The soft, classic riseform of a typical bank feeder taking small mayflies, visible but not at all showy.

We dry fly anglers simply live for the riseform; it is our greeting, our magic wink, the single natural phenomenon that calls us to cast a fly just upstream. Ah the telltale ring upon the surface: a trout is feeding here, taking on top my good man, go ahead and see what you can do!

There are times of course when we search in vain for them, finding none, and leave the river dejected, particularly so if there was any sort of hatch on. The presence of insects and the absence of riseforms leaves us spare, with only questions and no answers. Sometimes they are there but we don’t see them, failing to recognize the clues, to read the signs the river gives us. This was nearly such a day. The river flowed, just barely; the water being lower than I have ever seen it. The breeze was strong and gusty, and the surface littered with leaves: everything to see but what I’m looking for.

There are places on familiar waters where we expect a rise, places where we know that trout will feed if there is anything, anything at all to draw their attention. I watched such a place for half an hour, seeing nothing. I moved on, knotted a Grizzly Beetle and went prospecting, though to no avail.

My thoughts wandered to yesterday’s good fortune, when a handful of tiny olives brought one fine trout to the surface. A different day, a different river, though perhaps early afternoon would still bring a few flies to the surface.

I returned to one of those places, a reach where trout hold, where they feed and where they shelter, but still there was nothing to be seen save thousands of drifting leaves. Patience is oft rewarded, and the retreating clouds allowed the sun to light the water. Leaves, more leaves, colors and shapes, and the barest glint of something in the spaces between them. Wings!

I tied the duplicate of yesterday’s size 20 olive to my tippet and watched the steady parade of leaves that had collected in one primary line of drift. Every few minutes there was something along that line of drift; not a proper riseform, no ring, no dimple or bubble to give him away, just the barest, most discrete little movement on the glassy surface. Might a gust of wind have turned over one of those leaves? Could some tiny bit of bark or vegetation have blown down from the trees, or was it truly evidence of life? I never cease to be amazed by how invisibly a twenty inch wild Catskill brown trout can feed in a drift line.

I added my little olive T.P. Dun to the assortment of flotsam in the drift line, tracked it carefully as it floated oh so slowly downstream, cast after cast, drift after drift, until at last that imperceptible motion of the surface coincided with it, and I tightened and felt the full arch of the Granger’s tip and midsection. Nothing had become a trout!

The Hardy sang above the wind, the cane throbbed, and my smile widened. Bringing him close at last I spotted him beneath the shimmering orange and yellow of the drifting leaves, reeled half the leader through the guides, and slipped him head first into the net. I checked his length, levered the small, sharp hook from his lip, and slipped him back into the bright, cold water.

My “trout that wasn’t there” lies close after his release!

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