Moments outdoors capture our memories

The most reticent spring in recent memory continues, and as often happens, our lives outdoors are defined in moments.

After a couple of days of hard, cold, snowy weather, Sunday morning’s sunrise offered a glimpse of beauty which belied the frost and the winds, already building. The day seemed lost from the fisherman’s perspective, but sometimes there is a moment waiting to be enjoyed.

I had no plan to venture out, figuring I would busy myself with a continuation of Saturday’s fly tying. By mid afternoon I noticed that my flag wasn’t waving perpendicular to it’s pole anymore and I stepped out on the porch for a breath of fresh air. The sun felt comfortable, and the lessened breeze didn’t have the bite expected for a day in the fifties. My thoughts ran immediately to mayfly spinners.

After a pair of nights below freezing, I feared that many of the Hendrickson imagos had failed to survive, but I couldn’t resist that 64 degree sunshine and the freshened air. I dipped a short bowl of soup from the still simmering crockpot, then changed into my fishing clothes and waders.

I walked along the Delaware, pleased that the breeze was soft, with only an occasional gust. Looking down I saw a dark winged mayfly sitting on the surface and plucked it with my fingertips: a Hendrickson, tan with a yellowish olive cast and those dark wings, in the range of a size 14. When I stopped to rig up, I knotted a sparkle dun to my tippet, and settled into a watching mode.

A few duns drifted by sporadically, though if there had been a significant hatch it had passed before my coming, so the first splash took me by surprise. The fish had been somewhere above me and, looking downstream, I hadn’t seen it. The next one though was closer, and right in front of me, so I raised the old Granger Special and made a short cast in his direction.

Delaware rainbows seem to have an urgency about them, a restlessness that keeps them on the move. I was sure that fly was well past the spot where I had seen the rise, and was raising the rod to pick it up when the trout exploded on the fly. He was a wild Delaware bow, thick through the shoulders and gleaming silver, as he cavorted about in front of me. He put a good bend in that 9′ bamboo rod and finally came grudgingly to my net.

A sixteen inch Delaware rainbow is the typical “nice” fish of his breed. They grow larger, but they are not so long lived that one encounters many extreme specimens. There was one long ago, on a quiet June morning down river that came to my swinging Leadwing Coachman. He had nearly ripped the rod from my hand with unexpected ferocity, and vaulted high out of the water flinging white spray everywhere. Long, thick, dark and red sided he was a trout to be measured in pounds rather than inches.

Alas, after a breathtaking run he vaulted high again and snapped the 4X tippet in midair! Back in the day I used to float the rivers with legendary guide Pat Schuler each spring, and I used to joke with him that all I needed was a 25 inch rainbow. He would always tell me they simply didn’t grow that big, guiding me to many between 20 and 22 inches. I guess that restlessness simply wears them out before too many years have passed; though that morning wet fly bow would have easily passed that mark!

Patrick Schuler tirelessly scanning the Delaware for a rise

The Hendrickson duns petered out after a while so I tied on a small caddis fly. It seemed that each time I looked upstream, the occasional splash would come from below, then above whenever I turned to watch above. Before long though I got a bead on one of those roving risers and put the caddisfly in line for an interception.

That second bow was nearly a twin to the first, and it was good once again to feel his life force throbbing through that arch of cane, split and glued nearly seven decades ago.

The hoped for spinners never showed, the wind rising again as the sun dipped behind the ridge in Pennsylvania. I thanked the river for sharing its energy with me, for a moment plucked from this contrary season, another moment to be kept close.

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