The Test is not an English chalk stream

Springtime on the Neversink

Indeed the Test that I refer to will develop over the next five days. My test for an “early spring” revolves around the early mayfly hatches; the Blue Quills, Quill Gordons and the Hendricksons appearing during the second week of April. The calendar reports this weekend lies amidships in that second week, so it is clearly time for something to happen.

I have haunted rivers for five of the past six days and I have encountered no hatch. I have seen one large mayfly, several tiny ones too small to be Blue Quills, and two red bodied insects that zipped past in fast water before my fingers could close upon them. I am telling myself they were Red Quills, the so called male of the Hendrickson clan, though a fly not possessed is a fly not identified. I have not encountered a single bit of clear evidence of a trout’s rise, that is, none of those lovely spreading rings in the surface we fly fishers adore.

We have been blessed with a run of beautiful weather, and it has been a great pleasure to haunt those rivers during a warm and inviting week, but now it is time for Mother Nature to close the deal. Dry flies have been tied, rods polished, lines cleaned and reels lubricated; and all have been given a test upon these warming springtime waters. Madam, kindly proceed to the Main Event!

My smallest 100-Year Dun, a Jave Red Quill size 16, tied to copy the solitary flies I think I saw bobbing down a bright riffle on two occasions. I am guessing, as only one drifted close enough for a grab, and my fingers failed in the attempt.

Similar reports have filtered in from some friends angling different Catskill rivers. Only one of these intrepid souls has managed to find a Catskill trout willing to inhale his dry fly, and I salute him. Another, further southeast in the warmer climes of New Jersey has had a bit more action. If it was safe enough for us to gather, I envision a group of older gentlemen standing around with blank stares and fidgeting with their assorted bamboo rods. We share a similar affliction, the love of bright waters, and the desire to angle same with the grace of the dry fly. Retirement is a wonderful thing. What better way to celebrate it than to wander the myriad of trout streams and rivers arrayed here in the Catskills. All we ask are rising trout. We don’t even demand to catch them, as we celebrate the glorious intricacies of the opportunities to try!

True devotees of the dry fly can talk for days about the trout they tried to catch, to say nothing of the volumes of tales available regarding the ones they actually brought to hand. I have thirty years of memories to draw from, and despite taking more than my share of fine wild browns, brooks and rainbows, some of the best tales from those memories involve trying as opposed to catching.

It is the trying that ignites the thirst for knowledge and the spark of creativity that results in new and better flies in the vise. We all have countless flies that catch trout for us and for our friends, though we have no flies for the trout we cannot catch! The same condition applies to casting techniques, designs for special leaders and even our approach to the water.

I have been known to spend two hours working on a trout I cannot catch. That time includes a lot of study of the insects in the drift, the riseform, the way my line and leader move on the water, and how my fly floats and behaves in the current. I confess to a passion for complex currents. A great deal of thought and effort is condensed into two hours of fishing to an uncatchable trout, and when the solution is found, it can be glorious.

Many times the solution is something very subtle: a more sparsely tied or ragged version of the same fly, two steps upstream and one to the right to change the angle of the cast ever so slightly, or a tippet three inches longer, or shorter. Sometimes the solution is that special fly, the one designed and tied the last time I tried to take a trout in this lie, and failed. I often think and refer to these pursuits as The Game. It is a game with changing rules, some that forever remain unclear and thus provide a grand fascination.

The casual fly fisher encounters a difficult trout, makes half a dozen casts, and then moves on if he doesn’t catch it; covering water, a perfectly acceptable approach. Take such fish as a challenge however, and let your passion grow: enjoy The Game!

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