A weekday trip to the mountains can be a rewarding and healing experience, even when you only get away for one day. Such was the case last week when I drove up alone to cut grass and work on the camp. I threw my fly rod and fishing vest in, though, in case I decided to steal away upstream for an hour.
I arrived at camp and saw how thick and high the grass was, with massive clusters of purple-blooming weeds playing host to hundreds of busy bumblebees. The task looked daunting, but I plunged in and finished the yard in three hours. Then I relaxed on the front deck with a cold beverage and gazed out at the majestic Allegheny River, one of the grand small pleasures
of camp life.
I decided I would try a trout stream and selected Antler Run for its proximity to camp, its beauty, and its flourishing population of wild brook trout. I drove my Jeep to the bottom of the hollow and walked in. It was a fine summer day, with temperatures in the upper seventies and fragrant evergreen breezes blowing. As usual, nobody else was on the stream.
As soon as I got 100 yards into the woods, I relaxed and immersed myself in the audio pleasures of birdsong and rolling waters, the visual gratification of sparkling riffles over rocks and hemlock boughs shading the stream and steep, wooded hillsides, and just the great timeless ancient presence of the forest. These big woods wild trout streams are my favorite places in the world, and I plan to visit them as long as I’m alive.
I caught a feisty seven-inch brook trout on a bead-head nymph at the first hole, which lies under the fallen trunk of a large white pine, and I missed a bigger fish at the next pool upstream. At the “perfect trout hole,” a magical spot where cold waters pour swiftly down over a solid rock shelf and enter a green pool and a deeply undercut embankment, I missed a fine dark-colored brookie that darted out from the shaded cutbank and caught a lighter-colored beauty that was feeding out in the brown riffle. It always amazes me how wild brook trout can take on the coloration of their surroundings.
I caught a few more as I hiked upstream and missed more than I caught and took some photos that, as always, will look good and stir some memories in the future but will fail to capture the essence of the trout, the waters, and the outdoors.
I stayed on the stream for an hour and a half before I turned around and walked out, drank a bottled water on the front porch above the river again, cleaned up around camp, and headed home.
There’s nothing quite like a solitary fishing trip for wild trout up a mountain stream. When I have friends along, it’s something of a social experience, where we hike upstream together, whisper encouragement under the forest canopy, and show off the fish we catch and release, then relive the experience later beside the
campfire under the stars. When others are along, I act more as guide, photographer, and social director than I do as fisherman.
But a solitary venture upstream is a spiritual experience, not a social one. You wander under the cathedral forest, gaze at the best of all creation, and ponder what’s important in life with peace and contentment on your mind. You banish the petty troubles that nag at you in your other life and seek joy in the simple and ancient acts of walking, casting, catching, releasing,
and walking some more. Your clearest, best, and most generous thoughts can arrive when you’re out in the forest alone along a stream. The experience can make you healthier in body and mind and soul.
“The Evening Campfire” from The Herald, July 1, 2007