Sudden Chill

The idyll of a calm autumn day. Autumn did not start like that this year! (Photo courtesy Chuck Coronato)

You know that you might be a bit too focused on fishing when you head to the river to meet 25 mile-per-hour winds on a sudden 55-degree day. Though the second official day of autumn, Friday felt a lot like winter as compared to the mid-seventies sunshine of summer’s finale.

I thought I had prepared for the weather, but those radical changes have more impact as the count of the years climbs. I still had that chill in my body hours later, relaxed in my easy chair in front of the ballgame!

We all know that wind like that is the enemy of fly fishing. It just limits our casting and presentation so much, in a game where those limitations truly matter. I had taken the rainy day off, and I really wanted to get out to greet the new season before the weekend and my commitment to tie flies at the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild/HVTU/CFFCM Roundtable on Saturday.

The Red Gods seem to enjoy needling fly fishers, there seems no other explanation. I have spent a lot of days on these rivers during a generally hatchless summer, so as soon as I waded out to battle the elements, they sent me some bugs. It was turmoil out there with the wind, the kind of conditions that trout don’t even try to surface feed in, but walking along the river’s edge I start to see mayflies: hebes and pale olives are drifting down the edge! After a while, I saw a couple of larger Cahills flying off the top of the wavelets.

I fished with a big dry fly, something that would be easy to spot, and I hoped might attract the attention of a hungry trout. These are not the kind of conditions for tiny flies on gossamer tippets. I tried the October Caddis, I tried the cricket, no dice. I did the best I could to control my line and leader in all of the swirling, gusting winds, all to no avail.

I decided to take one more shot at an old adversary, just to see if he felt the same kind of need to be out and about to greet the new fall season. I had tied on a nice size twelve Cahill, one of my Translucence flies that appeared to be a close match to the handful of pale, larger mayflies that I had seen flying from the wind tossed river. As I approached my final destination, I saw a sizeable surface disturbance in the vicinity of my target, just caught the commotion out of the corner of my eye. Was that a rise? Unlikely but possible I guess, though there have been branches blowing out of the trees and hitting the surface all afternoon. I continued my approach with determination.

Presentation is the final challenge. Fly design and selection, tackle choice and setup, wading and positioning are all critical, but in the end the cast must be executed despite the worst Mother Nature might throw at us and the fly presented perfectly naturally. The limitations presented by powerful winds blowing the line, leader, tippet and fly around as the cast unrolls will affect every aspect of our presentation, and not for the better.

The cast shot through the wind and unrolled with a significant amount of buffeting, and I backed the tip up with a gentle nudge as I dropped the rod tip to the water. The float looked pretty good considering, and it continued for several feet. I don’t know whether that old brown followed it down studying the fly, or if he was simply further downstream than I expected when the cast drifted toward him. I did get a nice, long float, but eventually I could see the first sign that my fly was beginning to slow down, a sure sign that all of the available slack in the leader and tippet had been expended. My next sensation was surprise and wonder at the explosion that erupted under that dry fly, like a missile strike had landed on my innocent Cahill! I burst into laughter and happily cursed that damned fish: “you just don’t want to be mine, do you?” I questioned. Of course, he had already given me his answer.

Autumn Rain

Summer’s final day passed gently, in solitude and beauty. The fishing was mostly uneventful, though I enjoyed my time on the river as always. Walking slowly upriver at the end of the afternoon I luxuriated at the feeling of the sun on my shoulders, acknowledging in my thoughts that few such moments may remain in this fleeting season.

Autumn’s first winds blew some welcome rain into the Catskills before dawn this morning, and I listen to it’s patter on my roof as I write. Flies have been tied and fly lines cleaned before breakfast with a thought to tomorrow’s fishing, when I hope one of my best friends will emerge from his long respite and join me on the stream.

JA has a beautiful new bamboo rod to christen, lovingly completed some months ago, and I pray the Red Gods will smile upon him and bring a very memorable trout to hand to commemorate the occasion.

