The Shallows Below

by | Aug 16, 2016 | 8 comments

— This is the companion chapter to The Shallows Above, published a few days ago.

… I’ve done this nighttime thunderstorm thing before. Two summers ago, on a dark night in July, I was surprised by another thunderstorm. And once again, it was one of the most memorable nights I’ve had.

Everywhere, the fish were moving. The network of river life seemed to be in motion: minnows, sculpins and crayfish scattered through the shallows when I scanned with my light; I saw a pair of muskrats scamper off as the light hit the bank, and something large and living bumped my ankle in the dark, shallow water. Everything alive was moving during the thunderstorm.

The wind pushed through the treetops with enough force that fallen branches floated in the river. I had little hope for good fishing that night, but I stayed on through the storm. I landed a foot-long brown trout within my first few casts, so I decided to stick with it and see what could happen. I’m glad I did.

I caught a few more trout through the heavy rain, and when the storm passed, the rain tapered into a steady sprinkle. I was wet and cold but convinced that this was the night for fishing. So I walked upstream through the shallows until I saw a rock in the creek. Behind it was a calm pocket the size of a large truck tire.

It’s really not dark at night. There’s always light from somewhere, and on this night the light came from distant clouds. The electric lights of civilization glowed on the horizon. Photons travel from backyards and porch lights; they were thrown into the clouds; they traveled two miles, entered the water and then reflected into my eyes to reveal the space before me. That’s downright amazing.

Still, it was what I would call a darker night than most. There were just enough of the civilized photons to indicate a shape in the pocket five feet in front of me. The shape was narrow, long and muscular, and its back bulged just above the surface — a damn big trout sat there in ten inches of water. I’m still not sure if I saw it first, or if the fish moved and then I saw it. The powerful specter drove forward, swirled and half-circled with aggression toward something. It struck fast (the slow motion was only in my mind), and it seemed to trap its target against the downstream side of the rock. The predator’s intensity was startling, and my heart stopped for a moment. I felt uneasy, standing in the dark, sharing the same water.

A second later, the legendary fish was gone. I assumed that it sunk behind the rock, so I gathered my wits and crept with slow caution to the far side of the narrow channel, under a few low-hanging hemlock limbs. I fished the spot hard for the what seemed like an hour, trying every reasonable (and unreasonable) fly in my box. Nothing took my flies. I’ve been back many times in the darkness, carefully fishing the spot before finally giving up, shining my light and finding … vacancy. Maybe he doesn’t exist anymore. All I know is, on that stormy night, he did.

I encountered more fish in the shallows that night, but nothing close in size to the first one. The predator remains one of the most exciting encounters I’ve had out there in the dark. That fish has given me a lot to think about.

You can’t fish every piece of dark water at night. And some places get overlooked. When I find a fish like that, I mark it down. It’s mentally burned in. Permanently. A fisherman never forgets.

 

img_0842-1

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 700+ articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers.
Your support is greatly appreciated.

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

The Further You Walk, the More You Leave Behind

The Further You Walk, the More You Leave Behind

You’re alone, and it’s still not enough. You can feel the pressure of communities, of people and things. It’s coming from behind. You want to feel lonesome again. So you walk.

This place is yours again, if just for a while . . .

You’d walk twice as far if it got you here every time . . .

Thirty-Inch Liars

Thirty-Inch Liars

Every fisherman in the parking lot seems to have a thirty-inch fish story, don’t they?

You know what I hear when someone says a fish was “about two feet long?” I hear: “I didn’t measure the fish.”

Bass guys don’t put up with this stuff. My friend, Sawyer (a dedicated bass and musky guy), is dumbfounded by the cavalier way trout fishermen throw estimates around. In his world, if you didn’t measure it, you don’t put a number on it. They take it seriously. We trout fishermen embarrass ourselves with estimates.

Podcast — Ep. 4: Wild Trout vs Stocked — The Hierarchy of River Trout

Podcast — Ep. 4: Wild Trout vs Stocked — The Hierarchy of River Trout

My friends join me for an honest discussion about the trout we pursue. All of us fish for every kind of trout on the list: wild trout, stocked trout, holdovers, fingerlings and club trout. And all of these trout hold value — but not equally. There are major differences in the types of trout we catch, and stocked fish are often nothing like their wild counterparts . . .

Podcast — Ep. 3: Night Fishing, and the Mouse Emerger Concept

Podcast — Ep. 3: Night Fishing, and the Mouse Emerger Concept

My night fishing friends, Josh and Trevor join me for a fun and detailed discussion about mouse emergers. This style is about taking the benefits of a top water pattern at night and making it a little harder for the trout to resist. Then, sometimes, we fish similar patterns that remain in the first 3-12 inches of the water column. My friends and I also trade night fishing stories about the scariest and most unusual things that happen while fly fishing after dark.

Waiting On Luck

Waiting On Luck

With the river at its peak, Dad and I spent a drizzly day with no one in sight at any hour, early or late. Alone together against the odds, we landed the occasional fish purely by accident. Yes, we targeted the backwaters. Sure, we fished deer hair sculpins, worm patterns and chartreuse things. But such are the measures suggested by those who peddle wishful thinking more than experience. Nothing was consistent in those roiling waters.

