Opening Day 2008
Small Trout Fishing/Cabin Camping,, Floatman & Company, April 2008
The plans are simple, pack up three days worth of warm/cold/wet weather gear including multiple rods, reels, tackle, and more food than a group of men should eat in a long weekend, head into Pennsylvania to meet up with my friend Jim B., Floatman, and his long time friends, Dan & John and get serious about small trout fishing for three days.
Our accommodations are very nice and aren't the easiest to secure, but since this has been a yearly tradition/ritual for Jim, Dan, & John for more than 15 years, the reservations are made well in advance. The state park log cabin is nestled under old growth pine trees and beside a small mountain stream lined with mountain laurel that constantly plays a medley that can make drifting off to sleep an unpredictable and pleasant surprise to even the most rested soul. Directly across the dirt entrance road is a bath house/latrine equipped with running water and flushing utilities. The hot showers after refreshing and a welcome treat to bodies suffering the extreme toll of fishing and hiking gradient for the day. Cell coverage may be spotty, but if you stand atop a bench, angle your head slightly to one side and point your phone North/North East, you may be able to get enough of a signal to make a call into the wife & kids to let them know all is well and you miss them too.
Starting five days ago, the shenanigans began via email. The customary "count down" and then short quips typed from fingers that itched to be tying improved clinch knots on the next go-to fly rather than pushing pens at work. The anticipation was building, the excitement from contemplation of the next trip and the good time to come was causing grown men to act like boys. This is what fishing and weekends with friends was all about. The mysterious ways it controls those captured by its spell are so varied. As we check and recheck out gear, our pack list, and the weather, I'm reminded that repetitious preparation is for love of the sport, the power of friendship, and sharing it all as a group is what drives us.
Speaking of weather. Floatman quoted a wise old Indian and stated the humorous, but obvious, fact, "There is a 100% chance of weather on this trip!" With this being only my second adventure with this group, it looks like it would be a repeat weather-wise of last year. I'm convinced that I've done something terribly offensive to Mother Nature, but I am thankful to have the faculties to experience the "bad" weather as much as the "good". I'm reminded that there are those that cannot with either end of the spectrum.
To hold you over until I'm able to post this year's trip, some photos from April 2007:
The Kovak Trout Camp
(Pennsylvania Opening Day 2008)
I scurried from work toward my vehicle, fueled by a hurried excitement and filled with anticipation. My watch read 6:00:01PM and I wondered what the long weekend would deliver in terms of events? I went over the checklist. All of my essentials were packed and prepared, but a few last minute inclusions were still fresh in my mind. Loading the Xb up with all the gear had me wondering if I had over packed yet again. Better safe than sorry, I reminded myself. GPS, maps, pop, a small snack, and the cell charger found their spot within arm’s reach of my driving position. The sky was cloudy and the winds were switching between calm and howling. I had my fingers crossed. In between mountains, you never can be sure of what will actually transpire. The weather forecasts, taking the liberty to read more than one, were not as bright and cheery as my optimism or spirit. I convinced myself to remain content and enjoy the next few days regardless of the outcome. Three nights and just about three days of fishing and camaraderie were just what I needed to unwind and recharge. The possibility of few blown streams wasn't going to spoil my attitude.
The drive into
PAOD-08 was slated to last only 3hrs10min and 190 miles per the
detailed instructions downloaded and printed from the internet. However, a
slight drizzle had begun and it appeared by the darkening sky and
purple/black clouds that I was driving into what would be the heart of a
storm system. As the turnpike changed states, the rains intensified
and the pace of my speedometer was retarded. I wanted to make it there as
quickly as possible, but the need to get to Trout Camp safely superseded the
duration of time it was going to take given the conditions I was battling.
