They have given our new weather a name, Sadie, Winter Storm Sadie. But how can this be, for we are a month into spring? Whatever you call it, this is not the season of sunshine and soft dimples upon the surface of the river.
I recall another April some years ago: frozen boots on the porch of my cabin, and huddling on the bank of the West Branch collecting sleet on the folds of my rain jacket. It was a perfect story book day for a legendary hatch of Hendricksons, no one else seemed ready to brave Mother Nature’s little show, it would be only me and the trout when those first duns began to shiver on the surface! I alone shivered, for no duns appeared, and no trout rose as in those stories.
This reluctant spring is tougher than the others I have endured. There was that wonderful little span of warmth, teasing with the first few mayflies taking wing. We were clearly on the cusp of a wonderful early spring; but then that infernal groundhog betrayed. Still we live under a threat, hunkered down in fear of our fellow man and a silent enemy we cannot see. Unbelievable stress hangs heavy upon all of us, and there is no release.
All we can do is our best to relax. As anglers we continue to sit back, swirl the single malt in our glasses and retreat into the warmth of our memories.
I have rousted myself early this morning, pulling my still damp waders on instead of lingering over hot coffee and breakfast. The lodge is quiet as I ease behind the wheel of my truck and head down to a favorite reach of the river. I park, assemble my rod and string the line through the guides, then begin the long walk.
Twenty minutes later I clamber down the rocky trail, keeping low behind the grass, and slip warily downstream along the bank. It is still, dim, the sun risen, though not yet able to burn through the mountain haze. I find my usual rock seat and settle in to watch.
I select a biot bodied rusty spinner from my fly box, a size 12 to offer enough of an enticement to one of the old browns I seek. It is comfortable here in early morning, with only the sound of the run for company.
When I feel it is time I rise and slip into the river, moving gently out from the bank. I stand for a few minutes, feeling the chill of the current around my legs, and scanning the surface for any sign of life. There are no flies evident in the drift, yet I am certain there are a few tidbits; there always are in this special place.
At last I see the quick wink and a tiny ring appears, then dissipates immediately. I have played this game with the trout that lives here more than once this season. I can feel the excitement build again, but I wait ten minutes until a second tiny ring appears and vanishes, and then I begin to cast.
Five, six casts are placed perfectly to my eye, but each time the spinner drifts down past the rocks un-assailed. I pause and continue with the waiting game, standing motionless until the ring appears again.
I lengthen my line by a foot, perhaps two, quicken my wrist to shock the rod, then drop the tip to the surface with more expediency. The leader falls gently, its long tippet in big, soft curls; and the fly drifts down…and vanishes in that tiny ring!
I raise the rod after half a breath and its tip pulls into a full bend. The trout churns the water with one explosive boil, then heads away into the swift current of the run. He battles hard, digging for the rocks and weeds on the bottom to wrench the offending hook from his jaw. Each time he dives I sweep the rod low and downstream, using the current to turn him away from the snags. I fear for the tippet, wishing I had brought a softer rod, but the hook has a good hold and maintains it under the pressure of the stiff graphite.
Finally it is done, and I lead him into my net. I walk him to the bank and snap a quick photo in the grass. This one has been an adversary for more than a month, so the photo, a little talisman of victory, will be appreciated in years to come. I thank him for sharing his breakfast and energy with me, and begin the long walk back for my own.