Posts Tagged French Creek


Belabored . . .

French Creek and Wildflowers. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

French Creek and Wildflowers. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

Our household is in transition. Most of September has been spent dealing with real estate issues; a business as complex as the tips of a Spey line. Free time – fishing time – time fishing simply with one fly on a slip-knotted level line – has been swallowed up in the sudden way a largemouth bass inhales a popper floating on the surface of a pond.

My fishing, then, at least during this September, consisted of a few hours on the day after Labor Day; a sunny morning along a shaded length of French Creek in Pennsylvania’s Chester County.

The scene was pretty: late summer wildflowers like orange jewelweed in bloom; mushrooms glowing white amongst the leaf litter. A frog plopped into the water in front of me and swam to a little point of stone projecting out of the current.

Wet wading was easy for me, too, as I found that flow ran summertime low, but this hampered my recent desire to experiment with the large nymph. My attempts were foiled by a steady stream of hang ups along the rocky bottom.

I did catch sight of a few rises across a slow bend downstream. A size 16 BWO was sent across to explore the spot. Two redbreast sunfish quickly came to hand.

The BWO is a great dry fly pattern for the redbreast, the stream sunfish. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

The BWO is a great dry fly pattern for the redbreast, the stream sunfish. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

A fish on the line and in the net made the day a success. Time was progressing in earnest; I therefore kept moving to see what experience I could squeeze into the remaining hour or so at my disposal. This compelled me to hike upstream to a stretch I had not fished for two years. Here there are several deep runs interrupted by an exposed outcrop of cobblestones: wrinkled water ideally suited to fishing emergers and soft-hackles.

Wrinkled Water. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

Wrinkled Water. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

The white-tailed deer seem to like the soft moss around this spot as well. I flushed a buck and two doe as I approached the carpeted bank. Each deer took its turn to bound across the creek and into the trees. I followed them as far as the water.

Another frog’s antics entertained me as I knotted on a small Black X-Caddis emerger. This little fly has worked well for me when sent swimming across and downstream in low flows. One brassy flash I missed on the first cast was certainly the day’s brown trout. A pause followed; one necessary to recapture my rattled peace of mind. Once obtained, the target zone shifted to a deeply shaded seam that ran down the center of the creek. The pattern swung into a strong strike, like a bat meeting a baseball, quickly followed by an athletic jump that lit up the scene. The taker then surged straight toward my legs. The net once again came to my rescue as I maneuvered it into position to handle a large and very bright fallfish.

This fallfish jumped like a rainbow trout. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

This fallfish jumped like a rainbow trout. (photo taken 09 03 2013)

My cell phone chirped a few moments later. My wife had sounded the call to come back to the in-laws so we could have lunch before boarding the train back to Manhattan. I was happy to have had this time on the water, however brief, given how belabored by the business of life we have become.

– rPs 09 27 2013

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The Utility of the Net

The Utility of the Net . . .

A French Creek rainbow trout successfully landed - thanks to the net! (photo taken 05 2013)

A French Creek rainbow trout successfully landed – thanks to the net! (photo taken 05 2013)

Rarely do I fish with a net. There is no conscious reason; I simply find myself most often angling for fish small and easy enough to handle manually. Panfish are also handfish.

While sorting through a large batch of photos from the previous few months, I found the image of the netted trout above, and the story behind this moment returned to me.

Memorial Day weekend gave the time and French Creek in southeastern Pennsylvania provided the setting. The long weekend allowed my wife and me the ever more rare opportunity to slip out of New York City under the demanding noses of our respective work lives. The in-laws provided family, food, and for me, fly fishing, tenkara style.

Maryann wanted to sleep in on the morning of Memorial Day, but she did wake long enough to permit me to take along her L.L. Bean Pleasant River trout net. I sensed I might need it, as French Creek, like all freestone flows, holds more physical challenges to the landing of fish than a stillwater pond, and an encounter with trout, a fish much trickier to calm than black bass, would be a possibility.

A short stroll down a suburban road took me to the banks of the stream, which was quiet and empty of other anglers despite the bright holiday morning. A deep pool along an inviting bend in the stream above a flat bedrock run gave me a good starting point. There, on a Pheasant Soft Hackle, I caught a few small redbreast sunfish; an attractive and somewhat rare catch in this cold water

This French Creek redbreast sunfish added to the surrounding symphony of green and orange color. (photo taken 05 2013)

This French Creek redbreast sunfish added to the surrounding symphony of green and orange color. (photo taken 05 2013)

Wet wading eventually brought me several hundred yards downstream to the plane tree root jams I had fished the previous Christmas Eve. I had by this time landed a few silvery fallfish and knew the top prize, a trout or two battling my line and limber Ebisu tenkara rod, could very well be present.

This French Creek fallfish fell for an X Caddis. (photo taken 05 2013)

This French Creek fallfish fell for an X Caddis. (photo taken 05 2013)

I was not disappointed. My little Hare’s Ear paused during its second swing, snatched aggressively near the second batch of roots. Stiff resistance and a bent rod replaced the meditative mending of line. A sizable trout directed my attention upstream, where the water broke in a half jump, and then another.

At last, I thought, my net might see some action!

The lanyard sounded as I successfully gripped the handle and brought down the net toward the fish. Another, heretofore unheard tone, also now resonated. The rod tip began to scrape against the low tree canopy overhead. The length of the long rod touched limb, forcing me even lower as I bent backwards, leading the fish toward the mesh of the net. The sight of me so engaged must have resembled a circus contortionist.

The big rainbow eventually allowed itself to be landed, and photographed, and gently released, thanks to the net. The utility of this piece of gear had again, in a very timely manner, made itself clear.

