The river was quiet when I walked downstream to greet the day, though the birds offered their music to lighten the mood. The water of course is low and clear, and small riffles barely make enough ripples in the water to earn their name.
I carried my “new” four weight, a Granger 8040 that I have owned for several years. I took it out the other day and found that the rod and I are much happier when its matched with a four weight line! Most Granger fans consider the 8040 to be a five weight, and it may be the favorite model of a majority of Granger owners. It wasn’t my favorite with a five, that honor falls to the 8642, but as a four weight the rod is wonderful! It would be a morning for small flies and delicacy.
It wasn’t long before I spied a sipping rise across the river, and began my slow stalk into casting position. The trout was dimpling very delicately in flat water, yet there was nothing visible on the surface. I knotted a size 17 CDC ant to my tippet, checked the knot and tippet twice, then brought the old Granger into play.
My first cast passed him, as he seemed to have slid to the far side to intercept something. I pulled two feet more line from the little Hardy Perfect, then picked up soundlessly and false cast away from the fish, delivering the fly a touch closer while throwing the line in a big upstream reach. The white tuft of CDC let me track it until he dimpled beneath it and sucked it in.
Small flies and sipping rises require patience, a fraction of a moment’s pause before tightening. Too quick and too hard leaves the angler scowling and the trout put down. I paused just right. The gentle hookset unnerved the brown for a moment, and he shook his head slowly back and forth as if trying to determine just what was pulling on him. He figured it out quickly, taking line as the Hardy’s chorus joined the birds in salute to the morn.
After catching another half his size on the ant, I began to see a change in the riseforms. They were still soft sips, but just a bit of nose was visible. I watched and found wings in the drift, tiny upright wings. I figured the little fellows were either olives or tiny summer blue quills, and dug out a size 22 olive cripple: half biot and half dubbed body, with a comparadun style wing of Trigger Point fibers. My buddy John had mentioned that his hometown friends had tied comparaduns with this synthetic winging last summer. I had tied some small sulfurs to try it and they proved effective, and much easier to tie than the standard deer hair wing on small flies. Visibility and durability are a big plusses for the T.P. duns too.
I was seeing enough of a bulge on this fish’s gentle rise that I expected a good trout. He took some time, sliding from side to side out of his lane every time my fly was in it. We connected at last and I got a spirited fight from the best fish of the day: a fine 20 inch brownie. I smiled to myself and counted another 20-20 fish, the late Lee Wulff having proposed the mark for taking a trout 20″ or longer on a size 20 or smaller fly.
Being Lee Wulff he later expanded on the concept by landing a 20 pound Atlantic Salmon on an admittedly larger fly, though tied on a diminutive size 20 hook. My best, a 25″ West Branch brown, taken on a size 20 CDC ant pales in comparison to that.
The next several risers proved to be smaller fish, browns between ten inches and a foot long, all eager to show their stuff as they bucked against the slender tip of that classic cane rod. Eventually the sparse appearance of tiny duns subsided, and the riseforms changed back to the softer sips they started with. I went back to the ant of course, landing another good brownie of eighteen inches and a few in the foot long class.
By ten the action was pretty well over, though a couple of fish would vex me for another hour. They had seen my ant too many times by then, and they weren’t falling for it. For good measure they nixed a Griffith’s Gnat, a miniscule sulfur spinner, a larger ant and a beetle.
I nearly landed trout number ten, another good one, until my preoccupation with getting him on the reel caused me to lose tension during my frantic reeling. I was watching the slack in fear of a tangle when I heard him jump and looked up to see only his reentry splash and a limp line. Time for a break.
I hesitated in leaving the river, walking upstream then finally back down in hope of finding another soft rise. The breeze had risen, and that can signal more ants and other terrestrials on the water, but if they were there no trout rose to partake.
It had been an extremely pleasant morning, “pretty fishing” as Marinaro dubbed it in the Cumberland Valley, practiced far from his beloved Letort in the glory of the Catskills. Classic tackle on classic water, and the gift of solitude that allowed me to savor every moment.