Droplets

Droplets of rain splashed my windows after five this morning, enough I was hoping to refresh the rivers. Alas though the puddles left behind at daybreak seemed promising, the gages showed almost nothing. Tomorrow could be the day, with the forecast boasting of an inch and a half to come, but that is a forecast for thunderstorms, always chancy, and usually much less beneficial than an extended period of gentle rainfall. Wait and see, for some added flow would be most welcome to herald October and the dual season.

All this leaves this afternoon for fishing. The Mainstem beckons, as she has given up a few of her wonderful rainbows to the dry fly of late, though insects have been sparse. Water temperatures remain ideal, though they have warmed over several warmer days and nights. Moodiness is a well known trait of the Delaware River.

There has been a lot of river traffic, with plenty of wading anglers and nearly a dozen drift boats passing during weekday afternoons. In autumn, one hopes for solitude, but there is none it seems in 2020. A long walk is helpful in that regard, though it does not insure a quiet reach to angle.

The weather remains moody today, with clouds and sunshine trading dominance. I love the feel of sunshine on my shoulders as I cast, but the cloudiness might just stimulate the hatches somewhat. What wouldn’t I give for a good hatch of isonychia?

It might be wise to carry a rain jacket along, but a nylon fishing shirt will have to do. I enjoy the freedom of the light chest pack too much! A snack I think, then on to the river…

A Day on the Delaware

Morning at Lordville Riff

We set out early, content to spend a long day upon the great Delaware River amid the glory of late September. Our quest was for rising trout as is our habit, and we knew the river might offer feast or famine; such being the legend of the wide Delaware. It was enough that we were together again, and enjoying good company and life on the river.

We found a few flies first thing in the morning, tan caddis were buzzing about, though not in numbers. Mike managed a brown forthwith, while I continued to search for a rise. I eventually found one, sort of a rise anyway, with about a fifteen inch brown jumping clear of the water at intervals. He was stationed directly behind a submerged rock, splashing and leaping amid the bubbly wake it created. There was simply no way to float a dry fly naturally over his lie.

As he was the only game in town I tried anyway, hoping to tempt him to stray just a bit and take a dry drifted right down the seam between his bubble trail and the main current. His leaping and splashing increased, but he simply wasn’t coming out of his little frothy piece of the world for anything. Eventually I conceded and walked downstream to see what Mike had encountered.

In the middle of a great wide eddy I found rings, gentle sipping rises to something. They weren’t frequent, and the fish that were feeding weren’t holding a lie, they were cruising. I suspected spinners, perhaps tricos, and began to play the game. A size 20 rusty spinner was flatly ignored, as were size 22 and yes, even size 24 tricos, so I moved slowly and watched the surface for a solution.

I had been hoping for an ant fall on the big river and ants are what I found. First a size 20 black winged ant, then a cluster with a black size 18 (the Queen?) and several size 28 miniatures crawling about her. I diligently tried both larger sizes, then scanned again, this time coming up with a size 18 red ant, one with a unique greenish sheen similar to the iridescent sheen on some game bird feathers. I fished the red one to several cruisers, but it seemed impossible to predict their path and direction in the middle of all that open water. After about an hour, with nothing but a chub to my credit (yes, that held a lie for a few rises) the rises ceased and I was back on my hike downriver.

I found him in a great riffle, a bubbling tumult even at September’s minimal flow, standing and waiting. He had seen nothing, but the afternoon was wearing on, and if flies were going to show anywhere, surely they would on that beautiful riff. I tied on my Halo Isonychia, walked down thirty yards below him and waded in.

I watched for a while as I slowly advanced toward mid-river. Coincident with one small emergent rock I saw it, a quick bulge that I took for a rise. I watched the spot as I positioned myself for a cast, and there was no other evidence of life, though I was confident of what I had seen.

I lofted a backcast with my five strip bamboo and made a cast, the size 12 fly alighting a foot above the rock. Pennsylvania rodmaker Tim Zietak had built the rod to my specifications several years ago. It was envisioned specifically as a Delaware River rod, two pieces at eight and a half feet, with the extra little touch of power that a pent provides. The rod proved to be well suited for its role.

