Backing, and Size 20 Caddis

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Haunting the mornings, a common summertime routine for me, and appropriate as the sun bakes the rivers at low water. Evening fishing still requires cold water to activate both the trout and the insect life, and evening finds many miles of our rivers at their highest temperatures of the day. So for the past two days I have been that summer angler, here in the final weeks of spring.

On Tuesday I went all out, hitting the road before sunrise to be on the river early. There are certain mornings when giving up a little sleep turns out to be very worthwhile. The lone 5″ brown trout that ate my fly nearly became breakfast for a much, much larger brownie, one that sadly would not return for my little dry fly.

Today I slept until my normal five o’clock hour, checked the river conditions and found the gift of cold water proffered by Tuesday’s clouds and thunderstorms. I knew immediately where I would fish. You don’t often get a chance to steal a day when summer temperatures dominate. I watched a bit of last night’s ballgame, ate a sandwich, showered, and packed everything I needed in my new vest in time to head out at half past eight.

Morning fog and clouds added to the calm as I slipped into the river and began my search. A few one time rises urged me to stalk closer, but I knew patience was the proper course. When I finally moved in, those rises had been repeated, and in the same locations. A handful of small sulfur duns skittered on the surface, and my number 18 disappeared in a dimple, the small brown trout cavorting around with his prize, and wondering how it managed to bite him back.

I moved again when I saw the telltale dorsal linger in the film behind a tiny sipping rise. Time to play the game. Four different sulfur patterns later I hadn’t interested this player, who continued his sporadic visits to the film. Staring at the surface proved no help. Whatever interested him wasn’t coming down the lane of water I was standing in. It was probably half an hour later that a spec in motion caught my eye a rod’s length away: a minute little caddisfly, spent and plastered to the surface, wiggling his last gasp. My hand went to my inside vest pockets automatically.

I figured that the four feet of 5X fluorocarbon completing my leader would present my size 20 CDC caddis perfectly. It was still blissfully calm, with enough cloud cover to eliminate the sparkle of the soft coils of tippet trailing the fly, and the T&T bamboo would give me all the control I needed. I didn’t want to chance this fish with 6X. It was the right choice.

I can’t say he took the first cast, as he wasn’t feeding with any kind of regular cadence, sometimes sipping two or three invisible specs from the film, and then pausing for a few minutes. He did take the fly though, nearly sunken in the film, with me squinting to follow the drift. I raised the rod evenly, pulling a full arch in the amber cane from tip to ferrule, and sunk that little hook tight into his lip. The Hendrickson stayed bowed in a half circle for some time after that.

That trout worked toward every rock and snag in the river, but the smooth pressure of the cane won the game for me again; in time. Twenty-two inches, with shoulders: I am always surprised when the biggest trout of the day is the one tempted with the smallest dry fly, a bit of nothing like that sparse little size 20 caddis!

With the puzzle solved I kept working my way along. These brownies were picky! Several took when the fly was barely trapped in the film, the cdc feather giving it just enough of that feeble, last breath movement to seal the deal. Another bruiser sipped it and came unglued at the hookset, he was charging away against the bow of the rod and then, gone. Tippet unbroken, hook still perfect; simply hooked in the wrong part of his mouth I guess.

Trying to track my little speck amongst all of the litter in the drift line brought some late reactions, some misses, and a refusal or two. I diligently retrieved the fly after every two or three casts, and powdered the feathers back to life and visibility, But I got most of my takes when it was deep in the meniscus, just like those tiny naturals, and a nineteen incher as it sank completely from view.

Morning passed to afternoon, and the game seemed to be concluded as the cloud cover broke to reveal the bright midday sun. One player remained, rising sporadically every once in awhile, then ceasing. I figured I had exhausted the caddis, and offered terrestrials, matched an olive I plucked from the drift in my lane, sulfurs again. Nothing would interest him. Finally I reached for a hair wing caddis, a size 20 X-Caddis with a mottled tan body and amber elk wing. I cut back my 5X and knotted three and a half feet of 6X tippet to the end. All or nothing. I waited until his meandering brought him into the best line of drift, then laid my cast down with an upstream reach, again and again…

When that white wink of his mouth converged with that caddis, I was nearly in a daze. I had worked on that trout for at least an hour. I snugged up to him carefully, ever conscious of the fine tippet between us. He didn’t like the taste of that sharp little hook worth a damn, and jetted toward the bank and downstream. He had most of my fly line when I stopped him, and I am sure I got all of two or three turns of it back on the reel spool, when he spun off again, deep into my backing. I tried to take a few steps toward the shallower side of the river, but his bucking threatened disaster, so I concentrated on keeping as much pressure as I could against his strength.

I got the backing and twenty feet of fly line back on the reel when he turned downstream again and took it all and more. I walked downstream toward him, one careful step at a time, rolled the rod over to equalize the strain on the fine bamboo tip, and reeled every chance he gave me. There were tense moments at the end, with a big boulder between us, but he was tired enough that my 6X pressure kept his head away from it.

He gave me a final burst when I lifted the net, trying for all his worth to jump right out of it, before settling down so I could take my caddis back. He was a deep, golden bronze, flanks peppered with vivid black spots, and he was heavy and broad there in the mesh. He nosed half an inch past twenty, as I lowered him into the cool flow and set him free with a smile.

There were no more sippers now, in the heat of the day. The sun was full overhead, and the day felt very, summerlike. I was calm and content, and my smile broadened: a glorious day! Size 20 caddis, I chuckled, not what I’d expected, no, not at all.

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