Contemplating Spring

We don’t often see the first full blush of vegetation until May. Will this season be different?

It seems like the bulk of winter is finally behind us, though certainly March has proven it is not to be trusted. Last weeks run of warmer days and sunshine welcomed me back to the rivers, though the trout didn’t show up for the party. This week has been more like the March we know, some cold, some wind (truly a lot of wind) even a little snow, and not nearly so much warmth and sunshine. If the forecast can be trusted, always a big if with weather being as volatile as it is, we are headed for a warmer, sunny weekend with spring weather continuing through next week. Could it be?

I am trying to temper my enthusiasm, for I still have the little video I shot on May 9th last year: the one with the snow squall! Rivers began to warm early last year, and then stayed down in the lower forties for a very long time. Even when the calendar said that flies were mature, and they began to hatch, it was tough to find many trout energetic enough to rise. I would love to find some rings beneath the buzzing wings of little black stoneflies next week, but wanting something and getting it are two different things.

Mid-April 2020, and new snow on the budding crabapple trees: it was truly a reluctant spring.

I am trying to recall the last truly early spring in the Catskills. My older records are stored away, and memory has many pictures of rivers and trout and mayflies, but the chronology has faded a bit. It must have been 2010 or 2011, a wild year when there were many seventy degree days in March in Pennsylvania, and Hendricksons hatching on Penns Creek late in that usually wintry month. I fished the hatch here in the Catskills in the second week of April. Though we were happy with the early start, all the spring hatches dragged out across the calendar, coming in trickles rather than heavy emergences, and lasting much longer than normal. That wasn’t a good turn of events for the travelling angler who banked upon hitting those heavy hatches, though I wonder if I’d like such a season better as a resident, fishing daily.

I plan to proceed with caution. Starting today I’ll be taking my fly vest from the hook it has occupied, sorting through the pockets, removing the collected odds and ends and scraps, and loading a fresh store of leaders and tippets. I’ll take my spring fly boxes from storage and make room for the new patterns I have tied, then load the vest with the early stoneflies and olives, as well as those retched things that sink. I live for the day that those flies can be relegated to a tackle bag, where they typically stay until the last rising trout of my season has come and gone.

There will be a few reels to examine, and I’ll make sure that their lines have been cleaned with fresh leaders affixed. The little chest pack worn in summer and fall will take it’s pace on the hook the vest abandoned. I will take a couple of favorite rods out and cast them, making a final decision as to which lines I’ll fish to start the season.

Winter things will slowly be put away during these next few weeks, though I’ll leave one pair of boots and a single snow shovel by the stoop, just in case. One down jacket on the coat tree should suffice, as I hope my light Thermoball will take care of the cooler spells ahead. There are books to finish, and paperwork.

I’ll have to make a decision about the drift boat. I’d rather not uncover it only to find another snowstorm around the corner, but I’ll need to check it’s trailer’s tires, lights and riggings and take it for inspection. With oars mounted and gear checked she’ll be ready for a solo float, whenever the river beckons.

One winter project has been completed. After much correspondence and the study of tapers and makers I have finally commissioned the making of the Ed Shenk Tribute Rod. I was swayed by Tom Whittle’s work in combining the grace of Everett Garrison’s classic tapers with the performance driven concepts of Vince Marinaro’s convex taper designs. I met Tom decades ago, and coveted his rods when he began his journey in bamboo. I will always consider Tom a Cumberland Valley rodmaker, though life took him to Maine and back to South Central Pennsylvania after his beginnings there. It feels right to have my concept brought to fruition by another who is passionate about the legends of the limestone country.

Early on we shared an appreciation for fly fishing history, and the limestone region and her legendary anglers’ place in it. Tom did something about it on a grand scale, founding and heading the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association. His work in the study and preservation of Pennsylvania’s angling history led Tom and fellow rodmaker Bill Harms to author their wonderful 2007 book on Marinaro’s legend and rod making “Split & Glued By Vincent C. Marinaro” immortalizing the influences and techniques of one of the Cumberland Valley’s most influential fly fishing authors.

As his inscription in my copy of Split & Glued reminds me, I sold Tom his first graphite fly rod, an Orvis he says he still owns. Perhaps later this summer our association will come full circle as I affix the special Hardy Featherweight to the ancient maple seat of the Stony Creek Rods Shenk Tribute. I hope Tom can accompany me on the river that day. It would be truly spiritual if we waded side by side as we tempted fine Catskill browns to the surface with our favorite terrestrials!

Ed Shenk (second from left) with fellow Fly Fishing Hall of Famers at his induction in October 2012.

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