Four or five casts drifted perfectly but unanswered, so I began to work the line of current upstream of the rock in small increments. My cast some eight feet upstream was taken with the characteristic quick spurt rise of the Delaware rainbow, and the long rod bent sharply with the rush of a heavy trout. The fish powered away, turned downstream for a short run before turning away again, pulling line from the reel. There was no doubt this fish would use the fast current and the pocketed, rocky bottom to cut the leader, but the full bow of the pent turned him at every move.

“He’s a good one” exclaimed Mike, and I nodded and grunted as I parried yet another short powerful run. With that tactic proving unsuccessful, the trout ran hard downstream, and I clicked another detent on the Abel’s drag. There were a hundred and fifty yards of riff below us, and he would spool me if I let him get his head. I swept the rod hard toward the bank, then back toward mid-river, turning his run before he could break away. The game was mine this time!

Heaving in the soft clear mesh of my net, this beautiful bow showed a deep red stripe and substantial girth. Measuring nineteen inches, nose to tail, that valiant fish made my day, shooting away into the rushing current as soon as I slipped him free of the mesh.

We would see just one more rise between us, though we fished across the area hitting all the deeper pockets. That nine inch bow rose little more than a rod length from me and gave a surprising pull despite his size. There is no doubting the heart and tenacity of this great river’s wild rainbows.

It was after four when we reached the trail and I was tired from two long days on the water and hundreds of casts. We parted there as Mike wanted to work up river and fish the spot I took him to a few years back.

I called him hours later to find he had stumbled upon an angler waiting on the bank when he arrived and didn’t want to intrude. He had walked out, driven to another access and waded in there. Sometimes you just have a feeling that the day is not done. He found a good fish sipping spinners and enjoyed a thrilling fight in the strong current of a deep tailout, netting a twenty inch brown! He was still breathless from excitement when we spoke.

The Halo Isonychia, favorite snack of Delaware rainbows!

The Catskill rivers of late September didn’t lavish us with heavy hatches and hordes of rising trout. They swathed us in the golden light of perfect early autumn afternoons, took our breath with their incredible beauty, and surrendered a few special wild trout, well earned by careful angling. These are days we will both remember!

Good Fishing

Fishing Apart on the Delaware of Autumn

Three days isn’t a lot of time to recapture an entire season. In our changed and unsettled world, I am thankful for the chance to enjoy the full measure of those days. You see, I have finally been able to fish with my best friend for the first time in more than a year.

We have passed twenty-five years of friendship and are still going strong. This was supposed to be the year we opted for fishing nirvanna. Finally, with both of us retired, we had the time to fish a lot and to hit the high spots of the season; to enjoy all the best that angling entails. A wraith called Corona kept us apart.

Autumn is the end of the dry fly season on the rivers of my heart; it is the most difficult and challenging time of the entire year. The trout are at their wariest, having been pursued by an army of anglers since April’s dawn; the rivers are at their lowest and clearest. The hatches of flies are sparse, and most of those flies are tiny, difficult to imitate effectively and drift naturally as we practice to deceive. We have developed our skills over thirty years or more, refined our tackle, and increased our knowledge. On some days, that is enough to meet the challenge.

Things came together on our first day, though only through patience and determination. Our surroundings were quiet and captivating, and Nature’s gifts came in varying doses as reward for our patience and skills.

The morning surprised us with a few tricorythodes spinners in the air, blown hither and yon by the gusting winds. We talked as we waited, sharing a bit of the best of life while the winds became gentle, and the spinners brought a trout or two to the mirror of the river’s surface.

