A Few Hours on Christmas Eve

A Few Hours on Christmas Eve . . .

Exposed tree roots create an inviting target for tenkara casts during the winter months. (photo taken 12 24 2012)

Exposed tree roots create an inviting target for tenkara casts during the winter months. (photo taken 12 24 2012)

My 2012 fishing year, my first tenkara season, ended along the same water where it began: French Creek in southeastern Pennsylvania. My Christmas Eve had been planned from early afternoon onward – situated at the in-laws, gift wrapping, attending services, dining on a meal of seven fishes – which offered me one last free morning of trout fishing if I wanted it.

I did.

Silently I departed from a slumbering house after coffee and a cinnamon roll. Outside, the damp December air filled my lungs and legs with awakening. Frost crusted the grass as a thin overcast filled the still sky. Snow was in the evening forecast. The solunar table predicted a Major between nine and eleven a.m. Perhaps a few little caddis, as well as a few following Salmo trutta, might brave the morning calm along with me.

French Creek, just a few downhill minutes away on foot, flowed clear and low. Large knots of exposed oak and London plane tree roots broke the opposite bank every few dozen yards. These tangles can always provide some depth and holding lies where delineated pool and riffle structures are not present. A small Pheasant Tail nymph shortly found itself drifting by these pretzel patterns of wood.

My casts were smooth and hypnotizing. Chatty crows flew by and chickadees made friendly calls from nearby branches. One polite slate blue and white nuthatch appeared on a nearby tree trunk and softly said: “Hen. Hen. Hen.” in a way that resembled advice on where to cast.

The big take of the outing came soon after, slowly, more of a stop in the flow that felt at first like a flexible snag. A tree branch, submerged, must have hooked up with the pattern, I assumed. My response was a kind of lackadaisical pull back. The resistance pulled forth. When the back and forth symmetry abruptly turned into asymmetric animation, I realized the other end held a fish. A flash of bronze and silver flashed from below and then I was snapped off a decent brown trout. I was not used to the new 6x tippet material I had employed, or maybe my knot had frayed on a root.

Upstream called to me then. One large flat pool with some depth lay a few dozen yards above the bridge just in view through the brown web of bare trees. I hiked up to it, passed beneath the span on a narrow band of frozen mud. I then faced my athletic challenge of the day. I had to climb along a scree of red siltstone that is near impossible to navigate when the full growth of summer is present. I angled myself parallel to the steep side so a slip would simply land me hard onto the loose rock rather than on a neck breaker of a tumble into frigid water below. Tenacious thorned vine branches nagged at me as well, but I made it, climbing down to the water on a natural staircase of the red rock beside which a sapling bannister stood.

A natural staircase of red siltstone along French Creek. (photo taken 12 24 2012)

A natural staircase of red siltstone along French Creek. (photo taken 12 24 2012)

While I scanned for risers and contemplated the water’s sound and motion simultaneously, I heard rhythmical wind sounding from above. A great blue heron passed overhead with an audible flap of broad wings. Its prehistoric profile approached a series of power lines that stretched across the creek about twenty yards farther up. One of the cables must have been strung a few feet higher than the others. The big bird had to add an extra jump to clear the hump. Loud croaks followed, an ornery sound reminding me of any other pissed off commuter faced with an unexpected obstacle.

No risers appeared as the clock continued toward noon. I tipped my leader with a Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph and swung it a few dozen times. No takers. I was pleased, though, to have had a few hours before the holiday that were removed from structured stress and inserted instead into the random natural world of wind in the ears and water before the eyes and the thought that my fly attached to a tenkara rod might present me with a Christmas gift of a trout. As it happened, I received a present even more grand – one of presence, pure and uncomplicated – one of happiness.

The view as I departed French Creek for the final time in 2012. (photo taken 12 24 2012)

The view as I departed French Creek for the final time in 2012. (photo taken 12 24 2012)

Yes, Happy Holidays.

— rPs 12 29 2012

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