I had been trying to get one of my best friends into the boat while the cool high flows were maintained, though life seems to make timing difficult some times. With a load of unexpected work dealing with storm damage, JA was able to come up on one of the last floatable days for a tour of the West Branch. Many river guides float daily at low water, under 600 cfs, but I find it less than enjoyable to drag a boat across gravel flats in an attempt to avoid other boats and waders. I don’t have their every day familiarity with the river bed, so I prefer to be out there when there is enough water to actually float.
Last week a near maximum cold water release and some spillway overflow found me floating high with the river at 2,200 cfs. The cold water got more mayflies hatching and the trout feeding further down river. We pulled anchor and set out yesterday on a vastly different West Branch. Flowing at only 785 cfs, there was a lot of shallow water demanding extra care in boat handling.
It was a beautiful day from start to finish: highs in the low seventies, plenty of sunshine, with a few passing clouds to give the sky some character. The company was as perfect as the weather.
We hadn’t gone far when we spotted a trout rising in a shallow flat, where none had shown themselves last week. The reduced flow made it easy for them to hold and feed happily. We were not too many miles from the dam, and it had been cool overnight, so the water was cold enough to encourage a few tiny sulfur mayflies to hatch by late morning. The fish were tough in bright sun and clear water, but we found some success. The day melted away much faster, as we enjoyed good conversation between productive stops.
We drifted and talked of flies and designs, kidding one another about our own approaches to solving Nature’s puzzle of the day. Come mid-afternoon, we found another group of risers, this time with no sulfurs, nor any other visible bug in sight. It was my turn at the rod and I did my best: a size 20 Rusty Spinner, an ant and beetles large and small, a size 20 summer Blue Quill and a 22 olive emerger that I could barely see. One fish nosed that one and didn’t eat, refusing to return after I struck and whisked the fly away, distracted at just the wrong moment. Generally, those trout fed happily and disdained everything I offered. I surrendered the rod to JA and he took the opportunity to show that his approach had considerable merit, taking the fish of the day on a foam, hair and rubber legged creation I thought reminiscent of a cricket.
John cast that fly to one of the risers along the bank, the same fish that had ignored my offerings, and was soon fast to a big, hard charging brown. He wasn’t coming to the boat easy, and JA played him perfectly on light tippet; nineteen inches of angry brownie that kept trying to jump out of the big boat net once I finally got him in it.
Evening overtook us before we were ready for it. No evening rise would appear, but the beauty of the sun dappled riverscape brought smiles from both of us as we passed those last few miles. It was indeed a perfect summer day: two friends sharing their passion for angling and the outdoors, catching a few nice trout and laughing at the ones that escaped our flies.
John will be the first to say he doesn’t really care if he catches a trout, for he loves the time on the river and the fishing for itself. For my own part I care, though I would much rather be out fishing bright water without catching trout, than I would not being out there fishing.