Fire & Ice

Well, another Drifter winter excursion is in the books – and the best way to describe it is with those three words. The streams were pretty jammed with ice and snow, but the camp fires were raging inside and out.

I headed out for the Laurel Highlands on Friday morning after dropping off the dog at my Dad’s place Thursday evening. The morning temperatures were chilly. I hit Giant Eagle for some last minute supplies, then the fly shop in Ligonier to peruse the wares. Man, that place is loaded with Barbour, Orvis and Patagonia gear. So if you’re a ‘Gonia head like myself, you should definitely stop. Bring your wallet.

I picked up a few leaders and a hat and checked out the Wicked Googly down the street, as recommended by the guy in the shop. I needed some coffee for sure, and breakfast sounded good. Plus the name was intriguing.

Turns out the place is a hybrid bar/restaurant/bowling lanes. I like beer and bowling…and breakfast, and the special was cheap so I ponied up to the bar and ordered. A group of guys were sitting at a table near me – obviously locals – and stacking up beers like firewood. It was not quite 10 am.

Eggs, bacon, toast and coffee for like 10 bucks, including tip. Couldn’t beat that price. I finished and hit the road. As I got closer to Linn Run, the roads got dicey but the Subaru did fine. I stopped at the park office to see if I might be able to get into my cabin early. Amanda – at the office was super nice and said it wouldn’t be a problem and handed me a key to cabin #5.

Unfortunately when I booked my reservations, I had thought I was in a different location that Todd and I had booked last year. That was actually cabin #3. So that won’t happen again. But the cabin was larger, slept 4 and had good lighting for tying flies. I unloaded my gear, stocked the fridge and set up my tying station at the large kitchen table. Then I got to work heating up the old buck stove. That thing was finicky.

A little bit later, around 1 pm the other Drifters – Ryan, his cousin Cody and Kaleb all showed up together.

They had met at Barb’s to pick up some supplies. Kaleb fell 60 cents short on his bill, and Barb wouldn’t give him his purchase. He was pissed and vowed to never go back.

I helped the guys unload their gear and get settled in. We cracked some beers and hung out in the cabin, and talked shop. Cody shared some of his self-smoked cheese. Wow, was that fantastic. I gotta get some more of that.

Around 4 pm we cleared the snow from the fire ring outside and worked on getting a fire going. More beers were cracked. Music was pumped. We eventually decided eating would be a good thing, and after some prodding from Ryan, we headed inside to get started. Tonight’s menu would be burgers and crawfish.

Ryan worked on the crawfish as Kaleb seasoned the burgers. Cody and I pretty much watched and helped where we could. But we drank beer and supervised mostly. It all worked out and the food was great. The Drifters were back together. It was an early night for me and I headed back to the cabin, but don’t remember what time it was. It had been a long day.

I crashed hard early, which meant I was wide awake at 4:30 am. I got up, laced up the boots and made the walk to the restrooms. It was still dark and very cold. The crunch of the snow as I walked accompanied the howling of the wind through the trees. It was peaceful and I appreciated that. Back at the cabin my next task was to get the fire going. As I did that, I shot some photos of the place and mixed up some pancake batter around 6:30 am. Coffee was brewed and by 8 am the fire was raging.

As I waited for the others to wake and finished up breakfast, I tied up some bugs and listened to some tunes. I worked on some indicator dry flies with bright orange cdc that I thought might really show up. Turns out I didn’t use enough cdc to really make a big difference – so lesson learned there. But I’ll use ’em.

The guys started moving around 8 am and got the bloody marys started. I shot a few more pics as they got breakfast going. I walked the bank near the stream and started seeing little black stoneflies. That was interesting to me, because a book I have only mentions caddis, midges and light cahills being in the area. Cool. The uncool thing was that although it was warming up, there was still so much edge ice and snow flanking the stream.

