels of the Xb are now humming a 75mph tune. We arrive to install JDM as a member of the group and make our way to 80E. In no time at all, a collective sigh of relief is exhaled by the crew as we are no longer in the state of Ohio. Smiles swipe across the three of our faces as the “Welcome to Pennsylvania” road sign cordially invites us to the bosom of Trout Country. Why is it that the state border has such a calming effect? Could it be that for the expense of an ever-so-short drive Pennsylvania offers an absurd amount of joy for the dry fly fisherman? I think this is certainly the case! As the miles accumulate and time clicks by, we pass the drive with fishing stories both true and slightly exaggerated.
Pulling into town just after sunset, we searched for our motel and realized we needed the assistance of the locals. Mapquest failed us yet again! The right turn at Albuquerque should have been a left. Cruising down Main Street we pulled over to the side of the road and requested the help of two teenage girls making the rounds in the heart of town. Don’t they teach these kids not to talk to strangers? I guess this is a silly city notion, because the girls walked right over to the window to give us directions. With their help we found the parking lot to the motel within minutes. The overnight stay would be short as the break for our camping / fishing destination would be quite early. After unloading the gear into the room, we made a few toasts and tried unsuccessfully not to smile after every word uttered. Tonight, we’ll celebrate friendship, the beauty of trout, the tasteful merits of Yuengling on draft, Possum’s presence in spirit, and great eats. I had refrained from eating the entire day in anticipation of this evening’s festivities. To say we were all hungry would have been making light of the actual situation. Two toasts in the room and our stomachs reminded that the time to eat was now! Between us, all the major food groups (at least the important ones) were consumed. Veal parmesan, fried haddock, medium rare cow patty, American fries, bacon/cheese potato skins, spaghetti w/homemade sauce, and a pitcher of Yin’ seems to me to be the essential categories for a healthy body! LOL! The bar was a huge contrast to the quiet drive. Bustling with local folk that were happy to be in good company, the place was rockin’. The juke box never ceased pumping out great tunes that carried memories of the adventures of youth and lack of wisdom. A group of guys and gals, seated at the bar, were singing along with the more popular tunes. Not a soul in the establishment seem to mind at all. I couldn’t help but wish that this type of atmosphere could be replicated at some of my local pubs as everyone appeared to be having such a great time and coexisted without any hint of judgmental tendencies. Our tableside conversation and atmosphere meandered from singing, to people watching, to munching. From their website, the motel bragged of the great food and service and although the feeling was notably small town, their claims were founded in truth and not creative marketing. We all commented how great everything turned out to be. I have a strong feeling that this place will become a regular stop for a bight to eat, if not a place to stay overnight on future trips.
Waking up from a decent night’s sleep, the vehicles reloaded, our room tidied up a bit, and we once again found ourselves sleepy eyed in the dining area. Our intent was to break – fast with a meal that was both affordable and nourishing. The server noticed our hats adorned with trout and made quick conversation. He apparently new his stuff as he recited the streams, creeks, and fly fishing professionals of the area to us without skipping a beat. We found this very interesting and somewhat generous information. We bid him goodbye and thank you and in a matter of 20 minutes we arrived at the parking destination. Last year, by the graces of a Possum’s “trail rated” Jeep, we were able to ford the main stem of the stream and position ourselves much closer to base camp. This year, and with the Xb, the law of ground clearance prevented this convenience. The guys waited patiently as I made sure all my gear was fastened for the haul and held no reservations about ribbing me for all the gear I had on my back. After what most likely seemed hours, we were off.
No more than 50 feet from the vehicle, the first crossing resulted in a drastic reduction of foot temperature. There is nothing quite like the chill of water at 7am to wake you up. Thankfully, the weather forecast had rearranged the cards enough that Saturday would be a good day to trek-in, setup camp, and fish. It was cool enough to make the hike enjoyable once you brought yourself up to speed. The sky was clear, the sun had just starting to warm the straw colored grasses of the field and the foliage had a blend of fall and spring colors intermixed. The gurgling sounds of the stream, chirp of the birds, pitter-patter scurries of field mice, chipmunks, and the other small inhabitants were music to our yearning ears and a soothing salve to a brain filled with the business of city life.
The trail into camp is a diversity of terrain involving stream crossings, dirt roads, grass covered meadows, gravel, cobble and steep, narrow mountain-side trails. Two and a half hours later, making the decent down the last part of the narrow trail, we began to see more familiar ground. The trail opens wide to an area abundant with pines. The landscape more exposed because of branches elevated well overhead. This was our cue to release ourselves from the self imposed burden of pack mules. After setting up our tents, separating out all the food and aromatic items for the bear bad / stuff sack, Floatman and I installed the cook area. Working as a team, we went down the list of things needed to be done prepared or erected before we could get to the reason we were here…FISHING!
