Monday, April 24, 2017

Pequest River Trout: Wading for Connection

Second outing on the Pequest in all these years. Mike mentioned the river's flowing into the Delaware, shortly after Martin's Creek Power Plant briefly came into view not very distant. I told him I caught a striped bass at the mouth of the river, but that didn't count as a Pequest fish, even though the water it came from had Pequest freshness mixing in. That was late summer and the Pequest was very clear with its temperature strikingly cooler than the big river.

Now more than six years ago, I fly fished the Pequest Trout Conservation Area with my son in March, walking and wading far downstream and back. We used Zebra midges exclusively, confident in the choice by what I had read. Tiny. Size 22 I think they were. Where a pool began to pan out into a shallow tail, I watched a 14-inch rainbow lurch for the nymph and missed the very light take. Until today, that was all the fish action I'd had on the river, though I've had some familiarity with the river along U.S. 46 since my teens.

We came in hopes of a big one. First, we had to find a hole. At least it would seem the likelihood of finding a big trout depended on this, and today didn't change this assumption. This river flows shallow for the most part, and just about everywhere it is very difficult to wade with softball and basketball-size rounded rocks. We did stop well upstream where the river is considerably shorter in width, finding the river bed composition muddy by comparison, the flow much less choppy, much less broken to pieces by rocks. No holes found, we drove miles downward, and where we first stopped, did find deep water. It's really the only deep water we found today, and we covered a lot of ground.

Instead of plumbing the bottom of that pool, most of the trout took position to the rear where the pool panned out into shallows. We caught a number of trout, but the action kept halting and we would take another position, get hit, and then again nothing more. We got a tip from someone who fished downstream less than a hundred yards, tried the area he abandoned, caught a few, and then drove on in search of better. It wasn't a day for parking, locking up while making sure all valuables are concealed--though certainly everyone we met on the river today was worth the time exchanged--and walking and wading at length, though the very best of my stream trout memories are of these more difficult efforts. The best of all climbed the 1200-foot vertical elevation of Dunnfield Creek from its exit region into the Delaware River, to its source meadow atop Kittatiny Ridge. But on the other hand, it is hard to judge--on second thought--if this wonder of a solitary outing, some of it bushwhacking through thick forest understory growing between rocks in rattlesnake country where, had I got bit, no hope of getting out alive those many miles distant existed without cutting the wound open wide with my knife in an attempt to drain off some of the poison; it wasn't as simple as always keeping to the stream bed, sometimes impenetrably obscured, and yet it's  hard to judge if that hike really was as good as wading Stony Brook in Princeton Township at age 10 with friends and catching no trout at all. Those early days were all light and goodness. Dunnfield Creek possessed the very darkness of the Garden of Eden. That meadow high on the ridge virtually no one has ever seen.

Today pushed the envelope of possibility to the limit of where it could go, given an afternoon off from work circumscribed by hopes of a big one from some stocked hole, my black Labrador necessarily along with us, given that my wife expects this of me. Perhaps most of all, we needed to do some driving to get a wide perspective on the river, flanking it along stretches neither of us had seen.

We caught 15 trout between the two of us. They were difficulty gained. The best quality for me the wading, even though I backed off from attempting a couple of eddying pockets between sluices of current that looked just a little too shallow to hold much promise anyway. Not only were the rocks slickened by erosion; they hosted some algae slime, not offering difference by too wide a margin from gaining traction on ice. I waded assiduously, and did my best to keep my errant impulses in check, an effort trying me life-long, and I suppose my crazy urges will persist to the end. By the time we left, the control felt vital, complex, and very healthy, nerves in my feet fusing with synapses in my brain, assuring me that abstract levels I entertain have meaning physically linked to survival.

There was a moment Mike witnessed. Both of my boots slipped and for a moment it appeared I would plunge. My foot knew where to lodge.

I know them as adder's tongues, but nowadays they're mostly recognized as trout lilies.

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