I sit here washing down the last remaining taste of the deer tenderloins I fried for dinner. There was enough room off the side of this dirt road to open up my side van doors and make an area for my Coleman stove and camp chair. The moon is bright enough to throw shadows from the branches above onto the dirt floor around me. Another sip of beer and I recollect the day’s adventure.
I fished Mill Creek, near Fisher, this morning until noon. With my Wonderod I caught brookies on latex caddis, r.a.m. caddis and a few on white silky buggers all morning. In the afternoon it was tougher up on the middle part of Millstone that empties into the Clarion River. The water was running a little fast and clear. I only caught 1 brook in about 2 hours, but than again the bottom of the creek bed is stony throughout and it’s hard to bounce the bottom with a good drift without hanging up constantly. I guess that’s why they call it Millstone!
This evening I fished the East Branch of Millstone up from Loleta Park. The little stream pockets brook trout throughout but because of its clear water and brushy banks it’s hard to locate trout without them seeing you first. I haven’t fished the stream in about 10 years but I felt this was a good spot to spend the night off of the main road before fishing it tomorrow
I took my ultra light Eagle Claw spinning rod and bait and headed down to the creek. This was more of a scouting excursion before it got dark so I wanted to cover as much of the stream as possible to get a good lay out for tomorrow’s fishing. After fishless on my way downstream I came across a lone pine overhanging the creek from the far bank. The big fir branches shadowed the water. Scanning the depth I spotted an oblong object suspended behind a submerged millstone 3/4th of the way across the creek. That oblong shape was a big trout for this small creek. I tossed every different bait I had without even a glance. I’m sure the trout seen me, being I was directly beside him about 20’ away. It didn’t spook though so I continued down stream figuring on returning later to catch my “birthday trout”.
About 50 feet downstream I came across 12 brookies hugging the near bank. I crossed the creek and started hooking up with them. It was kind of easy but I hadn’t caught anything for a while and was having fun. Down below the riffles I spotted a gray mass. To the average Joe, he might have thought the mass was a slab of slate. To the fishermen that have fished stocked brook trout waters, knows this was a school of brookies grouped together. There must have been about 2 buckets in the gray mass and surrounding area. It was like fishing in a bathtub for hungry piranhas. I thought about walking up to get my fly rod but it was going to get dark soon. They haven’t stocked this in-season yet so they had to be pre-season trout that swam up from the slower water above the dammed swimming pool area in the park. Just before nightfall I went back upstream and tried for the birthday trout, still no results.
Looks like the water is boiling in the iron skillet. Time to wash dishes and finish another beer before heading to bed.
Sometime during the early morning I remember hearing raindrops on the van roof, than an all out downpour. Being tired I don’t remember much else and fell back asleep.
I wake when the alarm goes off, I reach out, from under the sleeping bag, and push the snooze button. No cars have gone by so I'm not too anxious to ‘rise and shine.’ I crawl up to the front and start the van to take the chill off. I put the heating rod in my water-filled tin cup and plug the other end in the cigar lighter. I crawl back under the sleeping bag.
18 minutes later the alarm buzzes again. I shut it up and get up from under the sleeping bag. Putting a tea bag and a couple of packs of sugar in the warm water I then hang the heating rod over my rearview mirror. I rub the moisture from the inside of a window and I could see it is trying to lighten up outside. I turn on the inside mood lights. Knowing it would be cold out, on this early spring morn, I put on my polypropylenes and warm cloths while munching on yesterdays doughnuts and warm tea. The thought of my birthday trout comes to mind and I start to get antsy.
I open the side van doors and the musty wet moss smell engulfs my senses. There is a thin fog outside sprinkled with light trying to penetrate from above. As I sit on the van step putting my hip boots on the fine mist touches my skin as the mist from Niagara Falls did the times I was up to visit.
I look at my four fly rods lying under the side window. My 8 ½', and 9' were definitely out. I used my Wonderod yesterday so it looks like it will be my 4 pce. 8' grf-1000, Cortland. There’s nothing special or glamorous about it. It was my first multi-piece rod when I got my first Harley and I sort of just take it along.
I piece the rod together and nail-knot a 4x, 7 ½' tapered leader. I tie on a white silky bugger knowing brook trout love minnows.
I turn and shut the van door and that’s when I realize the stillness outside. Instead of the door echoing through the open forest it shut with a thud. The outside world is a dead calm. No wind, no sound of early birds. The low lying fog and sprinkles of misty rain silences everything around me. The only sound is drops of water that gather from moisture and run down tree limbs then fall upon the van’s metal roof.
The lone pine that was so distinctly noticeable yesterday now stands 100 yards away as a dark structure through the fog. I walk half way to the creek and catch movement to my left. A sloppy wet opossum tiptoes towards the road. I reach in my pocket and take out a quid of Red Man and stuff it in my left cheek before continuing on. As I get nearer the stream the water is higher and faster. The down pour, earlier, has taken its toll on the stream. Unlike agricultural farm areas, mountain streams rarely get muddy instead they turn a grayish color.
