Biding my time…

Winter continues, though the light brings a touch of hope…

I awakened to four inches of fresh snow, the beginning of a new week and a new weekly total. That brings us to about a foot accumulated over the past week, causing me to don knee boots to wade over to my drift boat to dig it out and free the tarpaulin from it’s sheath of ice. There is a lot of the stuff in my yard, and it has demonstrated staying power with the sustained cold.

The Postal Service is having their fun with me again: promising my packets of fly tying materials, even showing my long awaited silk on its tracking to be expected yesterday, and then failing to deliver. Perhaps tomorrow.

There are some new colors of the silk that lets me craft beautifully translucent flies, a couple of Charlie Collins’ gorgeous dry fly capes, and an assortment of hooks and threads, all headed here from points west and east. I would love to see a mass landing tomorrow afternoon, as these treasures would give me the spark to get my fly tying going once again. Some tiny hooks have found their way into my vise this past week, leaving as a dozen tricos, a few Shenk Doubles and half a dozen little rusty spinners. Such have been the fruits of my summer dreaming…

I hesitate to mention the forecast, lest I somehow jinx the possibility of a little respite. There’s snow tomorrow you see, though the daily highs could begin a brief warming trend for this last week of February, and it could be enough to get my legs back into waders, my feet into boots. We will see what develops.

A Winter Warmup – They do occur in the Catskills.

I came upon an old fishing journal yesterday while sorting through my bookcases. My fishing library grows a bit each winter, thanks to the used book dealers, and it becomes necessary to do some moving and rearranging. The hunting titles here in my tying room have dwindled, as more have been moved to the living room case to make room for the fishing tomes.

That old journal contained my thoughts and notations from my first trip to the lovely Deerfield River in the Massachusetts Berkshires, the hills from which our clan flowed. The Deerfield was my grandfather’s river. Born in the mountains near Savoy, Al had fly fished the various brooks that fed the great river, as well as the Deerfield itself. He laid the footsteps along the water, the tracks that I would eventually follow.

I never had the chance to fish with my grandfather, though his last bamboo fly rod was handed down to me as a bridge to that part of the family history. I wanted to take that rod back home, to angle the Deerfield with Pap’s fly rod, and catch a trout to complete the crossing.

I had planned the trip with the help of a customer from my fly shop. Joe hailed from the Berkshires and still travelled back to visit and fish the river from his home in Hagerstown, Maryland. He put me in touch with his friend Paul who lived further east in Massachusetts and angled the Deerfield regularly. We met there on Labor Day weekend 1998, below Fife Brook Dam, and I rigged Pap’s 9 foot Horrocks-Ibbotson fly rod with a big Medalist reel and one of the Royal Coachmen dry flies I had tied for the occasion; my grandfather’s favorite fly. My journal entries for the trip read as follows:

September 6, 1998

This lovely afternoon I stood at last in Alfred’s river, the Deerfield. I knotted a size 16 Royal Coachman to the tippet and cast it upon the bright waters with his rod. The fishing was difficult after the water receded from the day’s release, and I rose only two, landing a beautiful fourteen inch bow on the rod with a size 18 BWO CDC comparadun.

Thursday morning and the sun is with us again! I am late this morning, as a fine New England cold has blurred my head and cost me sleep: my reward for hard fishing through Labor Day’s downpour; with both rain jackets in the car.

Backlighted by the window, I fumbled through tying three little 22 dries, which I hope might entice the reticent Fife Brook trout. Sparkle yarn and dun CDC, so simple really, yet a task to tie when you cannot see. I’ve carried a portable light on every trip but this one, and never needed it until now.

My quandary is whether to fish the Deerfield this morning or explore some smaller streams, leaving the great river until afternoon.

I tried a lovely stretch of open water on the Deerfield, casting a cricket along likely bankside lies. No trout were encountered, and the wind soon rose with a fury. As it blew my hauled line back at me, I surrendered to the obvious, and drove up and over the mountain to Adams.

