Funny how June began with a cold snap, and the fishing heated up significantly. Rivers that began to get too warm to fish well dropped like a stone in temperature thanks to a night near freezing and another deep into the forties. Thank you Red Gods!
Fifty degree water was a scarce commodity during April and early May, and yet I was standing in it on the first of June, thankful for my fleece lined khaki’s. Yesterday offered some sunshine and some dramatic clouds, and a lot more wind than I would have liked. I had planned to fish bamboo, but it was already blowing hard when I parked my jeep, so I reached for my old Thomas & Thomas Paradigm graphite. It proved to be the right choice for the day.
I have enjoyed afternoon long sulfur hatches on cool, rainy days a few times, but Monday’s mainly sunny weather seemed to agree with the little yellow mays. The hatch was pretty steady from one o’clock until after five, and a number of good trout were taking advantage of it. Wind always makes technical fishing dicey. It takes away a great deal of an angler’s control. Drag-free drifts require controlled slack in the leader and tippet, and an ill timed wind gust likes nothing better than to straighten the whole thing out and send your fly way off target. Dealing with gusty winds requires patience.
Between gusts, I fired a cast low to the water to intercept the first riser. The wind died suddenly and the fly landed closer than intended to the trout, so of course he took it a split second early and I missed him clean while trying to hang the line over the free finger of my rod hand. He wasn’t going to give me a second chance. Nothing to do but rebuke myself and re-position for another player.
With the breeze calmed for a bit I spotted a wide bulge in the surface with a little ring and just smiled to myself before sending my CDC comparadun on its way. One cast, two, three and there’s that bulge again, and a big bow in the Paradigm! It was instantly clear that this was a serious fish, as he ripped line to the Hardy’s lament. He gave me everything he had, refusing even at the end to come quietly to the net. When I saw him, I eased the pressure a bit lest the 5X tippet betray me again. The big boy measured a shade past twenty-four inches.
The wind kept things challenging, as if the wild browns of the Catskills weren’t suitably capable of challenging the angler. There are days when they bring us to our knees! As the sulfurs continued to emerge and drift down river, occasional flurries of the much larger Gray Foxes would join them. During one of these, a telltale heavy rise urged me to quickly change my fly, and put the improved Gray Fox emerger to the test. It took a few casts to get the perfect float on such a blustery day, but the brown rose confidently and engulfed the fly. He took off hard downstream coaxing the reel from a stutter to a scream.
In the net he measured a solid 21 inches, and I savored my good fortune before slipping him back into the flow.
The devils returned for an hour or two, with fish rising a few times, then ceasing as I completed my approach. Low water fishing requires care and stealth, but I refuse to believe that we can ever be completely undetected by the trout. An ill timed wind gust resulting in a slapped down fly is another great equalizer, and one I endured more than once on the afternoon.
Finally another calmer spell allowed me to square up on a late feeder, but this one proved resistant. He showed no interest in the duns on the surface, so too the sparkle duns I offered, the closest thing to a cripple or emerger in my vest. I finally coaxed him into a take by using the wind-rippled surface to my advantage. I shortened my line and dropped my CDC sparkle dun well above him, letting it run out of float on the edge of his dinner table. A quick lift of the rod then an immediate drop, coupled with the release of the slack in my hand sunk the fly and allowed it to drift drag free again below the meniscus. Mr. brown trout couldn’t stand that tactic and grabbed the fly hard, charging away in haste.
A three fish day wouldn’t impress the fish counters, but with all three exceeding twenty inches I felt amply rewarded for an afternoon of challenging work on the stream.
Tuesday seemed perfect for another day long hatch, and I arrived early considering the anticipation of a banner day. Cloud cover was forecast to be constant, with calmer winds and a bit warmer temperatures, and I could almost see the legions of flies on the water as I walked down toward the river. Never try to predict Mother Nature.
I was on the water by half past Noon. It was cloudy and calm, and the river’s surface didn’t betray a single mayfly. Waiting, I uncoiled my thermometer and dropped it in: fifty-one degrees at one o’clock. Perhaps the rising temperature due to yesterday’s broken sunshine had sparked the early hatch?
