Whispering Winds of Autumn

Gateway to the Delaware on a September afternoon, a dozen years ago

September already; ah but it seems it was just budding springtime! Three weeks of summer remain, though the cool, stormy skies and rushing winds on the river this morning certainly reminded me of autumn.

The fishing too seems to be in transition, as the late morning’s hot sun has been replaced by clouds and chilly winds this week, so too the risers to trico spinners have been few and far between. The terrestrials have not drawn the interest they have been for these many weeks either, so the trout and their stalkers wait for autumn hatches not yet ready to appear.

Perhaps it is time to switch tactics once again, to forsake the mornings and haunt the rivers later, as afternoon becomes evening. Caddis should begin to appear, and the bright little Hebe mayflies with their speckled wings. Olives too, as they seem to have deserted the river this summer. Fishing tailwaters bends us to man’s manipulation of the flows and thus the temperature, which has a lot to do with what flies we see. The rivers have cooled significantly, but not enough for the freestoners to be friendly trout habitat, just yet. It will take more rainfall, and more chilly nights to revive them.

One of those morning breezes caught my line yesterday, foiling my attempt to cast under an overhanging branch. I heard a derisive snort behind me and assumed I had a critic. Turning, I smiled to find a fawn munching steadily on the bank side vegetation and snorting between overstuffed mouthfuls.

It was a day of reluctant sippers and splashy refusals. The tricos were thin, there and gone so quickly, only a couple trout rose to them. With so few spinners on the water, the fish shied from the double they had accepted willingly last week. Finally changing to a size 24 single spinner, I was fast to one of those shy trout on the first cast. The sixteen inch brown flexed the seven foot bamboo fully as he thrashed about.

I’d taken a seventeen inch fish with the Grizzly Beetle early, and once the sparse tricos disappeared I went back to it. These wild browns were reticent though, following each drift several feet below their lies until the fly dragged, then popping it just before my pickup. The rises were few, the naturals certainly less active on a cool cloudy morning. Many trout take terrestrials readily when they are on them, but are less responsive when few naturals are finding their way into the drift.

Standing on the river bank this morning I was musing about just how long it has been since I witnessed a hatch; not the one bug, two bug and finished kind, but an actual parade of hatching duns bouncing down the river with good fish eating them. I had to check my log as it has been more than two months since I stalked a pair of twenty-one inch browns sipping little olive duns as they rode the current slick before me (I got them both).

It has been a great summer, and I have taken many wonderful fish with a mix of dry flies, heavily favoring the terrestrials. But there’s a simple perfection in fishing a mayfly hatch that’s been missing.

I wonder if the Isonychia will show up this month, as I never encountered them during June? I’d love to see enough flow in the river to drop the boat in and float a few miles. I had a nice system last summer, getting on a parallel line down a riffle with the oars beneath my knees, casting toward the bank with a big, juicy Halo Isonychia. Things got interesting when a little bubble at my fly turned into a big, heavy brown trout streaking down river as I stomped on the anchor release while frantically clearing the fly line strewn across the floor of the boat!

Autumn brings the last dry fly fishing of the year, and it is always fleeting. You enjoy each moment you find with pleasant weather and rising trout, for you never know when the cold front that will end it all will blow through and turn Indian Summer into winter in the blink of an eye. Precious days, precious hours, every one of them lived to their fullest; the seasons of an angler are built upon them.

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