There is no doubt that the dry fly season is winding down as autumn comes nocking, though there are gifts bestowed upon anglers at this lovely if somewhat melancholy time of year. Insect hatches do occur as the leaves rush to color and then eventually fall, it is simply that they are even more ephemeral than in spring or summer.

Autumn low water at Cadosia Riff.

For me, summer departed in a quizzical manner, the phenomena my friends and I know as Mark Luck reaching a pinnacle in theory. Upon stepping into the river, I brushed some vegetation and dislodged a plump October Caddis. The big fellow plopped onto the water and fluttered, bringing a smile to my face. Though I know the species inhabits our Catskill rivers, I cannot recall ever seeing one that I could positively identify, and it was good to watch that one drop in to say hello.

I had two appropriate flies tucked into a small box in my vest and chose one of a pattern I have guarded closely for more than a decade. Understand that an October Caddis is a formidable fly, for it is tied on a big size ten dry fly hook, with large fluttering wings, a plump dubbed body and equally large hackle. My leader was freshly rigged for a 5X tippet. I knew I should have cut the leader back, retied a proper 4X point to deal with the air resistance of the fly, but I hate to waste the time and that expensive fluorocarbon material, so I didn’t. My four weight Maurer wand seemed to cast that big fly to distance with ease, so I accepted my choice rather smugly.

I was working the scene of a couple of dubious past encounters and honestly not expecting any response. At one point I cast long to lay my fly tight to the bank and lost it upon touchdown. I looked, squinted to employ my best eye, and nothing. I assumed the fly had sunk from the repeated immersion of stripping it back after long, downstream casts. While I was straining to find my fly on the water, I heard a solid plop, the rise of a very good fish. I caught the rise in the corner of my eye, much nearer to me than the bank I had cast to and well to my right. Upon retrieving my fly to cast to that fish, I instead retrieved an empty leader, the 5X tippet weakened by repeated casting of such a large, air resistant fly. I realized that the fly had separated from the tippet on its way to the bank and likely fallen into the nearer line of drift, resulting in that rise.

Now I cannot guarantee that things occurred as I have related, but there wasn’t anything else on the water eliciting rises from any trout, much less any big ones, and the timing upon my realization and consideration of the facts was perfect. Of course, I cast to the location of that rise multiple times after re-rigging, though not with my special October Caddis, my lone sample serving as his free lunch. I hope that trout enjoyed my untethered fly; so much so that he will eagerly accept another, the next time securely knotted to a 4X point!

Is he smiling with gratitude for the free lunch?

A Farewell To Summer

A late summer afternoon where we tried in vain to find the right fly to stimulate the jaded trout…

And so, we have come at last to the turn of the seasons. Autumn awaits two days hence, and I contemplate my farewell to another Catskill summer. This time is always bittersweet for me; it has ever been so since my youth. More poignant now, as the passing of summer rapidly brings the dry fly season to a close.

This has not been a perfect summer; too little rain and too much heat pared the day-to-day fishing down to its bones at times, though as always there were bright moments. I enjoyed the hunt for trout even during the most difficult times, for that is the essence of my being: the grace of a bamboo fly rod and a classic reel, the hope to bring a fine wild brownie to the dry fly!

George Maurer’s Queen of the Waters and a hastily trimmed fly seduced this one on a gorgeous summer day with friends.

Perhaps today I will take another long walk upon the Delaware, sans those azure skies and tiny flies we come to accept as the norm for summertime. It is a time to reach out on the big river, to test the riffles with a sturdy Isonychia, either floated or swung. What better way to awaken a Delaware rainbow from his summer nap?

Little of summer’s sunshine can be expected to find me these final days, and Friday’s high is forecast at fifty-three degrees. The change in seasons will be easily noticeable. I am prepared, for I have seen the signs throughout these past few weeks. Yet I hope for a few weeks more with rising trout! I do not wish to surrender to the long months without life upon the surface.

The golden glow of October sunlight bathes the shallows as the 2020 season’s last big dry fly brown trout recovers from his bout with the boo.

