Wanderings… and An Epic Battle

Somehow I Have Trouble Calling It a March Brown

Funny how you can find so many different moods along the same river system. With the bigger fellows like the March Brown (Yellow?) on the water, one would expect the trout to be paying more attention to them, but that hasn’t been the case this week. In fact, where they were the only mayflies witnessed, rises have been pretty much non-existent. This is a big, meaty mayfly that likes significant current, though I have seen them drifting long distances on flat pools, even on the warmer days. Sure seems like an easy meal to me, particularly for a trout just hanging out.

The players have been the sulfurs, whether during a nice hatch, or with a very sporadic hit and miss appearance, the trout have been paying rapt attention to the little yellow mays. No sulfurs, no rising trout.

We have enjoyed a nice mix of weather this week: sunny days, both moody with shifting cloud banks and gut wrenchingly beautiful bluebird skies, and cool, overcast days with a hint of moisture in the air. If I had to pick one of those to peg for a no holds barred bug day it would definitely be the latter. Wrong again. Hard to figure out the fickle moods of a river and her wildlife, even after nearly twenty years of an intimate relationship. Of course, that is a big part of the magic in this game!

Yesterday began in a stunning tableau, the colors of the Catskills so vibrant I wished I could wrap myself up in them. The new green of the mountainsides was irradiated with the morning sunshine in a sky so vividly blue and cloudless, the rivers low and startlingly clear! I could pick out stones on the river bottom while driving down the highway. I was awestruck, and thankful, though I figured it was not going to be a bug day. Got one right for a change.

Mayflies were pretty scarce alright, and rising trout, well, one would show itself every once in a while. These were generally one time sips, not the kind of thing that makes it easy to target a fish, stalk it, and make that perfect cast. Did I mention the other dimension? The wind blew. Not the 5 to 10 mph gentle zephyrs that were forecast either, but the 15 mph and better, blow the budding leaves off the trees style winds. They arrived at exactly the same time as I spotted the first gentle little sip in the film.

I cannot count the number of times that has happened on a trout river. I might do better at least trying to estimate the number of times it hasn’t. In my mind I think of the Big Guy up there with his finger on the fan switch and a smile on his heavenly face, waiting for me to start my backcast. Suffice to say that there weren’t too many opportunities during the day, and wind blown leaders causing drag at the worst possible moment obliterated a few of those that were offered; except for one.

I was trying to cast to a one time sipper after a methodical approach when another round of gusts forced my hand and, just for a moment, let my temper get the best of me. I forced the cast in frustration, the fly blew 20 feet upstream of my target on a perfectly straight leader, and I cursed the wind once again. But then it calmed down for a moment, the planets aligned or whatever, and a different fish sipped something from the film. I elevated the line, turned my body to the left, and threw a perfect reach cast with my trusty replica Payne 102, laying that little CDC sulfur just above and in line with my target. Sip!

I raised the rod into a serious arc and the fish bucked and shot downstream at a quartering angle, while I wrestled with the slack fly line in my hand to keep it from tangling. It only took a second before he was on the reel, and another couple of seconds for him to run out all 90 feet of my fly line. There are boulders here, and the trout had reached one of the largest ones, intent I am certain upon rubbing the offending biting insect from his jaw. I put all the bend in that slender shaft of bamboo that I dared, the tip raised high to keep his head away from the boulder, using every ounce of strength in the 5X tippet.

I regained some line with pressure, lowering the rod to put the bend in the middle and butt instead of the tip when I could, and raising it again when he ran and turned for the bottom. I had most of my line back and could feel his power as he surged from side to side, then boiled the surface before he was off again. A good strong trout will make 2 or 3 runs, but this guy was something special.

Several times I pressured him to recover my line, drawing him toward the shallower side of the river, only to have him turn and run again, taking all of my hard won line with him in his search for another sharp edged rock. The fish had made half a dozen runs, and I was worried about the tippet. You never know just where the fly is in the fish’s mouth. Is the tippet rubbing against his teeth every time I reverse pressure?

I got him shallow for the fourth or fifth time and walked slowly over, easing my pressure and reeling up the remaining line and leader, net out and ready to bring to play, but he still wouldn’t have it. His runs were short now, 25 feet, another surface boil, then succumbing to the pressure as I led him back to the shallows. For the last time I pointed the rod at him and reeled the leader butt through the guides, turned the rod over, and took the net from under my rod arm, easing him toward me. I kept thinking about that thin tippet as I put the cane to work in a frightful bend and led him to the net.

He was mine, finally, the little fly snugged into his hard outer lip right on the side of his mouth. Perfect. The brown measured better than 24 inches, but his size and weight were more impressive than his length: five and a half pounds is a conservative estimate. I was close to a grassy bank, but there was no way I was going to take that vanquished warrior out of the water. As I turned the net over to slip him back in the river I noticed he had torn it. He settled down to the bottom and we watched each other.

I took out my fishing camera and tried to take a couple of shots but the glare of that bright sun defeated me. Then I remembered the camera is waterproof, submersible. I slipped it an inch under the surface and did the best I could to line it up and took the shot. When I downloaded the photos last night I saw that I was too close to get his full length, but didn’t do too bad framing blind. Not fine art photography to be sure but hey, its clear that fish had shoulders.


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