Snowflakes, and a return to a warm June evening…

A June brownie from the West Branch

It was one of those seasons when the days turned suddenly hot in early June, and I had fished from midday on with little activity. Taking a break I walked back to the truck for a snack, and stretched to work the kinks from my neck and shoulders. I idled there awhile, changing tippets and sitting on the bumper. Past six I grabbed a chilled bottle from the cooler, picked up my rod, and walked back to the river.

The sun had passed beyond the high ridge to the west and left the river in shadow, but the surface remained still; waiting. I topped the bottle and let the first ice cold sip of the lager slide down my throat. If the trout had to wait, then I could wait too.

I savored the beer over half an hour, hopeful as a few small yellow mayflies began to appear on the surface. I was watching a glide of tricky currents across the river when the soft bulge appeared where one of those sulfur mays had floated. I downed the last sip and dipped the bottle into the current, rinsed and emptied it, and then tucked it into the back of my vest.

Easing into the flow, I worked slowly toward midstream as another bulge appeared. Testing my knot, I pulled enough line from the reel to make a cast to the near edge of the glide. I prefer that first pitch to be a foot or two short, particularly in difficult currents, to see how tippet and fly will behave before I drift my offering over the trout. Satisfied with my trial, I tugged another yard of line from the reel, cast slightly long for the reach cast required, shocked the rod gently and laid my sulfur three feet above the fish’s lie.

The glide appeared smooth, until close observation revealed tiny traces of conflicting flows, but I had planned the cast perfectly, and enough soft curves of tippet alighted above my fly to ensure the drift. The soft bulge in the surface replaced the fly, and I raised the rod into a lovely full arch.

He ran immediately, the rod bucking heavily as he streaked downstream, and we danced as the mountain air began to cool. I countered his first run, his second then third, each time taking back a little more of the line than I’d ceded. In the net he was beautifully marked, bronze and golden flanks peppered with deep umber spots, and highlighted with a share of the bright red spots characteristic of a wild Catskill brown. The tape read twenty inches as I laid him briefly in the shallows near shore. I had only to turn his nose toward the main current and he kicked hard, down into the bouldered run at mid-river.

Looking again up stream I could see a few flies, but all rode the surface undisturbed, so I waded back to my grassy seat. I wondered if another trout might rise as the light gradually faded. Darkness comes quickly there, between the steep wall of the mountain on the west side and the heavy canopy of the old trees along my eastern bank. While I waited I exchanged the successful sulfur comparadun for a bright orange parachute, its Antron wing more visible in the failing light. In that last quarter hour the sulfurs were heavy, dancing on the water and in the air, and the quiet was finally broken by a slashing rise in a frothy black hole near the western bank.

I rose and worked upstream, more urgent now as the darkness made ready to take full possession of the river. Depth had left me with a longer cast, quartered upstream and across, and I strained to follow the little parachute fly as it bounced on the surface. Three casts untouched, and finally another slash for a moving mayfly gave me the trout’s position, my fourth cast bringing a solid rise and a powerful fish boring down into the heaviest flow. He went downstream when I managed to lift his head from the boulders in the crevice of the run, taking fly line and then backing as he sought the last glow in the sky.

I worked the rod, keeping him off balance and slowly regaining line. He bored once again for the run, but the pull had been working on him and he didn’t quite make it to those leader fouling rocks this time. Twins as the tape revealed, a pair of twenty inch bronze warriors, one in a glassy glide at the beginning of the hatch, and one slashing the froth at its end. I smiled in the darkness as the chill of nightfall made me shiver.

The memory sustains me as the snow falls once again…

Nocturne

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