The tenkara angler and his net take a break. (photo taken 05 2013)

The tenkara angler and his net take a break. (photo taken 05 2013)

– rPs 07 31 2013

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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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Kendo Meets Tenkara

Kendo Meets Tenkara . . .

French Creek fallfish that fell for tenkara. (photo taken 04 15 2012)

When earlier I addressed the theme of all things Japanese, the one that has paralleled the course of my life, I omitted a single important example, which I wanted to save for this, the proper moment.

My wife, Maryann, has also cultivated a close relationship with the culture of Japan. When we met, during the wedding day of a mutual friend, we discovered we both had an affinity for the Japanese that went far beyond food. Her primary connection turned out to be the martial art of kendo: the way of the sword.

Best described to the uninitiated as Japanese fencing, kendo is a fascinating, beautiful, and artful approach to swordsmanship, or kenjutsu. When I first visited Maryann’s Manhattan-based dojo, Ken-Zen Institute, I found her and her fellow students, or kendoka, to be serious, even reverent, during study and practice. Under the tutelage of their sensei, Daniel T. Ebihara, Kendo Kyoshi, 7-Dan, each class first divides into two sides, which face each other and follow a series of exercises: a contemplative warm-up; kiri-kaeshi, in which strike centering and stamina are cultivated in successive turns; and wazo-geiko, when kendoka learn and rehearse techniques with a designated partner.

What follows is the dramatic peak of a kendo class. Kendoka suit up into full body armor, the distinctive indigo bogu, which is necessary for Ji-geiko. This part of kendo employs undirected practice in which all assembled fight one another at once. The dojo’s floor, polished wood similar to a basketball court, resounds with the barefootwork, fumikomi-ashi, combined with the collective kiai, the emotional vocal unleashing of the fighting spirit. When this part commences, the experience can be rendered in words as a human eruption. The violence of the sound and controlled chaotic motion of the combat produce a visceral effect in the third-party viewer, an effect that reminds us that kendo is battle.

Ji-geiko in action at the Ken-Zen Institute, NYC. (photo taken 01 08 2012)

Conversely, my practice of fly fishing is commonly called the quiet sport. I was delighted, then, when Maryann not only expressed an interest in trying my way of the fly rod; she actually found she liked the experience. The 5-weight, in particular, appealed to her. The structural logic of the rod, this fishing tool, neither intimidated nor baffled her. Several years of study with the bamboo shinai translated into an easy transition to the fishing instrument. She was, to use the phrase, a natural.

I proposed to her in June of 2009, a few weeks after she had landed a large bluegill on an Olive Woolly Bugger. That first fish moment had all the details of a classic tale. We were casting along the grassy banks of Harlem Meer in Central Park. A passing breeze and a bad reaction on my part created a bird’s nest so complex I had to sit down on the ground to unravel my leader. A few minutes passed, and I heard her call my name. I thought she must have fouled up her line in the wind as well. When I looked up to see, I saw instead her 5-weight bent, its tip vibrating with life: “Fish on!”

We were married a few months later. I moved to New York City to join her. We have since fished freshwater and saltwater, warm water and cold water, lakes and ponds, rivers and streams. Whatever the fishing situation, we seem to find ourselves on the same side of the bank. We are more than life partners; we are fishing buddies.

Last year, when tenkara began to appear again and again on my online angling reading radar, Maryann encouraged me to learn more, to purchase a rod, and then to learn even more together with her. She liked the symbolism embodied by a Japanese sword and a Japanese fly rod residing under the same Manhattan roof. I agreed, but waited until the spring of the year, mainly so we could jump right into the experience after receiving the equipment.

The simplicity of the tenkara rod, especially the fact it supports no reel, continues to feel fresh to me, yet it has a familiar appeal to her. The red pine handle of our Ebisu model, in fact, resembles the tsuka of a bamboo shinai and hardwood oak bokuto.

From top to bottom: bokuto, shinai, tenkara. (photo taken 04 16 2012)

Close-up comparison of the tsuka. (photo taken 04 16 2012)

The traditional grip, with the index finger extended, allows the tenkara rod to be held at an angle familiar to a kendoka:

Tenkara grip: note position of index finger. (photo taken 04 14 2012)

The narrower range of ideal casting motion fits the technique of those accustomed to striking with a sword. When done correctly, with feeling, and surrounded by a pretty natural setting, a successful 3-Dan kendoka turned fly fisher can easily slip into the zone:

Maryann, casting the Ebisu model tenkara rod. (photo taken 04 15 2012)

Recently, we spent Maryann’s birthday weekend in southeastern Pennsylvania with her twin brother and parents, who live just a few blocks from French Creek, a freestone stream suited to the tenkara rod and method. The flow averages between thirty and forty feet in width along its main stretches. Several riffled areas, bends, and chutes narrow down to ten to fifteen feet. Here there are brown trout, some smallmouth bass, and one of my favorite fly-friendly species, fallfish, perhaps the gamest member of the chub family of minnows. The fallfish averages between six and twelve inches in length and, being insectivorous, makes a great fly rod quarry.  Once hooked, a fallfish will fight hard like a baby tarpon, a fish which it actually resembles, albeit one that is one-thousandth of the size.

Fishing the tenkara along French Creek created a pleasant experience. The casting proved to be easy and light. We both found the long rod and level line could swing an Amano Kebari or a soft-hackled fly into the kind of small bathtub depressions found in front of fallen trees and behind projecting stones. Tiny pools like these often hold all the catchable fish in shallow stretches overlooked by spin fishers who require greater depth. The result, then, is more fish for the fly fishers, which during our weekend included brown trout, common shiner, smallmouth bass, and fallfish.

A small stream, a simple rod, a single fish: these three can become one under a rising spring sun.

Maryann, out standing in her home water of French Creek, holding her first tenkara-caught fallfish. (photo taken 04 15 2012)

– rPs 04 16 2012

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