Sanctuary: A Return

Summer is waning fast as we enter its final week. Everything around me speaks of autumn, and the cool breeze over the water reinforces Nature’s words. At last, a return to Sanctuary and a day away from thoughts and cares. Here there is river and sky, leaves spiraling with the air currents on high, and the soft murmur of fresh autumnal breezes through the trees. It is not so much a place at times as a state of mind.

My little red wrap seven and one-half foot Orvis Madison, “the basic rod for the trout fisherman” according to its maker, wears a vintage Hardy LRH. More than forty years old, the rod was tested and proven today!

The little rod was part of my relaxation, my return. This day I would step back from the intensity of fishing through a shortened and difficult season and savor the hours of another vanishing summer. All too soon this dry fly season will come to a close and the long, frigid hand of winter will reach out and take hold of these mountains and the rivers of my heart.

Late morning on the river revealed a couple of single rises, though I saw no flies upon the water. I had watched a pair climbing through the air though, tiny mayflies I took for olives. My 18 was refused, so I knotted a size 20, but I did not see any rises after that change. Waiting and watching, taking in the serenity of the scene, I suddenly saw two strong rises in the distance, then another somewhat closer at hand. They were not repeated.

As I waited, those rises and the intermittent strong breezes led me to change my fly again, selecting the Adams version of my Grizzly Beetle, and covering the visible holding lies before me. The fly produced two frantic little brown trout, splashing and writhing as I lifted them from the water to twist the fly free. Perhaps my guess as to the gifts carried upon the wind were correct.

I waded along, gently casting to lies while the sun and cloud masses alternated dominance between the mountain ridges. At last, within reach of the heavily sheltered lie that revealed the morning’s bolder rises, I called upon the fates and cast my beetle so it would drift down over the glory hole. Was that early trout holding there, or simply passing through? My question was answered when the beetle drifted over the dark water where the old trout lurk.

The little Orvis bowed heavily when I raised it, and my smile widened with the realization that my instincts were correct. The difficulty was that I had a big trout hooked amid some fearsome line cutting rocks! The right combination of a limber rod, a sharp little hook and some luck brought leviathan out of his fortress where I could play him. The Hardy provided the music for his runs, of which there were many, along with several tries to bring him to the net, the last finally succeeding.

The fly was removed easily, and I slid him along the centerline of the net for a measurement: twenty-four glorious inches! He was not what I expected on this relaxed afternoon. Sometimes the river smiles upon us.

September Deuce: He wetted me thoroughly splashing and writhing in the net while I fumbled with my camera.

Considering the calendar, I switched that beetle for an Isonychia mayfly imitation along about two o’clock. I had seen them in the past as early as Labor Day, though they have been more than scarce these past few years. When I noticed a single dark, tall-winged dun drifting near the riverbank, I gained confidence in my choice. The Iso would produce several more trout as I worked my way upriver and closer to home. The small ones splashed me as I released them, just as before, but the last one wasn’t small.

He was a bright golden fellow, peppered with big dark spots, and just shy of twenty inches. We would duel awhile, and he would let me slide him close to the net, then go berserk in close quarters. Captured at last after several such performances, he had stitched the tippet through his teeth and then wrapped more around his snout. When I reached for the big claret dry fly, I found it just sitting there in his mouth, no longer hooked into his jaw. I clipped it off and stuffed it in a pocket, then unsnarled the tippet from tooth and mandible, placing him back where he belongs.

Gathering Along the Willow

A bit of fishing on the Willowemoc, September 2021

Relaxing this morning as I wait to see if the storm clouds will part to allow some fishing. I am catching up with things, sending a few messages to folks that enhanced my enjoyment of my first Catskill Rodmakers Gathering this past weekend. I had nearly attended last year, and in 2019, but figured with much of the focus being technical aspects of the craft, I would have a lot of down time. This year’s Gathering had a strong focus upon casting and enjoying the various cane rods sprung from the participants’ benches, so I found myself happily in the midst of my element!

