JEFF KNAPP: The path less-traveled
Like most anglers, I enjoy fishing experiences of many varieties. But ones that take place on small-sized streams hold a special quality, especially when it’s the initial visit to such a spot. They bring out the explorer in a person, a beckoning that calls for discovering what’s around the next bend.
A week or so ago, during an extended weekend at my northwest Pennsylvania cabin, I made it a point to visit a particular brook that had the potential, I thought, to provide some good sport on native brook trout. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission maintains an extensive list of waters that support naturally reproducing trout populations. A creek’s listing doesn’t guarantee it will provide good fishing. The mere presence of wild trout doesn’t necessarily mean they exist in numbers adequate for good sport with rod and reel.
Also, Pennsylvania has thousands of miles of flowing water (by some accounts more that any state other than Alaska), so the survey work might have been accomplished many years ago; a lot can happen in 20 years — bad and good. But the stream I intended to investigate was on the list, an encouraging sign.
Sometimes, when exploring a new stream, it takes a while to achieve the first moment of satisfaction, that proof-positive that this place does indeed contain what you’re looking for. This wasn’t one of those times. My first cast was met by an eager brook trout, one that darted out with incredible speed to intercept the tiny pink-hued streamer.
Oh, the start of a splendid afternoon. Pretty much every spot that looked like it would hold a trout did, along with some places that didn’t look like that much, but produced a fish anyway.
Stream-dwelling native brook trout don’t require a lot of space; it’s amazing how a tiny undercut along a bank, or a tiny chute of water funneled between two rocks, will hold a fish.
The quest for stream-dwelling brookies is a paradox. The fish are extremely spooky, living in a setting ripe with the threat of being fodder for four-footed and winged predators. But if you can get a fly close to a fish without spooking it, chances are great that you’ll catch it. Food tends not to be overly plentiful in the brooks that hold wild brook trout; they don’t often pass up a chance at a meal.
It’s been a relatively rainy summer, which is good news for small streams. It keeps them flowing and cold even in late summer, a time that typically leaves many freestone streams mere trickles, its inhabitants clinging for life in the remaining pools, more vulnerable to predation. But during summers like this year’s, conditions are often such that a person can catch and release some native brook trout with a clear conscience.
Urged on by the longing to see what was upstream — just out of sight –— I fished my way up the hemlock-enshrouded valley. But these fish are not only special, but vulnerable as well. After a few hours my yearning to explore was tempered by thoughts of not overstaying my welcome; enough then.
With a feeling of satisfaction, and that glorious feeling of fatigue earned from an active day in the outdoors, I broke down the fly rod and started the long walk back.