April 2nd, 2007

Hemlock Trout
By Dave Pearson, PA

It begins in the dark. I like to be on the stream at first light, and there is no trout stream right in my own backyard. If and when I ever move, I hope to rectify that. But until that day arrives, fishing involves a bit of travel time. Sometimes, as little as half an hour; sometimes as much as four hours. Today I plan to travel a little over two.

So I set the alarm to ring before dawn well before dawn and I open my eyes moments before the alarm is set to go off. I do this regularly and I really don't know how.

But I'm not brave enough not to set the alarm. So the alarm is always set and remains unheard as I get up. In the dark.

At the moment of creation night was separated from day by the command, "Let there be light!" But for me between dark and light is coffee. Coffee for now and coffee for later. I pack a lunch usually sandwiches, usually tuna. And snackables for the day ideally beef jerky and Luna bars. Gatorade to drink. And a French press and a small stove to make coffee streamside mid-morning and perhaps again mid-afternoon.

Rods, reels, boots, waders, flies, and other assorted flyfishing paraphernalia find their way into the car and I'm off for the stream. In the dark.

This morning I'm off to the Black Forest. Straight up route 15 then west on route 6 to Potter County. There's a lot of good water in God's country, but not much is open this time of year. There are a few special regulation waters open year 'round and my destination is a brook trout enhancement water. In this stream, all brook trout must be returned to the water always. All other trout may be kept or released as the regulations specify for open water. This time of year that means all trout are catch and release. No trout are stocked. The brookies here are what the oldtimers call "Hemlock trout" or less frequently "Spruce trout." I first read the term in Charles Lose's book The Vanishing Trout which was originally titled The Vanishing Char. Interesting, that. He considered brown trout and rainbow trout invasive species. Pennsylvania trout (char) were brook trout and came in a few varieties; the darkest (and tastiest!) lived in the headwaters Hemlock trout. From what I can gather from the text, there was also a variety called the "Susquehanna salmon." If this in fact was a variety of brook trout, it must have been a prize indeed!

But the Hemlock trout still lives in the headwaters. And today my good friend Pete Lawrence and I try our hand at landing a few.

The dark becomes light and I am surrounded by melting snow nd slush. The water is high, though reasonably clear, and quite fast. And this stream is small so there are no slow pools to fish today. But Pete and I manage a trout each. Pete's came from a rare deep pocket. He reports the fish struck slowly and fought sluggishly. I take a trout from a beaver dam on a dry (!) orange stimulator size 14 thank you very much! He took the fly in slow motion. The fish were there. The fish were hungry. But they wanted the fly almost motionless. And the raging current prevented that. It would have made more sense to use a spinning rod.

Hemlock trout are found in clear cold streams lined with, well, hemlock. And rhododendron. And mountain laurel. And all manner of brush , thickets, and log jams which make flycasting a nightmare. These trout are in all manner of hard to reach places; it's their protection from snakes birds and ...us. This calls for unorthodox casting.

We took a break and I asked Pete to take a couple of pictures of me demonstrating the "bow and arrow cast" or "flip cast" or "slingshot cast." All words for the same technique, I think. I learned this from Joe Humphreys who, in turn, learned it from George Harvey.

First, do NOT grab the fly and bend the rod as shown here.

Photo 1

This only allows you to toss out line and leader less than or equal to the length of your rod. It's also a great way to bury a hook in your finger. Instead, grab the line about a foot above the fly as shown here.

Photo 2

Then, using the hand-twist retrieve, bunch the leader and flyline in your hand.

Photo 3

Or, alternately, put the flyline in loose coils in your hand.

Photo 4

Two techniques to get you the same result. Now, hold the hand with the coils even with the rod hand.

Photo 5

Pull back on the rod.

Photo 6

Keep your rod hand still and let go of the coils. I can shoot up to 35 feet of line using this technique. Joe can shoot quite a bit more. I've been working on a modification of this cast which doesn't involve pulling the rod in a bend at all. Rather, I'm using a short sharp flick of the wrist. So far, I've met with modest success.

A bit later in the afternoon, Pete hooks into something really big. So big, he yelps as his rod throbs in a deep bend. Then the leader snaps. Probably a Brown. Or a very lost Susquehanna salmon.

On the way home I take a blurry picture of a salamander.

Photo 7

~ Dave - (black gnat)

About Dave:

Dave Pearson lives in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania with his loving wife, Gillian, and two dogs, Casey and Booboo. His passion is small mountain streams. He teaches guitar for a living. You may contact Dave at: pdewey2@aol.com

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