Regardless, Dad and I fished. And we hoped. We were waiting on luck . . .

Fishing With Kids — The Independence Marker

Fishing With Kids — The Independence Marker

At thirteen years old, he has enough experience with the woods and water that I don’t think twice about dropping him off to fish for the evening, awaiting his call when he’s either fished out or it’s getting dark. When I pick him up, he’s full of excitement and stories, or he is calm and peaceful in a way that I don’t often see him. I let him be, in those times, and allow the experience for him to soak in, as he processes a return to the world after a long outing. Leaving the water to rejoin life is sometimes a hard turn.

Kids soak in the rhythms of nature. And later in life, maybe around twelve years old, that base of experience pays off . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

8 Comments

  1. Hi Dom,
    Enjoyed your article. It is however, based on the premise that brown trout, especially big brown trout are territorial and stay in one place for years. Dr. Bob Bachman’s study on Spruce Creek in the early ’80s has often been cited to support this belief. He tracked wild SC browns for 3 years and found that they returned to the same rock in the pool year after year. I do not doubt Dr. Bachman’s conclusions regarding Spruce Creek, but they can not be applied to the Little Juniata River trout. As you know, LJRA and Juniata College conducted a brown trout behavior study using telemetry on the Little j last year. While our primary goal of determining where the trout go for refuge during periods of high water temperatures was not achieved (water temps never got warm enough), we can draw the conclusion that wild brown trout do not stay put. Instead the trout in our study used the entire river! They moved far ( some times many miles) and often. And note that the larger trout moved the most and the farthest both up stream and down! We hope to continue our study next season, building on what we have learned.
    Bill

    Reply
    • Bill, this is excellent. I love it.

      THIS summer certainly would have been hot enough to force relocation, right? Are the tags no longer trackable?

      In the story above, I went back (and still do) to the same location because I believe if that trout doesn’t live there anymore, it’s likely that another large trout does.

      My Troutbitten friends and I have tracked many large wild browns by catching and taking pictures of them. We were honestly shocked to discover how often the same big fish was in the same spot … season after season and year after year. No, not always, but dozens of top tier fish seemed to stake their claim and sit on it.

      We continue to take pics of the biggest browns and “track” them in that way. So far, it’s been the same in almost every water that we fish.

      I do recognize that there are also many fish that are moving a lot. There are plenty of big trout that we catch and then can’t find again. That’s why I find your telemetry studies so interesting.

      I agree that info gathered from Spruce can’t be applied elsewhere. I think the Spruce Creek set up is too artificial to be trying to determine wild trout behavior. Too many stocked fish. Too much feeding from the bank. Tough, then, to determine what an honest, wild behavior would be.

      We gotta get together soon.

      Reply
      • Unfortunately all our transmitters died in June/July. They had a 500 day life and were placed beginning in early spring 2015. Of the 24 trout we tagged all were over 14 inches (mature and over 3 years old). A few did stay put, some time for months. Others left and were MIA (i.e. not in the 20 mile stretch of main river we were survailing) for many weeks. There were 6 trout we could not locate from August 2015 until spring 2016 and then they showed back up near where they were originally caught! The other factor in the Little J that differs from most trout streams is that the j gets too warm for trout in its upper 15 miles while it stays cool enough from the middle river downstream. Those wild browns living in the upper river have to move or die during summers like the one we are currently experiencing (last summer was an exception but the trout still moved by mid August). I look forward to sharing knowledge and experience with you on this subject. See you on the 30th.

        Reply
  2. “I agree that info gathered from Spruce can’t be applied elsewhere. I think the Spruce Creek set up is too artificial to be trying to determine wild trout behavior. Too many stocked fish. Too much feeding from the bank. Tough, then, to determine what an honest, wild behavior would be.”

    Note that Dr. Bachman’s study was conducted on the Penn State or George Harvey stretch and he only watched wild trout that were never fed. One very interesting aspect of his study was his observations as to what happened when hatchery rainbows were inadvertently stocked in his watched pools. The wild browns immediately began chasing the rainbows as the hatchery fish wandered aimlessly crossing repeatedly into the brown’s “territories”. Soon the wild trout were seen floating belly up out of the pool, exhausted from the constant chasing! Dr. Bachman’s observations serve as solid evidence as to the detrimental effect the stocking of hatchery trout into a wild population can have.
    Bill Anderson – President- Little Juniata River Association

    Reply
  3. Enjoyed reading of your night-fishing experiences and agree that “anything can and will change any time,” but on the other hand I find it useful to be wary of dangers on the water such as unexpected t’storms. Less than a month ago an unexpected storm blew down a couple of 100-foot yard trees that struck the house just above my head. I’m glad I had the sense to be inside at that point and not out in the yard. I always want to be open to adventure but I also respect the unknown powers of the natural world. I’m not suggesting that you flaunt those powers, just that I’m a little more chicken-hearted when it comes to night fishing, especially in the face of storms.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

Pin It on Pinterest