Though I harbor the dream of making my own bamboo flyrod, age and arthritis have been the sobering thoughts that quell those fascinations. There are several classes available, though by necessity they condense the process into a handful of days, and my old body would not handle two or three days of steady planing. Yes, should I stumble across the opportunity to putz around in a suitable rod shop for a day here and there over several months, I would likely be able to live that dream, but that is an unlikely scenario. Happily, my concession is that I remain condemned to fish the marvelous creations of talented makers on our beautiful Catskill rivers.

Playing a trophy brown on a vintage Thomas & Thomas rod… complete perfection!

Among the dozens of original rods I cast this weekend, I had another little dream come true. A friend was kind enough to bring his vintage Leonard 50 DF along for me to cast. That model is the most famous and revered rod ever produced by the H. L. Leonard Rod Company and I learned that such status is well deserved. The rod’s feel, action and delivery were flawless! Smooth and controlled, the 50 DF has found a place on my wish list.

Before the glow of the Leonard had diminished, that friend produced a vintage Payne 102H and placed it in my hand. If someone stood before me and offered me either of these classic masterworks, it would be nearly impossible to choose. I have a modern rod made to that taper, a collaboration between the late George Guba and Pittsburgh rodmaker Tim Zietak. I have always enjoyed that rod immensely, and though it is impossible to compare two rods without a side-by-side casting session, my sense of feel satisfied me that my copy is similar in it’s casting rhythms.

While I was impressed with the craftsmanship of many rods I enjoyed at this year’s Gathering, I found that my favorites have not changed. I still prefer the marvelous rods currently made by Dennis Menscer, Tom Smithwick and Tom Whittle. Their remarkable performance suits the challenges of my style of angling. In terms of vintage rods, classic Thomas & Thomas Paradigms remain at the summit of my world, and my Grangers still retain their status. Leonard indeed produced some marvelous rods, and being prolific, they are thankfully obtainable. The rods of Jim Payne find themselves on the top of many angler’s pedestals, and thus remain unobtainable for those of us with common means. Of course, dreaming doesn’t cost a thing!

My Guba/Zietak Payne 102H has conquered many large Catskill brownies.

Past Adventures

A beautiful 22-inch brown, one of the fish that made April 2013 special; back in those bad old days of stiff graphite rods and high intensity fishing. Life is more relaxed these days as I count my fishing in months rather than days.

While passing the time during my self-imposed hiatus from my daily angling routine, I chanced upon some computer files holding fishing logs. I typed these up at times, since I brought my laptop along whenever my fishing trips coincided with a deadline for my newspaper column. The pages from April of 2013 brought the memories flooding back of one particularly challenging spring in the Catskills.

I had come to West Branch Angler, my favorite home away from home, upon receiving news that the Hendrickson hatch had begun. As that special magic I call Mark Luck was working, I arrived to plenty of cast defeating wind and three days of troutless splendor. The West Branch failed to offer a rising trout, not unexpected since there were no Hendricksons in evidence that first day either. Pounded by rains overnight, I fished other rivers each of the next two days, encountering more (less?) of the same; that is to say neither bugs nor trout. It looked like another of those difficult years from the outset.

On Monday I returned to the West Branch, witnessing a blizzard hatch of Hendricksons in a gale. Fighting that wind, I managed to convince two decent trout to eat my flies rather than one of several hundred thousand naturals. I considered those fish hard earned to say the least. The wind moderated somewhat on Tuesday, though Mark Luck still raised it’s head and separated me from the first twenty-inch class brown of the season prematurely. I had put my best mojo to work early that morning, tying a few size 16 reddish CDC sparkle duns after breakfast at the Lodge. Fishing hard through another amazing blizzard of mayflies I netted two pretty fish. The largest, at twenty-one inches renewed my faith in the same-day-fly magic that has served me well for many years.

With the weather deteriorating, I headed south after that hard day’s fishing, put in three days at the office, and returned to better prospects on Saturday morning. The afternoon warmed into the seventies under a bright sun and I found little choice but to fish among a crowd. Pushed out of one of my favorite haunts, I walked the opposite bank of the river to find some space, then waded out into the sunshine.