Sometimes wishful thinking deceives my judgement. With a trico in my hand I convinced myself that a size 22 fly would be a perfect match. It wasn’t. Finally taking precious moments to rebuild my leader, extending it out to a gossamer 7X tippet and knotting a dainty size 24 fly, the good fish I wanted so badly accepted it on the first cast. He thrashed against the subtle power of the fine tip of the old bamboo rod, sharing his energy with me through the medium of the living culm that had been split, tapered and glued seventy years ago. A nineteen inch wild brown trout is a treasure, my best on a minute trico imitation, and I was blessed to share the moment with my friend.

The afternoon grew long, and we both worked to an occasional riser as the hours passed, working to solve the puzzle with each trout. As the sun threatened to disappear behind the ridge above us I was fortunate to solve the puzzle of another fine brown. Mike had worked intently on a large fish that had vexed both of us at various times during the day. I walked upstream slowly, cut the tiny size 22 olive comparadun from my tippet and placed it in his hand. Perhaps…

Not long after that final fly change I caught movement as Mike raised his long rod into a deepening arc, the strain evidence of the worth of his persistence in a duel with the most difficult trout of the day. It was a long fight, that big trout using every bit of depth and current the diminished river offered as a boon to its own strength and spirit. At last Mike led him toward my waiting net.

The Delaware rainbow is a warrior, and life is a battle to survive as he must champion high flows and low, a long summer of temperatures lethal to most trout, and an ever growing gauntlet of fishermen. Most don’t live more than four or five years, and thus a twenty inch Delaware bow is a rare gift. On such a day, with friendship reunited, it was the perfect gift for long hours of patient and skillful angling: the best of the day.

The best of the day: Mike Saylor with a beautiful Delaware rainbow.

Embracing Autumn’s Changes

Curious In Spring, Wary By Autumn

I took a day away from the rivers yesterday and spent the day with my friend John in the eaves of Catskill Park. There was a tree stand to relocate, and a walking tour of some of the habitat improvements he worked on through the summer. We put our bird guns together and spent some happy time with his trap thrower, breaking clays and analyzing our misses in the wind and warm sunshine.

After the guns were cleaned and taken down I spent some time with my much neglected hunting bow, loosing a couple dozen arrows to see if my skills were still worthy of some time in the woods. Best of all we sat back on the deck in that Catskill sunshine and talked, something we have had too little chance to do thanks to this pandemic year. It was a good day for both of us.

We talked of fishing of course, as well as grouse and deer and family and all the things we both hope will be better soon in this world. We each have our little piece of it to enjoy, and willingly share it.

Since it is September, I remarked that he should be building another bamboo fly rod, and we should be gathered with the rod making class for an evening of grilled delicacies, assorted cold beverages, and a wealth of conversation. To be correct, that should have happened in the beginning of the month, but Covid cancelled the class this year, as it has cancelled far too much of what makes life meaningful for all of us.

Today I’ll grab another little piece of my world and share it with Mike. Finally able to visit and fish apart, we’ll do our best to avoid the high winds as autumn announces her presence and find a few trout rising. Everything is in transition with the sudden band of colder weather, and the river temperatures have dropped drastically. All are very low and clear and the mayflies of the season seem to be figuring out their agendas amid the rapid changes in their environment. Some are hatching, but where and when seems to change hourly. More than ever the trick is to find yourself at the right place at just the right moment.

In another week it will be time to split my days between glowing mountains and shining rivers. I must soon decide if I’ll take that bow and sit a morning or two in one of those treestands, before I take the Model 101 for a walk through the covers. If all goes well, crisp mornings will give way to sunny afternoons stalking trout in the gin clear flows, scanning carefully to spot subtle rises amid the phalanx of leaves adrift on the surface. October is a blessed month indeed!

Bamboo and brook trout simply define autumn…

Another Frosty Summer Morning

It is the last morning of summer, and thirty-two degrees here in Crooked Eddy. The frost has me taking my time, sleeping in a bit (for me), and lingering over my early morning activities before heading out for my last summer morning fishing. There’s no need to be on the river by eight o’clock, as the chill will cling to the mist in the river valleys, as everything waits for the full spectrum of the sun to entice the web of life to action.

