I always thrill to the sight of White Birches, they were my Dad’s favorite trees. He was born and raised in New England back when they were plentiful, and I remember his efforts to plant a few in our yard in Maryland when I was a boy. They never seemed to do too well in the warmer climate, though I don’t know if it was the temperature or some missing element in the soil that kept them from growing tall and hardy. The white trees were always special to him, and will forever be special to me.
We have returned to autumn temperatures after last week’s handful of warmer days. No frost, as it is hovering around forty degrees in the first few minutes after dawn this morning. The rivers have seemed oddly quiet. Where I am used to finding sizeable trout I have taken little fish this week, little browns and rainbows eager enough to rise to a well drifted fly in hopes of growing big.
There were flies on the water yesterday afternoon; isonychia, the September peaches, and tiny olives hatching, and a few tan caddis fluttering about in the dappled sunlight, but no trout were rising to take advantage of the free meal. I moved, walked to the water sans flyrod and saw a single trout rise. I waited and he rose a second time: that is a trout to be fished to I told myself.
Of course when I retrieved my rod and waded into the fast water that fish refused to show himself for a time. When he did I was ready with a peach may that proved his undoing. Perhaps nine inches long, this little Delaware rainbow had made quite a journey from his home in the big river. He was all energy and protested still as I twisted the hook gently to free him; a fine fellow, cold, hard and plump for his diminutive size.
The golden light was dimming, as heavy banks of clouds swirled aloft threatening rain, so I turned for home. It was an empty threat, for the sun shone brilliantly an hour later as I grilled steaks on the porch. The rivers are cooling rapidly this year, well ahead of last autumn’s calendar, and I wonder if the larger trout have read this sign and begun moving toward their spawning tributaries early? The great forecasters have predicted a warm trend later in October, a promise of Indian Summer, but perhaps the trout don’t believe them. I want to, and hope that I can.
This time last year I was daintily casting terrestrials to twenty inch browns sipping in glassy, tree shrouded pools. Memory failed to record the water temperatures, though I feel certain they were significantly higher than the low fifties common to this first week of October. Each year along the rivers is different. One may draw parallels to seasons past, but it seems nearly impossible to go back to a certain pool on an identical date and repeat the past performance. The great mystery of Nature is her caprice, her volatility.
Standing in the cold river two nights ago I watched the sun crest the ridge and depart, plunging the river into shadow. I felt the chill instantly as the shadows fell about me, the warning of season’s end approaching. Little fish once again. Coincidence, or do they know, are they travelling?