At dinner last evening, Fred and Marilyn Moran invited me to use their tying bench at their Points North Outfitters fly shop. Their hospitality was welcomed, as I fashioned five size 20 olive ESP’s. I was directed to a lovely tumbling little brook, the South Branch of the Hoosic along Route 8, and spent the afternoon raising browns and brookies to my Letort Cricket and Fox Squirrel Special. I landed ten to thirteen inches, loving every moment of it!

The Deerfield has been a harsh taskmaster. She has tried my patience with her recalcitrant trout. They have followed no rhyme or reason, one responding to one fly, the next to another.

Last evening, Saturday, I returned to the river after spending the day fishing some smaller brooks near Windsor. I found a stretch to myself , somewhere above Florida Bridge, and angled for an hour or so. Once again the habitat looked wonderful, and not a single trout showed himself. I was tired and weary with this confounded cold, and let my mind lapse momentarily. I started back toward town then panicked, realizing I had not taken down my rod and put it in the car. A return and frantic search yielded nothing, and at last darkness and rain overtook my efforts. An additional search on Sunday proved fruitless as well. Perhaps it was left behind for a reason. Perhaps my subconscious left the rod and reel behind that Alfred’s spirit might have its use to angle eternity.

Sunday, my last morning’s fishing of the trip. I awoke late, having turned off the alarm at five, then drifting off for an hour and a half. The clouded sky seemed appropriate for my clouded head, and I grabbed coffee and donuts as I hastened to the river.

The sun burned through the clearing sky as I donned waders and boots, deciding my course would be upstream to the second pool.

The pool lay in shadow as I entered it, and at first betrayed no activity. I took a moment simply to savor the beauty before me, dwelling upon the fact that my Deerfield oddysey was coming to a close. Stringing the four weight, my five being in the hands of another, I noticed the first quiet rise. Cashing my bets, I knotted one of my size 20 LaFontaine Emergents to the long Mirage tippet.

My efforts were in vain, as the few occasionally rising trout ignored my flies. Confounded drag! Long casts across too many variable currents made good floats problematic with the experimental leader system I have been using. I dug into my vest for the Spring Creek line and Harvey leader I hoped would make the difference. Re-rigged, my drifts improved, and at last I raised a fish! The rainbow tugged and ran, and I enjoyed every moment of him, such interludes being far too spare on this journey.

After catching my “one fish” for the morning, I embarked upon a mission to miss more strikes than I have had at any outing on this river. I asked the gods to grant me just one big fish, a fish to take the fly and run strong and free, a fish to pin my memories upon! And the gods obliged. On my next cast upstream, a cast to open water searching, not covering a rise, a fish took the fly. He pulled hard, much harder than any trout I had tasted on this river, and he started away upstream, strong, the rod throbbing as he moved, the line slipping grudgingly through my fingers.

In the short span of time before his run took the last of the slack line from my hands, fate caused me to look down, down to see the fly line tangled in the tub of floatant dangling from my vest. Frantic fingers tried for microseconds to undo the tangle…and then he was gone.

And so ended my longed for search for my grandfather’s ghost upon the mighty Deerfield, the trout river of dreams. When I was very young, I recall my grandfather going north on fishing trips, and I recall the great rewards of those trips when he returned. This was back in the days before styrofoam coolers, and he carried a large round, galvanized tub. It was filled with huge rainbow trout in layers separated by ice and newspaper.

The family legend has it that Pap once spent six hours on a rock in the middle of the river, caught by the fast rising water when the Fife Brook power dam started generating early. The Deerfield is paved with rounded cobblestones, large ones and small ones, and all as slippery as eels! The tricky wading was a major factor in my making those long casts that proved the undoing of my drag-free drifts when I did find a few rising trout. River flows rise quickly from 125 cfs “fishing flow” to somewhere between 800 and 1,200 cfs during the daily generation period.

I found my grandfather’s spirit as I had hoped, made some new friends, and developed a fondness and a respect for Alfred’s river. I even added my own small hard luck story to the family legend. That was a heck of a trout that headed north with my fly before my tippet succumbed to the knot the coiled fly line tied round my floatant.

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