Before we knew it, it was almost noon so Ryan and I drove down to Barb’s to pick up some more firewood. Pat, the guy at the counter, and I talked Andrew Wyeth as I pointed out the painting behind him on the wall. We drove into Ligonier to stock our beer supply, and then to the Adams Falls area, parked and wadered up. The nice turn in weather brought people outside and the lot had many vehicles. Lucky for us, only one fisherman, but we walked downstream giving him plenty of space. The stream didn’t get much better as far fishability. Lots of ice and snow, with pockets of rippling water. We hit what we could, but didn’t move any fish. Granted we were talking more than fishing – as we realized it was still early in the season and the water was very cold.

We headed back to the cabins after a while. Cody and Kaleb greeted us with a nice fire and cold brews. They had gone on a hike and were back relaxing. We hung out there for a few hours and around 6 pm we started dinner. On the menu: meat and more meat. Cody had pork chops cooking up in cast iron on the fire. Kaleb had steaks going on the grill. Ryan had more crawfish going on the stove. I handled the baked potatoes – using the old – fill with butter and garlic cloves, wrap in foil and throw in the hot coals method. Dinner was delicious.

I was pretty beat by 8 pm so headed back to the cabin after we heard Kaleb reading his latest entry from the Book of Drifter. The Drifters keep a journal of entries from previous trips. The only rule is that there has to be more than two Drifters present in order to add anything. And it is pretty funny looking back at some of the writings. I think in 20 years, it will be such a neat thing to have and look back on.

Anyhow, I got the fire going and called it a night.

The next morning I was once again up early. I headed up to the restrooms and showered. As I walked past the other cabin, I saw a small silhouette of an animal scurry away from the two cast iron skillets sitting on the concrete bench. I checked, but the guys weren’t up yet. Back to the cabin for me, but I picked up an ax to chop some wood.

I had some cereal and coffee, and tied up more bugs. This time, some shuttlecocks. I hadn’t tied them before and they looked kinda cool. I have this pack of cards that I keep in my travel kit. I believe the Original Drifter got them for me for Christmas one year. So I knocked out a dozen of the simple ties to try.

The others were up and around by 8 am. It was Super Bowl Sunday. Lucky for me, I still had another full day in the woods. The other Drifters had to load up their vehicles and head back to reality by checkout at 10 am. I went over to their cabin, scrounged up the last of the kindling and we said our goodbyes and planted the seeds for an other trip. Sounds like a trip to Cody’s place might be on the list for 2019.

I had already packed the Subaru with my fishing gear for a little trek to Laurel Hill. I wanted to see if it would be fishable. When I got there, I saw some sections that could be – however the ice made things a bit hairy. I threw a few bugs. The weather was amazing. Crisp, blue skies and the sun was shining. The melt was on as the temperatures climbed. It turned out to be a pleasant day for a drive.

Back at the cabin I fished the hole right at the site. I got a brookie to rise to a #16 parachute Adams, but pulled that fly right out of his jaw. Three times! It was a blast though. I waited a bit and tried a small caddis dropped off the Adams. Not interested. Ready to go inside, I tied on a third fly to the caddis. This time a deadly bug in my opinion – a green soft hackle.

Sure enough two casts in, he crushed the soft hackle, but wiggled off the end of my line. Just wasn’t meant to be and I had harassed the guy enough so I fished upstream, leap frogging ice and snow. The sun was really bright and it was quite comfortable shaking off the winter blues. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did receive some much needed vitamin D, breathed fresh air and had an enjoyable day.

That night I packed all my gear to make the next morning as seamless as possible. I tied some more bugs, finished the beer in the fridge and loaded the buck stove with the last of the wood. I didn’t really need the fire, but wanted one last night of those soothing, crackling sounds. I hit the hay around 10 pm, feeling quite satisfied with the adventure, despite the lack of fish caught.

As I get older I realize that the time with friends is worth much more than the amount of fish you fool. ~Drifter07