Fishing…or not?

Fishable or not, that is the question. Seems my vision isn’t clear in that respect this morning.

I slept soundly enough, retiring under the threat of immense thunderstorms and a region wide flash flood watch last night, but it was a restless morning that found me on my feet just after four. With fresh Starbuck’s brewed and offered as a balm to my still waking consciousness, I fired up the laptop and made my usual morning stop at USGS. The river gages in the Catskills are my friends, for the rivers are indeed my life blood. What I found left me quizzical, and unrequited.

The Upper Delaware River system gages showed the beginning of a rise, but they were stuck in time, one still showing yesterday’s date and a time close to midnight. This is not the first time I have witnessed this failure to update, for the vital data to be truly “real time”. I was not wakened by pounding rain or thunder overnight, but the pair of fans running on high can mask a lot. I am left in limbo.

The forecast when I retired last night threatened between two and five inches of rain from impending storms, as the system moved through New York’s Southern tier and across the Catskills. Two inches would blow out the fishing on any rivers in it’s path, and five, well five would be catastrophic! I guess this awakening dilemma is par for the course after yesterday’s misadventures.

My reunion with my old friend was hampered by everything from New York State electronic failures to a recalcitrant otter that enjoyed disrupting our fishing, and now the USGS seems to be conspiring to prevent our planning a better day. The life of an angler requires a sense of humor; at times a very full and active sense of humor.

I am still stewing over my final act of last evening, when I nearly saved the day in the final moment. I found a smattering of flies on the water, at least four different sizes and species, though all very few in number. This has been fairly typical for most of the season, something I attribute to both Delaware reservoirs being dropped to very low release flows as the teeth of last winter set in. Ice, low flows, and daily highs in the teens and twenties do not bode well for the health of aquatic insects.

The East Branch Delaware halted entering Crooked Eddy, January 24th, 2021.

The trout had taken to cruising about and gently picking off a bug here and one there. Cast to one that happened to show in range, and he was no longer where the rings painted that little target on the glassy surface. I have played that game for the past four months, though my batting average hasn’t improved. I took to hunting as my time drew short last evening, finding one sipping way back beneath a low slung tree.

I eased a step or two this way, and one step closer before tossing a quarter sidearm backcast and squeezing the grip of my forty-four year old Thomas & Thomas Hendrickson, sending my fly half way back under the canopy. No cigar. He obviously wasn’t feeling aggressive enough to come for it. I made another calculated step or two and repeated the cast, this time sending enough line to put the fly down half a foot from the bank; and waited.

It can seem like an eternity when you are waiting for a dry fly to glide slowly along a critical path in moving water. The tension builds as it gradually approaches the mark, slowing with each inch of travel as the water eddies slightly due to the undulations of topography. That tension is delicious, but it can also be devious.

The trout took with significant energy, not the gentle sips he had shown me when he betrayed his presence, and the rod arched heavily as I reacted to the splash. He shot downstream under the tree and parallel to the bank with an impressive burst of speed and power, a sunken tree in his sights, and I swung the throbbing arc of cane downstream and away, planning to draw him off course just enough to turn him short of disaster. Then that additional tension jumped up and bit me. That fish was running so fast and so strong that I squeezed the disappearing fly line just a bit too tightly and the tippet knot succumbed. The brown got my fly and four feet of tippet, and I got the rest of my leader. I doubt he was much happier with the exchange than I was.

Such is fishing. If it wasn’t for that electric excitement that can bring out our little human failings it would not be nearly so much fun. To another day my finny friend; and a stronger knot!

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