After half an hour, I began to see an odd March Brown or two, but the first rise was a puzzling little waver in slack water along the far bank. I knew what that fish was about and hoped to be ready for him this time.
The approach took some time, but my target didn’t seem hurried. He was finding an occasional morsel out of the main current, his “rises” clearly the wavering of his dorsal fin breaking the glassy surface. I made a few perfunctory casts with a small sulfur dun, a handful having begun to show on the water. The trout of course paid no attention to my dry fly and continued his fin waving taunts. I smiled as I knotted one of the size 16 Klinkhammer style cripples I had tied that morning to the 5X tippet.
Patience always helps with a moving fish, and this fellow was roving a fair piece of real estate. My casts were delicate, courtesy of the Payne tapered bamboo rod and a supple DT line, and I made them only when the trout waved at me from a new location. Eventually my little half sunken fly and the brown arrived at the same location, and he sucked it down gently. I waited an extra tick then tightened in a slow, controlled lift and had him!
That old Hardy St. George was getting acquainted with trout a decade before I was born, but its as smooth as silk after so many years. After some head shaking and short pulls, the brown made his first run and coaxed a familiar melody from that vintage spring and pawl. We had a good time, that trout and I, the cane with a deep, throbbing bend throughout. I took my time with him, dutifully turning the rod upside down when the fish was closer to me to equalize the stress on the bamboo. A 21 inch Catskill brown can put a set in a fine cane rod if you aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing.
For a long while it appeared that one good fish would be the hallmark of my day. Flies came only in the barest of trickles, and only an occasional soft rise drew my attention. Most were not repeated. As the afternoon wore on, one fish rose half a dozen times, the last of those rises to my dry fly. He ate it late in the drift, just as I relaxed my attention, believing the fly was past the taking zone. My beleaguered hand let the line slip too as I raised the rod, and he charged straight at me barely hooked. By the time I recovered control of all that slack line, this smallish fish had run around a rock and pulled free of the hook. Yes, a one fish day to be sure.
It may have been half past four, and I had walked back in the direction of the jeep. I stopped along a favorite little run simply to savor the place and the moment of solitude. A splash brought me back to attention and I noticed a few sulfurs popping to the surface in slick, fast current. Covering the rise, I hooked what must have been the hardest pulling foot long brown trout in the river.
Slipping him back, I spotted another rise, then another, as the sulfur hatch finally made its appearance. In that last hour I caught three more trout, a pair of racehorse strong 20 inch beauties, and another. That final adversary was sipping beyond the seam on the other side of the fast slick before me, and I knew from experience what to expect.
I worked myself upstream and out into the channel to allow a long, downstream reach cast. Float time would be extended that way, but it wouldn’t be long, so the cast had to be accurate and drop the fly gently no more than a foot and a half above the rise. Presentations like that are what bamboo rods were made for: enough smooth power to get the distance required, feel and delicacy to deliver the fly perfectly.
He rose to my second cast, and boiled mightily when I raised the rod into a full arc, streaking down into the rush of current and bringing old St. George to full and vibrant song! There’s nothing quite so thrilling as a big fish in fast water, all of that oxygen charging every fiber with wild energy. There were two turns of fly line on the reel when he stopped, turning and thrashing the surface to foam. We battled there at a distance for a time, joined by a slender line and an arc of flamed bamboo.
Thrice regaining line, then losing it again, I worked him through the channel and to my side of the river. I backed toward the bank, urging him into calmer, shallower water in stages, giving line as needed, and taking what he allowed. At last I dipped the net and led him in.
I exhaled as I raised the rim, looking for the fly to disengage. He was a dark, beautiful brownie, deeply bronzed and heavily spotted. On impulse I took the two steps to the grassy bank and fumbled for my camera, laying the great fish gently along side the rod and saving the moment with a quick photo.
I waited for a while after I released him, eventually seeing a final rise upstream. I waded up and across to a casting position, though I knew my day was complete.