C.C. State Forest
July 26-28th, 2008
Lately, it appears that I am destined to fish in less than ideal weather conditions. The uncontrollable force and wrath of Mother Nature cannot be negotiated or coerced. Understandably, the cycle of life needs nourishing rains, but must it be replenished every weekend that I am free to fish?! Regardless of this fact, as trout diehards we will find our angling obsession cannot be detoured by hail, 20-30mph winds, driving rain, and or falling timber!
Our journey begins the evening of Saturday, July 26th, 2008. Our travels from Cleveland, through the Youngstown community and into Pennsylvania went quite smoothly. Only two attempts were made at swerving the Xb into the NJ barrier by accompanying traffic sharing parallel lanes. An improvement in my opinion! With urgency, PackMule and I found ourselves arriving at the parking area just moments before the sky began to dim and the sun surrendered to darkness. The trek was short, just under a mile or so. And at the end of the hike, we would be rewarded, after things were organized and tents positioned, with a fire grilled meal fit for kings. As we began to hoof down the gravel trail and under the green arches of a high forest canopy, we were reminded of the evening’s weather implications. Earlier that afternoon, the rainstorms and purple-blue clouds passed overhead with only a fleeting precipitation, but their direction toward PackMule’s home and through the area we had planned to camp/fish was an unpleasant reality. A heavy dose of rain and hail had been deposited along the route and I held hope that most of the front’s potential had been left behind us and within Ohio's borders. With only a 30% chance of rain forecasted for the area, I was somewhat hopeful. Peering through the vertical stacks of thick tree trunks as we walked further along the path, we could make out the rip roaring water of a rather large watershed. The river along our trek was swollen over its banks and flowing dark chocolate milk. The surface eddies, converging currents, and flow seams hid the swift current and death trap underneath. Given the speed, only a few feet from shore would be enough to take you to a place that is not of this earth. The sight was ominous as we both realized that the condition was being caused by rain into the headwaters. Would this be an indication of the fishing conditions we’d face ahead or would the soothing ridges, steep gradients, and sponge like filter of the forest floor keep our streams up but crystal clear? Time would tell!
As we rounded the turn and headed up a dirt path strewn with fallen foliage, the sky sparked with pulses of light. Far off in the distance, overtop another mountain range, we could hear the faint rumble of charging thunder. For a moment, the forest was eerie and unwelcoming. Light quickly faded to darkness and the vacuum of quiet stillness forced us into sensory overload. Just then the rain began with a light drizzle followed by bright pulses and increasingly loud rumbles. The storm was coming and we were not ready for it.
Scrambling, we unloaded our gear. The rain was heavy and we were beginning to take on the appearance of drowned rats. With every trip, I’ve encountered “firsts” and this one would be no exception! Setting up a tent in record time to minimize the amount of water you’ll be forced to sleep within is not easy, especially when the tent is a two walled version. Frantically, I staked the border, installed the aluminum poles, and then draped the rain fly overtop. My effort had my Alp’s 1.5 up and prepared for entry in record time, but was it fast enough? Inside, the floor was damp and covered with only a light drizzle. Now the fun part, separate the gear from my pack, organize, and do it within the confines of my solo, one.5 man shelter while wet, hot, sweaty, and slightly agitated! As an insult to my agitation, the rains kicked into high gear. Overhead the shake, rattle and roll of thunder and night piercing lighting was overpowering. I prayed that we would remain safe, that our tents were protected from falling dead wood and the strike of Mother Nature’s electric trident found a spot far from our location.. And finally, I prayed that it would be nice if the storm would just move over the next ridge and stop washing us out.
Within several minutes, I had had enough. I could no longer lay soaked within the confines of that humid coffin of a tent. There was fog in the air, as if I was within a smoke house. I stripped down to my skivvies and put on my flip flops. It I was going to be wet, I’d rather do it in style (LOL!) and in a temperature that didn’t have me sweating at the same rate I was being dripped on!
Outside I found the area pitch black save the few remaining light flashes of the departing storm. Everything was wet. Even as the rain had subsided, the accumulation on the leaves above continued to rain down upon us. Were we upset? Were we swayed? Were we ready to give up and call a spade a spade? NO WAY! Every trip has an experience to share. I'll admit, there were quite a few on this trip, but none of them I’d consider worth calling it quits over. Flicking on my headlamp, I surveyed the area. Not to far away, the reflective tape stitched into the soft cooler beaconed its position. Within that blue cube was the soothing source of a good evening’s hope. Nestled underneath and amongst the frozen molecules of water were several canisters of Australia and Germany’s best refreshments. At that point, a light within my head went on, and I was determined to crack into and enjoy these 33.5 degree liquid morsels of enlightenment. And I did just that and with complete authority. I yelled to PackMule, who lay motionless within his Kelty cocoon, to join me and enjoy the beautiful weather we were having. At that point, the subject of cooking dinner arose. In an effort to reduce weight, I chose to leave the fuel and pack stove back home. The chance of rain was only 30%. Why would I need it anyway!?
