Sunday, July 23, 2017

July on Tionesta Creek

July on Tionesta Creek

  I stand here in water up to my shins taking a moment to reflect of the past few days. The stogie I hold in my hand spirals a layer of light gray smoke from the lit end. It feathers as it rises than disappears with the slight breeze that travels over the creek. I take a deep breath and inhale the fresh clean forest air filled with summer aromas you can only appreciate in a forest away from crowded civilization. The thick forest trees, with the fullness of their green leaf branches and tall grass muffle the sound of any motorists traveling down the distant roadway that twists and turns through the valleys of the hilly terrain.

 I look skyward and clouds move slowly like puzzle pieces set on a blue table cloth waiting to be connected. The afternoon is humid and I have felt the dampness upon my button down Columbia shirt for some time now.

 I take a puff of the stogie and reminisce.

When I arrived Thursday evening to set up my tent and camping equipment Tionesta Creek was flowing high and muddy. With the forecast of only an occasional shower on Friday and clear weather for the rest of the weekend, I knew the water would recede and clear up. After setting up camp I relaxed in the quietness with a couple of cold brews before going to bed.

  Friday morning my friend Wil showed up as planned. Because the creek was still on the muddy side we decided to kayak and fish Lake Chapman in Chapman State Park. Though we failed to take any bass or trout it was a relaxing outing upon the small lake.
 Friday evening we feasted on Venison Chops, a few more beers and topped off the evening sipping Eagle Rare Bourbon while talking of memories from our early years in the ANF.

 Saturday morning I cooked up venison breakfast sausage patties, two eggs a piece and black coffee to start the day. The early birds chirped and a few frogs croaked in the stagnate water back behind camp. The water level dropped some and though still a bit stained the boulders beneath were now visible in the sunlight.
 From the bank we watched a mother merganser and her young feeding along the far bank. I also noticed two rises as I was pointing out a good spot for Wil to try for bass and trout. He put together his spinning rod, grabbed his live bait and lures and headed upstream along the path. I strung up the fly rod and stepped off the bank into the cool water.
 Out from the bank, within casting distance of the two earlier rises, I looked about for any bug activity. I didn’t see any mayflies or caddis about or any signs of floating insects upon the water. I knotted on a caddis imitation and tried to make the fish rise again. I must have spent a half hour, and a half dozen dries, trying to get a fish to rise without success. Meanwhile Wil was having some fun hoisting caught trout and smallmouth on his smorgasbord of bait.
 When I finally decided to switch to buggers I caught a couple of small trout.
 We fished till 10:30am and decided to head down creek. We were planning on kayaking the stream but the wind got fierce at times so we decided to just drive and stop-and-go fish the rest of the day in hot spots I’ve caught trout before.

   Wil was doing quite well again with bait at the one section we stopped. 

 The trout weren’t all that interested in my streamers or the dry flies I was trying to feed them. I did end up catching a nice smallmouth in some slow moving water. He put up a good fight and had the 9’ 5 weight flexing like an early morning exercise guru.

  No matter where we stopped and fished if I seen a trout rise, on riffling water that might hold a hungry trout, I’d cast and float a dry fly. I suppose it was later in the afternoon Wil called down creek that there was a fish rising up where he was fishing. I didn’t hesitate too long before heading his way. Even though I hadn’t made anything rise to any of my dries yet I was still determined to at least catch one.
 I looked the riffles over and Wil mentioned that the trout rose a couple of times just downstream from a ledge beneath the surface. There was a slower pool of water that almost whirl pooled behind the ledge before running with the faster current. I threw out a caddis first but decided a big Wulff pattern might get more attention. I showed the trout a few Wulff patterns before knotting on an Ausable Wulff. The big dry fell in the riffling water just this side of the ledge. It drifted and wobbled upon the small waves keeping the white wing visible above the water. The trout rose with a splash at it and I quickly set the hook calling out “got him”! The rainbow gave me a good battle in the fast current and I got him to the net safely. That would be the only fish I had caught thus far on a dry fly during my camping outing.

 Saturday evening I cooked up some sausage patty burgers and corn. We sat around enjoying the evening before heading to Marienville for some entertainment.
 Sunday morning, after breakfast, we fished in front of the camp while waiting for Randy to show up. The water had a nice color to it and the level seamed to still be dropping. Once Randy showed we took off to another spot I had caught trout in the Tionesta.
 The sun was blazing hot but luckily the Tionesta stays cooler than most open rivers. With the canopy over a large part of the stream along with the many mountain creeks entering and cool nights keeps the temperature cool enough to hold trout all year. There wasn’t much of a breeze as I recall so getting my flies where I wanted them was pretty much spot on.
 It appeared to be my turn to shine. Each stop we made along the creek I caught one or two trout. There was nothing spectacular about any of the catches. I didn’t catch any on dry flies so buggers were the preferred choice of the hungry trout. I swung the bugger after a long cast and strip it in slowly against the current. Where I seen underwater boulders or downed logs I made a few extra sweeps with a little jerking finesse with the rod tip. A few times the coaxing worked and a trout would be tugging on the tight line. 

