Paying My Dues, and a Milestone

Its been a great week. I have enjoyed an up and down spring, thanks to absolutely crazy weather and doing my best to avoid human beings. When the medical experts say that you are a top candidate to die from Coronavirus, you take them very, deadly seriously.

I have missed visits from and fishing with my friends, and I have missed some great fishing, if you believe the stories anyway, in my quest to avoid the crowds. I admit that, by nature, I do my best to avoid crowded waters anyway, but this madness has put a whole new urgency into play. Its not just solitude in 2020, its survival.

I got off the river late last night, and found a voice mail on my phone from one of my friends. Seems he is planning upon coming to town to get in some fishing and hopes we can fish together. I have to figure out how to tell him that we could say high and catch up from thirty feet away I guess, but that fishing is not going to be in the cards.

Hi Henry! Great to hear from you! (He’s smiling around that rod, really)

I guess we are all doing the best we can to cope with this unprecedented situation. I have been coping on the rivers for the past five days.

Yesterday was my time to pay some dues for the terrific fishing I have enjoyed this week, but I hit a new milestone in the process.

Driving to the river the sky was beautifully cloudy, and I was hoping for a really good bug day. I parked, rigged up my Menscer Hollowbuilt and walked down to see what the bright water had in store. Conditions looked great, and I hadn’t been standing on the bank any longer than required to check my leader and tippet and tie on a sulfur pattern; the fly that had been the special of the week. The sun peaked through a little as I scanned the surface, spotting three fish making gentle sips in the low, clear water.

I started slowly wading into a casting position to work the closest player when I heard voices coming from up river. Kayaks, and a lot of them. My urgency increased tenfold, knowing that I was going to get one chance instead of three and that it might be the only chance for several hours. The first cast alighted perfectly and drifted down unmolested, the second brought a tip up and a take, that I answered with a lift and a smil… groan. I felt that trout, a good one, for half a second before he was free. I drew my line in and found about an inch of my tippet remaining: a clean break just below the leader knot. That same spool of tippet that plagued me earlier in the week seems to have had another bad spot.

The 8 kayaks made sure to paddle over the best holding water, right where the other two rising trout had been. For good measure they spent some time stopping and milling around over the top of the deeper sanctuary water in that reach. Have a nice day!

A sipper finally appeared about an hour later, but not with the confident gentle rise that began the day. The sun was fully out by then, and all of the disturbance surely put them on edge. Oh and yes, the wind came up again. Nothing but frustration chasing cruisers throughout the afternoon. Find one, try to make the quick cast required before he vacated the area, and wham, another wind gust blows the fly off target and straightens out the leader.

One of those gusts hit me straight from the rod side hard, in mid cast, and wrapped my fly and tippet around the fly line. Untangling the mess, I found the dreaded cut, where the 5X fluorocarbon had tied around the line and cut the coating. I knew that I should repair it, that if I hooked a fish the strain would likely separate the coating from the core at that break and ruin a ninety dollar fly line. I passed the buck for a while, chasing a few more cruisers, then resigned to make the long walk back to switch out my tackle.

Half an hour later I had a fresh, cold bottle of water, an Atkins bar and my Thomas & Thomas Paradigm with the Hardy Marquis that has found a home in its reel seat. As I reached the river I heard a splash and voices. Kids and kayaks. One said hello, I said hello, then turned downriver hoping they would float on through before the sun got off the water. They reached my spot about the same time as I did. I tied on a new tippet, tested it twice, and sat down on the bank to watch the show. Kids being kids on a hot summer day on the river. After they passed I figured the place might just be finished for the evening, but one of the cruisers surfaced at a distance not too long after the kids had paddled into the distance. It was four o’clock.

The shade was slowly building at the foot of the mountain and it was getting along past five o’clock when I gave up on any meaningful cruiser activity, but then I saw one big rise back in a shady pocket along the far bank. There were a few big mayflies, the advance scouts for the Green Drakes about, so I figured why not see if a trout that has been sunburned and chased by invading kayakers all day might risk a rise for enough of a meal to make it worthwhile. I chose a 100-year Dun.

I made the stalk, delivered the fly, and the trout rose to meet it. He shook his head from side to side, characteristic for a big brown trout, then headed out, quartering downstream toward the middle of the river. Everything was going well and then it just stopped: fly free, fish gone, poof! I inspected the fly and it looked perfect, the hook wasn’t opened up, nothing to explain why its hold slipped. I didn’t know it then, but I was to lose another big, big fish on an idle cast just at dark, making a total of four for the day. Paying my dues, as I said.

I dried the fly, and fluffed the hackle, then wondered if I’d find another player as evening approached. I had seen the same gentle, bulging rise about a hundred yards down river four or five times over the course of the past hour. They weren’t frequent, but they were all in the same location. One fish was holding to his lie. I started the long, slow stalk downstream to check him out.

I guess that trout rose maybe three or four times during the 20 minutes it took me to stalk downstream the hundred yards to get within striking distance. He was in open water, but I was able to mark his position by the sunlight and shadows on the water as the sun drew closer to the summit of the ridgeline above the river. I saw a big bug drifting down the lazy current, met with that same big, soft bulging rise. I adjusted my position by a few careful steps, lofted the line in a backcast, and made a long reach cast just short of the trout’s territory to check the drift. If you drag the fly over a fish like that, he’s done.

Satisfied that I would get the float I wanted, I stripped another few feet of line from the reel and made my money cast, further out into the shade and right in line with the fish’s lie. It made up for a long tough afternoon when that beautiful bulge appeared where my fly had been.

The hookset was followed by a hard, screaming run right straight into my backing! No preliminaries, no handshake, just let me get the hell outta here. You gotta love a fish like that, and a classic reel with a palming rim. I used it. Multiple times.

This trout had weight, speed and power, and I began to wonder just what I had on the end of my line. Fish have surprised me before though, and they will again. One night years ago I cast a big spinner downstream into the remaining glare, watched a subtle ring appear, and held on while an unseen trout headed for the Atlantic. That turned out to be a 21″ brown trout, a beautiful wild fish, but the combination of the run and the darkness had me expecting, well, something more.

The trout held deep, staying in the shade when I finally had him close enough to see, so there were a couple of brief flashes, but nothing else; and then he was off to the races again, the Hardy wailing like a heavy metal ballad.

When I drew him close that final time, a big silvery brute of a Delaware rainbow made a tired turn at the surface before I slipped the net under him. Twenty-three inches, with a big deep body, a bow easily topping four pounds. I levered the big fly from his jaw, my heart still pounding as I admired my largest Delaware rainbow in 28 years of angling Catskill waters.

I wanted a picture badly, but the great fish was spent, and its said that rainbow trout shouldn’t be removed from the water for more than thirty seconds. There was no way I was going to risk killing that gorgeous milestone bow for my own vanity. I eased him from the net into my hands, held him pointed into the flow for a few moments, then tickled his belly to watch him dart away. The image will live in my memory as long as I live, and that will be just fine.

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