Flies for Christmas

The East Branch Special

During my fly shop years I had a little tradition of going out for my Christmas fish. That generally wasn’t on Christmas Day, as we would travel back to Southern Maryland in those days to spend the holiday with family, but sometime during the week before. Some years I managed to catch a nice commemorative Falling Spring rainbow, and some years I simply enjoyed my time on the stream. I would love to continue the tradition in retirement, but this past week’s ice and today’s flood waters preempted any such notion.

The Beaverkill and East Branch reached flood stage, while the West Branch stayed shy of that mark, thanks to the remainder of last week’s twenty inch snowfall meeting up with last night’s fifty degree temperatures and a lot of rain. I am thankful that this event wasn’t a lot worse. Enough of the snow melted slowly during the week and, at least here, soaked in to replenish the precious groundwater and the mountain springs that feed the rivers of my heart.

I spent Christmas Day relaxing this year, listening to the music of the season, even napping a bit, and tying a few trout flies for 2021.

I ran across a pattern last winter called the East Branch Special. It’s combination of a classic buff colored fox fur body with the grizzly hackle tip wings and mixed brown and grizzly hackle of the venerable Adams reminded me of the March Brown mayfly, and I figured it was more than worth a try. Local patterns that endure are invented by local anglers, the guys that know their rivers well, and this one originated with a gentleman named Art Patterson, brother-in-law of Al Carpenter, Sr., founder and proprietor of Al’s Wild Trout of Shinhopple, New York. I used to visit Al’s shop when I fished the East Branch, and I’m surprised I didn’t come across the fly there twenty years ago. I would have liked to know the story behind it. I tied a few East Branch Specials last winter and made sure to include them in my vest come May.

I was fishing one bright afternoon and noticed a few big mayflies among the sulfurs that had been drifting downstream for a while. When I reached into my fly box for a March Brown dry fly, there were those East Branch Specials smiling at me, and just waiting to be knotted to my tippet. There were a couple of heavy bulging riseforms that had appeared in the area I was fishing, in between the steady risers I was catching on sulfurs. That fish had showed no interest in sulfurs, so I offered him the Special. Boy that big old brown looked at that fly one time and just busted it. He came for the fly so violently that I jumped a little, setting the hook a touch too late. The fish went down and my rod bowed heavily, then popped back up like a spring. Gone!

Since it was Christmas, I decided to give myself a little present this afternoon: half a dozen East Branch Specials. Like I said, you have to respect a local pattern. I wish I could simply stop into Al’s Wild Trout and ask about the story behind the fly, but Al has been fishing around the bend now for a lot of years. The shop closed after his passing, though the building overlooking the pool at Shinhopple bridge still watches over the river. I expect Al’s spirit watches over it too.

Merry Christmas

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