Spring Is Where (and When) You Find It

A More Stable Spring On The Neversink

Its Friday morning, May 15th, and it hasn’t snowed yet this week. The rivers can seem barren one minute and crowded the next. Northeast fly fishers seem to have no problems violating travel restrictions and the good common sense to stay separated, as I see license plates from all over the northeast just like I do every year.

I floated the West Branch yesterday, surprised at the lack of traffic on the upper river miles. There was only one other boat, and it stayed behind me, as I drifted down in search of bugs and rising trout. It wasn’t long before I attributed the solitude to the lack of insect activity and the glory of a southerly breeze.

Floating quickly became rowing with that south wind. The river’s flow was half what it was on my last trip, and the southerly breeze was sufficient to keep the boat sitting and spinning rather than drifting gently down the stream. I had hoped for caddis with the sunshine and the abundance of gentle riffles in that reach of river and I saw them, at least half a dozen of them.

I was sure that I would find some activity in the big Hale Eddy riffle when I dropped the anchor about a hundred yards below the chute. It was a gorgeous day, but it was proving to be bugless.

After a wait and a drop down to anchor in the bottom third of the riff, I found it hard to believe I wasn’t seeing more than the occasional single caddis fly. After more than a month of the fishing season passing with little change in water temperature it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the hatches are sluggish.

I was down in the Camp Riffle at West Branch Angler when I stopped for lunch. The ham sandwich was welcome, though I wished I had brought along a big Yeti full of coffee. The sunshine was resplendent as I sat there eating, and I was enjoying it, though I had been counting on the predicted afternoon cloud cover to combine with the warmth to produce better hatching and rising trout.

I was nearly through WBA’s miles of river when I finally saw a little sip ahead on the bank, and far enough ahead that I was able to act fast and anchor in time to make a cast. I started making short, easy casts, reaching upstream to let the fly drift in the slower current between the bank and a submerged rock. The trout kept sipping, right between the tip of that rock and the river bank. Then things got strange.

My cast had drifted by him when my fly simply disappeared without any rise ring at all. I pulled up and I was tight, there was plenty of weight there, and it started moving. I felt big head shakes and then he decided to make a trip to Hancock. One of those slow steady pulls that I couldn’t stop. I tightened the drag down three times. He kept going, line, backing, all of it. I pulled the anchor one handed and followed. When I got the backing and my line back I tried side pressure and we replayed that whole scenario again, including the single handed anchor pull and follow.

When I saw the fish at last, it wasn’t the 30 inch old leviathan I expected, it was perhaps a 20″ brown trout wrapped in the leader. The 5X tippet gave up before I could pull him in range of the net and unwrap him, so I hope he freed himself after the break. I still don’t know how he got wrapped up like that.

I fished quickly through a couple of spots, then anchored up in a wide pool to look for rises. It was prime time, and a few varied mayflies were showing on the surface in three sizes. I assumed they were Blue Quills, Invaria sulfurs and Hendricksons, since that is what I have been seeing recently, and before long trout began rising and yes, right on cue the wind began blowing harder and steadier.

I cast downstream to the first trout that showed in range and caught him, a feisty foot long brown trout, but the fish I was seeing were taking a bug or two and then not showing again. I kept looking for that nice, steady feeder down river, the fish I could set up on and work carefully, but he wasn’t out there. The activity was brief, maybe fifteen minutes of here and there rises, and then things slowed down and I moved along, still rowing.

The breeze remained much steadier, so I had to keep rowing to make progress downstream except in the riffles, and by four o’clock my arms, neck and shoulders were taking a beating. I always used to say that retirement and youth should be a package deal, and days like this one make it easy to see the wisdom in that. I’m not saying that I would trade the opportunity to be here, to be out on my favorite Catskill rivers day after day, but I would gladly give away my arthritis.

It was about this time that my unexpected solitude came to an abrupt end. Now instead of having to row straight down river, I had to zig zag back and forth across the river to pass behind waders and avoid other drift boats. They were everywhere!

The circus came to a finale when I took the left route around an island to avoid a boat and four waders in the right channel. When I got to the tight spot at the other end of the island, I was blocked in by no less than three anchored boats and half a dozen waders within casting range of the first boat. I did about all I could do; I dropped anchor.

I didn’t want to disrupt all of those guys, but I was tired and sore and I didn’t want to sit there on top of them either. I figured a little patience and courtesy was the best choice. The Red Gods agreed I guess, because a trout began to rise straight below me.

He ignored my little caddis, so I tied on a Hendrickson and tried again. The 16″ brownie took it greedily and put up a spirited fight until I managed to get him within reach of my long handled boat net. As I unhooked him, I saw the boat that had been anchored in the pinch point pull anchor and head downstream, while the waders moved back to the river bank behind them. A nice trout and a clear path: a simple reward for doing the right thing!

I rowed down through the rest of the gauntlet, zig zagging to pass behind more waders and boats, eager to get close to the landing and call for Cathy to bring the trailer. In one unexpected spot I came upon a small pod of trout rising steadily. It was so unexpected I had nearly passed them on the wrong side of the channel when they showed. I dropped the anchor, leaving myself with a longer cast across a windy chute to three trout feeding happily in a little belt of slow water, not a high success situation.

One would occasionally stray toward my side of that belt, and with a moment of calm I put my Hendrickson right into his lane. He wasn’t the small fish I expected, and gave me the best battle of the day. Time after time he made long runs and fought furiously every time I regained that line and got him near the boat. When I finally got him into that net, I was surprised at his size. I’d give him 18 inches, no more, but he was heavy bodied, shoulders you know; a very worthwhile adversary.

Of course this strange day had to have one more little twist. I was anchored one last time, just before I would turn the corner into the last big wide open flat I had to row across to get to the landing. I had seen one rise against the bank, but it wasn’t repeated after I stopped. I stretched my aching muscles and dug out my cell phone, making the call home to ask Cathy to come and pick me up.

After the call, I pulled anchor and started around that little corner into the big, windy flat. On my right, there were rings everywhere in a little strip of water that was more protected from the wind. I laughed at the pain in my biceps as I rowed right past them. Little fish I told myself, little rings and too many of them too close together. But you never know…

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