A Good Winter on the Creek

I’ve been fishing the creek that flows within sight of my back window nearly every morning lately. It just puts me in a good frame of mind to carry with me through the rest of the day, a way of thinking that keeps my focus on the natural and elemental. And I wonder sometimes about the folks zipping past on McKnight Road, whether any of them might benefit from starting with nature’s priorities, whatever else their busy days may hold. It’s hard not to wonder these things when your fishing stream runs between parking lots and freeways.

Today was a day I had to fish. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has decided that my stream is official trout water and that it needs to be closed to anglers (really just to me) beginning tomorrow morning. I guess this allows an appropriate 6 weeks of building anticipation to the opening of trout season, when the state trucks will arrive to endow Pine Creek with hatchery trout, somewhere a long way downstream. Anyway, the creek chubs think it’s just fine that this is official trout water. They don’t have to watch for that annoying camo-clad guy with his pole, line and hook for a month and a half.

It was warm today, for the last day of February, though not as warm as a few days ago, when spring peepers could be heard and turtles basked; the first time I’ve seen these things during winter in this state. We’re told constantly that we have to view these unseasonable spells as evidence of a dangerously warming planet and see the need to act now to save the earth. I don’t think the earth is really worried though. The spring peepers were able to deal with it. The hawks found warm updrafts, the better to soar on. The creek chubs raced upstream like so many tiny salmon to deep green pools where only I and the heron would know to seek them. Why can’t we enjoy license to revel in change whether colder or hotter, drier or wetter than we’ve become accustomed to. If we thought like nature, we’d busy our minds seeking the new opportunities that come with change, I think.

I’m sure I was watched from the windows of cars and buildings as I left the pavement, pole in hand to seek my quarry. I must have seemed a deviant, deviating from career, responsibilities, and things that are expected of me. To all those who see nature from inside windows looking out, I would merely waste time in the ditch today among the mud and shrubs. But my quarry is nothing they could ever see from their civilized vantage points.

And then I was alone, feet in the flow and small birds warning all that the fisher was back for another try. But the creek chubs couldn’t hear a peep. I was directly under the freeway and judging by the fresh tracks in newly revealed mud, I hadn’t been the only one this morning to obviate the thoroughfare above. A muskrat and, close behind, the mink, had passed this way. The pigeons unceremoniously evacuated concrete roosts in the dark.

The water was low and the first tiny pool offered me nothing. The same with the next and the next. But the opportunity the low water allowed was one of speed: I pushed upstream rapidly to see how far I could get in the minutes I had, before the winter season came to a close on old familiar Pine Creek. And the water didn’t truly offer nothing. I spotted a mottled sculpin darting to avoid my boots, the first of these I’d seen here in all my days of fishing, and a good sign for this flowage.

All of the chubs had collected in two deep aqua pools. Despite the shallowness of the stream overall, I wasn’t able to see the bottom here and I knew that the chubs wouldn’t want me or the heron to be able to see them either. And now it was sheer simplicity and joy to bait up, sling out the decorated hook and sinker and retrieve a vigorous, flopping creek chub time after time. I’d been away on more exotic waters recently and while I had been, some of the male chubs had taken on breeding colors, their pectorals convincing me that wild trout were being retrieved but then the stark lateral line assuring me that I’d ensnared a member of the minnow clade.

Crossing the stream stealthily from the low end of a final pool, I overfilled my wading boots. 10 year old Cedric would have been proud. I’m just not trying hard enough if I haven’t overfilled the boots. The redwing blackbird, a new arrival here, laughed at me. And I laughed at him, noticing the cattails just over the bank. I knew where his nest will be this April. The heron had waded this way too said the tracks which faded now in the silt.

A bright orange marshmallow from the Berkeley bait company dropped into the center of the pool, the line went tight and the pole bent, more so than it had any time since I’d set out weeks ago to explore this neglected flow. The king creek chub had fallen with a mere moment left to fish till April! This was a fish of beauty; thick, frowning lips and all. Almost too fat to fight and bearing a crown of breeding tubercles, the fish was over nine inches long, far beyond anything I’d landed yet. If I’d used a salamander or one of the earlier chub for bait, this portly minnow could have taken it.

The fight was appreciable on my primitive and wispy tackle. If I was into such things, it would have made a fine wall mount – the grandest creek chub – what the common chubs aspire to.

All this next to the shopping center where humans go to fill human needs and think about human things, seldom wondering about what’s in the wide strip over along the freeway or where the rain goes that runs off the lot noisely into the storm sewers. Yes, I’d taken my quarry today, and maybe it had little to do with the king creek chub after all.

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