The Sweet Taste of Dry Fly Magic

Golden Autumn sunlight highlights the lowest flow of the season on the Beaverkill

Another “rainy day”, yet the rivers are still dropping, as something keeps highjacking the rainfall we are promised. My hope for freshened flows to start the week have been dashed once again, and I resigned myself to the fact that last Thursday’s fishing was likely the end of my dry fly fishing for the year.

I had rigged the Kiley eight footer with a seven weight line, a heavier leader and one of my little pheasant and flash soft hackle creations, and I set about swinging that seductive little fly around the deeper boulders at the tailout of the pool. A twitch produced the feeling of weight, and I stripped quickly to set the hook into a substantial fish. A short, quick run spun the reel and convinced me that I had a good trout, though the dark bottom gave no visual clue despite the startling clarity of the season’s lowest flow.

After a couple more of those short runs I glimpsed a dark fish, thinking brown trout until I got a look at the wide mouth that said smallmouth bass. It was a strong, chunky fish, nearly a foot long, and I recalled the June evening in this place where an unseen foe grabbed my caddis in the darkness, pulled amazingly hard and broke my tippet. Could that have been a smallie measured in pounds rather than inches?

I had seen a tiny dimple or two around the rocks closer to shore, and expected small bass or chubs might be frolicking in the low water. I was pleasantly surprised when a nice ring appeared, and I retrieved my line and cut the wet fly from the leader. I checked the 4X tippet for nicks and, finding none, I plucked a Grizzly Beetle from my pack, knotted it fast and watched for another rise.

Whatever the fish was that was sipping among the rocks, it showed no interest for my beetle, so I cut it off and pulled four feet of 5X fluorocarbon from its spool to affix a proper dry fly tippet. When all was ready I waited for a new rise, as the mystery fish seemed to be moving around. When it came I lofted the line and dropped the beetle upstream, learning within a few more casts that it wasn’t the tippet that kept that fish from taking my fly.

I hadn’t seen anything in the air or on the water, but now I crouched and searched the mirror intently. Something drifted past just out of reach, buggy looking but unidentifiable. Scanning upstream I finally saw a tiny pair of mayfly wings drifting along.

The beetle was exchanged for a size 20 olive, one of my T.P. Duns with a sparse trailing shuck. I fluffed the wing but chose not to add floatant, hoping the fly would settle a bit into the glassy film and give the appearance of a trapped dun: an easy meal. While choosing the fly and tying it on, my mystery fish rose with a heavy bulge and a soft dimple, making it quite clear that my quarry was a substantial fish, and likely the trout I was hoping for. Decades ago I had fished the white mayfly hatch on the Susquehanna River during extreme low water, and saw smallmouth bass sipping the flies very daintily in the shallow flats, so a bit of doubt remained as I made my first cast.

It is my habit to make that first cast short, allowing a chance to check the drift with the fly far enough from the fish that any unexpected drag won’t spook the riser. The float looked perfect, so I picked the fly up once it had drifted well downstream, fed a few feet of line into the back cast, and made a down and across stream reach cast right on the mark. The fly drifted down a foot and a new bulge and dimple engulfed it!

The fish pulled hard and ran downstream, pulling the slack line through my fingers as I worked to control that first rush and get him on the reel. The boulder field worried me, so I kept the tip of the rod elevated, letting the big fish fight the arc of the supple cane. The Kiley has a lot of flex for a seven weight fly rod, and I used it to full advantage. My first look came as I drew him close, a brown trout easily topping twenty inches!

That fine brownie wasn’t happy dueling in such shallow water, and ran again against the drag. He reached the deeper boulders but the sweep of bamboo turned him short of any hangups, and we continued our dance back and forth, and all the way to my waiting net. He was heavy and beautiful, twenty-two inches of autumn brown trout that chose to rise at just the right moment.

Once he darted away to the safety of his boulder field, I scanned upstream and down for a sign of additional mayflies and another rise. There were none to be found. Dry fly magic: that brown had appeared in front of me for the briefest moment, one chance to make the afternoon particularly memorable; truly a gift from the river.

Can you imagine fishing a size 20 dry fly on glassy water with a seven weight graphite rod? Not a high probability of success in that scenario, but bamboo adapts. I extended my leader to roughly thirteen feet, and the sweet action of the bamboo allowed the gentlest of presentations where there was no margin for error. Is it any wonder I love fishing bamboo?

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