Nearby we found a couple fire rings left from previous campers and even a small stash of wet, but usable wood. In true “Survivor Man” style, I began to slice into sticks for the underlying dry wood. As they flew from the blade of the multi-tool, PackMule stacked them into a bundle and attempted to ignite them. At first it was slow going, the Bic’s flame was being pushed about by the wind and focusing the heat to the kindling was challenging. With more and more slices of dry wood accumulated, a wind brake was created and the first few puffs of smoke were bellowing from the stack. I remembered a trick using the micro small branches from the evergreens. Even when wet, the sap content is so concentrated within these capillary-small twigs that they will incinerate without much effort. I collected a bunch and positioned them atop the stack. The shavings had begun to char, smoke, and flame slightly. It was appearing as if our attempt at lighting a fire in the rain and after a torrential downpour was going to be successful. The sap filled kindling caught fire and burst into a luminous orange. Slowly, we added more wood fragments and the fire became self sustaining, warm, and bright.
PackMule unpacked his rather ingenious grill and began its assembly. Coming up with the idea through a few of his own, off internet forums, and from an available commercial manufactured unit, he was excited to prepare it on its maiden voyage. Made strictly from aluminum tube and stainless steel bicycle spokes, it was both ultra light and extremely rigid. The coals were at the correct temperature and this collapsible, extremely light and portable grill would be blessed with two 10 ounce Delmonico steaks within minutes. As I cut into the medium rare meat of my delicately prepared steak, the flavors of the melting morsels mixed with the garlic asparagus, bird’s eye corn, salt, pepper and light spice rub, I couldn’t help but smile! Did this steak and the medley of flavors mixed upon my plate really taste this good or did they taste this good because what we had endured to get them to the point? Did it even matter?
As the bear bag was hoisted into the tree tops, we made our way to our beds for the night and hoped that the streams would grant us memories and bounty to admire.
Sunday morning opened its restful eyes with a blanket of warmth. The perfect sleeping temperature of the evening before was breaking free of its slight chill and maturing into a new day. An umbrella of protection was afforded by the green leaves on outstretched branches of a high forest canopy. At 6am, it was time to prepare the fire for another duty, breakfast!
I woke PackMule with the quick high pitched zinging ring of his rainfly’s zipper. The least I could do after enjoying the masterpiece I shall call dinner from the evening before was to offer up the first cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain, French pressed coffee of the morning. Complete with amaretto creamer, this was a source of extreme satisfaction that has become a staple of any trout fishing adventure I’m involved with planning. He gladly accepted, I rezipped the rainfly and headed back to cook the bacon, southwestern style eggs, and fire toasted pita bread.
We left the camp area with full bellies and recharged batteries. Our packs were stowed and camouflaged for security. The plan was to venture back to the mouth of the stream and return to this location. In our haste, the evening before, we hiked further than we had planned and set up in a convergence of mountain trails. One of which was the trail that would lead us to the second half of the day's fishing expedition.
The small creek had recovered and healed itself quickly from the bloated deluge of water than had fallen the day before. While eating breakfast, the quick clearing of suspended sediment happened right before our eyes. The stream had good flow and had returned to crystal clear brook trout waters. Things were looking good!
The first hook up of the day happened for PackMule. Unable to hold back from fishing, he hit a few small brookies close to camp before the trek down to the mouth. Nothing to even bother describing, but an indication that the brook trout bite was willing. The day’s fishing was a reward unto itself. What we had endured to enjoy the gorgeous sounds of babbling streams and the ozone rich smell of newly cleansed air of this day was well worth it.
A decent amount of fish were lost, caught, and treasured. Found amongst the typical holds, stimulators and royal wulffs enticed them into striking. Surprisingly, the most notable spots seemed void of fish, possibly due to the weather or the locals. We found a good number of fish in miniature bathtub shaped stream bed divots and dark creases under rocks inflicting current breaks. The most notable brook trout that I have had the pleasure of catching in a while were hooked and fought during this trip and on this small stream. Both PackMule and I commented about the size ratios. Either the fish were large or extremely small, the result of unknown factors to the both of us.
Afternoon approached, and we enjoyed another meal of PB & J, sliced meats, and cubed cheeses. Sounds good on the surface, but most likely not the wisest decision we made. Within minutes of finishing, PackMule and I clipped on out backpacks and took a meandering trail that ascended up some of the most steep terrain that I’ve traveled in a very long time. The competition to supply blood to muscles or the digestive tract was on. I'm not sure which of them one, but it was an obvious struggle. This body, while not SU old, is not exactly in the 20-something shape of yesteryear anymore. My calves responded with a good burn and I felt the rush of a decent dose of cardio vascular exercise. At a few points we stopped so that I could catch my breath, but reality was…the surrounding views were something special and required a few moments to take them all in. Our trail had us perched on the edge of a steep valley. From our vantage point, not easily caught by photograph, the view was rather impressive. We visited another stream that did not have enough time to clear and had that faint milk in tea look about it. PackMule and I both hooked into some small fish initially, but the water was uncooperative from that point on. We traveled over two mountain peaks and four valleys, hiking a total distance of only a few miles. Factor in the elevation changes and the total distance increased by nearly double. It was on the very steep descents that my left knee could no longer take the hike without complaint. The pain as we neared the end of the line and the very bottom of the hill was quite excruciating. My relief was the flat road and short distance required to reach the car.
In typical PackMule style, an apology was offered for taking the route we had and traversing the range he had lead us through. An apology…for what? None needed, pain is a part of living. I was just glad that it was only a small amount and didn’t involve anything lasting. If asked to experience it all again, my decision would be a quick and definite “Yes!”.
Thank you PackMule for another weekend of great trout fishing, cool camping, and awesome eats. All in all, life is about experiences. Good and bad, difficult and easy, euphoric and painful; all of them count!
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