As I whipped through winding roads, varying gradients, and a blur of
orange/yellow cautioned lined construction zones, I caught myself gripping
the steering wheel with such intensity as if it had done something wrong and
it needed a good neck wringing. White knuckle driving would surely keep me
awake as the sun began to fade into absence, but would it keep me alive I
wondered? I glanced briefly at my co-pilot. Wilson looked calm and
collected, flashing that big smile that makes him legendary. I felt
inspired. His deliberate display of
Each mountain range
and valley, at times, has their own micro-climate. What one area
experiences in terms of temperature and rainfall can be completely isolated
from another range only a few miles in any direction. Such was the case
with this storm system. As I parked the D-box and exited, I felt the dry,
cool breeze seasoned with the smells of a burning fire, aged wood, green
moss, and leaves left from the previous fall. The soothing sounds of
the babbling stream just outside the cabin grounds
Walking the few steps up to the cabin, I was greeted by John, Dan, and my close friend Jim. They had seen to it that the moment I arrived I felt completely welcomed to Trout Camp. My vehicle was quickly unloaded, Wilson found his perch inside the dining area, and I was presented with an ice cold beverage of choice. “Ahhhhh!” I exclaimed as I took my first long swig of the area’s finest. I quickly remembered that my wife had packed us plenty of fine food for both the meal and snack departments. I dug through the cooler and presented the group with garlic avocado shrimp dip. It didn’t last long and I can’t say it was an unexpected result! This was a great start. In a short period of time, my nerves were calmed and the laughs and tall stories were mounting into piles that hypothetically could have been moved about with only the largest of shovels. I smiled and reminded myself that the trout was the instigator of many of my close friendships, the facilitator of generous sharing, and the ultimate reason for me experiencing this good food and drink. I cannot count the many good memories I have as a result of fishing! It can be, at times, difficult to express how truly thankful I am for an obsession that has rewarded me time and time again. In short, I felt blessed once more.
The evening drew on and gratefully the decision to sleep was announced. Our plans for the following morning were made long before I arrived. The repetitious routine chiseled into the granite of time for over 20 years could not be manipulated. The participants may have been a little more worn and a little more deliberate in their expediencies, but the excitement was as intense as if this had been the first year out. I could easily relate to their feelings as I shared them unconditionally. The excitement was evident by the behavior in our bunks. Like kids at camp, the giggles and shenanigans were almost unstoppable, that is, until the sandman grabbed hold of us and we drifted off to dreamland.
Rising bright and
early at the crack of dawn, the group made the trip to the Opening Day Hole,
appropriately named for the fact
The Spring Fed Float Rod III – Dan Craft Edition performed extremely well and handled the many drifts and battles with absolute class. I was able to fish a 3” HBE and it was a riot on the big fish and drifted perfectly for the area I had chosen. Eventually the morning changed to afternoon. Our empty stomachs reminded us that it was time to eat. We packed up our gear and headed back to Trout Camp for lunch with the plans to return and fish this area again.
Our evening return to the Opening Day Hole was again fruitful. The sun was now positioned at a more severe angle in the horizon. The tree lined stream provided much need shade mixed with streaks of radiant warmed flows, an ideal habitat for agreeable trout. The group hooked into multiples of brooks, browns, and bows. I found an interesting seam between the fast water at the head of the pool and the slack water of a beach area on the inside of a bend. I waited patiently for the location to become unoccupied. Currently there were a few fisherman almost waist deep in the area I knew would hold fish. They grew tired of their lack of success and made exit. The few minutes it took for me to relocate from one side of the stream to the other was all the time the trout needed as well. My first drift through the exact area that only minutes before held 3 pairs of boots was swiftly taken down by a brown. The next four consecutive drifts held the same fate. One after one, trout were reeled to hand. My success was noticed by an angler south of my position and my solitude disrupted my intentional casts to my target position. I didn’t mind it much, I had done well and needed a break. This gentleman was more than welcome to try his luck.
I peered over to Jim and it was evident that this day was drawing to a close. The drive back to Trout Camp was filled with statistical information of how we all did, where, when, and why. I believe we all looked forward to some warm food, some tunes of the radio, and refreshing beverages. I had volunteered, combined with the assistance of my wife, to prepare dinner for the group. Given John and Dan’s generosity of allowing me to join the “club”, I felt it was the least I could do. I got to work and prepared a meal fit for “Trout Kings”. After finishing courses that included homemade Italian wedding soup, garlic butter sautéed yellow squash and zucchini, Uncle Ben’s wild long grain rice, and beer, cornmeal, flour battered, bacon fried trout…. Kings we indeed were! My efforts were rewarded with John’s comment, “Wow, I was really impressed by this meal. Thank you!” That was all I needed to hear! Although we stayed up late and aggressively participated in a group effort toward reducing the stockpile of ice cold beverages, I chalked day one up, at this point, as an overwhelming success!