Nearest the tent area is a tributary of the stream we had to ford when first departing the vehicle. This tributary has good elevation gain and the typical trout stream plunge pool topography. The weather had maintained a brisk coolness as the sun was trying, but not yet succeeding, at breaking through the mountainous vegetation and tree canopy to warm things up. An extremely small hatch was starting to take shape, but not in enough scale to initiate fish activity. Our casts were nothing but practice as the pools within a short distance of our camp were void of active fish. JDM, Floatman, and I studied a pool for a bit hoping that things would change. All we needed to see was a wake, a surface dimple, or a splash…anything! As the minutes passed, it was clear that a backup plan needed to be instituted.
Plan “B” involved traveling down the tributary nearest our camp around foot of a mountain and up another feeder stream. This walk would eat away at the clock and push the day closer to noon. The high sun would have warmed the terrain enough to produce a hatch and activate the fish. As we approached the lower reaches of the stream a hatch was underway. Positioned under a small root ball extending from a far bank, a rather brazen brookie made his presence known with his aerial displays. First up was JDM and within a cast or two the fish was brought to hand. Three guys fishing this small stream needed strategy. I came up with the 15 minute plan. JDM would walk up stream 15 minutes. Floatman would wait 15 and begin fishing from our current position and I would cruise downstream 15 and begin fishing. I figured this would give enough of a bugger between us and settle the fish before the fisherman’s assault.
Making my way further down to the valley and closer to the main stem, I felt the effects of sunlight on a more open area. The temperature had raised at least 10 degrees and the hatch was in full swing. Fish where scattered everywhere and most positioned in direct sunlight on riffles where feasting on the yellow stones. Brook trout are notoriously opportunistic fish. They will eat and strike at anything coming down the feeding lane as a matter of life or death. What was surprising to me was witnessing several fish notice my offering float by at a distance, turn, swim down stream, turn again, line themselves up and then strike the stimulator. This behavior was new to me. I believe the new polarized sunglasses had something to do with the capability of seeing this unfold for the first time. Many of the deeper pools and shaded locations that held trout in previous trips did not this time around. I guessed that it may have been because of the temperatures, over fishing, last year’s drought conditions, or some other reason I had yet to contemplate. Fishing slowly, I made my way in the direction of Floatman and JDM. I found that I was more successful picking fish from small pockets than the bathtub sized pools. The skinny water was holding fish in just about every size as well. I’ve watched Possum and .Blackie hook fish from areas that would contradict reason and now found myself following their example. It took some practice to identify where the fly should be placed as the “float window” in these areas is extremely short, but I got the hang of it. As the day wore on, Floatman and I eventually ended up fishing leap frog style. We would occasionally prod the other to take the next hole because of generosity and our body’s need to take a break. Eventually we met up with JDM and decided to take the hike back down stream toward camp. The dogs were barking, our joints were aching, and Floatman and I sounded like two old men grunting when crossing instable ground. We had fished many hours, caught many fish, and as Saturday evening approached, we needed to realize that the time to call it a day was coming.
Well, the time to call it quits was calling, but neither of us was willing to answer the call! Just a little bit more fishing needed to be done. Returning to the meadow at the base of the crow’s foot of mountain terrain, we fish a few more locations and then said, “I’m done!”
Changing out of wet wading boots into clean dry socks and shoes felt like a vacation unto itself! What a relief to experience warmth in the toes! I prepared the usual grub for the group. JDM had made a trip way upstream on the trib. closest to camp and wouldn’t return until after the meal was fully cooked. His garlic zucchini/squash, Uncle Ben’s long grain rice, and toasted pita waited patiently for his fork. Float and I were ready for a bed and the time was barely approaching 8:30pm! While we sat by the fire, zoning out into our own little worlds of tiredness, Floatman pointed out movement in the leaves only a few feet from the cook area. A porcupine, the first live-in its natural habitat-not dead on the side of the road spiked rodent I had ever seen. He walked sloth like past us and only appeared excited as I snapped a few photos. He was quick to position his spikes up and in full display, just in case I decided to do something stupid like snuggle the little critter! LOL! When the irritant of my camera’s flash had ceased and I sat back down further away, he made his way up the base of a nearby tree. High into the branches, he had found a place to sleep for the night. It was reminder to us that it was probably time to call it a night ourselves.
