Blow Baby Blow

A flat pool in the Catskills, Spring 2021: a protected reach where the winds don’t get a long run as the mountains shelter the valley somewhat. The current runs right to left in the photo and yes, those wavelets are blowing upstream. You can picture what it has been doing in open water!

I think this could be the windiest spring I have ever angled in the Catskills. I mean, it seems to have been blowing hard every day right on into the evenings. Winds forecast for five to ten miles per hour? They have blown ten to fifteen, even twenty. I think the average calm period has been around twelve miles per hour. Wind whipped water doesn’t encourage trout to feed upon the surface. If you are a dry fly fisher, well, you are not supremely happy with that state of affairs.

To be honest, I have had a great season so far. I’m not really complaining, just registering the facts man. I love the challenge of hunting big, wary wild trout with dry flies, and recurring winds make that challenge rise to another level. Rising trout are harder to come by and, when you find one, the window of opportunity is narrower. You have to position yourself to make the best cast you can under the conditions, and then wait for the gusts to subside to make a presentation. While you are waiting for that window to crack open, your fish may well stop rising, or change locations as he hunts for wind blown duns bobbing in the wavelets.

The past week has been a real pissah as my relatives in New England would say. It has blown hard every time I have hit the river, making it impossible to even find a trout to fish to on a couple of those days. Yesterday promised to be really bad. It was. I finally left my cane rod at home and dug out the high tech gun. My four weight Thomas & Thomas Avantt represents the latest generation of performance. That means it is stiff, fast and packs a lot of power into a cast. I paired it with a four and a half line since I was going to be fishing big dry flies.

That rod managed to beat the wind, though punching the power stroke with a stiff fly rod is hard on my wrist. Carpal tunnel and arthritis don’t like punching casts into high winds very well, and stiff rods make me punch them even harder. I have to keep reminding myself of that tendency, telling myself to ease up, and try to stop forcing it to bend. The rod will still drive the line and fly into the wind without that extra punishment. That is one of the things I truly appreciate about fishing bamboo. The classic action of a cane rod invites you to relax and paint the line on the water. Yesterday turned into a power sprayer kind of day.

There was one fisherman in sight when I waded into the river, so I decided upon my plan of attack, staying a couple hundred yards away from him. He didn’t pick up on that subtlety. I fished with my back to him and, after an hour or so of fishing hides, I heard sloshing behind me. Sure enough, this guy had decided to return my courtesy by wading right up on top of me. He wanted to talk, that is he wanted to bitch about how there were plenty of March Browns on the water and no trout eating them, etc., etc. I questioned his claim of plenty, as I had seen three flies to that point. He kept sloshing along yapping, though he could have easily walked the path on the bank without disturbing me. I guess he just needed to be sure I could hear his complaining. I kept fishing.

Another angler had arrived by then, standing on the bank where a footpath comes down to the river, and the complainer started up on this new audience. Eventually he joined him on the bank and they shared tales of misery inflicted by fish. I had seen a rise or two by this time and slowly moved into a casting position that would allow me to best defeat the wind.

I guess those two jabbered for half an hour, maybe more, as I did my best to tune them out. I kept fishing; I mean, I was there to fish after all. That trout I saw rising appeared to be a mover, so I worked him as carefully as I could. One of the difficulties with movers is there is always a chance that they come closer to you causing you to line them while casting to where they were. I changed the fly when I saw what appeared to be a smaller mayfly blowing by, and then he finally found a spot he liked. Meanwhile on the bank, the complainer finally ran out of words and headed home. The audience walked up the bank and left me in peace. My gratitude sir.

There were a few more March Browns bobbing down the choppy surface, so I tied my crippled emerger back to my tippet and blotted the water out of the wing. I had made some good drifts, and every once in a while that fish would suck a natural from the surface, or would he? He was in the shade and I in the bright sun, so it was tough to see much more detail than his subtle rise ring itself. I eased into the edge of the shade line, just enough to get the sun out of my face, and observed. He rose two or three times with no sign of a dun on the surface. Point taken. I trimmed the wing shorter on my cripple and fluffed it up with some brush-on floatant. I made two casts, gently, easing up on the rod, and the surgically altered fly disappeared in one of those soft rises.

As soon as I set the hook I was glad I had tied that fly on a heavy wire hook and used 4X tippet. He bored right down to get into a fallen tree and I put everything my tackle could give him into play and forced a turn. This was one hell of a trout! Brute force versus brute force: he pulled as hard as he could while I backed slowly away from that obstruction, one step at a time.

The trout took line, so I tightened the drag until I had him far enough away from the wood. He pulled line anyway. This wasn’t a finesse fight, no long runs with a singing drag and arching cane: one mean fish. The fly kept its hold, right in his lip, and I eventually backed him into shallower water and the waiting net. Gorgeous color in the sunlight. This guy deserved a snapshot, though he kept trying to jump out of the net as I fumbled to keep him in the water. Twenty-two inches; I honestly thought he was longer than that due to his breadth and weight.

I had nearly left when I first arrived, as a terriffic wind gust hit me as soon as I started to reach for my waders. I stayed though, and I weathered the irritation of the complainer and his sloshing approach to tell me his opinions. I was actually thankful for the wind at that point. Under calm conditions this pool is flat water, and his sloshing up to me would have put off that brown before I even had a chance to fish to him.

I always have subscribed to the idea that the fellow anglers I encounter along the stream deserve the respect of being left alone. A quiet nod is a sufficient greeting should they turn and look my way. If they speak, I will answer, and even stop and talk for a moment should they make an overture. Otherwise I pass as quietly as possible and leave them to their reflections. The older school of fly fishers to which I belong values solitude. If they wanted raucous discourse they would have gone to a bar instead of a trout river.

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