And the heat keeps coming…

A Quiet Sunset

I had truly hoped, and even expected, that our run of hot, dry weather would have passed into memory by now. Sadly it has not. Our trout fishing remains restricted to the upper reaches of the tailwaters, and the crowds make those places inhospitable under the best of conditions, and positively scary in this pandemic age.

I stole a pleasant morning yesterday, wading the open water of the lower West Branch alone. The river was cool, the mists blowing here and there in the soft morning breezes. I carried my Dream Catcher four weight, enough rod to provide some reach, while still presenting flies delicately. The plan was to find a few early risers snacking on whatever the drift might carry, but not all plans come to fruition.

The bubble lines at the bottom of the big riffle I prospected seemed barren, for I have no doubt that plenty of trout resided there. None of last night’s spinners, no hapless ants or beetles drifting half sunken among the foam, not a thing in evidence to bring a trout to the surface. I am quite certain the trout were there. I have caught them in every season of the year in that water.

Still it was a beautiful morning, and I was happy as I continued my search. Eventually I spotted a sipping rise far down on the wide expanse of the pool, and made the long, slow, careful walk downstream.

I never did discover what that trout was eating, for my own examinations of the drift turned up nothing but bubbles and bits of weed. I tried every small seasonal pattern I carried: little olives, trico spinners, various ants of both crawling and flying varieties, a tiny thread and CDC nothing sure to interest a trout; all to no avail.

Deep in the game, a second trout rose upstream between us. The olive tied to my tippet at that moment proved perfectly interesting to him, as he took it on the second cast. The foot long wild brown put a nice little bend in my bamboo rod and I was pleased to enjoy his struggles until I could slide my hand down the leader and twist the tiny hook free.

As midday arrived a few more trout began to rise in my vicinity. I suspected there were a few tricos hiding between the bubbles, and a better inspection confirmed my suspicions. It has been years since I seriously fished the trico spinner fall.

During the pleasant years in Chambersburg I would rise early and walk the banks of the Falling Spring each summer morning before opening the fly shop. If the morning was calm and sunny, as most of them were in summer, there would be tricos on the water sometime between seven and eight. Most of the duns hatch at night, though on my earlier visits I would often find a few still taking wing after daylight.

I tied a simple little dun pattern using dun gray thread for the body, hackle tail, two turns of pale dun hackle and a wisp of CDC. My tackle was light, one of two 6′ 6″ rods usually getting the nod: the Orvis 2 weight crafted by Ed Shenk, or the 3 weight Loomis I had built myself when I first fished with Ed on the Letort early in my Cumberland Valley oddysey.

The lightest rods, a small CFO reel and leaders twice the length of the rod finished with 7X tippets were standard equipment for trico fishing, the flies sparsely tied on size 24 hooks! So many mornings over so many years!

A few times each summer I would run into the late Ed Koch and Chambersburg angler John Newcomer along the stream. There was always a cherry greeting from this duo, and we would stand and talk for a few moments before resuming our fishing. One particularly frustrating morning we commiserated on our lack of luck. “Do you know what they’re doing”? asked Ed. I replied that they seemed to hang at the surface without actually taking the fly. “Yes, they’re taking”, he said, “but they’re not closing their mouths!” This wisdom gleaned from fishing as a duo, one watching from upstream while the other fished.

On my Monday day off from the fly shop, I would travel a bit, fishing tricos on Spring Creek, Yellow Creek or the Little Juniata. I still remember hooking a brute of a brown, sight fishing one morning on Spring Creek. He kissed the surface, I tightened, and the tiny hook came instantly free. I cast again and again, and he took twice more, but I couldn’t prick him! Looking at the fly in disbelief I found a perfect little trico spinner on a hook shank. Bend and point had broken off on the first take.

The Falling Spring at Edwards

I was somewhat unprepared for serious trico fishing yesterday. I rarely carry 7X tippet anymore, and the four weight proved to be a bigger gun than required. Fishing size 24 spinners on 6X didn’t bring many trout to hand on Falling Spring, and it brought none to hand on the West Branch Delaware this day. A three weight rod is more than enough stick, and a two is better.

My ace in the hole used to be Ed Shenk’s Double Trico pattern: two spinners tied on a size 18 hook. The spring creek spinner falls were usually heavy, and when trout were feeding studiously on the spinners they encountered masses of them bunched together. The double took them readily! Yesterday’s spinners on the wide waters of the West Branch were sparse, and the double got no interest from the three or four trout that fed upon them.

In truth, the only heavy cloud of spinners I ever saw in the Catskills was nearly twenty years ago on the East Branch, on waters now posted. At first sight I assumed the cloud to be fog, common on summer mornings on these tailwaters. They were tricos though, thousands of them, and the spinners fell heavily for nearly two hours while I waited for the game to begin. Not a single trout rose to the feast. Strange that the only places on these Catskill rivers where I have found fish eating tricos, there were invariably very few in the drift.

The optimist in me wants to tie some fresh patterns, dig out a spool of 7X tippet, and rig a new leader on my two weight rod. Perhaps I should, though I won’t expect to find any sizeable trout sipping those minute spinners. I have caught some good ones here on 22 olives and terrestrials, enough to know that big Catskill trout willingly eat small, though finding fish over ten or twelve inches eating tricos would come as a major surprise.

Still fly fishers are optimists, certain that each new fly will take the trout of a lifetime as we pluck it from the vise!

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