Autumn has made her presence known for more than a week, and my furnace has run three nights in a row. My tying room is comfortable this morning, though my old flannel shirt still feels good. There are no flies to be tied this morning, as I crafted enough of furs and feathers over the course of the extended weekend. Three dozen dries wait for my friend’s arrival, and there are a few more to top off some of my boxes as well.

I experimented a bit with some of the died javelina hair my good friend John has kindly provided. The strong, tapered hair makes excellent quill bodies. In the bag of dyed material there is red and a deep, dark purple, and I have tried both for an Isonychia parachute. I am anxious to see if the trout like them. The iso’s are a rather unique mayfly when it comes to defining color. Tradition calls for a “claret” colored fur, between a maroon and mahogany, but the mayfly hatches with an olive tone then begins changing toward that so called claret hue. I have plucked duns from the surface to find a range of colors between those extremes, some with overtones and undertones that run further from either mark.

Currently I tie Isonychia patterns with four different dubbing mixes. My primary blend uses my precious dwindling supply of claret dyed beaver, provided by my late friend Dennis Skarka. As Dennis suggested, I mix a bit of natural beaver with the dyed fur to cut the intensity of the color and offer hints of tan and gray that sometimes find their way into the palette of the naturals. My Halo Isonychia has been featured on this blog, created with a thin veil of olive silk dubbing over wine colored thread to imitate the changing colors of the fly. Al Caucci’s Spectrumized dubbing blend for the isonychia has been a proven winner, and recently I found Hemingway’s Beaver Dubbing Plus. The Red Wine color has yielded some effective iso patterns in my early experiments. So many flies, all selected to appeal to the changing whims of the trout!

The spring hatch of Isonychia eluded me this year. I simply never encountered them on the water, despite almost daily fishing, so I am hopeful I will engage a good hatch during these last glorious weeks of autumn dry fly fishing!

The eight foot Granger will get the nod today. With the lowest flows of the season it will be a mainstay for the foreseeable future, it’s crisp western action providing a long reach and delicate delivery with a four weight line. Thank you Dennis! The new tips are prefect. I cleaned and dressed the line on the Bougle` over the weekend, and will freshen the leader momentarily. Expectations are that the little Flick olives will get the call this morning, so 6X tippets are necessary.

The afternoon will offer some exploration, in the hope I will have the chance to try the new Isonychia Quills, and find some untouched water to share with Mike later in the week. The Granger will deliver those size twelve dries just as perfectly as the twenty-two’s.

Ah well, time to rebuild that leader, then breakfast and a hot shower to ease the daily aches and pains: dues paid for a life outdoors.

Preparations

Mike Saylor scans the river in search of a rise

It is Saturday morning, the 19th of September. Three days remain of the summer of 2020 and it is 32 degrees in Crooked Eddy, with frost on the roof of my car. Yes, frost. I fired up the furnace last night with frost warnings across the region despite the predicted low of 36 degrees. It was the right move, as home feels a bit more homey this morning.

The wind howled all day yesterday, and my wrist was aching from three days of throwing a long line on the Delaware, so I tended to other matters. The final coat of Tru Oil had dried on my old landing net, so I decided to restring it and install the new ghost net bag that has been lying around for several years. I sat down to tie some autumn flies as well, for my best friend is finally coming up to fish for a few days.

I first met Mike Saylor when he wandered into my fly shop in the early nineties. He was fairly new to fly tying and had some questions. When he told me he was a surgeon, I replied that he should find fly tying rather easy to master given the dexterity required for surgery. History has proven my assessment was correct. We started fishing together back then and have continued to this day. It was Mike that introduced me to Capt. Patrick Schuler and got me out in a Delaware River drift boat for the first time; the first of many trips.

Mike retired at the end of last year, and I was looking forward to him coming up frequently this season, and fishing when conditions were just right. One thing surgeons don’t have is the ability to jump in the car and head to the Catskills when their favorite mayfly hatch starts, and we were both looking to retirement to change that dynamic. Of course, we all know what came to pass with the Coronavirus pandemic, shutdowns and travel restrictions, and learning to adjust to a world that could easily kill you in a seemingly innocent moment.

