It has been a good week for trout hunting. There’s no secret that I enjoy the summer solitude and stalking trout in the quiet hours; such days are among the best a Catskill Summer has to offer. This week brought another heat wave, making sleep more fleeting. If sleep is restless, there is a simple solution: rise early and hunt, retreating once the blazing sun has melted the mists from the air!
The heat has passed this morning, after reaching a crescendo on Friday afternoon. I tossed a couple of hot dogs on the grill and squinted at the porch thermometer: 100 degrees. The direct sunlight of late afternoon and evening adds as much as eight degrees to the temperature on my porch. That boost in warmth is welcome on a still winter day, not so in August when the temperature is soaring into the nineties.
The morning had been good, Friday the thirteenth and all that. I stalked the heavy fog listening. Every once in awhile I could hear the little plop of a gentle rise, unseen, somewhere out there. The hidden sounds of the morning add to the anticipation; and then there are those explosions when a serious trout encounters a serious meal! Invisible, though close at hand, they’ll make you jump and put your heart right there in your throat.
I was armed with a special foil, a seven foot cane rod designed and built by my friend Tom Smithwick, the man I call The Taper Wizard. This rod was intended for this game, for stealthily placing a good size fly in the inaccessible places; the places where the big browns lurk, where they hunt unseen. Some would swear that a seven foot bamboo fly rod was not the tool for big flies and big fish, but they have never cast Tom’s rod. I had an old, vintage Hardy LRH snugged up in the reel seat, and a five double tapered line with suitable backing behind fourteen feet of leader as I stalked soundlessly through the mist. The Taper Wizard designed this rod to handle trout measured in pounds, to battle them in cover and win!
I first met Tom decades ago, and it was one of his remarkable rods that made the introduction. Guiding on the Falling Spring, I suggested clients bring a shorter rod, and one gentleman showed me Tom’s prototype one piece, five and a half foot masterpiece: the forerunner for what would evolve into a series of tapers, including the 705. I own three of these rods: that prototype, a six and one half foot one piece that seems happiest with a number four and a half line, and of course the 705. I begged Tom to add a ferrule when he made the last one. Though the lightness and response of one length of solid bamboo is amazing, housing and transporting a seven foot rod is a bit of a challenge. The six and a half footer barely misses the ceiling in my tying room. Tom masterfully made a Duronze ferrule to keep the rod as light as possible.
Tom loves rod making and fly fishing, and works tirelessly to help preserve both traditions. He is a long time supporter of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum as well as the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum Association. He has been one of the architects of the Catskill Rod Makers Gathering for may years. When my friend JA was looking for just the right taper to build an eight foot four weight rod at the Catskill Rod Making School, I put him in touch with Tom, knowing that he enjoys freely sharing his store of knowledge. He provided JA with the taper specifications for “an old F.E. Thomas rod that I tweaked to make it a little better”. The results are astounding, a credit to both JA’s skill and Tom’s wizardry.
I was thinking of my friend as I stalked the quiet water; launching a cast to the bank and squinting to judge the distance in my fog shrouded world. The fly alighted perfectly, at least it seemed to, flitting in and out of my vision with each passing wisp of vapor… and then he was simply, there. I used the power of the throbbing bamboo, backing away from the cover, as I struggled with the wild thing at the end of my line. Finally he was out and running, the ratchetting pawl of the Hardy breaking the silence of the morning.
Most never realize that a shorter fly rod is the best choice for fighting fish, lessening the fish’s mechanical advantage (yes, a long rod gives the fish leverage, not the angler) and allowing faster response to the twists and turns of any finned adversary. The 705 handled this heavyweight perfectly, and the short, light wand really connected me to the energy of the brown, to enjoy every tense moment of the fight.
I wished I had carried the short cane rod earlier in the week. On another misty morning I had plenty of activity, though I landed only one of the three large trout I was able to entice. The longer, lighter rod I fished that morning was neither quick enough nor strong enough to get one out of submerged tree branches before he could wrap up and break my 5X tippet. The second managed to spit the hook while I worked feverishly to manage excess line when he ran toward me. The fast reaction time of the shorter rod might have made that encounter turn out differently.
During my days of trout hunting in the intimate Southcentral Pennsylvania limestoners, a seven foot rod was most often my tool of choice. On the wide open Catskill rivers, the eight to nine footers are typical, making distance casting easier. There is no question that a seven footer is a better fish fighting tool. A superb rod, like the Smithwick 705 will handle the distance casting demands of this environment, but it demands a bit more perfection in timing. The shorter lever means more casting strokes per fly delivery, something my well worn wrist and shoulder can do without. Guess I will have to bite the bullet more often as far as the muscle aches, for the Taper Wizard’s 705 is simply too effective and too much fun!