The morning sunshine lit up Point Mountain this morning to begin another beautiful Catskill spring day! For those less familiar with our geography, Point Mountain divides the last mile or so of the East Branch from the West Branch of the Delaware River. At its southern terminus the rivers meet in Hancock’s Junction Pool and the Mainstem as we know it begins.
This is April, nearly a month into spring, and yes, those are buds beneath the snow on my crabapple trees. A turn toward colder weather continues, with the river temperatures now stuck in the lower forties for a week. We were close to the fisherman’s spring, but now so far away. The rivers are high from rainfall and reservoir releases, so there is no wading to brave the colder winter-like water, not that rising trout could be expected anyway.
I am no newcomer to the reluctance of spring. For twenty-five years I travelled to these rivers on good forecasts, at times watching the warmth of sunshine and the looked for hatches vanish upon my arrival. The world of the fly fisherman is as ephemeral as the nature of the aquatic insects upon whom our foundation rests.
I read a lot through the winter, and I smile each time I come to a story of wonderful fishing amidst a blizzard-like spring storm. I have shivered on many river banks, waiting; and those storied foul weather hatches still elude me. Is it any wonder I love sunshine?
The tales are the same, with always the Quill Gordons or the Hendricksons the stars! I recall one April on the West Branch, back before the last run of great floods that changed our rivers. The weather had turned cold and raw, but the hatch had begun under better skies, and the flies continued. The surface of the river was literally crawling with life for three hours, a fly alighted on every square inch of water as far as the eye could see, and yet no trout rose to enjoy the feast. The water temperature had dropped quickly from the mid fifties to a somber 48 degrees. I watched a lone angler steadily nymphing the riffle that fed the pool while the rest of us stood and stared. He hooked up once in that three hour span, with the river bottom, and broke off his fly.
Patience: an easier thing to cultivate now in the throes of retirement than during those years of working and traveling for brief respite upon the rivers of my heart.
I fondle a few cherished bamboo rods, take a couple out in the yard to cast; try a new flyline just to see if it will be the one. The soul needs nourishment from the rivers, needs to be involved in the ritual of the angler’s spring. My fly tying output has slowed dramatically. There comes a point I find when I simply must be fishing for my mind to be inspired to seek the vise, the feathers, fur and steel.
If I sit back and close my eyes I can feel the sunshine on my shoulders. I smell the varnish as I draw my rod from its tube, assemble the joints and place the reel into its seat. Threading the line through the snakes, I hear that telltale plop and look up to see the fading ring of an early riser. My fingers tremble a bit as I hurry to straighten the leader and knot a fly to the tippet. I take a full breath of the mountain air and exhale, capturing that golden moment when anticipation meets fulfillment!