First Light

Though I was up at first light, I honestly wasn’t on the river quite that early, certainly not on a thirty-eight degree morning in mid-June! The plan was to spend an early morning on the river, fishing apart once again with my friend John. We each brought along a special rod this morning, his particularly so as it is the new four weight bamboo, the second rod he has built.

John is one of the most accomplished and artistic craftsmen I have ever known. When he told me two years ago that he was taking the bamboo rodmaking class at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center, I knew immediately that he would emerge with a truly fine cane rod. His first effort was terrific, his rod better and more carefully made then several of the rods I have handled from professional builders.

For the second season, John wanted to build a four weight, preferably and eight footer, and he spent a lot of time deciding upon the taper. That can be tough when you don’t have access to all the various rods being considered, to cast and form an opinion of their tapers. I suggested he contact another friend, Tom Smithwick, a rodmaker I have known for many years; the man I call The Taper Wizard.

The rod I got to cast this morning is beautiful and very light in hand. Tom described it as an old F.E. Thomas taper that he had “tweaked as much as I thought might make it better”. I was casting leisurely after fishing this morning, and continuing to pull line from the reel. After unrolling a long, perfect loop and dropping the fly gently to the surface I looked down at the reel. Five turns of fly line remained on the arbor. I idly asked John if that was a full length fly line. It was. The four weight that felt like a feather in my hand had just laid out roughly 90 feet of line and leader: no double haul, no punch on the power stroke, just a very light touch and…wow! John has outdone himself with this one.

It was a gorgeous sunwashed morning, with the chill in the air diminishing enough to make it feel very comfortable. For two and a half hours we watched a myriad of solitary insects drift down the pool largely unmolested. Eventually, each of us had our patience rewarded by one good opportunity, and we both missed it. I saw my fish coming under the surface, squaring off under my fly and pointing straight toward me. I believe I pulled the fly off the water a microsecond before he actually was able to eat it.

I carried my Thomas & Thomas Hendrickson, a dream rod that serendipitously ended up in my hands. This was the fourth trip for me trying to initiate the rod with it’s first trout. I never saw a single trout rise during the first three. After loosing a luck fish that grabbed my sunken fly when I started to pick it up, and then missing my only true rise to my fly, I was beginning to think my lucky rod wasn’t.

I laughed it off with a grimace and turned to John “fishing still makes us little boys again”, I said. “Just can’t always control that excitement.” He acknowledged the thought with cheer.

It was nearing the time to go when my fish decided to try for breakfast again. I offered the same sulfur several times, but he wasn’t coming to that fly again. Not even after I added three and a half feet of brand new tippet to give it a better drift. Hardheaded sometimes, I admit, though I finally changed the pattern for a smaller sulfur cripple.

My first cast may have caught his eye, but the second actually brought him up to take the fly. This time I actually allowed him to eat it and turn back down before I tightened. He was a good brown, and put a nice bend in my bamboo. Standing in deeper water, I took my time with him, until I could bring him to the net.

A twenty inch brown trout is a fitting initiation for a bamboo fly rod; one any rod would be proud of. A special rod is a talisman, and its good magic when that rod’s first trout is a big one; even better if it takes some trials to secure. Serendipity put that longed for rod in my hands, just as it brought that brown up to feed again, giving me a second chance: good magic, strong magic!


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