Yesterday felt like a little daylight was peeking through after a long, dark night.
May had finally arrived, but I had been forced away from the rivers by dangerously high water. After months of tension with the virus lurking and weeks of colder than normal temperatures, May was supposed to be better. It was supposed to be spring: warm and sunny with mayflies in the air and trout rising; something to take the edge off. Instead, May had debuted with more of the same.
Yesterday I was finally able to hitch up the boat and get back on the river. The water was still high, though it finally came down to the point I felt it was safe to float. I expected the morning sunshine to disappear about the time I began my float, and I wasn’t too sure about finding many rising fish with all that cold water rushing down the channel, but I was out there.
Just before I headed out I checked the weather one more time to find the 10 to 15 mph wind forecast had been upgraded to 10 to 20 mph. Oh joy. I nearly called it off at that moment but hope kept me on course.
There were plenty of boats on the river, with plenty of social distancing violations, but the sun stayed with us and the wind stayed down. The fact is it was a beautiful day, an unexpected one and thus, appreciated all the more.
The high flow and lack of rising fish made for a quick float. You basically dip an oar tip now and then to correct your line and the current speeds you on your way. Sit back and enjoy the sunshine! Once early afternoon rolled around I stopped at a number of spots and anchored to look for flies and rises. A handful of Blue Quills started to show but there was no sign of a trout.
By prime time I had reached some great water for Hendricksons, and did my best to play leapfrog with the other driftboats and anchor where there was some softer water collecting insects. Still nothing working the top. The soft water wasn’t all that soft, and the bugs weren’t coming en masse. There were plenty of quills, but I guess the math wasn’t working for the fish: too much effort for too little return.
The magic hour passed with no more than an occasional Hendrickson drifting past and I figured my day was about done. Between the enhanced current speed and the need to pass other boats, I was further down river than expected with nothing to show for it. I hadn’t made a cast.
Finally I saw a little rise along the bank. Instinct told me it was only a youngster, but hey, at least it was a fish, and all wild trout are worthy. The edge was shallow so I anchored up a little further upstream, and the fish dropped down a bit and rose again. Long downstream casts can be tricky when it comes to getting the right float along the bank. I made several casts, extending my drift, but that fish just didn’t see anything he liked. I tried to lift the anchor and let the boat down a little closer; and put him down.
I sat there for a long while, enjoying the sunshine and staring downstream hoping for another rise. The flies were getting sparser as I sat there, but I finally saw one little ring. I repositioned, but that guy never rose again.
When I pulled the anchor and grabbed the oars I figured that my fishing was over for the day. I had just one stop ahead and I fully expected that another boat would be sitting there. When I floated into view, sure enough, I saw the flash of oars in the afternoon sunlight.
He passed, rowed right by, so I rowed across the river as quickly as possible without creating too much of a ruckus. Once upstream of the spot, I slipped the oars under my knees, picked up the anchor rope and drifted silently into position for a long cast to the first rise.
The fish looked big, pushing plenty of water as he foraged on the quills and odd Hendricksons scattered along that bank. I had tied three flies immediately before leaving that morning, and one of them was secured to my tippet, a sparkle dun with a Trigger Point wing. Four casts, five, still he kept eating, and no take. I pulled some more line from the reel, shocked the rod and twitched the tip back as the leader unrolled, putting more slack in the tippet to improve the drift. Nothing!
He pushed up another bulge of water and his little round nose came out, I saw the whiskers and the flipping tip of his tail: muskrat! I couldn’t help but laugh at my own intensity. Perfect casts to a rodent. It would have been quite a fight.
Wait, there’s something else there. Mama muskrat? No, a bulge and a sipping rise. Two casts and I had him! He pulled a deep bow in my old Thomas & Thomas and my mind flashed to the tip that had been savaged by a low hanging branch while I fought for control in standing waves and white water earlier in the day, but the rod held.
The fish bored away from the bank and into the stronger flow, pulling line from the reel and shaking his big head. Definitely not a rodent. He fought hard, as Delaware browns are wont to do, but I finally led him into my net. Twenty-one inches of wild energy, his sides heaving in the mesh as I slipped the Hendrickson from his jaw. I admired him for a moment then slipped him back over the side.
Funny how a day can brighten so suddenly, and now there were a pair of fish sipping the errant mayflies in the line of quiet water along that bank.
The fish were cruising, working their way upstream and weaving in and out as they found a morsel to their liking, then diving and re-surfacing back where they had started. At last my fly caught one’s attention and he tipped up and took it. The rod bowed, I felt his weight and then nothing. Should have checked the tippet better after landing that first big boy.
I clipped the rough end of the tippet and knotted the morning Hendrickson number 2 to the hook, then looked for another candidate. I guess the fish along that bank had seen too much of my comparadun, for I could draw no more interest. I changed to a Blue Quill parachute, for I could see more of the smaller flies in the drift. That too proved unwelcome. My eye caught the form of a spinner in the glare beside the boat, and brought a smile to my face.
I checked the tippet one more time, tied on a size 16 biot-bodied rusty spinner, and began to play the game with the cruisers once again. It took several casts before I guessed which way the trout would turn and laid the fly perfectly in his path. He sipped, I tightened, and the big trout boiled the water and headed out of town!
He ran hard toward a snag and I turned him just short of it. Coming my way, it was all I could do to reel fast enough to keep up with him, then it was down with the current, twists and head shakes. In the net he was a solid 20 inches, another lovely big, wild Delaware brown.
The drift of flies had lessened, and there were no more cruisers picking off the remaining strays, so I took a moment to reflect on how quickly the day had turned, let the warmth of the sun ease my tired shoulders, and floated on toward home.