Within a 24 hour period of time, the temperature of day one had been reduced from mid-60’s to low 40’s. The intermittent breeze made it feel colder. It was drizzling and at random intervals we received doses of light hail as a reminder that nature likes to mix it up at times. Our destination further down the interstate contained some great pocket water fishing. The gradient the stream followed was more severe, rocks more slippery, and holes much deeper than our fishing trials the day before. As were rounded the bend up the mountain, the area to stop was parked over with vehicles. An on the fly decision, at 50MPH, was made that concluded our first decision would not be exercised today. Jim’s words, “We’ve always got a plan B, C, D, and E” played in my head. These guys were dedicated fishermen and knew the area well. There were always areas to fish and our driver was intent on getting us to one of them.
We drove down to another location just above a bridge that began a delayed harvest area. From the end of the DHFF area and upstream, the underwater structure was elusive. High atop the treelined banks, it appeared that the stream was nothing but a slow, flat, meandering run…void of any real obstructions that were obvious trout holds. I can’t say I like water like this. Casting blindly and hoping for the best is not my idea of fun fishing. I tend to want to pick the stream apart and target high probability areas and I’m willing to take a walk if I can’t. It was evident, that reading water was a must as most of the underwater structure and fish holds weren’t as cut and dry as my preference would have them. Jim and I began fishing a few seams that were bountiful the year before and neither of us experienced any real excitement. Due to the amount of pressure the stream had received the day before, I can’t say we were surprised. Plugging away on a down log that extended out toward the middle as Jim continued to fish a deep run nearest my position, we both had take downs, but with little confirmed success. After 20 minutes and a few headshakers and long distance releases between us, we moved further upstream content to “work” this area for all it was worth. We knew there were fish to be had regardless of how many had been removed destined for freezers the day before. It boiled down to putting the time in, presenting the offering properly, and finding fish willing to succumb to the desire to feed.
Leaving Jim to fish
on his own, I ventured up toward Dan and Jim. They had a tendency,
demonstrated the year before, to fish
After a quick nap, I awoke to find that the left over wedding soup, now combined with the left over rice and zucchini/squash mix, was piping hot. I made a couple sandwiches and had a few bowls of soup. That sure felt good. I was again ready to tackle the rigors of small trout centrepinning! LOL! As if it is that difficult!?
Jim and I decided to
venture down to a small DHFF only area and see if we could catch us a few
late afternoon fish before the group would head to a local establishment for
refreshments. The DHFF had several stream improvements sure to hold trout.
We ventured upstream
and Jim noticed a deep hole that was littered with downed logs and tree
branches. A true trout haven if floated delicately enough to avoid snagging
up on every drift. I set my depth more shallow than the highest submerged
morning we made a late start and ventured back to the location overpowered
the morning before. Thankfully as we approached the parking lot the lack of
vehicles meant we would make the stop. This stretch had much more current
due to the decent it took toward the valley below. Huge boulders were
strewn and white water pockets were abundant. The morning sun was
uninhibited and shown brightly across water that was gin clear. We were
blessed with pocket water and deep pools that provided enough structure that
the trout were willing to hit regardless of the fact that they could see us
and our efforts without
I studied the raging
water as I was determined to cross. The rocks were covered with a brown
I selected the best
route and with a heavy stick in hand for stability I began the crossing.
The water’s current reminded me of the Clarion River.
As I walked calf deep, my footing was at a severe disadvantage. Halfway
across the river a large boulder provided a much
needed resting point and place to strategize the other half of my journey. I
found it hard to think as the raging water surrounding
me was filling my head with a loud roar. Perhaps
At this point, the
need to explore a few more areas had me on the move upstream. I had noticed
At this point, I was ready to call it quits. The morning had been beautiful. I was blessed with many rewarding experiences and the end of my long weekend here was coming to a close. I needed to pack up and head out. I broke down my rod, stashed my reel, and tidied up my back pack. I noticed across the river that Jim, John, and Dan were standing atop of the far side of what remained of the old bridge supports. As I trudged around the brush searching for a couple supportive walking sticks, I can only imaging Jim telling the other two that they should watch me. I was intent on showing these guys how an Ohio, Erie Trib., Steelheader crosses a raging river…..”Billy Goat Style!”
Finding the two best sticks I could and having them pass the stress test, I prepared to demonstrate the fastest river crossing they had every witnessed. I squinted across the river and plotted my course. Leaning slightly forward and gripping the sticks in a way that make me four legged. I trotted across the river. Slamming the sticks down into crevices in the stone and wedging them between current and rock face, I kept my pace deliberate and hurried. In less than a few minutes I was tossing them along the opposite bank and climbing a 60 degree hill to the audience above. I looked up and saw a few cracked smiles and shaking heads. Yep, mission accomplished!
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