Looking through my calendar would not make it any clearer. No magic windows were going to open. Fishing in May in Maryland and Pennsylvania for trout gives some of the best chances to catch substantial size fish on dry flies. Each of the past few years I was able to plan a trip for a couple of days to central Pennsylvania, usually with my friend Mark, to catch some sulphurs, blue wing olives, march browns and green drakes hatching on streams of the region. Based on work schedules, kids’ events, and a high school graduation (Yay Kayla!) I had one evening and one day for a fishing trip. The weather forecast was sunny, with no significant chance of a large rain event. So, I booked a campsite and took off work. 

Within three days, I had researched new patterns and tied a few dozen new flies. All the camping items were together. My friend Joe recommended I use cripple patterns as much as possible and they were fun to tie. It was more for mental preparation, as I knew I already had flies that with proper presentation could fool the fish. The comical bumper sticker philosophy often repeated on social media popped into my head reminding me of this fact, “It’s not the flies, you suck!” But finding one pattern that I catch a fish on and then build my confidence can be the difference between a fondly remembered trip and a self-flagellating rumination for me. I am still at the point where catching one fish builds me up and removes self-doubt around my knowledge and angling skills that getting skunked can grow within me.

Even Brook Trout Get the Blues by John Gierach was my audiobook for the road, I sprinkled in a few podcasts as well. Hearing stories about John Gierach struggling to catch fish in difficult conditions helped me dial the pressure I sometimes put on myself back a few notches. The bumpy gravel roads lined with mountain laurel and hemlocks added to my relaxation. I was looking forward to a campfire and the sound of the river.

Setting up the camp has a ritual like setting up the fly tackle for the trip. The smell of a tent is a unique and nostalgic reminder of past trips and the sound of a zipper on a tent is unlike any other zipper. It is unmistakable. Campsites around me had hanging waders to accompany the tents, stacks of firewood, and various supplies. The more waders I see, the more crowded the river will be, but it still helps me feel like I am with my people. After the tent was set up, which always feels like I am doing it for the first time, I walked down to the river. 

An angler was set up to my left and within a few casts he had a bent rod from a healthy brown trout. An aggressive fish splashed behind me while bank swallows fluttered in patterns that coincided with insects rising off the water surface. I love this time of year along our trout streams. Energy is high and beauty occupies every vantage point. 

I rigged up my line as the sun started to drop over the treetops. The tail out of a pool, narrowed the channel width into a glassy glide to riffle transition a few steps from my campsite. Fish rose in several distinct positions throughout the various water types. A gentleman set up a chair on the point bar downstream of me and took out binoculars. This was new for me, but I could tell he was watching the river surface to get a close-up view of which flies the fish were taking. I fished and rotated through a half a dozen flies, my casts only served to make sure fish stopped rising anywhere I casted. After an hour, I approached the binoculared man.

March Brown Dun

He informed me that each rising trout was taking a large yellow or cream-colored fly, a size 8 or 10. I went back to my casting position and tied on my largest light-colored flies. I induced one strike, or last second refusal, which resulted in a splash and no fish on the line. My night ended fishless as the sun set. A friend joined the man on the point bar, and I continued my light-hearted and educational conversation with the pair. They stayed at the campground for a week and made the pilgrimage each year. They tied flies in the past, but age had limited their ability to construct smaller flies, so they researched flies to purchase and fish. One always functioned as a spotter, and it helped them limit the wear and tear on their bodies from wading and casting. 

I finished the evening with a nice meal and a beer. Thoughts of the two men and their friendship and teamwork helped lessen the sting of getting skunked on the spinner fall. I was around my people, people who love spending time preparing to be on the river and sharing it with friends. I felt a little lonely being on my own at the campsite, but knowing folks who were talking about fly fishing, hatches, and flies occupied the campground all around me, helped me feel at home. I did not catch a fish that night, but I found what I was looking for. 

Keep Mending…

One Reply to “Spend A Night Camping and Find Something Worth Looking For”

  1. Oh my gosh! This touched my heart!
    I loved that the 2 men continued their passion for fishing by adjusting the situation!
    And that you connected with them made it better for them and for you!
    Being connected is important! We should be less afraid of meeting new people! They are perhaps new friends even for a day!

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