Spoon fed salvation

Waiting In The Tail of The Riff

My fishing is coming back, slowly. The Red Gods are offering this angler salvation a spoonful at a time. Ah yes the caprices of Mother Nature!

I chanced a somewhat more favorable wind forecast on Wednesday and dropped the boat in the Delaware for a solo float. They are all solo floats this year, thanks to the need to avoid human contact. I tend toward being a loner on the river anyway, but it would be nice to share the day with a good friend.

That wind was supposed to be in the 5 to 10 mph range, but it did get up a bit stronger in the afternoon. Floating the Big D means rowing, so I expected to get a workout pulling through the big eddies. The extra breeze just upgraded my cardio.

I had hoped of course for a lot of insect activity, and rising fish. The sunny morning was gradually overtaken by clouds, just as forecast, but the activity never happened. The Delaware has a reputation of being moody, but it can really impress you when it smiles.

By early afternoon I was anchored in the tail of a riff just upstream of a famous pool, watching and waiting. There were a few caddis popping around on the surface, and eventually a few more of them brought a couple of those little spurt rises that said “rainbow”. I removed the X Caddis from the hook keeper on my rod and started casting to the familiar moving targets that are Delaware River rainbows. We found each other, that bow and I, and started to dance; he flying a couple of feet out of the river he calls home two or three times between drag pulling runs, while I countered with rod pressure and reeling. A nice bow, 16 or 17 inches, and a great way to start the day.

The caddis activity waned quickly, and, after another wait I lifted the anchor and moved on, rowing all the way through Lake Lenore against the breeze. Payment to the Red Gods for services rendered. There would be a lot of payment for that bow, and the foot long brown who bent my rod hours later while waiting in another riff.

I was tired by the time I caught sight of the Buckingham landing, better than two hours earlier than planned. I anchored and watched a lot of riffles, but there wasn’t anything else happening to put a bend in my rod, unless you count that chub. Lets not even talk about that.

Cell service is almost non-existent downriver, but I stopped along the shoreline in Buckingham pool and turned the phone on hopefully: one bar. I tried to text Cathy, but it came back with “message could not be sent”. Hooray for little black boxes. I slipped a little further down the bank where the hillside wasn’t looming over the top of me and tried again – message sent! Glad I avoided sitting there in the boat for a couple of hours.

Delaware River, Buckingham, Pennsylvania

My arms, back and shoulders thought it would be a great idea to go wade fishing the next day. I agreed. I headed out midday, bound for one of my favorite quiet stretches of water, another one of those places that had been bugless of late. It was one of those misty afternoons, a dozen degrees cooler than the previous couple of days, the kind fly fishers recognize as a good bug day. Hmm, well I guess I’ll see about that.

I made a long walk leisurely, stopping to watch each reach of river, seeing nothing moving but water itself. I settled in where I had had great fishing this time last year and waited for an hour.

The obligatory handful of caddis were the first things to show, and then, was that a mayfly? A slow, bulging rise put me on alert. I had wanted to fish bamboo, but the rain led me to select the Thomas & Thomas Paradigm. If I had to fish graphite, it was going to be with feel; as close to cane as possible. I moved into position to work to that rise and waited for another.

The trout rose, I lifted the line softly and the Paradigm painted the fly on the water sixty feet out. He rose to intercept my fly, took it, and the tension of a long stretch of slow fishing let me pull my hair trigger a half second too soon, and the fly right out of his mouth.

It took a while before I started to see a big mayfly or two drifting down: big, yellow, March Browns or Gray Foxes. To Hell with the DNA scientists, I thought, and tied on an East Branch Special I thought might pass for either. I’d found the pattern on the Sparse Gray Matter forum, credited to Art Patterson, brother in law of the late Al Carpenter, Sr., the long time owner and proprietor of Al’s Wild Trout in Shinhopple, and tied a few this winter.

The target had showed me that one big, slow bulge that got me into stealth mode, but his subsequent rises varied to more subtle sips. Still, he hadn’t risen until the big mayflies showed, so I was going to offer him a big mayfly. Seventy odd foot reach casts flowed out of the old Paradigm one after the other, as I prospected for the old boy between bursts of wind and flying mist, the gift of Mother Nature’s immaculate sense of timing.

I was nearly ready to change the fly, to offer a low floater, when he liked the drift enough to come up and eat that hackled dun. I paused half a breath, then tightened, and the rod arched as he porpoised right there in his lie. Before even starting to move, he was simply gone, the 5X tippet broken cleanly. I pulled the remaining tippet through my fingers to check for abrasions, finding none, then tugged gently below the leader knot and it broke again. Bad tippet, just my luck, or was I still paying dues for yesterday’s tail dancing rainbow?

I cut the leader back and retied it with four feet of 4X tippet, one size heavier; a little extra insurance for the larger dry flies.

The March Browns were as sporadic as their reputation, half a dozen coming over the course of 15 minutes time, then nothing for half an hour. A trout would rise once, 150 feet away, then no more. There was one near a submerged rock that ate something every once in a while, but he showed no interest in my flies.

There are times I feel certain that the “one time rises” in this area are really cruisers. A trout or two with enough appetite to cruise the flats and target the emerging nymphs of big sporadic mayflies, taking them as the reach the surface, or perhaps an inch beneath. Fishing to cruisers is a sport for the lucky in any case. But hey, that guy is still up near that rock…

Movement here is stealth mode only or the game is up. Impatience has no place in this water. I was finally back in the right position to play another round with the rock trout, still eating something every once in awhile. I decided that the light March Brown version of the 100-Year Dun was the ticket, as it sat on the water just like those stately fellows who drifted by much less often than I wanted. Mr. Rock Trout agreed.

Finally I got to hear the ratchetting music of the Hardy and feel the limber Paradigm throb and buck with a fine brownie. He came grudgingly to my net, a solid twenty inches (oh I’m gonna pay for this!). There had been a foot long brown earlier chasing down a big March Brown comparadun as it pulled under when I began to strip it back from a downstream cast; my version of a luck fish. Another two fish day, and I am thankful for it. They are not coming easily this season.

I did miss another riser before the river quieted completely and I began my walk out. One of those sampling kind of takes at the end of a downstream drift where drag just starts to flirt with the fly. They want it because it moved a little, but somehow they don’t, and indecision seems to let them kiss it gently on the surface, waiting for an expectant angler to pull it away just as I did.

Over anxious nerves, bad tippet, a little luck and the right fly at the right place a couple of times this day. Sounds like fishing doesn’t it?

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