As Tough As They Get

The wide open low water flats of summer.

We are still blessed with cool nights and cold water releases, and as such are enjoying a very different kind of August. I have gone back to grabbing a sweatshirt and pants when I arise near five o’clock these recent mornings, and closing the bedroom window overnight. Hot weather is due to return though, and soon we may look back wistfully at these heady days and chilly nights of high summer.

I stalked a favorite summer reach of river yesterday morning, expecting to find some trout sipping tricos. There were none, in fact there seemed to be little or nothing drifting on the misty surface of the water. I took to casting a big terrestrial fly to cover, figuring if the trout weren’t cruising to sample the drift, they would be hunkered down in ambush. I didn’t move a fish.

I lingered half the day, figuring the cooler nights had delayed the trico spinnerfall. The science available tells us that the mating flights occur when the air temperature reaches 69 degrees, and when the sun burned through the haze nigh on eleven AM, I figured the next hour would reveal whether weeks of high flows had displaced the tiny silt dwellers and spoiled that phase of my summer fishing. No tricos appeared, nor anything to bring the trout up and accessible to the dry fly.

I stopped at another pool, planning to spend a couple of hours hunting, and got taken away. There were rises, not many, and nothing grand, just the soft little disturbances of cruising trout taking tiny flies. On occasion, a small mayfly could be seen at a distance, and eventually I was almost able to pluck one from the surface. The wings were typical of a blue winged olive, but the current whisked it from my tentative grasp before I could decipher the body color. Fishing gently with a three weight line, a rising trout seemed to be good for one cast, it’s rises ceasing once that first dry drifted overhead.

Uncatchable trout catch my interest, and there were one or two bulges encountered that led me to believe some larger fish were about, so I remained in the moment and played their game. Though the time slipped away, I wasn’t really cognizant of it, absorbed as I was in solving the riddle of these moving, sipping ghosts beneath the clear water. When a lighter fly or two was added to the drift, a size 20 sulfur was tried and ignored. There simply weren’t many bugs, and the trout I didn’t get a chance to cast to seemed to be good for only one or two rises.

Eventually, one fish broke the mold, rising perhaps half a dozen times while I tried for him. Observation suggested a change, and the 16 ant I replaced the tiny mayfly with was taken on the third drift. The foot long brownie went ballistic with the tug of the rod, and fought it for all he was worth. Still fighting as I brought him to hand, I admired his color and amazing spirit, testament to his wildness, as I picked him up by the fly and twisted it free.

I convinced myself to work the banks for a while after exhausting the opportunities for the ghosting risers in that long line of current, but there was no response to my efforts. I awoke from my reverie when a large creamy colored mayfly fluttered past my staring eyes. There were rises once again, though not to the big, juicy moving mayflies that attracted my attention. Tiny sulfurs had wiggled to the surface, too few to position the trout for methodical fishing, but enough to cause a few to cruise about looking for a light snack.

Immersed in the magic of difficult trout, I let the remainder of the afternoon slip away. The cruisers thwarted my best approach, for they held position for at best two rises, in a pool that demands the slowest, quietest movements. There was one that drew my attention for a while, moving within a table top area just beneath the canopy of a leaning tree, where shade disguised his form. Alternating the tiniest disturbances with more focused rises, I was convinced this was a significantly larger fish. I honestly don’t even recall the fly he finally accepted, captivated as I was by the fervor of the game. I tightened and he frothed the surface with a flurry of head shakes, coming toward me so I could feel only the vibration and not the weight. His performance reminded me of the way a big largemouth bass will poke his head out and shake violently to dislodge a surface plug, and it proved just as effective. Was this the big brown I hoped for? I will never know.

The sulfurs dwindled, and some of the riseforms took on the soft gentle appearance of trout sipping spent flies in the film. One last fly change I promised myself, noticing briefly how the sun lit the riverscape: beautiful. The well worn number twenty rusty spinner I plucked from my fly patch drew the honor.

One trout had held his lie, sipping something unseen from the film while the last of the sulfurs floated by. He had ignored an ant and a couple of different beetles, allowing three or four casts before ceasing, then rising again while my casts were directed elsewhere. The 6X tippet curled in a ball upon the faster current, the gentlest kick of the hand and wrist dropping the fly inches downstream, so the little spinner might drift along the slower seam while the current unraveled the ball of yarn. At the take, another foot long brownie came unglued, darting and twisting against the pull of the rod. I let him have his head, he had been as hard won as any trout twice his size, as tough as they come.

Twisting the fly free with the tip of my forceps, I sent him back to the soothing liquid flow. I looked around, captivated by the beauty and the solitude; the scene took my breath, with golden sunlight gracing everything around me.

Five o’clock, fathoming the significance of the number brought surprise, and I turned to walk slowly toward the river bank and home.

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