We are a long way from being free of that threat, though thankfully mankind has adjusted their behavior out of necessity so that we can be somewhat safer.

So my buddy and I will finally get to do a little fishing. We will be fishing apart as I have termed it this year, but we will be close enough to talk a bit while we’re casting or waiting for that rise. We won’t be able to enjoy the conversations on the drive to and from the river like we used to, and we won’t be sitting together at breakfast planning the day, but we will get out on the river.

What will we find on the river, is the pertinent question. Autumn seems to have arrived early (that frost outside is a dead giveaway), but the seventies are forecast to return mid week. There still isn’t a drop of rain in the forecast, and all of the rivers that have had improved flows are dropping. Reservoirs releases have been reduced too, so the water is getting pretty thin in some places. The good news is that water temperatures are perfect and all the rivers are easily wadeable.

Yea, remember Spring 2020? Are we surprised to have frost in the final days of summer?

It has been a strange year. Late snow and cold, cold water well into the beginning of the fishing season, followed by an early and very hot dry stretch of summer. The heat and the drought didn’t take a break until the middle of August, and now autumn is literally kicking summer out the door early. I am going to bank on those prime water temperatures and just roll with the changes when it comes to daytime weather. Fishing ought to be pretty good once we adapt the the conditions.

I have seen a little bit of insect activity this week, as the temperature starts to stimulate the aquatics. The trout seem ready to partake when a few bugs start hatching, but patience is going to be required. The rainbows I caught early this week got my batteries charged and I tried to make it happen over the next two afternoons. It didn’t, and now the wrist of my casting hand is hurting. Three days off should help that, and I will keep the tackle selection down to bamboo rods eight feet and under like I did all summer. Having my Granger back is a comfort, as that rod does a nice job of reaching out with a light presentation.

Of course bamboo is a bit heavier than graphite, but balancing the rod with the right reel makes them less tiring than the longer, lighter graphite rods. Bamboo fly rods bend. All fly rods are supposed to, but the graphite rod makers seem to have forgotten that. Stiffer, faster action rods are powerful, but they transmit too much of that power and vibration to my wrist. Bamboo flexes fully and smoothly without all that excess energy in the casting stroke and is much gentler on my anatomy.

I’ll be sure to tell Mike to bring his light line rods, and even try to get him to fish his own bamboo rod for a change. For all I know we might be dealing with those size 28 flying ants again next week!

Return of the Delaware

September on the Mainstem

It was thirty-eight degrees when I walked out on my porch yesterday morning, a sure sign that the time had come to alter my morning fishing routine and seek the open waters of the Mainstem. The river has finally cooled beautifully during this past week of early autumn temperatures, and I had heard of a friend’s success finding active trout. It may be the last week of summer, but a morning in the thirties and an afternoon high of sixty-five clearly shows that the dog days are behind us.

I puttered around during the morning, finishing some reading and writing a promised book review. It was nice to be able to relax rather than hurry to hit the road. I sorted through some fly boxes to make certain the right flies were in my vest, which has spent most of these past weeks on the sidelines. I cleaned the double tapered five weight fly line on my old St. George and paired it up with Dennis Menscer’s eight foot hollowbuilt, readying myself for a visit to the big river in the afternoon.

It was around two o’clock when I slipped into my waders, pushing my feet into my battered studded boots and pulling the dry laces up tight. Ankle support counts in fast water on the Delaware’s rocky bottom. I found a couple of vehicles parked when I arrived at the river, no doubt anglers like myself anxious to return to the river on a gorgeous and wonderfully calm afternoon. There was just enough pale, lace curtain cloud cover to take the edge off the brightness of the high sun, a good omen for surface fishing.

The river was low, flowing not much more than 800 cfs, if you add the East and West Branch flows from the Fishes Eddy and Hale Eddy gages. Even with the cool weather and gentle water temperatures, I figured the Delaware rainbows would be more comfortable in the faster water with a little bit of depth.

