Indicator Species

Long riffles and runs offer a great deal of trout habitat, and insect production for the pools inevitably lying downstream.

So my friend JA and I arranged to meet on the river to see if we could encounter an evening hatch or spinner fall. I had suggested the place (gotta stop doing that), and we showed around four in the afternoon while the rush of weekend anglers sped by on the highway, destined for home in Jersey, NYC or other urban environs. We took our time getting geared up, then eased down to the river for a look see.

Nothing was showing, so we used the time to catch up on things: JA’s morning turkey hunting (he’s out there again right now) and my wandering through a very busy week of fishing. There was cloud cover, the good dark ones that hinted at a storm, but failed to deliver, and the ever present spring wind. Forecast at ten to twenty miles per hour, it was working hard to make good on that promise. After a while of watching wind whipped water that betrayed a handful of big mayflies with no rises, I ambled out several steps and dunked my stream thermometer for a minute. Rivers had warmed during a run of days in the eighties and no appreciable rainfall. Even the tailwaters were getting warmer than they should for the last week of May, as the City has the habit of shutting down significant releases as soon as the first run of hot weather hits. They made good on their promise as well.

When I pulled the thermometer up it read 69 degrees, right on the cusp of barely OK and too warm for trout fishing. The smart move would have been to reconoiter and head to another location, but then my brain started trying to convince me to stay: it’s only been this warm for a couple of daysit’s just the daily peak temperature…it’s really cloudy and the holdoing water is almost in shade alreadythere’s three hundred yards of riffle and run above us to oxygenate the water, as well as the wind…

You see I’d fished this same spot roughly a year ago under similar conditions, and things perked up in the last half hour. I had caught two nice brownies and then had my dry fly forcibly removed from my possession; with predjudice. I had been thinking about that fish for the past year, telling myself that I needed to give that spot more attention. I wanted JA to get a shot at the big boy, and I figured there could well be more than one.

We stayed; talked for a couple of hours and then spread out upstream to fish the fast water until the right time. JA raised several trout, landing one, while I raised just one fish. George M. L. LaBranche would probably critique our technique, but you just don’t get a lot of drag-free drifts casting in twenty mile an hour winds.

We both fished cane, JA the magnificent 8 footer for a four that he built in the CFFCM rodmaking class, and me my recently acquired T&T Paradigm, so we both managed to amuse ourselves with casting. And when my watch read 8:39 I suddenly realized the wind had settled. We looked up at the same time and saw some large mayfly spinners. JA spotted some risers upstream and stayed to work them with a March Brown dun, while I waded downstream slowly tying on one of the March brown spinners I had tied a few hours earlier.

It was about ten minutes till nine when the rings began to appear below me, close to the drop into deeper water. One good ring drew my attention and the first casts. The third one connected and I raised the rod into a fish with a bit of weight to it, and started reeling as he swam upstream toward me. When he was thirty feet out he turned and began to fight in earnest. JA hollered down “is it a good fish?” and I answered that it was, adding “come down, it’s going to be quick”. The sky had cleared around 8:30, but the dark clouds quickly returned, and it was getting dark fast. The little Hardy played a few choruses each time that fish turned and ran, and I had that satisfied smile that the evening was turning out just as planned.

When I scooped him in the net my enthusiasm evaporated with a weak chuckle. My “trophy” was a rather fat, ugly chub. I announced the news as JA approached. The darned chub even swallowed my spinner. I couldn’t see it in the quickening darkness, and nicked the tippet when I tried to reach down inside with my forceps. Goodbye fly!

I dug out my flashlight and tied another in place just as I realized it was too dark to see the rises I kept hearing. Were they all chubs? Neither of us will ever know, but I could place an intelligent wager. Biologists speak of indicator species, fish, mammals, etc, whose presence or population levels in a specific environment indicate changes in the health of that environment. The lowly chub is kind of an indicator species too, at least in my mind. When you catch chubs rising to dry flies rather than trout, they are letting you know that the water is too warm, too slow, or just too uninviting for trout activity at the time. Shame I didn’t catch that big old chub on my first cast around six o’clock. We could have beat feet out of there and found better water for that last fifteen minutes.


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