I position myself upstream from, the just visible, millstone rock where the big trout was the day before. I roll cast towards the far bank, mend the line upstream, and watch the silky bugger drift behind the millstone. I cast two more times and then put on a white woolly. The early morn starts to open up and light starts to penetrate the grayish water. I step closer and gaze through the water, my birthday trout is gone. Gone, but where?
I slowly walk down the bank searching for a dark oblong shape to no avail. I cautiously cross the creek and fish above the riffles where I caught a dozen trout yesterday. I only hook up with one on the woolly bugger. I take a few steps downstream and drift a latex caddis where the school of brookies should be. I catch a straggler but looking into the water, through my polarized glasses, the gray haze of the school of trout is gone also.
I’m disappointed but still have enough hope in thinking I may find him upstream. I walk back up to the lone pine. After stepping into the water I’m able to see a little deeper through the milky water. Nothing is behind the millstone that’s for sure! I slowly fish a latex caddis upstream and let it drift along the far bank. I fish about 20 feet upstream. I stand in the water deciding where to go next. The gray sky is giving way to the lazy sun. The air is still a bit nippy and the smell of wet moss still encompasses me. I look into the water and I consciously search for the big trout. I just can’t believe it would have gone too far.
Upstream, there, in the middle of the creek, I see the tail of the big fish moving side to side in the current. The oblong figure of the fish is apparent now. The water is still grayish but the fish is dark enough and big enough to distinguish.
From here I don’t feel I have a good chance of drifting anything in front of it without it feeling the line. I back-step out of the water and sneak my way upstream from the fish. Stooped down along side the bank I tie on the silky bugger and twist on a matchstick lead weight about 6” above the bugger. I cast it softly across the creek and mend the slack line upstream. I drift the bugger and take in line so the fly will pass right before the fish. I watch as the fish watches it drift by, nothing. I try a bead-head bugger and a latex caddis without success. I am determined to catch the fish but don’t want to spook it by showing it my complete wet fly, nymph and streamer assortment. I feel i have to come up with something else before giving up.
I think back of some of the big brook trout I had caught in the Millstone and what I had used. I remember I caught a 15” breeder up at the West Branch of Millstone on corn back in my bait days with a spinning rod. I also remember watching a guy and his son catching fish on corn. Than I recalled when I camped out at Loleta an elderly couple said they catch quite a few trout out of this creek with yellow and orange power bait.
I pull out my streamer fly box. I see 3 steelhead egg patterns that I must have put in there while steelhead fishing the Erie tribs. A red one with a green dot, a white one made with sparkle and, low and behold, a yellow one.
I tie the yellow egg pattern on the tippet and tug on it to be sure my knot is tight. I add another piece of weight a little closer to the un-weighted fly to make sure it gets deep enough and stays there through the drift. I cast the fly across to the far bank and mend my line upstream. The fly sinks and I tighten the line enough to send the fly down first and than slowly move my rod to follow the drift of the fly.
Before the yellow egg pattern even gets near the fish, the fish swims up and takes it. I set the hook but the big trout doesn’t budge. I look on in disbelief. After I yank a little harder the big fish finally realizes something is wrong. With a quick flip of its tail and arc of its body the fish powers downstream. My fly rod flexes to the middle. Now standing I feed the fish more taught line. It swirls from the far bank, downstream, to the nearer bank below me. The fish holds tight. I stiffen up the rod and the fish gives in. That's it, the big fight is over in a matter of seconds though I'm sure my heart will continue to pound for another minute or two. I lower my net into the water and sluggishly the big brookie follows my line to the net.
I lay the net on the bank and my birthday trout straightens out upon the ground. The beautiful brook trout is a color I’ve never seen before in a fish. The fish’s sides are a silver bluish cast. The yellow speckles are well pronounced along the entire body and tail. The fins aren’t that distinct bright orange, as on male brook trout, but an aqua blue.
I unhook the fly from the fish and walk back to the van to get pictures before the colors fade. I still have the rest of the day and tomorrow to fish and I need the photo’s to give to the taxidermist. I have a goal to get one of each species of trout, from Pennsylvania, mounted on my wall. Pictures are fine but you just don’t get the full features of the fish like you do with a mount. I want to be able to show my grandchildren the real thing. It’s more of something they can see and feel, get an image in their mind of the differences of trout.
I measure the female brook trout to be 19” and take pictures. I wrap the fish and lay it in the cooler. After putting my fly rod in the back I take off the rain jacket and climb in the driver’s seat.
I drive down the dirt road back toward the hard paved road. There are a few people fishing in the swimming hole, hands in their heavy coat pockets and rods leaning over the wall resting against a bait bucket or tackle box. I pull up to the stop sign and look at my radio clock. It is only 9am. I look between the bucket seats, on the van floor, at the big birthday cigar. I turn onto the hardtop road and reach down between the seats, pull out a licorice stick and stick it in my mouth. Heck, it’s only 9:00am and there’s still a lot of fishing to do.