Catskill Summer Days

Catskill Summer Glow

Time to catch up on the blog, a few moments while the sunrise warms the mountains: August 3rd, and it is forty-seven degrees this morning in Crooked Eddy.

Nature’s two greatest gifts to a summertime mountain trout river are rainfall and cold nights. We have been blessed with both. Of course I am under the opinion that a mountain trout river is one of Nature’s greatest gifts to man!

The Catskill watersheds received just over nine inches of rainfall for the month of July, so much of it that there was no fishing on my calendar for a couple of weeks. Flows are nice and wadable now, and water temperatures very nice on both freestone rivers and tailwaters. Summer is good.

I have been out hunting trout, my favorite activity at any time of year, though the winter months are largely spent dreaming about it.

Perhaps as a result of all the high water, though more likely I believe due to last winter’s low river flows and extended freezing periods, hatches have been as unpredictable as ever. The early mayflies were plentiful, while those from mid May forward have not been. My theory, and that is all any of us have, is that the nymphs had a lot more time in the gravel to grow and mature, and were thus better equipped to survive a difficult winter and the anchor ice I feel certain was a factor. Significant warm weather in March also gave them a chance to catch up on their growth and development before April’s hatching time.

I have seen a lot of fry this season, whether trout fry or baitfish fry I cannot say, and the high water introduces other food organisms into the drift. Nature’s compensations perhaps. The wild trout of our Catskill rivers are heavy and robust, so they have certainly eaten something. Not their own next generation, I hope.

As a dry fly fisherman, I missed the intensity of the hatches through May and June, and the abundance of the tiny sulfurs we associate with July on the tailwaters. High waters brought a great deal of pressure to our rivers. Have you noticed all the drift boats filled with guys with oversize fly rods, big game reels and fighting butts, heaving saltwater sized streamers at the river banks like metronomes?

I often fished streamers back in the Cumberland Valley, but I learned from a very different school of angling. We fished size 8 and 10 Shenk Sculpins and White Minnows with stealth, casting carefully to pinpoint targets with the same light trout rods we used for dry flies. We twitched and drifted those flies, letting the current carry them beneath undercut banks and weedy edges, quietly walking them right into leviathan’s living room. Finesse, and an understanding of how big trout hunted and ambushed prey brought the big boys to the net. I honestly don’t care for the brute force technique that seems to be the rage, driven by an industry that wants only to sell. I don’t like catching a big summer brownie and finding his mouth torn up from some two or three hook monstrosity yanked about with a heavy rod. To each his own I guess, but I wish they would consider the health of the resource.

All of that pressure seems to have made the trout scarce in some areas. They still reside there, but not in their favored lies and cover. You can only invade a man’s home so many times before he picks up and moves.

My style of fishing, of hunting trout, isn’t a numbers game. On any given day I am searching for a big brown or rainbow that I can entice with the dry fly. On a productive day I take one, sometimes two in that hallowed twenty inch and over class. You notice I didn’t say “on a good day”, for they are all good days when I get to be on bright waters fishing. There are certainly any number of good days when I don’t catch a trout.

Yesterday was an excellent day, for I spent it on bright water with my friend JA. We managed a few fish, and got some good laughs at some of their antics. I caught two, the first a sprightly fellow all of five inches long who decided that a terrestrial dragging downstream before my pickup was an interesting meal. That one got laughs throughout the day. I’ll get to the second one in a minute.

Both of us love to catch trout, but more importantly, both of us take the full measure of the day and enjoy it fully, whether trout are part of the equation or not. Simply spending time on these beautiful rivers is enough of a reward to keep us coming back. Yesterday was a wonderful day without trout number two.

As we scanned the river upon our arrival, I pointed out one heavy rise a hundred yards away. We headed in that direction and played with some mid-river sippers while a handful of trico spinners blew around in the stiffening breeze. When we got to the area where that one big, showy rise had been, we each fished the area in turn. All was quiet, and we moved along. As morning melted into afternoon, I caught that five incher. A while later JA tied into a trout, telling me he had his five incher on a dragging fly, or something like that, with a chuckle in his voice. That fish jumped out of the water and I could clearly see that it wasn’t five inches at all, so I hollered something like “wooo, that one’s nine or ten”, and we both enjoyed a laugh.

JA picked up a blue winged olive that came drifting by, and I waded over to take a look, just as a couple of rises appeared. We each waded back to our casting positions and a trout rose right in front of me. I tied on a size 16 olive that was handy and cast to him. The fly, which I knew was a size larger than the mayfly we had just examined, was ignored. I cut it off and dug out a size 18, which was also ignored, and then I saw one really nice rise way over in the shade: the white wink of a big mouth opening to sip something from the dark surface.

Olive to the rescue? Well, no. A few casts later there was another rise further over, so I lengthened my cast, letting the smooth arch of the old Thomas & Thomas bamboo lay that little olive down fifty feet out. The cast was repeated a couple of times with no response, so I reeled in my line and reached for the fly at the end of my tippet. We had been talking back and forth the whole time and I sort of narrated the events with the big mouth wink and my subsequent failure to interest it with an imitation of the fly that was on the water. JA said “time for the cricket” in a questioning tone, and I replied that I was tying it on now.

My first cast landed where that white wink rise had come, and my fly floated down unmolested. I pulled more line from the CFO and let the bamboo sing as it sent the larger fly over close to the bank. It was eaten heartily and the thrashing was audible as the lithe cane throbbed in a big, full arching bend!

JA heard the reel and the splashes and casually asked me if this one was “ten”. I answered just as matter-of- factly as I could in the heat of battle: “no, more like two times ten”. Finally vanquished several minutes later, I admired a gorgeously colored twenty-one inch Catskill brownie before slipping it back into the current.

Another “good fish” recovers from his battle with vintage bamboo.

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