I prospected one favorite riffle, my mind going back to an epic bow that once intercepted my swinging Leadwing Coachman in that smallish little cut. Leviathan gave me a tug reminiscent of a steelhead, ran, then vaulted into the air displaying the deep green and flaming red the species is known for. A huge rainbow, easily better than two feet long, heavily muscled and vibrantly alive with the wild energy of the Delaware strain. He took back to the water, ran short but hard again, then snapped my 5X tippet with a vicious head shake. Ah the photo in my mind of that leap! I see it vividly each time I think of that riff.

I passed an older gentleman wading slowly, leaving him plenty of water while I eased into a chute of fast water downstream. Knee deep and uneven, I believed I would find what I sought there; and I did.

Here and there I spotted a couple of spurts, a trout would rising hard to something, and I suspected that a few stray isonychia mayflies might be to blame. I knotted one to the 5X at the end of my leader, pausing to think about the Delaware rainbows that had snapped my 5X tippets in the past, but feeling confident that the soft tip of the bamboo rod would cushion even their energy. It only took a few casts to prove myself wrong. I missed the first opportunity, casting quickly to a second spurt upstream in the same bubble line, and overreacting just a bit on my hookset. I never even felt him, but my line came back without the fly.

I checked that tippet carefully as I knotted another comparadun, satisfying myself that it would hold if I maintained my decorum. The character of the afternoon was already clear: the rises would come a handful of times, each in a different place, then cease for several minutes, and I didn’t want to waste time rebuilding my leader while any rises were showing.

I must have made half a dozen casts when the next spurt appeared, knowing our bows’ penchant for moving upstream as they feed, and covering the line of drift from downstream to upstream. The next spurt interrupted the drift of my fly and the Menscer assumed the deep, throbbing arch I know and love! I was thankful that Mr. Bow didn’t want to spool me, choosing instead to make short runs and hard changes in direction, using the considerable current to his advantage. No trout I know fights quite like a Delaware River rainbow!

This was a typical nice river bow, perhaps seventeen inches long with good wide flanks and plenty of high voltage electricity, which he expended both in the air and in the water. You can never be sure whether an individual fish has migrated upstream to summer in colder water, or hunkered down by a spring seep in one of the Mainstem’s deep eddies to survive three months of seventy-five degree and higher water temperatures. You only need catch one to understand why dedicated Delaware River anglers are always clamoring for higher reservoir releases. I released that fish with a wide grin and thanked him for playing the game with me.

The isonychia seemed to lose favor quickly, and I confronted the conundrum once again. What rises I observed were the hard, aggressive spurts that make me think that fairly substantial insects must be involved, yet the only flies I saw in the air were small, likely olives and Hebe’s. I couldn’t quite convince myself to drown a size twenty olive in that bubbling chute of current, so I tried a caddis for a while and then settled on one of my Poster versions of a Hebe.

The afternoon was moving along toward evening, and I could feel the air cooling. With the mid-river action ceased, I worked back toward the bank and downstream a bit to look for rises where the current softened slightly. A couple eventually showed, likely moving fish as the big river is noted for, and my casts remained untouched. When a fish rose a second time in about the same place, I took it as a sign and peppered that bubble line with casts, finally joining battle with a second warrior.

Rainbow number two bent the cane and spun the pawls on my seventy plus year old Hardy even better than his predecessor, and that took some effort. When he leaped clear of the surface I saw a somewhat wider flank than the first bow’s. This fellow must have found a few more meals through the long hot summer than his brother. Finally drawing him close enough to scoop him with the net, I pinched the little fly and turned it free from his jaw, another nice Delaware rainbow with the heart of a steelhead.

Life on the Delaware isn’t easy for these magnificent wild rainbows, and it is rare for a fish to live long enough to reach twenty inches. I have been blessed to catch several of that size during twenty-five years of Delaware fishing. The typical nice Delaware bow, the fish that will spool you with ease should they have the inclination, will measure between fourteen and eighteen inches long. Their heart however is immeasurable.

