An April Morning on the Falling Spring

Falling Spring

I often think back to the years I spent my days in my little fly shop and my mornings and evenings stalking the sparkling run of a spring creek that provided the name for that shop: the Falling Spring. Those memories are dated now, for despite the efforts of concerned anglers, the fishing there declined abruptly in the past decade.

I ran the shop from 1993 until October 1999, and enjoyed many friendships and many hours of fishing at its best. Fishing that difficult little limestone spring could take you from highs to lows in a moment, though each cast was made with excitement and anticipation, for we who new her were well aware of the trophy size wild browns and rainbows that sheltered there, hidden from view by the water weeds.

During those years stalking the historic waters of the Cumberland Valley, I often thought of those who had passed before, at times my neck tingling as if a watcher was near.

One April morning found me longing for some early dry fly action, and I almost had it…

FOOTSTEPS

The morning has dawned with promise, and the warm, calm air gives me hope for some early midge fishing. My careful walk through the meadow pauses when I find just what I am looking for. A few trout rise softly in the weedy flat immediately upstream, as I kneel in the dew drenched grass to rig my tippet and fly.

It is not often that I find fish rising during these brief, early morning outings, and I am surprised and pleased as I embrace this odd spring morning. The sky has the stormy, windswept look of an April blow, yet it is ghostly still. The day feels as if someone is watching, waiting.

The risers in the flat see fit to ignore me, despite several perfect drifts through their feeding lanes. I change to a smaller, sparser midge pattern, little more than a biot and tuft of CDC, yet this too they let pass. Rather than continue to play the “what am I eating” game, I decide to look elsewhere for a more eager quarry.

Upstream I pass several prime spots, finding no activity, until at last the dimpled surface of an impossible lie tells me the resident trout is in business. The bulge in the current, which precedes each rise, means this is no yearling in search of his morning meal. This one is well worth some time.

Ten minutes; ten minutes spent moving cautiously into the one position which would allow a cast to the fish without spooking him. When all is ready, I throw the line up behind me, false cast once to the side, and aim my delivery three feet above the last ring. The wind gust comes as if the lever of the rod is a great switch on Mother Nature’s fan!

Coming as it had, on my delivery stroke, the gust catches me off guard and blows my line a little off target: three feet, just enough to lay the fly line right across the trout’s eyes. Have you ever seen flat, shallow water explode?

That perfectly timed wind gust was only the advance guard. The sky howls with the voice to match it’s appearance, and all hope for dry fly fishing has vanished in an instant. I look up at the sky and nearly speak to it, wanting to ask why the front could not have waited a minute before it tried to blow me into the creek.

I consider calling it a morning and heading toward the fly shop early, but I value these moments along the stream dearly. I change reel spools, and select a streamer from my fly box, knowing I can lob the weighted fly accurately despite the wind. As I walk down meadow, I notice footprints in the waving grass, evidence of another who has passed this way.

Every angler who frequents a particular piece of water knows a few mysterious places on the stream, spots which offer everything a big trout could ask for, yet have never yielded so much as a strike. At times I have felt drawn to those places.

I approach one of those spots with my usual “why not” attitude, knowing I’ll never catch a fish from such places if I don’t fish them, and cast the streamer upstream and tight to the bank.

The heavily weighted fly sinks into shadow as I swim it downstream, twitching it slightly every couple of feet. I see the brown just as he wheels from his hiding place to engulf the fly and set the hook with authority, putting a wide arch in the one ounce four weight rod.

He puts up a hell of a battle in tight quarters, fighting to snag the offending line in the roots protecting an undercut, and slapping at the fragile tippet with his tail. The water boils with his frantic efforts to escape. In the end, I lead him to shore and lay him in a bankside bed of watercress.

Catching my breath, I work the barbless streamer free from his jaw, and quickly draw my tape along his length. A shade over twenty-three inches, the deep bronze of his flanks blending with the butternut gold of his belly, he is as fine a specimen of a limestone brown trout as anyone could hope for.

As I pause in releasing and admiring the trout, I notice a momentary hush in the air and turn, half expecting to see someone there. The spell is broken quickly, as the howling of the wind once again envelops the meadow.

There behind me, in the grass laid flat by the gale, I see another movement; one at odds with the direction of the blow. It is there and it is not, as if a shadow were walking away.

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