It is raining here in Crooked Eddy, a sorely needed rain that I hope lasts throughout the day. The rivers need a recharge, and I do not mind the break from a busy week living the joy of spring and the Hendrickson hatch. It has been quite a week.
My first encounters with the lovely April mayflies were typical for the cold waters of early spring in the Catskills: brief emergences of flies with the trout taking no notice of them, and then gradually sampling this new buffet as it is spread before them. Conditions changed rapidly through the week, ending up with two days of stalking wary wild brown trout in low, clear, warming water.
I celebrated some relief from the fear of Covid, appreciating the safety of the vaccine as I fished comfortably with my two best friends. John joined me to begin this oddysey, fully insulated to wade the cold forty-five degree water, and we found the trout difficult to fool as always, but receptive to our best presentations and patterns. That first week’s fishing started well before its interruption by a quick return to winter weather. Better spring conditions slowly returned as the next week dawned, as Mike arrived from Maryland to sample the Hendrickson hatch.
That first day brought cold temperatures and brutal wind conditions, though we each found our moment of triumph in the midst of the maelstrom, Mike wrestling a trophy brown from the Cauldron, while I hunted one down in wind rippled shallow flats.
Our second day began with perfect conditions, though a couple of early arriving anglers camped on the choice water for the duration. We separated and worked secondary locations, the more difficult quiet, shallow waters, while the river continued to drop.
I had good hunting that day. As temperatures warmed into the seventies, stalking the low, clear pools became much more like summer fishing than early spring.
I spotted the first delicate sipping rise while taking a break for lunch, zipped my half eaten sandwich back into it’s bag, and began my stalk. The combination of the conditions and riseform led me to knot a Hendrickson spinner to my tippet, waiting after a few carefully chosen steps for a second rise. When it came, one cast brought a sipping take and a large Catskill brown streaking for the far side of the river, my Thomas & Thomas Hendrickson in full arch and classic CFO reel in full song! It is hard not to celebrate a day that begins with a spirited battle and a brilliantly colored twenty-one inch trout writhing in the mesh!
As the afternoon unfolded, various species of mayflies appeared sporadically: a few Blue Quills, small dark Hendricksons, then Red Quills. Now and then over the next hour and a half, I noted a few single rises within 50 yards of my position. If a trout rose a second time, I moved to it, though invariably there were no repeats once I entered casting range.
Eventually I spied a sipping rise within a thin line of shade along the far bank and moved in as stealthily as possible. Watching I noted three distinct trout sipping tight to that bank, all within a foot wide band of shade perhaps fifteen feet in length. Summer fishing indeed. I worked those trout for perhaps an hour. Their rises were sporadic, but they kept at it, as the mixture of flies in the drift varied. When the drift along that edge exposed somewhat taller, darker wings, I captured the next two duns that passed my position. The size sixteen dark Hendricksons were familiar from the previous day, and I had done my work at the vise in early morning.
Like most tiny bankside feeding lies, obstructions play games with presentation. Fishing trophy trout with the fine tippets required is a chess match of subtlety and control. Finally, one of my perfect drifts entered that trout’s tiny shallow water window at the right moment and the battle was joined. He was the first in line and put a big bow in the warm caramel colored cane as he ran straight downstream along the bank, scattering the other two that had been tucked into that shade. I wouldn’t expect anything less.
He ran all around me, the fine tip of my Hendrickson alive with his energy and cushioning each surge of power and speed. At last I led him close, scooped gently, and took a measurement of an irridescent hued trophy Catskill brown.
The next player reminded me of the other side of light tackle angling, as he turned with a rush and cut my tippet in an instant. I never really even felt the pressure, though my eyes confirmed his size.
The afternoon lengthened with more of the familiar sporadic, here and there activity, until a quick flurry of Red Quills offered me another chance. The new flies appealed to a sporadic brown hugging the bank below a brushpile, and he sipped them with increased regularity. The obstruction made perfect drifts difficult, but my Jave Red Quill finally seduced him. A strong fighter, he just missed the coveted twenty inch mark, though his wildness and power made for an exciting closing act.
Each evening I wondered if the hatch would last for Mike’s visit. Our last morning brought that answer. We arrived earlier and found trout podded up and cruising to sip a mixture of morning spinners and duns. Their jockeying for postion made casting fruitless and it wasn’t long before all of the action subsided. In that brief interlude I’d identified both dark Hendricksons and Red Quills on the water, and I believed we had arrived just in time to witness the last of those hatches on that water. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon tested our patience.
I’d gone hunting again later in the day, while Mike chased the ephemeral sporadic sippers in deeper water, breaking off a large fish when his careful casting was finally rewarded. I too found sporadic risers, both delicate sippers and heavy rises to moving insects, but found nothing consistent that would come to the fly.
It was eighty degrees, and the first clouds of the incoming front softened the light a bit, when my summer hunting became interesting for the last time. The larger, lighter Hendricksons began to emerge in the shallow flats I’d been stalking, and swirls and a few heavy rises greeted them. I offered my darker size 16 fly until more of the emerging duns reached the surface, and I identified the change. I knotted a size 14 CDC sparkle dun, pausing as I wrapped the knot in the fine 6X tippet. I don’t like to go that light, and the cut off from a couple of hours earlier nearly made me go up one size, but the conditions demanded the extreme delicacy.
As so often in this type of situation, the feeding trout were cruising about the flat, some taking nymphs with subsurface swirls, while a few agressive rises marked the fish targeting duns. A quick cast to one of these made my heart jump, as the take was savage. He gave me everything he had, a raging bull of a brown trout, excited by the hatch, and I thanked Mssrs. Dorsey and Maxwell many times as their exquisite taper protected that 6X tippet from his powerful rushes. Deep flanked, and wide through the shoulders, that brownie taped twenty-three inches and easily weighed five pounds, more than a fitting end to a challenging but miraculous Hendrickson hatch, the best I had enjoyed in a decade.
I was fortunate to enjoy my best Hendrickson hatch in a decade, with flies in abundance I thought I might never see again. Half a dozen valiant Catskill brownies, each exceeding twenty inches, shared their energy with me and my obsession with dry flies and classic tackle over eight days of fishing. I feel more than blessed for the experience. The rivers varied from forty-five degrees to nearly sixty in that brief and tumultuous span, and wind driven waves zeroed out one day and nearly another. Weather like that amounts to a taste of everything you might hope (or fear) to encounter in a week of Catskill Mountain springtime if you stop and think about it, however; fishing like that is about as close to perfection as you can get!