It had been a good day. The flies had come sporadically as they do this time of year, a few bringing good browns to the surface with thrusts of spray. I had stalked each one, then waited for that second rise, poised to present my fly should it come.
As always when the fish aren’t actively feeding, there were some that didn’t come again; but there were some that did. I had brought a few to hand as the afternoon expired, and now I was sitting in the tall grass of the river bank, waiting as the last of the warm sunlight retreated over the ridge. I rested there for a couple of hours, feeling the sudden cooling of the air as the sun completed its passage, and struggling into a pullover as evening descended upon the pool.
I was restless once the sun left the water, and more than ready to see flies drifting again. Another hour drifted by before I noticed the first wings on the current, and I watched them pass on and out of site.
I had learned patience on that river bank, through fifteen years of familiarity; years when the flies did not appear, and years when the flies arrived on cue but rising trout never showed. Great years and lean years, always knowing that this was the apogee of the season, making each minute more precious whether casting or waiting.
The first eruption came down above the tailout, just one to break the stillness while the sky turned a deeper blue. I rose and walked the bank until I was fifty yards from the spot, and then slipped into the pool as gently as my stiff legs allowed.
The rise had come along the bank opposite a deep dropoff that limited my approach, leaving a 70-foot cast for the Granger where the river lapped at the bottom of my vest. I waited, begged for that second rise but it would not come. A drake drifted down the bank unmolested and I felt the cold depth of the water tighten my tired leg muscles even more.
I stood for another hour, the chill of the river working into my bones before the quiet eddy along the bank was turned to sudden foam a hundred feet upstream. My feet seemed reluctant to move, ignoring the impulses from my brain, and I felt my heart pounding.
Slowly my motor response returned and I worked into casting position just as the second burst of spray gave me a target. I dropped the fly a few feet short on purpose to check the float and the angle, then lifted it gently once clear and shot it above the mark, the rise coming like a boxer’s punch from below. Nine feet of bamboo raised into a beautiful arc and the hook pulled home.
The brown gave a fine account of himself, pulling for the deep hole I had waited in downstream, and I wished I had chosen the musical old Hardy instead of the Orvis reel with its silent drag. Twenty inches and a shade I decided, as I measured him against the long net handle before I slipped him back to the pool.
The drakes were coming more frequently by then, and I marked five rises along the next one hundred yards of river bank. It was already past eight, and I knew my time was short, though the calm surface of the pool demanded an agonizingly patient approach, stealing precious minutes with each stalk.
The second fish came short to my fly, pricked but a moment, just long enough to feel the strain of his courage before the hook popped free.
Stalking the next rise I clipped my fly and knotted a fresh one, a comparadun with tall CDC wings more visible in the dwindling light. When I reached my range the fly proved equal to the task, though that brown insisted upon a dozen casts before he was satisfied. His nineteen inches were hard won at the cost of precious time and daylight.
The pool is a favorite of mine, but the deeper bank where the good trout hold rises continuously to the top of the mountain, and when daylight fades it becomes a wall of blackness. There is no afterglow with its generous extension of fishing time.
I managed to fish to four of those five risers, landing a twenty-one inch beauty after three heavy runs against the drag. The fourth disdained my flies and ignored the numerous naturals once I had made my approach.
Little precious light remained as I eased closer to the last ring, deep in a pocket between two boulders. The spray of white water revealed his position clearly each time a drake met its maker, but the after rise vanished into the ebony mirror leaving me uncertain with each cast.
I had changed again to a fresh puffy-winged dun, liberally powdered with floatant, but I had to strain to find it each time a cast landed. I expected the explosion, and was nearly fooled when the fly I thought I was watching quietly disappeared. I reacted too hard knowing I was late, and was saved by the soft tip of the sixty-year old rod.
The rod throbbed as the boil and splash revealed the trout’s lie, and I fought him there in the darkness, backing slowly toward shallow water. It nearly ended at the net for I could not see the great fish even at my feet. When he darted away again I resumed my backing, and the next time I brought him near I could see his splashing disrupt the dark mirror. I stabbed once with the net and missed, then reached where the water boiled and had him.
I slipped the hook free as he lay in an inch of water, then measured him along the net. I felt the scalloped cuts the netmaker had carved in the handle, and the brown’s nose just past the twenty-two inch mark.
I righted the trout and walked him out until the water covered his gills again, standing there some minutes working him gently in my hands until his tail pulsed and he vanished into the mirror.
I stepped onto the bank and walked slowly up river, listening. The pool was black now, and though I could easily hear the heavy rises along the mountainside, I could no longer see the white water that sprayed with each vicious take. I stood there and listened for a while, wondering just how many trout and how many flies now worked that single reach of river.
I listened as I walked out in the dark, tracing the flashlight beam through the tall grass. After two hundred yards I still heard bombs dropping into the river, many an easy cast away in the blackness, certain that every trout in the river was feasting upon the finale of springtime.