The Summer Solstice arrives on Sunday with an entire new season of outdoor splendor. Yes, we have had some summer weather already: a taste in April, a snippet in May, and June has provided a fair number of days that fit the profile; but it becomes official in two days time. The rivers are transitioning; they always are. Hatches have become smaller and less prolific as water temperatures have run the gamut from far too warm for comfort, to pretty chilly some mornings. Here at Crooked Eddy the Weather Channel gave our air temperature as 46 degrees just after sunrise.
Though I love to sleep with the windows open, relishing the mountain air, such unseasonably cold nights are a blessing to the rivers, particularly when rainfall has been scarce. It mixes things up a bit too, changes the activity periods of some of the wild things, and generally makes life here more interesting. I love Catskill summers, as they can seem to go on forever.
The little early glimpses of summer have changed the habits of at least some of the trout. I have stood in the river on several days lately, looking for mayflies that did not appear. Haven’t seen a lot of caddis activity either. A few trout have started to pay attention to terrestrials though, and that is good news to me. Just the other day I figured that the strong winds that helped to erase my hope for morning hatches might be useful in the right context.
I changed locations, fished for a short while in the afternoon where vegetation hugged the riverbanks, and found what I was looking for. Those winds kicked up some actual waves on open water, blowing upstream no less, and I figure that cost me a few opportunities. I fished through a few choice hideouts during the worst of the blow, and heard the distinct plop of a rise or two during the next little calm spell, after I had passed them by.
There was a spot where I knew a good brown had been hanging his hat, as I’d spooked him out of very shallow water by laying down my cast too close. As I approached that area, I changed position slightly to accommodate my new improved game plan. I was more than pleased with my casting that afternoon, a happy accident of pairing a different line and reel with a favorite rod. It’s funny how much difference a particular fly line can make to a caster with a bamboo rod. The rod in question, a vintage Thomas & Thomas Paradigm, casts beautifully with several lines, but the weight forward Airflo line I casually brought with me really opened my eyes.
Strong, gusting winds are not friendly to fly casting. The uninitiated would likely scoff at a guy carrying a bamboo fly rod on such a day, believing the hype that one simply must have a high line speed, fast action graphite stick. But a well crafted cane rod with the right reel and line is a very beautiful and effective tool. It gives the caster a lot of control, and control is the name of the game. Presentation counts.
So I worked just the right angle to make a long cast to this trout’s lie, waited for a calm moment between gusts, and sent a cast down and across stream some 65 feet or so, letting the fly alight very gently ten feet above the place where I had spooked that fish the day before. I immediately pulled another ten feet of line from my reel and shook the slack out of the rod tip to extend the drift. Experience tells me, if that shallow lie won’t allow a close presentation, I had to make one that touched down further away and let the drift take it into his dinner table. Then the waiting came into play, and the last chance to mess things up by overreacting when the take finally came.
It seemed like quite a long time that I was watching that tiny speck of light on the surface, drifting down ever so slowly. An old friend, one who preached the virtues of good old slow action bamboo rods decades ago, had a favorite saying about casting them: “I like to make my back cast and then smoke a cigarette while I’m waiting for that rod to load, before I make my forward cast“. The drift of my fly in that slow pool brought that to mind and made me smile.
That trout was right where I hoped he would be, and I watched a gentle little murmur in the surface when my speck arrived. I raised the rod evenly and tightened, felt an initial tug, and then began stripping all of that fly line in as fast as I could. That cagey old soak just kept swimming upstream right toward me, but I barely managed to keep some contact. I couldn’t feel his weight until he got about twenty feet away and then turned hard for a snag on the bank! Maneuver parried my friend, with a big sweeping arc of bamboo. He found just enough resistance to make him turn away from certain freedom and make a run back downstream.
Once he put some distance between us, I began the chore of getting all of my extra fly line back on the reel. I don’t like playing good fish by stripping line, too many things to tangle and cost me a nice trout in the net! Once he was on the reel, I got to enjoy the music of a classic Hardy crafted spring and pawl check with every run. My grin was pretty wide when I dipped that big fellow in the net: twenty-one inches long, and a scowl on his mug from getting duped by that long, slow, stealthy drift!
Taking advantage of the natural transitions as spring turns to summer, making the best of some tough weather conditions, and a little advance planning allowed me to more or less correct my previous mistake. I hoped that this big brownie would be working the same stretch of bank as he was when I spooked him. He was rising on that first encounter, so I knew he was finding some food to his liking.
I even found the perfect fly line to match with my Paradigm when distance casting is called for. I do a lot of experimenting with lines and rods. It gives me something to do in down time and is the only way I know to find the line that will make a fine cane rod really sing! A fine afternoon all around.