While anglers up and downstream flailed away fruitlessly at nearby rings, I sent long casts down and across to the first mid-river risers. They were nice trout, but not the big boys I had hoped to tangle with. As it turned out, the trout I coveted were in tight to the bank behind me.

I stalked those shallow water boys carefully, and took all three, including the fellow pictured above. Walking out after the hatch I was taken aback, then laughed as some overly intense guy ran up to me asking “was that YOUUU down on the SHADOWS?”

Wind and weather returned to an unfriendly status, and the bugs and risers vanished for two more days. Tuesday was my last day, cool and dry, with the wind finally laying down once more. I switched locations again, needing to get away from the crowd. I saw no Hendricksons that afternoon, though I did find four good fish daintily sipping along one favorite bank. The flies that had attracted their attention were Blue Quills initially, and later the upright spinners of the same little spring mayflies. I missed one trout, then had him come back and drown my second chance cast without taking it, but I was money on the others in that group. The little guy measured a full twenty inches, while his buddies taped out at twenty-one apiece. What a way to conclude my second round of Catskill springtime magic!

Lifeblood

Clouds have passed through the Catskills for months. Finally, they have shared their burden with our parched rivers!

It is quiet here this morning in Crooked Eddy, and I can hear precious rainfall trickling o’er the roof above my window. Our rivers have good flows at this hour, and the gentle rain seems wont to continue today throughout the heart of the Catskills. My respite from fishing is destined to extend to a full week and I have no complaints. In fact, I am grateful.

Yes, I feel the rivers tugging at me, calling me back, but I am satisfied to let them breathe a moment, to let them heal as rest has healed my tired bones. Cool water now runs across river rocks that have been dry and baking in the sun for weeks. It is cause for celebration!

I have not tied a single fly since the end of August, though I may at some point today. I feel I can exhale finally, that it is permissible to think about autumn mayflies. Ah that trickling, like tiny bells! What a beautiful sound!

Rest

The second of September dawned with the porch thermometer nudging forty-five degrees, and the typical misty skies here amid our cluster of mountain rivers. By breakfast, the day had transformed into another hauntingly gorgeous, bright and wonderful Catskill summer day, but for all that it is not a fishing day. Too many days with too many casts, as I attempted to make more of the fishing than Nature had planned for me this season, have aggravated the arthritis in my neck and plucked at some muscle connecting my shoulder. I know it is time for a rest.

The passionate angler inside fights the realization, though thankfully common sense has triumphed. I have relaxed, done some reading, stretched in my porch chair as the waxing sun warmed my old bones.

I read a bit of Schwiebert, a favorite, waxing poetic about the great bamboo rods and rodmakers. It seems we both found a fascination with an eight-foot Thomas & Thomas Paradigm, his muse casting a number four line, mine a five. I share his elation in describing the abilities of those rods, for they are favorites, matchless wands of power and delight! I would welcome the opportunity to add a four weight to the five and six line rods I cherish today.

Ernest Schwiebert, consummate angler and author, tries a few casts on Pennsylvania’s Big Spring in April of 2003. I was blessed to walk and talk with him for a couple of hours that day and am so much richer for the experience. Sadly, Ernie passed on to angle around the bend in December 2005.

Late summer can be a difficult time to take a break from angling, for the knowledge that the season’s end is fast approaching becomes an unshakeable spectre as the nights cool and the first dappled leaves drift downstream. The long months of winter loom upon the horizon. There are those of us who live for the dry fly season, for the magic of mayflies and wild trout, flamed bamboo and time worn British reels, wood duck and bright hackles. Those passions do not sleep through the six months that the rivers do.

September looks to be a busy month: the Catskill Rodmakers Gathering is but a week away, the following two weekends featuring fly tying gatherings for the Catskill Guild and the Fly Fishing Museum. The rivers should be quiet after Labor Day, though I feel certain it will take the gift of substantial rainfall to offer the solitude and beauty of autumn dry fly fishing that I crave.

