Fishing In The Cauldron

Another breezy Catskill Spring day on a “protected” reach of water. The mountains have a unique ability to twist, turn and redirect the prevailing winds, effectively eliminating the protected areas. This is not a riffle. This is a flat, glassy pool that flows from right to left in the photo, thus the wind is pushing small whitecaps upstream, making for some interesting fly fishing. Yesterday was far worse, with rather large breakers pushing upstream on another “protected” reach hence, The Cauldron.

Back when we both used to travel to fish the Catskills, I teased my friend Mike Saylor about his (our) miraculous ability to foul the weather at our destination. We are both retired now, enjoying life, but we have not slowed down when it comes to those dubious magic powers.

Last week, when Mike announced he would be able to come up on Monday to fish the Hendrickson hatch, the forecast for his three day visit included three clear, sunny days starting in the low sixties and coming to a balmy crescendo near eighty; angling paradise! What welcomed us on Monday morning differed slightly. Temperatures were skirting freezing at dawn with a predicted high of fifty-one, oh, and winds from ten to twenty miles per hour. We got sunshine, as opposed to the cloudy skies forecast, though despite my best efforts to pick a location that would be somewhat protected from the prevailing winds, we really got the big blow.

Ten to twenty would not begin to do this little breeze justice. When the rushing air currents hit the bowl of the mountainside along the river it turned sharply, aimed straight upstream, and took advantage of the venturi effect to increase it’s strength and speed. If I had had a wind indicator I believe the readings would have been in the range of twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. It whipped up some upstream whitecaps to put those in the photo to shame, and some darn impressive breakers! When I thought back about the day, the phrase fishing in the cauldron came instantly to mind.

If you are a dry fly fisherman, you know that the key to convincing a trout to take your fly, as opposed to one of a few hundred actual mayflies drifting past his nose, is a natural presentation, a drag free drift. Winds of the magnitude we enjoyed on Monday afternoon do not allow a drag free drift, nor do they allow accurate casts, tracking one’s fly amid the froth and wavelets, or generally, catching fish.

However, when your best friend drives three hundred miles to fish, you give it your best shot, despite the weather. Turns out our best shot was good enough.

While I tried my best working upstream with a wind-straightened leader, Mike waded right down into the worst of the waves. Somewhere between the tenacious gusts, he managed to find a wild trout rising, and put his fly in front of him just right. I could barely hear him above the rushing air, but I turned and saw his rod aloft and heavily arched. Success! He shouted again when he got that big boy in the net, a beautifully colored, heavily muscled trophy Catskill brown well in excess of twenty inch standard.

Mike’s Big Brown From The Cauldron (Courtesy Mike Saylor)

I was happy with our day at that point, despite my own foibles with a couple of decent trout rolling on my wind skated, dragging flies. My buddy had fished hard in very tough conditions and caught the kind of fish we both dream about. It seems the Red Gods had a reward in store for my perseverance too.

I hiked around a slight bend in the river and found calmer water, there was still wind to deal with, but the surface was rippled, not a sea of crashing waves. I figured that was an improvement and set about hunting trout. There were a few scattered Hendricksons on the water, the hatch nearly completed for the day, but I saw no sign of rising trout. I continued walking, then finally spotted a splash about seventy-five yards up river near the opposite bank.

It was a long stalk, but the wind rippled surface actually allowed me to get there faster than normal, as the wind washed the disturbance from my wading straight upstream. As I neared casting range there was one more heavy rise and I was able to mark the fish’s location. Turns out he wasn’t holding that lie, but cruising, looking for those straggling duns as the hatch petered out. My casts to the lie I’d stalked brought no answers, but then a little blip of a rise right in front of me triggered a quick pickup and a short, accurate cast.

He popped my Hendrickson right away and exploded when I put the steel to him with my Menscer Hollowbuilt! This was a heavy brownie that was out of the water as much as he was in it during our battle. One of those jumps brought an exclamation from behind, as Mike had hiked upriver behind me. Another gorgeous wild Catskill brown trout in the net, though he jumped out of it before Mike could snap a photo for me. The Leaper simply wasn’t going to quit. Measured at twenty-two inches, with a fat belly, this fellow completed our day of fishing in the cauldron with another smile!

The Leaper gets the backbone from my Dennis Menscer 5 weight Hollowbuilt. Who says you can’t fish bamboo in the wind? (Courtesy Mike Saylor)

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