Celebrating The Season

Photo courtesy Andrew Boryan

Memories of winters past, like the one captured above, haunt me. A bright morning on a limestone spring, and two friends taking the day to stalk wild trout seems blissful, but thoswere to be the last days of that short lived fishery. That place was my winter retreat, until the state fisheries people decided to “improve” it and destroyed that reach.

I began this winter walking the banks of my new winter retreat, the West Branch of the Delaware River. It beckons with miles of bright water as opposed to the few hundred yards of my former respite. The scenic beauty is captivating, but it doesn’t have the magic of limestone springs to keep the water temperature hovering near 50 degrees.

I carried the new trout spey outfit out to greet the season, figuring to save wear and tear on my casting hand and wrist at least until the doctors figure out a solution. It is a new and novel way to swing the soft hackle flies previously reserved for an old bamboo rod.

It is a different world since the day I began fly casting, with the internet offering hundreds of videos sure to make one an Olympic caster. I have watched a few, some worthwhile, some too filled with salesmanship and repetitive rants to be useful, all unfortunately taught by right-handed casters. That leaves me struggling not only to recall the techniques when I am on the water and adjust for the direction of river flow before me, but to turn things around in my head; all while trying to catch a trout.

I managed to get the line where it needed to go though I won’t be counting style points.

With sock liners, my heaviest wool socks, and neoprene wader feet, I seem to be good for about three hours until my feet become two blocks of ice. The gap between 50 degrees and 35 is tremendous. That time limit fits nicely with the warmest portion of the day.

There is still hope and a learning curve for Catskill winter fishing where I am concerned. Though I haunted the West Branch last winter, most of those days featured high water. With the wettest year anyone could remember, Cannonsville dam ran maximum release from August until February. I looked for midges and tiny olives, and I quivered with excitement when I saw the first little black stoneflies fluttering on the surface, but my anticipation was never rewarded with the rise of a trout; not one. I enjoy the quiet peace of swinging soft hackles, but I am a dry fly fisherman in my heart.

The log on my tying bench shows 2,000 flies tied during 2019, more than 167 dozen. I can say confidently that 160 dozen of those were dry flies.

With the spey rod I run the risk of being caught unprepared should the magic of any sort of hatch appear. Frank at the Whitetail shop tells me he has fished dry flies with his trout spey tackle and had some success, but only with large flies such as March Browns. I feel very confident I won’t be witnessing any size 10 mayflies taking wing toward the snowy riverbanks.

The dichotomy of this spey game is belied by the “3 weight” designation of the rod. A 3 weight is after all a perfect tool for winter midges. Ah but the scandi line you cast with that “3 weight” has a 210 grain shooting head, the equivalent of an 8 weight. Just try to pinpoint a 22 midge emerger on a brown trout’s nose in flat water with that. Spey fishing is an either/or proposition for the dreamer in me.

It was 35 degrees at five o’clock this morning. That means my waders and boots might not be frozen solid again this morning, swinging in the pre-dawn breeze out there on the porch. I had been thinking about a grouse hunt, but I guess I’ll have to take a look at the river temperature before I decide.

One thought on “Celebrating The Season

  1. Those were good times on the big spring. Haven’t been there since last spring. Lackluster per its recent usual.
    Hope the holiday Delaware angling was merry 🙂


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