My first autumn here I enjoyed some lovely, classic fishing on the big Beaver Kill. October rains had invigorated the river’s flows and the strong breezes on sunny afternoons shook the amber trees and showered the sheltered pools with ants. I found large brown trout sipping in the shadowed places and felt their energy through a lithe, vibrant shaft of split bamboo! I have looked for those afternoons since, as their ghosts haunt my dreams when the leaves turn, but my quests have failed since that first full season. Nature is fleeting, constantly changing and presenting new puzzles for the angler to solve, but I would love to revisit those experiences!

Golden Memories

The afternoon slips away, and I am lost in memories such as these, reliving many glorious moments on rivers and streams, alone and in gracious company. I have missed such company this season. Faraway friends have not visited with the difficult conditions, and my chief local compatriot has battled issues that have kept him from the water. At this time of life, it is not so easy to brush things off with a wry “it will be better next year,” for I know that each season is a gift, and we grateful recipients dare not count ahead.

Rest is good, well earned and necessary, and I do not count it as a loss of opportunity. It is a time for an appreciation of all that is good in this life.

The Promise of Seasons

September light along a well known road to the Delaware.

The final day of August again brought sensations of autumn: a chill in the breeze, a river raised slightly and colored from actual rainfall, and those leaves on the wind, already fouling my dry flies amid their drift. Now it is September, with Labor Day before us, and thoughts turn to the change of seasons. It seems popular to consider this the beginning of autumn, though three more weeks remain the property of summer.

The changes tend to be subtle, like yesterday’s momentary chill, amid a sunny, warm afternoon. Light changes, taking on a quality I have always found comfort in. The sun’s lower angle pleases me, yet it invokes a sense of melancholy along with the comfort and pleasure.

Clearly September isn’t autumn in the sense of fishing. Hot, dry conditions tend to continue, and fishing often finds it’s low ebb for the season. Once the weather moderates, and we can only hope that Tuesday’s bit of rain was a prelude to real relief for our embattled rivers, we hope to see some mayflies again. The bright little Hebes and the big, ruddy Isonychia should tempt the trout on the Delaware, bringing a chance to tangle with a thrashing Delaware rainbow as color comes to the mountainsides.

A gorgeous September afternoon along the Delaware.

I am already thinking about the shotgun here in the cabinet, contemplating a tuneup for the eyes and reflexes before the grouse challenge us once again, and a break from the singularity of purpose that is the dry fly season. I have fished hard this summer, determined to mine whatever golden moments I might from a difficult season. In truth I feel a bit worn, having worked too hard at the thing I love.

This is the perfect time to catch my breath, to relax that ceaseless effort and take comfort in the beauty of the late afternoon light and Nature’s moods as she contemplates a change of seasons.

The Trout of Summer

Herding Canada Geese: The drift boat method.

Late August and still no appreciable rain has fallen here in the Catskills. They forecast it, and it passes us by. The summer sulfur hatch has dwindled to the point that there are not enough flies to bring trout to the surface, so we are left with the teeny tinies which may or may not produce rises on any given day.

I have stalked several rivers in stealth mode, trying to find a good fish that will respond to terrestrials. The low water has made that very difficult; not impossible, but very, very difficult. Yes, late last week I took a two-foot brown by stalking that way, but today I managed only a pair of 5″ trout on the same water.

I took a couple of days off from my routine this week, well, more or less days off. I awoke Tuesday to find that the West Branch release had jumped to 900 cfs, and cajoled my dearest into rising early to shuttle me and my drift boat for what I thought would be a really nice solo float trip. Even as I sat at anchor and rigged my rods, I thought the flow looked kind of flat for 900 cfs. I should have figured it out immediately: the release was a very short pulse. By the time my boat was in the river they had dropped it to 649 cfs where it would remain for the rest of the day. It would be a day of dragging and rowing.

The mayflies I hoped would be stimulated by the rush of cold water weren’t, and I didn’t see much of anything rising until I was rowing hard to reach my pickup point on time. They were tiddlers taking unseeables in the slow, flat mid-river pools. I wouldn’t have stopped for them if I could have.

