Wednesday, May 20, 2020

If I Go, I'm Goin

Just do it...

The reality of the trip existed in my head for over a month. A constant back and forth between "this is going to happen," and "real world responsibilities getting in the way." Sure, I dabbled here and there to get ready for the float. I ordered essentials like MRE's, energy bars, and compostable wet wipes.  I even prepped drop boxes for multiple resupplies and created an itinerary for family and select friends. In terms of fishing preparation, the daily grind of school, and nightly excursions to fish the hatches of May, left the state of my supplies in complete disarray. When I realized that the window of opportunity was closing and I got the green light from my work schedule, I began to pack in earnest. I remembered fishing related necessities like finishing the deer hair heads on two streamers and ended up forgetting basic needs like shoes, utensils, and a towel. 

The drive to the river left an odd feeling in my gut. Typically, I'm excited and highly anticipatory. At first I didn't understand the feeling I had but as we got closer to the destination, I realized that I was nervous. The weight of the excursion was on my shoulders and thoughts of being alone on the raft for two weeks sowed some seeds of doubt. Rather than thinking of the brown trout that awaited me, I found my mind wandering to named rapids that I had yet to conquer, the lack of cell phone service, and limited availability of assistance. I called Matt on the cell phone and he put my mind at ease. As is his usual refrain when it comes to my fishing exploits, he reassured me and simply said, "keep living the dream". The dark cloud of work loomed over my head, but it was declared over. I kept telling myself that I had nothing to worry about. 

Fuck, I forgot shoes...

The Subaru descended down a long gravelly road to the side of the river lined with fishermen and hikers. It was a section of water I had not yet seen and it did not look like most of the river I was accustomed to on the lower end. It had that Pocono plateau flair and the water was still icy cold for the middle of May.  My mind was set on launching as quickly as possible to avoid any questions or a potential visiting game warden. I do remember a very quick, and cold goodbye, as I shoved off and left Big Poppa Pump waving on the shore.

It only took a hundred yards before I found myself guiding the raft on foot down a solid amount of shallow water. In a deeper section, I noticed a rise along the far bank and decided to stop and gear up. I strapped down all my waterproof bags with ratchet straps and put on my wading boots. I set up the Go Pro, made a reach cast, and set the hook into a decent, stocked brook trout. The first cast of the trip produced and I had a big smile on my face. What followed was a long cascade that I had to escort the raft down on foot. Doubt begin to enter my mind and whether or not I was going to be able to float through the next few miles of river to my Google scouted sleeping location. 

Thankfully, the next mile of river was floatable and I decided to push through it due to the amount of fishermen and my time constraints. It was beautiful water and reminded me of a cross between Penns Creek and the Neversink Gorge. The section had good variety with deep runs, pocket water, and long glides. I periodically stopped to take a few casts and landed several stocked trout and toyed with a few palominos that stood out like traffic cones in the tannic flows. The scenery and new water made up for the underwhelming nature of the stocked trout. They were some of the ugliest I'd ever seen. I knew wild browns would be present and I also knew the chances of finding one would improve later in the evening.

My stocked trout reaction...

As the sun began to set, I entered a large elbow in the river. The bend wraps around a solid geologic rock formation as the river drops in gradient producing several sections of whitewater. I knew two sections were going to be challenging, but I didn't know they would be almost unpassable on the stealthcraft. In both situations, there was only one line (if you could call it that) to cascade down and through. With the sharp gradient and fast flows, I didn't really have a lot of time to react and in hindsight I had no other options from what occurred. There were simply too many large rocks and water was barely deep enough for the oars. In both situations I ended up pinning the front end of the raft on large boulders, allowing the back end to swing into the current, and executing a spinning motion on the oars to accelerate the rotating raft off the rock and between a few others. The first pin caught my off guard, the raft tilted hard, and I had to execute a heavy lean. The second went way more smoothly and I was smart enough to put my life jacket on this time.

Once out of the elbow, the gradient lessened but the current remained swift, super shallow, and rocky. I floated on through two very scenic glides that had picturesque houses in the distance. Around another bend, I came across a nice pool adjacent to another tributary. I immediately saw a rise formation on a rocky seam. I carefully rigged up the dry fly rod in anticipation of more rising fish and the evening hatches. Caddis dotted the air and the occasional cahill or march brown flittered off the water. The first few casts were refused and I had a feeling it was a wild brown trout. I put the fish down and spotted another in the tail out. This one ate on the third cast.

The pool I picked out for the evening hatch was around the next bend. I anchored along a long bubble line and began waiting. There weren't any rising fish but march browns started to appear. It was slow at first, then more materialized against the backdrop of the blue sky. By 8:20, there were more march browns in the sky than any march brown hatch I have witnessed, including on Penns Creek. It was then that I realized how perfectly I had timed my launch. The first riser happened fifty yards downriver in front of a boulder breaking up the seam I was anchored on. I waited, intent on being patient for closer fish. Nothing happened. My ego told me I had waited 20 minutes, when in reality it was closer to 1. I floated down to the lone riser and promptly broke him off on an overzealous hook set. It was dark and I paddled back up to the top in an attempt use the downriver view and the sky to see any rise forms. I spotted one upstream and across the main body of flow. I upsized my rusty spinner pattern and made my presentation. The rise form was evident in the darkness, I set the hook, and came tight to a nice wild brown trout. After an evening filled with stocked trout, it served as a reminder of the potential of this place and the entire river. 

The first risers in the distance...

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