I titled this piece “Exploratory Fishing” but I probably could have just called it “Fishing.” Almost all of my fishing is exploratory because the very joy of the sport is the search for new places to wet a line and determination of who hides just below the reflective surface.
Yesterday morning began with a rushed breakfast and great anticipation. I was going out to see new water, trekking afield to find which fish swim in a nearby brook that we’ll call Little Shenango Creek. This isn’t its real name; I just don’t like to point the way to any particular place. That might rob you of the pleasure of finding your own hidden treasures. Little Shenango Creek feeds into a larger stream I’ve been fishing my way through over the last couple of years. Big Shenango Creek has held many surprises for me from sculpins to smallmouth bass to carp. This stream system is contiguous with the Allegheny River meaning that a plethora of fishes have the access to it’s more tepid, sheltered currents.
Birds, some parents and some newly hatched, greeted me from deep in the thorn thickets or high on their favorite perch poles as I made my way along a country road, jumped the guard rail and eased my way downhill to the greenish channel below. This stream, like all others in this region, shows signs that it is less than pristine in its straightened watercourse, in the exotic plants that grow along the bank and in the rusting truck parts that litter the stream bed here and there. I had chosen the pole, hook and garden worms for today’s mission: simplicity incarnate. This is often what I choose when first prospecting new water and not only because I love to fish unencumbered with reels and expensive tackle but because almost no fish can refuse a plump earthworm and, hence, this is probably the method best disposed to revealing all the fish that lie in the stream’s deep holes. No better way to know what’s there.
As the cool of the morning gave way to a blazing afternoon, I made my way along through easy water, dipping a worm in all the deepest crevices and feeling tugs more often than not. A rainbow of May flowers was painted along the banks and the trickling noise of water needing to get down to the river without delay pervaded all. The spiders have been busy culling the stream-born emergers.
And what did “Little Shenango Creek” hold? Creek chubs. Hundreds and hundreds of minnows, under 8 inches long each. So, in the end I found no reticent catfish concealed beneath overhanging banks nor did I bring a bass to the surface. I passed a fine morning hooking and swinging in willing chubs, the finest fighters Little Shenango Creek could offer. And was I disappointed? Well, why would I be? Little Shenango was a part of my ongoing exploration of the Allegheny River watershed, a necessary stop and a joy to spend time on, sportfish or no sportfish. This creek is doing what it needs to do: provide a sheltered breeding place for native minnows. Like dozens of similar brooks in the area, this hatchery is what keeps supplying food to the fishes below that we humans like to call sportfish.
Based on many brief struggles yesterday, however, I don’t think anyone told the creek chubs they aren’t sportfish.