Artist, naturalist, and outdoorsman, Jim Bortz, shares his thoughts and images as new works come off the easel.
Friday, May 25, 2012
A Chance to Explore
Taking advantage of an opportunity to get out of the studio, I loaded my fishing gear into the truck yesterday morning and headed out. A remote stretch of stream not known to hold many trout (actually, not known for much of anything) had been on my mind, so if nothing else, I'd get a little exercise. I'd never been on this part of the creek, so it was truly an exploritory adventure.
The hike to the stream was actually more bushwhacking than hiking and it occurred to be that my abscent fishing partner (who cancelled on me the night before) probably wouldn't have enjoyed this anyway. When the forest opened at the edge of the stream, I found a well-used deer trail and followed it downstream. I was immediately struck by the absence of human sign... a rarity in this part of the world. No trash or flood debris littered the banks and the only boot tracks were those made by yours truly. I found an old fire ring back in the timber a bit that hadn't been used in years and the remnants of a makeshift shelter. That was the last an only sign of humanity I encountered.
The "fishy" spots were few and far between, but there was plenty to see and I didn't have much trouble finding things to photograph. I have to admit, I felt a little smug when my first cast ended with my fly in the mouth of a nice brown trout.
As I moved downstream, I discovered dozens of neatly arranged piles of small stones in the middle of the stream. Ever-curious about the goings-on of the natural world, I had to wonder about these conspicuously out of place mounds of stone. They were about two feet in diameter, eight or ten inches high, and the rocks were 1" to 2" wide. Most of the rocks on the stream bed were coated with sediment, but these smaller stones were relatively clean... so why were they there? It wasn't long before I found the apparent cause. Many small fish, maybe chubs of some sort, were using these stones as a "community" spawning area.
Once again out of pure curiosity, I drifted a fly through the pod and caught one of them just to get a look. The little guys were quite colorful with pink sides, orange-tipped fins, and stark black and white markings. They looked more like aquarium shop fish than something native to the streams of PA. The mounds where I found fish were much lower than those that no longer had fish on them... again, making me wonder how these small fish move the stones and why. As much as I would've like to stay and watch, there were more things to see and trout to catch... so downstream I continued.
Tiny mayfly spinner
Mayflies swarmed the riffles by the thousands and small caddis flies were hatching and quickly flying to the safety of the overhanging branches. Trout sipped the bugs noisily and I took advantage of the chance to catch several on dry flies. At the next deep run, I switched back to my trusty nymphing combo and quickly caught a few more fish. I was a happy camper.
As I released the last nice rainbow, I looked downstream at the next bend in the river and wondered what treasures were waiting for my discovery. Alas, they would have to wait for another day. I was already a long way from the truck and these old knees don't slog back upstream as easily as they once did.