We continued fishing a few miles downstream from the camp till about 3:30pm. 

  By then I figured campers along the creek would be packed up and heading on there way home. After a beer break we headed upstream from our camp to a section of water along other campsites. I didn’t figure there would be many trout around, being it gets hit hard during the season, but there are always a few that avoid the onslaught of trout fishermen.
 Well, after fishing the main deeper water in front of the few campsites Wil and I decided to take our time and fish our way downstream. The water level was still a little high and with the brush and tree limbs behind us on the bank it was tough reaching the far side of the creek with the fly rod. The far side usually holds trout along the banks where it is shaded from the mountainside. Also there are a few places where cool mountain runoff water enters the creek in areas keeping the run along the bank cooler.
 The creek itself, when it has some color to it, is deceiving in its depth. You’ll wade to a section that shallows almost shin deep and looking down creek you swear it won’t get much deeper. If you wade far enough you’ll find there are many deeper pools that will hold trout, deep enough that it will come up to your waste in a hurry if your not paying attention. Again, we didn’t catch many trout but the few we did catch made for some entertainment and along with a good cigar to pass the time.

 After my friends left I was on my own again. I grilled some semi-thick venison chip steaks and with some diced new potatoes simmered in beer. It made for a tasty sandwich with BBQ sauce and a shot of hot sauce.

   I ended the day looking out over the water by the creek bank sipping on bourbon on the rocks and toking on a sun grown stogie.

  Monday I woke pretty early. I made myself a quick breakfast finishing off the breakfast sausage and hard boiled eggs. My plan was to fish till about 3:00 and than head back to camp and pack up.
 I had caught a nice smallmouth and trout where I started fishing this morning. After spending a little more time there I took a drive a few more miles downstream past Mayburg.

 The dirt lane I drove down was pretty rough going. I wanted to go further down the lane towards the creek but the mud was getting pretty thick. I seen the tread of the tire tracks, in the muddy lane, shown an aggressive pattern. There was no doubt 4 wheel drive pulled them through the mud bog. I didn’t have any fear that my own 4x4 Ram could make it but why get the white truck all muddied up? I knew it would be quite a walk to the creek but I had lots of time. I gathered my gear, lit a cigar and took the stroll along the lane and through the tall brush to where I wanted to fish.
 The water flowed over an abundance of rocks and boulders. The current was moving pretty quick along the wide section of stream. My casts were outward letting the bugger swing and stripping it in with hesitation. I slowly and carefully made my way further towards the middle of the creek. There was a shaded area up from a downed log against the far bank that looked like a good spot to drop my bugger. I added a little more weight to make sure I was going to get deep enough not knowing the depth. I waded out as far as I could without going over my waste waders. I let line out as the bugger pulled with the current down creek below me. When I figured I had enough line out I swept the bugger up out of the water, with force, over my head and left shoulder and waited for the line to load the rod. I then swung the rod tip around directly over my head and made my cast forward pointing my rod tip towards my target area. The line swung around in the air above me and quickly shot towards the far bank carrying my bugger. The Woolly Bugger fell upstream from the log and into the shadows. I had just enough slack in the line so the bugger would drop deeper before entering the water near the log. The take was quick, pronounced and forceful. I yanked back the rod immediately tightening the long length of line that shot up from the surface water into the air. The trout on the other end fought vigorously through the cross currents. I maneuvered the rod higher when he was near boulders but kept the rod nearer to the water surface most of the time trying to keep him submerged below the surface avoiding the obstacals. I coaxed him up creek when he was near and guided him into the net successfully. He was maybe the most memorable catch, besides the dry fly catch, of the camping trip. The long cast, the expectation of the take, the enjoyable struggle to get him to the net safely made it quite satisfying. 

   I had caught another trout and a small smallmouth before heading back up stream to fish the incoming current that entered a very long strait stretch of the creek. 

  So now here I stand enjoying the quietness of the afternoon. The sun shining behind transparent clouds that drifts ever so slowly across the sky. I hear a motor vehicle grunting its way down the muddy lane I was reluctant to take. The engine getting louder at times when more power is needed to make its way through the soft spots. I hear a splash upstream and turn and see what looks like a black lab swimming the shallower water near the bank heading midstream. In deeper water I can only see the black head and brown nose from the distance. I know it’s not a black lab but a bear which was evidently spooked by the noisy vehicle. The bear traveled through the high weedy grassy terrain making it to the creek bank for its escape. The same high weedy, grassy terrain I had walked through earlier without fear. I take out my camera hoping to get a good picture of the bear when it arrives on the distant shore. Seeing it angling for a cluster of big boulders and a shady area to exit I decide to take a picture of it swimming. Making a notation of the boulders, when I see the water disturbance and nose of the bear in my camera I snap a picture hoping for a noticeable shot.

 I watch as the bear exit’s the water in the darkness of the bank and I hear it climb the mountainside.
 I fish another half hour before calling it quits and head back to clean up camp. Another fine long weekend camping and enjoying what I love to do!



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