An exceptional Delaware River rainbow: twenty-two inches of strength and indomitable spirit taken on a May 2009 float trip with Delaware River Guide Patrick Schuler. It would be eleven years before I would eclipse that trout with a pair of longer and heavier Delaware bows.

The Mainstem welcomed me back with open arms, and I thanked her as I lingered during my hike back to the car. Spring and autumn are the seasons of this great river. Should New York City ever fix their leaks and curb their incredible waste of our watershed’s precious, pure water, perhaps the amazing Delaware rainbows way thrive in summer. It would be truly inspiring to be able to see this fishery reach its full potential.

Old Friends

My 8040 Granger rod is back in action, thanks to Dennis Menscer. He crafted two new tips for me so I can keep fishing my old friend and doing battle with big Catskill trout!

It was really nice to take an old friend fishing today. I stopped by Dennis Menscer’s rod shop Saturday to pick up the two new tips he made for my wounded Granger flyrod, and I was more than anxious to get it back on the water. I decided to visit another old friend, a little out of the way pool that had been far too warm to fish all summer. It seemed like the perfect place to welcome my new old rod back.

The wind began to rise just as I waded into the low, clear current, but I knew the Granger had been designed for windy western waters and would let me put my flies on target. I selected a Grizzly Beetle to knot to the 6X tippet, figuring that the wind would deliver plenty of terrestrials as it blew ever harder. I saw one brief movement, a barely perceptible little vee in the slick surface, lofted my back cast and let the line unroll to drop the fly a couple of feet above the spot. I watched the hackle catching the morning light as I tracked the fly, lifting as it simply vanished. The trout reacted immediately to the arch of new and old bamboo as we began our dance.

The cane protected the fine tippet, absorbing each head shake and run, ultimately guiding my quarry to the waiting net. It was a beautiful wild brown trout, a bit better than eighteen inches, and colored up profusely in preparation for autumn. Welcome home.

A second trout stretched my leader only briefly an hour later, with just enough of a hard pull to let me know another nice fish had come calling before the fly came free. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the direct rays illuminated the entire river bottom, and I guessed that my fishing was done. Still I lingered a while, making a few more casts to drift a fly over each submerged boulder that the sunlight revealed. Its not that I expected another trout to take the fly, it was more of a long goodbye to my old friend.

Seasons

It is 49 degrees this morning in Crooked Eddy. I closed up the windows in the house last night but neglected the two in my tying room. Suffice to say that my light sweatshirt feels a bit too light as I write, though it is invigorating. Next week’s forecast tells a tale of autumn, with daily highs in the sixties and low seventies, and nights in the forties and fifties. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a bit of red and gold appear on the mountainsides.

Fishing is changing too. The trico’s have been sputtering, though they might return in better numbers for a day here or there; another of those right place at the right moment scenarios. I have done best this week with little olives. My Olive Rusty Dun is my homage to the late great Art Flick, and a chance to use the beautiful rusty dun cape in my Charlie Collins collection. I love simple flies. Sparse, beautiful and effective, the Flick Blue Winged Olive is perfect for these dainty mayflies. I tie them as simple as possible, eschewing dubbing for a body of tying thread, my two ingredient duns maintain the slim profile of the naturals.

October’s low water offers a beautiful challenge!

Cool days and nights will finally bring our water temperatures back to hospitable levels, opening up a wealth of opportunities that summer denied. Small flies will continue to reign supreme, though it pays to have a couple of Isonychia and October Caddis in the vest for a change of pace!

I would love to see rain, as I enjoy the prospect of an early autumn float. I am not a boat dragger, and I don’t care to draw the ire of wading anglers trying to force the issue by drifting at low flows. To me that destroys the beauty of a quiet float and a hunt for autumn trout.

