A Quiet Reach of Water

A Deserted River of the Past

I was back to my early morning fishing routine today, seemingly the only way to find a quiet reach of water to myself. I hoped for a few trout willing to sample the drift, taking whatever morsels of food the currents might offer. There was little to find on the surface, at least to my eyes, but here and there a smallish fish would sip something. I figured an ant or beetle would be gratefully accepted, but I was wrong. Whatever minute bit of insect life there was in the drift, those little trout seemed unbelievably selective to it.

It has probably been fifteen years since I fished the particular pool I chose this morning. I can recall another July morning when a sparse hatch of little olive mayflies got some trout rising. I had caught several of them, browns from 12 to 15 inches long, in the clear, cold flats after daybreak. I have no recollection of the flow on that long ago morning, other than that it was low, summer flow.

I worked slowly upriver, stopping to spend plenty of time at the big willows arching out from the bank, and well out into the river. It seemed there had to be a good brown somewhere back in that shade, a brown waiting for the intermittent breeze to deliver some ants, or beetles for breakfast. I worked them all very thoroughly without so much as a brief wake to intimate a follow.

I was prepared for the difficult conditions, armed with the 6′ 8″ three weight bamboo rod crafted by my friend Dennis Menscer. I’d found this rod second hand in a Catskill fly shop several seasons back, straight as an arrow though a little worse for wear. Dennis had reseated the ferrules and given the rod a fresh coat of varnish so that the flamed cane glistened like new.

I’ve been telling myself the rod is short for the rivers I fish these days, that it is a tool for the small streams I no longer fish. With a new old Orvis weight forward line I can put my fly on the money from sixty feet, sixty-five if there’s no breeze to contend with; not the kind of casting one does on a small stream. If memory serves, Dennis based the taper on the F. E. Thomas Fairy, though I feel certain he improved it just a bit. It is lithe and smooth, and quick with the short casts it seems intended for, but the brief swelled butt firms it up and gives it the authority to reach out.

I had taken another short rod out recently and found that my timing was completely out of kilter. On Catskill rivers one of my eight footers generally gets the job. In my Cumberland Valley past, I fished six and a half and seven foot rods the majority of the time and thought nothing of it. My timing was geared to the shorter sticks and was automatic. The seven footer I fished a week ago felt awkward until I’d fooled with it for half an hour and adjusted my timing.

This morning the 6’8″ felt natural from the start. I have re-learned my old habits I guess.

After a few hours I waded past all those glorious old trees that weren’t harboring the big browns I’d imagined and worked my way closer to the riffle that feeds the pool. I stood and waited, thinking that a few of those little olives ought to come percolating off that riff any minute. The rise surprised me. It was a soft rise from a decent trout, not the splashy little sips of fingerlings I had seen this morning. I offered the CDC ant that graced my tippet a number of times, but the fish wasn’t having it.

Those olives crept back into my consciousness, and I clipped the ant from the tippet and knotted a size 20 T.P. Dun to replace it. The trout rose again and the little rod laid the line out a good sixty feet, down and across stream with a reach to ensure the drift. The fish intercepted it confidently but gently, like he’d waited all morning for it.

There’s nothing like playing a nice trout on a small cane rod. That shorty came alive as he bucked and ran. I wasn’t worried about the fine 6X tippet, as the lithe bamboo absorbed each of his tricks as he sought his freedom. A seventeen inch brownie is enough fish to give you a jolt on a light three weight, and I loved every moment until the net brought him to me.

That brown was my trout for the day, as there was no hatch to follow. I waited, and did see a couple of mayflies come bobbing down the riff, but one or two flies don’t bring many trout up to feed. I thanked the river for the lovely bright morning and the solitude, and turned to begin the half hour walk downstream.

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