Shotguns and flyrods, frosty mornings and crisp air, afternoons still bearing a hint of summer’s warmth, all bathed in that lovely amber light that says October. It is quite simply the most beautiful month of all the year, and I cannot imagine a place more beautiful, more perfect to enjoy it than the Catskills.
I celebrated the day beneath the eaves of Catskill Park, getting my legs used to elevation and the challenges of terrain once again. They have waded currents for the last six months, felt the push of the rivers at every step, but the lift of mountains is different than the steady pull of water. Good work for good health both endeavors, but the climb forces the fresh mountain air deep into my lungs! I feel it and rejoice.
The first grouse of the new season came up very close to me and yet unseen amid the jumble of leaves and branches. I heard the soft clucking, knew that he was near, yet only my ears could enjoy his swift departure. After lunch I spied his compatriot bobbing along the ground. I readied myself, walked straight toward him, watched him first duck behind a tree before flushing low and straight away into thicker brush; and I collected the first miss of the year.
I pursued, guessed at his landing zone and flushed him a second time, unseen. Time to analyze the terrain and cover, predict his flight, and hunt the bird from a new perspective. I won the battle of wits, secured a brief but clear crossing shot on the third and final flush: miss number two!
A fine shotgun would seem more than a match for a somewhat chubby bird to the uninitiated. All those pellets, why the boom itself ought to shock him into a tumbling dive. The Ruffed Grouse is the king of North American gamebirds for a reason, he is the great survivor, aerialist, trickster. My friend John says that grouse hunters aren’t people who shoot grouse, they are people who like to hunt them and talk about them; amen brother.
Trading mountain boots for waders, and shotgun for a one hundred year old Thomas fly rod, I walked the bright water to celebrate this first sunlit afternoon of the dual season. September’s parting rains had freshened the flow, but they dropped quickly. I hoped they had stimulated the insect life into resuming their cycle of reproduction: an afternoon hatch and evening spinner fall would make this day complete.
The activity proved sporadic until early evening, and though I brought two small browns to hand, it was not for me to solve the puzzle this time. Caddis flew as the shadows lengthened, but it was not caddis that the trout were taking. One of those trout took a size 20 olive, but the others I offered it to would have none of it. Soft rises and heavy ones, and me nervously changing flies in the receding light to find the right lure for those heavier rises, the ones dreams are made of.
There are times when as much enjoyment may be had outdoors without the “success” of heavy game bags or big catches. Playing the game should be about the pursuit and not solely of reaping the spoils. The wily bird evading my best efforts, and two small wild trout bending that hundred year old rod might seem like slim pickings to those devoted to counting things. In truth, they were highlights of a glorious day, the kind of day I am very happy to be around to enjoy.