My 50 Day
This past Saturday I was driving home from my granddaughter’s 5th birthday party. Heading east on rte. 62, towards Polk, I took my time rolling down the winding country road. Nearer to Polk I’d glance over the guardrail, time to time, through the drab gray and brown forest trees. They stood strong, anchored in the ground, below the pure white mounds of snow. Their tall skeletal bare branches intertwined among each other below the soft wintry blue sky. During the summer and fall months the creek I was now looking for would be hidden behind these trees full of their green and colorful leaves. But now, during January, the forest trees stood naked revealing squirrel and bird nests within their branches. Now the curious driver can see through these obstructions and get a glimpse of the flowing Sandy Creek waters winding its way through the forest. White snow now covers the uneven creek banks and ledges. Straggly fallen branches overreach the land boundary, in some places, and reach out over the water. The top halves of these gray branches show the thickness of snow fall from the past few days. Occasionally I see a clump of snow, as if frozen, upon an extruding boulder within the water flow. A group of undersized fir trees seem to huddle together in their own section of woods below the taller Oaks and Maples. Their boughs bent downward from the weight of the previous fallen snow that gathered on their olive colored branches.
Watching the silent peaceful waters flowing into wide open 9’ fly-rod casting areas brought back memories. Especially of my 50 day outing a few years ago.
Sandy Creek was like a “home waters” back when I lived north of Mercer. I got to know the waters fairly well. Though hatches weren’t plentiful, when it got into June and July, dry fly fishing I found was rewarding with patience.
Early, during trout season, the creek gets hammered pretty hard by all types of fishermen. In some areas bank fishing is almost impassible so there are sections the land lovers can’t reach with their ‘throwing rods.’ the only way to fish this stream effectively is with hip waders or chest waders. You can fish it with just Hip boots but there are deep holes throughout and I found hip boots can’t keep me in the water continuously.
Early season its buggers or nymphs but I like to take this creek on in June and July for dry fly action. By then bass season opens and this gets the bass guys and boat fishermen off the stream. Also by then the green enthusiasts are out chasing their balls all day trying to get them into 18 holes. Good for them I say, less guys befuddling the trout stream waters.
Though my 50 day wasn’t my best catching day I ever had on Sandy, the experience will be embedded in my brain forever.
It went like this;
A few years ago my birthday weekend started on a Friday. I was down on Mill Creek, near Fisher, with my 4 weight slowly wading downstream picking off left over brook trout from the week before, which was the first week of the season. On this mostly shallow stony creek my thunder creek shiners and buggers were keeping me content with occasional hook ups. Around 1:30 pm I drove over to the Strattenville truck stop to meet up with my #2 son. He had driven up from Ashville, North Carolina, to fish with me on my birthday. Unknowing to him I knew the main reason he came up for this weekend. You see my non-fishing, non-camping, un-outdoorsy and unadventurous mom and siblings were planning to have a surprise birthday get-together for me. Being I fish, usually alone, on my birthday, their primary objective would be quite hard in finding me. Usually on my birthday weekend I’m in the Allegheny National Forest along some dirt roadside stream. From where I park I can be anywhere 2 miles upstream or down. Even with a GPS, that they probably couldn’t use anyhow, would have a slight chance just finding my van. All in all they would have about a 1% chance of finding me in the wilderness.
They were planning this for some time, I heard through the grape vine, and though they were told they might not find me, they were determined. I figured I’d make it easy for them and told Giddeon that on my birthday, Saturday, we would fish Sandy Creek. Giddeon was the go between, complete with cell phone.
Friday Giddeon and I fished Mill Creek and Millstone the rest of the afternoon before heading back to my house.
Saturday morn we left Clarion in darkness. Arriving at Sandy Creek the sun was just rising through the motionless bare trees. We parked along rte. 965 at the RR gate. Giddeon’s big black truck and my van stood out so my family should not have any problem finding them. I figured Giddeon would suggest going back to the vehicles at noon for lunch and my family would be there waiting to surprise me, right?
My son and I walked up the old RR grade, pass the wood mill, and hit the creek. Like most 2nd weekends of trout season the leftovers would be few and far between. I always looked at these stocked trout leftovers like they were the ones that got away or the smarter ones of the bunch. White woolly buggers and yellow woolly buggers are usually a good bet fishing these rainbow waters in the early season.
The early morning went smoothly as we both caught a few rainbows clustered in pockets throughout the beginning stretch. Just near the rope swing I was casting across and letting the white bugger swing down stream into a deep hole. A guy standing on a handicap ramp told me my bugger was too high and that I should add weight to get the bugger down deeper. I thanked him and upon my next cast, without adding any weight, I mended the belly of the fly line upstream letting the bugger drop deeper before it began its swing. When the belly of the line started to be pulled by the current the rest of the extended line didn’t seem to follow. I lifted the rod sharply as my line started to race upstream on the hook set. I kept the rod high and watched the line follow the trout. As the line straightened out the trout turned and swam downstream at a good pace. I hurriedly took in line with my left hand. Practically in front of me the rainbow exploded out of the water and reentered. Miraculously the hook set was solid and I was able to bring the trout to the net.
My next cast was a little nearer to the opposite bank. Mending line upstream again, the bugger sank deep in the slow pool before swinging. This time a rainbow grabbed the bugger at the end of the drift.
“You know what you’re doing” the guy commented.
I nodded as I spat a wad of tobacco juice to the side. After Netting and releasing the nice fat rainbow, I looked upstream and motioned to Giddeon about the hot spot. I walked carefully along the bank and continued downstream.
About 11:00am I was standing in the middle of a long straight stretch of water while Giddeon was upstream working the riffles with his rod in one hand and his cell phone in the other. I figured he was giving the surprise party directions to the vehicles along rte. 965. About 15 minutes later I was concentrating, tying on a yellow bodied woolly bugger, when a chorus of voices started singing ’Happy Birthday to You”.
Looking up the bank, through the bare trees and brush, there were a group of people standing there singing!! There they sang the complete verse of ‘Happy Birthday’ and waving, complete with balloons and a ’50 years old’ sign.
Boy, I was glad no one else was in the vicinity.
I turned to look at Giddeon. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders as if to say “I don’t know how they found us”.
Walking up to the family of singers there was my 70+ year old mother, my brother and his wife from Pittsburgh, my sister from Ohio and my oldest sister from Erie. My daughter stood there laughing with my grandson.
We walked up to the RR grade and then down to the vehicles to address my birthday. I pulled out camping chairs and set a cooler down so they could set my birthday blueberry pie on it along with a waxed number 50 candle!
Every fisherman that walked near us, my sister would yell to them that it was my 50’th birthday.
I figure, for all the years I’ve fished my birthday weekend, this was the first time I ever celebrated it with my family. I was surprised no doubt, being that I am the black sheep of the family.
Oh well, I hope I didn’t mislead you with the title of this story.
__________________________Families are Forever ~doubletaper