I felt the excitement as I pulled the old waders over my feet; I was finally going to walk a river bank again, test the warming water with a fly. Nearly three months have passed since I felt that excitement, the same feeling I get every time I go fishing. Certainly that feeling is part of why I go, even now, when I really don’t expect to catch a trout; there is always the possibility.
The sun had quickly warmed the air, though the wind rose before I could put my jacket on and reminded me it was early March. I had prepared for the weather, and as soon as I got that old Windwall over my shoulders I felt pretty comfy. I pulled the wader suspenders up, pulled a sun gaiter over my head and re-adjusted my shades; then I reached for the rod case. I had planned to fish bamboo, wanting to begin the season properly, but the wind forecast for fifteen miles per hour caused me to consider the open water of my destination and choose the Thomas & Thomas graphite instead. I have spent too many days on parts of the Delaware River system where the wind laughed at the forecast and blew just as hard as it pleased, and yes, it is March. It turned out to be a better day, with far more periods of extended calm and sunshine than winds.
My hike helped me feel the past three months indoors. It wasn’t that long, about six tenths of a mile, but between sloshing through melting snow and clambering up and down questionable river banks it gave me the exercise I craved. The river is low, a good part of the reason that Tuesday’s sunshine resulted in a nine degree jump in water temperature, so I waded in slowly, drawing upon memory to try to decipher the places an awakening trout might seek to hunt if he was so inclined.
I knotted a Hen & Hare’s Ear to my leader and started to cast and swing the fly, across and downstream, through the deeper water bathed in sunlight. The water shallowed as I worked down the pool, and I changed to a smaller fly, though one still tied with the hidden life concept the H&E began last autumn.
I offered this fly on the swing too, the slow yet ceaseless current drawing it through all of the water I hoped might conceal a hungry brown. Once it paused, with a welcome rubbery feel that was gone as soon as it began. Bringing the fly to hand I found the familiar green glob on the hook bend: not a trout after all.
I was standing for a time, looking across the river for some evidence of life when a stonefly passed in the air. Looking harder I eventually spied a couple, appearing as little puffballs out there on the glittering surface, and stared after them; wanting so badly to see a dimple where one of those little stones had fluttered, though I knew it was not to be.
Once I had seen the stoneflies I changed again, hoping that a small unweighted soft hackle might raise something from the uneven rocky bottom in the tail of the pool: look at me, I’m a helpless little insect quivering here, I cannot fly! This ruse failed utterly as well, for in truth there did not seem to be a trout out there, not one awakened by the rapid rise in water temperature. Too soon.
I sat down on a log and let the warmth soak in a bit. I struggled with the wader pocket to free the little fly box hidden there, the wish box, the one secreted away, hiding it’s stash of tiny dry flies, midges, olives and stones. The black CDC stonefly looked proper there, it’s hook point pricked lightly into the cork as I passed the warmest moments of the afternoon. Wishful thinking, though more than that: a thank you to the day, a simple salute to the spring that awaits!
My thoughts wandered back in time, back to warm March afternoons on Big Spring. The stones were a real beginning there, and they would bring the wild rainbows to the surface, intrigued by their fluttering, and tempted to release their caution and divulge their hides down there along the weed beds. The little feeding frenzies were generally brief, though at times intense! As soon as I saw the first ones, little puffballs fluttering on the water, I would hastily rework my leader and tie on one of my CDC stones: time to hunt!
My first Catskill winter I saw a number of those same little black stoneflies on the West Branch Delaware, on sunny, calm afternoons in March. They drifted along the surface, wings buzzing furiously and begging a trout to rise for a snack. Just as I had back on Big Spring I hurried to rig a dry fly, but there was no rise forthcoming. Here it seems they are far more of a tease for the angler than the trout.
Yet I still find myself thinking back, and tying on a dry fly; just in case. I remember those brief flurries of rises on the gin clear currents of the limestoners; and the rewards they sometimes offered when an angler’s expediency and presentation became in a moment entwined.