Mother Nature has a tendency to show her beauty in ways that are open to interpretation. Observing the behavior of a bear from the observation deck at Katmai National Park is a beautiful sight, peering at a bear from the fly of your tent at 3:30am is also very terrifying for those same people! The amount of submersion has much to do with a person’s comfort when taking in Nature’s wonders. Would you not agree? LOL! It is very common for animals to leave us signs to follow. For instance, noticeable thin trails through brush and over varying terrain are indicators of pathways that animals choose to travel. Scat, broken trees, claw marks, and paw prints are signs that these same trails are also highways of sorts for bears. Positioning a camp area close to a animal trail will likely result in bringing you closer to nature’s wonders…both BIG and small. The ability to take notice of these signs could be a valuable lesson to learn and possibly one learned the hard way.
With that said, Saturday evening we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags with temperatures in the low 50’s, by midnight they had plunged into the high 30’s. Waking up with a frozen nose (among other parts) was enlightening. I quickly slipped into several layers of trail weighted fleece, fleece winter cap, along with a second layer of wool socks and fell back to sleep quickly. In what seemed like 2 hour intervals, I was up to mark the territory surrounding my tent. Animals do it, why not me? LOL! I would have preferred to sleep straight through the night, but for some reason it was not to be. We were blessed with the presence of a large owl that must have been perched directly overhead. His loud, constant and rhythmic hoots continued throughout most of the night.
Shortly after daybreak Sunday morning, we all arose to hear a tale that JDM and I had thankfully slept through. At 3:30am, Floatman was awakened to a terrible crashing sound. Tree branches snapping, leaves rustling, and the thudding sound of something large navigating through the woods had him fully awake within seconds. The giant animal made its way through our camp area with grunts and heavy breathing. It was obvious from Floatman’s description that a bear had ventured through the 10 feet separating our tents. It must have been a samurai bear as it didn’t trip on any of the guy lines supporting them. I was extremely happy that for some reason I did not hear this giant and his journey through the middle of our campsite. I believe that Floatman was extremely unhappy that he was awake for it! It was obvious that this event had Floatman irked as he retold the story while we broke down the tents and prepared to vacate the area. Note to self, next year…move camp 50 yards West of current location!
Sunday morning had me back at the cooksite preparing eggs, bacon, toasted pita, and French pressed coffee. The food was served hot. Given the AM temperatures, it was a welcome comfort. The dishes were cleaned, the cooksite broken down and stored, and the packs loaded for the trip out. Today’s weather would be much different than yesterdays. A cold front was coming in and a slight breeze was changing into wind gusts.
Following our original plan, the group hiked half way out and into the valley. Stashing the packs in brush, we ventured out to fish the more accessible main stem. The winds were now beginning to kick up considerably, but the valley was supplying a bit of shelter from all but a few of them. In a matter of minutes that changed. The down force of wind was whipping through the tree tops with aggressive tendencies. All of sudden the sound of cracking timber and snapping tree branches could be heard behind me. The velocity of the aerial assault was too much for the standing deadwood to handle. The sound of several large trees thundering to the ground put JDM on the run to my position. His intent was to tell me that we were leaving. I believe we had made the decision to get out of here alive at the same moment. He approached from behind me as I was fastening the fly to the hookkeeper of my rod. The water’s surface of the hole I was harassing had become covered with leaves and debris and was impossible to fish any longer. Just as I turned in agreement of our retreat, I peered back to see the tree perched atop the undercut bank of the hole I had just vacated begin to topple. 30 feet in front of me, I watched in deep amazement as a 100 foot tall tree with a 5 foot diameter trunk and 12 foot diameter root ball pivot to fill in the entire streambed. It was surreal. I realize the danger of what I had witnessed, but was also impressed by being able to see it transpire before me. It was powerful!
Needless to say, JDM was ready to high tail it out (as was I). The snap, crackle, pop that I had heard off in the distance was a tree closer to his position. The events had us all in panic mode and we trekked out with a deliberate pace vigilant of any movement and sound resembling more falling timber.
We stopped in town to recharge our batteries with liquid energy and grab a snack. Along the route home stopping at a DHFF barbless hook area, but found it covered with windswept debris as well. We attempted to make the most of our short time there by making small talk with a bamboo fly guy standing a bridge overlooking the stream. He didn’t have anything good to report, so JDM and I spoke to him about his awesome looking flamed bamboo rod. He had constructed the rod himself including the cork handle, wood reelseat, and butt cap. It was a masterpiece! As we all returned to the car, I took the opportunity to display some of my creations as he show us he matching wood rod case he had built to house the rod. WOW! Very nice!
That was the cap on an adventurous couple of days spent with good company, on class A wild trout waters, within the heart of a designated WILD area. I hope you enjoyed the story!
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