It is hard to believe that we are just more than two weeks from hunting season. I’m looking forward to the chance to walk the mountains again. My legs have grown used to walking against currents, so I must re-train them for the challenge of elevation. Friend John and I have been talking about all the young birds he has seen this summer, and vowed to uncase the shotguns and break some clays before its time to chase those grouse o’er the thickets and briars. My favorite months have always been May and October. Both quicken the pulse and enliven the senses, offering their own distinct flavors of exquisite natural beauty.

September is a time for summer goodbyes and anticipation for October, and the last great flash of light and color before the bare season comes. Farewell to verdant riverscapes, and a welcome hello to the uplands; a touch of melancholy at the loss of summer’s daily fishing, balanced with the heart racing promise of the gunning season.

I have never lived, never spent any time in a region devoid of seasons. I am quite certain I couldn’t bear it.

No Quarter

A Size 20 Olive Rusty Dun Flick Style, A Size 28 CDC Ant, and for comparison a Size 16 Sulfur.

It serves me right for thinking that the size 24 flying ants I tied last week would take care of those picky brown trout the next time I ran into an ant fall. They were at it again this afternoon, and my 24’s might as well have been rocks. Picking up one of the miniscule little winged critters, I held it next to my size 24 fly: the fly was twice as big as the ant. Prepare yourself with 24’s and get a fall of 28’s!

It was a gorgeous morning, and I had some fine fishing with that Olive Rusty Dun, taking three nice fish with long casts with the D.W. Menscer four weight. I enjoyed feeling their life energy merge with the life of the bamboo as they spun my little St. George reel to make some music. Summer has returned for a last hurrah, and the sun shone brightly in the clear Catskill skies. This is the time to truly savor it, to breathe in the full measure of these beautiful summer days every moment that I can.

It was an interesting day, starting with the three wild turkeys that decided to cross the road as I came around the bend. I hit the brakes, and the horn, just in case I couldn’t get stopped in time. I’m glad I have good brakes, as one bird turned around and stood there a moment, and one flew into the air about windshield high and sort of hovered there in the same place.

Stalking along in the river half an hour later, I kept hearing this funny little chirp from a lone tree on the bank. I was wondering if I was intruding on a young eagle’s fishing spot until another turkey burst out of that tree and hightailed it across the river in a thunder of wingbeats. I should have recognized that sharp little putt, but I haven’t been out hunting turkeys for a decade. Crazy day.

I had hoped for some solitude today, figuring with Labor Day behind us, all the visitors should be back at home. No such luck. I found another angler closing in on my destination from upstream. Turns out we are strangers who know each other, sort of. He had walked in on my fishing last summer at another reach of water and asked if I minded if he fished 50 yards or so upstream. I appreciated his courtesy and bade him wade on in, and we talked a bit as we fished.

Later on, after my old friend I don’t actually know had left, two guys came splashing across the river, chattering with every step. They stayed far enough away from me, but I wondered why two guys fishing ten feet apart had to holler to have a conversation. I was treated to their excessively loud chatter for the last couple of hours of my fishing. Those guys and the ensuing boat traffic set the mood perfectly for the frustration of the flying ants.

I’m not complaining, as I got a fine unexpected dose of solitude just yesterday. John met me on the river for a morning of fishing apart, our 2020 behavior adjustment to ensure our health, yet still be able to enjoy the other’s company. We visited with the eagles, caught some trout on little dry flies, and shared a beautiful spot in the mountains.

I do believe this is summer’s last kiss. I have a feeling that autumn will arrive very soon with winter hotter on it’s heels than any of us would like. I have no doubt I will have the river to myself then. There won’t be trout rising, or flying ants too small to imitate, but I’ll enjoy the solitude and the beauty of the river in winter. I can’t say just why I have that feeling, maybe its the lingering specter of the May snowfall and the lonely quarantine for the duration of the season that have given me a sense of foreboding.

I plan to wrap myself up in every day of summer’s last kiss, all the while hoping for a mild, beautiful October, with a spell of Indian Summer as its highlight. Dry fly fishing to the final hatches of the season is exquisite amid the vibrant splendor of October in the Catskills!