I welcomed the stalking routine on Wednesday, seducing a bright energetic nineteen incher with an old reliable dry fly, and losing a larger fish I never saw take my fly. My line got tight at the end of my drift, and I lifted in time to feel a heavy fish yanking me around a rock and breaking my leader. Ah, what might have been!

Thursday would be my second day off, and I decided to wade the West Branch with my friend Henry. He had another fellow with him this trip, Dave from New Hampshire. We had met once before, so I knew that Dave was a smart guy, as he was ordering a new rod from bamboo rod master Dennis Menscer when we met at the rod shop.

We hit the West Branch in early afternoon to find flat, undisturbed water. Henry and I wandered upriver while Dave wandered down. It had been a nice calm morning, so I had my little 7 1/2-foot Jimmy Downes Garrison 206. I had fished the morning with a DT3 line, but the murmur of a breeze when I met up with the guys encouraged me to change reel spools to a WF4. It is the Catskills and yes, the wind did blow!

None of us had much luck finding a rise for a while, until I finally saw Henry casting a hundred yards away. Within ten minutes I had a soft rise right in front of me. That fish ignored my 22 olive parachute, as did the next fish I saw dimpling the surface. Serendipity knocked, as I felt a tickle on my hand, and looked down to see a tiny flying ant had landed there. With the intermittent breeze strengthening, I wasn’t relishing the idea of matching that little fellow with a size 24 or 28 fly I would never be able to see. I dug out a size 22 CDC winged ant and knotted it to my 6X tippet.

I managed to miss the first trout that grabbed that fly, or so I thought. When I picked it up, I saw the tangle of twisted tippet that had spooked the fish. There was too much wind for four feet of 6X. I know better of course, but we do get into habits. With the tippet cut in half I started searching for another riser.

I hooked two nice fish that popped that tiny fly pretty hard, but neither stayed on for long. Should have offset the hook points I thought. When I reached for my forceps to do just that, I noticed that they and their retractor were no longer dangling from my chest pack.

Luckily, the ant fishing lasted for a few minutes. It wasn’t a heavy fall, couldn’t be with the amount of wind I suppose, but there were enough to give me some fish to play with. Thankfully they weren’t size selective with the relatively small number of naturals and ate my 22 just fine.

The highlight of the afternoon was hooking into one very fired up eighteen inch brownie that came out of the water half a dozen times! This time the little hook got a good hold, and I eventually played him to the net. I caught one more as the ant numbers dwindled, raising that lovely light cane rod in expectation of another nice fish. The eight inch brown was as surprised as I was.

Once the ant fall subsided, the wind finally calmed down. Funny how that worked out. There were risers here and there, but not much in the way of forage visible to me. They ignored the ant now, and that 22 olive, and I stared hard at the surface for an answer. Some wiggling speck called my hand down to the water and I had it: a tiny little nothing of a Blue-winged Olive, size 26. My size 22 fly was twice as long as the natural, and those trout were really keying in on them as more drifted along.

In my Cumberland Valley days, I tied and fished dry flies down to size 28, but a 22 hook is about as small as I deal with these days. That is the smallest fly I have found truly big brown trout interested in in our Catskill rivers, with the exception of tricos. In a good trico year like 2020, I did catch several fish between 18 and 19 inches on the size 24 spinners, but I have seen no trico activity at all this summer after two years of winter and spring floods.

Digging around in the limited number of fly boxes I can carry in the chest pack, I found one stubby size 24 olive. It was ignored by the trout sipping 26’s. It was close to five o’clock, so I bid Henry goodbye and started walking out noting that Dave, still down river, was into a nice trout. When I passed him, he hooked another. “You obviously carry very small flies” I said, “they’re 26 BWO’s”. Dave grinned as he reeled and affirmed he had finally found success with a size 26 emerger.

That’s the trout of summer as the season winds down with hints of the autumn to come: taking a little bit more than nothing!