Taking Stock of the Year

A Beautiful Afternoon Along The Delaware

Ah twenty twenty…too much has been said, and little of it good, but I shall not linger on the negative aspects: it was a grand year for fishing! Aren’t they all?

Winter was long, though a few flirtations brought springtime to mind, and my dry fly season started early. The twenty seventh of March found me prowling a favorite reach of the Delaware, happy for a touch of warmer air and fitful sunshine. Though I could scarcely believe it, I found a rising trout. Staring hard at the surface I made out a few dark gray wings struggling along a run of current, knotted up a size 20 olive and raised that wonderfully early foot long brown! It was good to feel his struggles against the rod and slip the fly from his jaw with a smile.

I pushed hard for spring that next week, wading the rivers, even rowing down the West Branch to bid welcome to the season, but the trout weren’t as ready as I. By the middle of April I was frantic for action, but the fifty degree water I had found early on had cooled. Winter teased again with two and a half inches of snow one morning, and spring raised her head with afternoon sunshine to melt it all away. The very next day I found springtime’s big three on the water and in the air: Blue Quills, Quill Gordons and Hendricksons!

It was nearly perfect that day: solitude, the cold, high water gripping my legs while the wind whipped away the warmth of a 61 degree afternoon; and all those mayflies. One trout began to rise, a lone warrior as anxious to greet the season as I. The Quill Gordon beckoned to him and, when the wind allowed the right bit of slack, my drift was true. Big fish screamed my winter addled brain, and then I heard the screaming from the reel itself, the brute fleeing full into my backing. It was a glorious fight! Nearly mine he was, net in hand with the rod fully bowed, until he jumped one last time…and won the day.

Spring continued as it had begun, a mixture of sun and cold and wind and calm warm afternoons, and through it all the mayflies. The mystery of the Catskill rivers was sustained, with some of the best hatches failing to reveal a single rise, while days with but a few sparse flies seemed destined to produce good catches. Early in the second week of May I awoke to find the snow flying once again, and the river temperatures continued their rise and fall.

Come June the weather was fair and the fishing sublime. Though I was prepared to worship at the alter of the Green Drake, I was cast out of Nature’s temple, the great hatch never revealed to me. It was the year of the sulfur though, and the great browns I would have stalked with my 100-Year Drake, fell repeatedly to a simple size 16 CDC and silk. The memories of June will haunt me for decades, bringing a smile with each recollection.

Bamboo, dry flies and June!

I have always harbored great desire for trophy specimens of the Delaware rainbow, and June would bring the two largest the river has ever offered to my hand. The memories are vivid: the long stalk in flat water, the cast perfectly formed and true, and the low sun glinting upon golden bamboo as the Hardy’s own orchestra announced the nature of my foe. When at last she turned, close in as I brought her to the net, I gasped at the pale emerald back and crimson band along her flank: a magnificent trout, five pounds, perhaps more. My notes reveal I lost four big fish that day, but that is not the memory I retain. My memory is of a grand Delaware rainbow that lit the fire in my heart!

Two weeks later I crept into another fair reach water, careful not to disturb the calm amid the morning mist. My vintage Granger rod stood against another magnificent rainbow, and my Bougle` brought the music, rising in the stillness in a crescendo of speed and power! I have sought the wild runners of the Delaware for many years, always hoping for one to defy the tales the old river guides have told: “they just don’t grow much past eighteen inches”. I know of two that did.

The Catskill Summer was a treasure as it always is for the stalking angler. The long hot spell was trying, but I worked hard to find my rewards. They came as earned, the glory of the challenge enough reward in itself. I got back to trico fishing, something not done for nigh on twenty years, and flustered with the madness of good browns wolfing size 28 flying ants.

Summer waned into a gloriously beautiful autumn. Some days that exceptional natural beauty was enough, and on some the shy trout added their own layer to such exquisite interludes. I caught up with an old friend and met a new one. Though the days offered more walking than fishing I found I could not tear myself away from the rivers, even when rising trout had become as ghosts from the past. Summer was gone though I refused to let it go from my heart. I resorted to swinging soft hackled flies, looking for life in the riffles, still needing desperately to be out along the rivers.

One warm afternoon in late October I swung my fly through the low water tail of a special pool. It was another day when Nature teased, with the sudden appearance of a few tiny mayflies drifting downstream unmolested. All at once I saw a ring, scrambled to extend my heavy leader and knot a tiny dry fly, my grip tensing on the handle of the old cane rod. The little rings subsided, until a soft bulge made me tense and pull line from my reel. A long, gentle cast, another bulge, and the delight of a heavy brown trout brought to hand!

Longed for to be sure, though not expected, the river’s gift of a final dry fly trophy brings gladness to my heart, and thanks for the season. Autumn’s last kiss, long remembered, always cherished.

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