Freshly tied hoppers await a visit to the Neversink

So my friend Matt has been feverishly working through his vacation, passing the high, muddy water Henri brought us writing and editing his fingers to the bone. Publishing a high end online magazine like Hallowed Waters Journal requires a great deal of effort, and hey, the guy is committed. He was working when I tied a fresh batch of my hoppers yesterday morning, and still working when I arrived at the legendary Neversink River to give them a float.

It was already stifling hot when I geared up, stringing my old Orvis Battenkill rod and lengthening its leader for the midday summertime fishing. I figured the six weight line would make easy work of casting hoppers if the wind, hopefully, came up. The river had just receded from the hurricane system’s rainfall, and was benefitting from an increased cold water release from it’s full reservoir, and I had high hopes for the afternoon.

I wanted to fish an old favorite reach of river while Matt was finishing up his magazine work, so I hiked up river and slipped into the sparkling cold flow. The Neversink with it’s dark bottom always conveys an air of mystery to me, for no matter how clear it’s water, you cannot see what’s going on down there in the deeper, fish holding lies.

I had adjusted to the rhythm of the Battenkill’s casting and sent the hopper up and across, probing each lane in the current. My cast’s worked their way in from mid-river, searching all the deeper holding water in the run, until they finally danced along the seam beside the undercut bank. I was systematically fishing my way up the run forty feet at a time this way, and was nearing the top when a terrific splash engulfed my hopper, one of those aerial bombardment explosions we have all seen in the Western hopper video’s. I reacted right on time, raised the rod to set the hook, when a sickening brittle snap signaled disaster.

I stood there stunned, watching the rod’s tip section drifting downstream amid swirls of loose fly line. After what seemed to be a very long moment, I glanced at the end of the line to see it swimming along against the current. My embattled brain struggled with the thought: fish has the fly. I grabbed for the loose fly line and started a mad little hand over hand retrieve, but by the time I had pulled tight to the fly the fish was gone. The bamboo had snapped before the rod even arched, so I had never been able to set the hook.

At this point I recovered enough of my senses to chase the drifting and sinking rod tip down the river until I could retrieve it, not knowing whether the fly was still attached. I got the broken tip, snapped clean near the ferrule, and my hopper, but my concentration was shattered. Just how big was that trout? I will never know.

Shaking a bit, I hiked back to the car and traded the shattered bamboo for my graphite backup rod, wiping the water from the shards of my Battenkill as I contemplated another visit to my friend and neighbor, master rodmaker Dennis Menscer.

Back at the run, I worked the entire reach of water with the hopper and a cricket pattern, hoping that big brown was still hungry. He hadn’t actually been hooked, right? If he had I may have hand landed him. I did that once before in a similar situation. My fractured logic may have been sound, but I found no takers for my fly, neither leviathan, nor any of his siblings.

While I was re-fishing the scene of the disaster, my phone started vibrating with text alerts, as Matt was finally ready to fish. It was a comical exchange if you weren’t the guy who just lost a monster trout and broke a rod in the process. We did eventually meet up at another access area, sweltering in the heat, as we decided where to fish next. We explored a couple of places Matt has fished over the years, the first one leaving my friend as the guy who missed a grab and lost a good fish, At least his tackle was still whole.

The last pool looked inviting, as there was a tree lined bank that filtered the incessant sun. I made a long walk down and around to get in position to work my way up the pool. I fished the shaded water as carefully as my still rattled consciousness would allow, but there was no sign of a trout. I had worked my way to the top of the pool, where the quick little riffle that fed it took on the characteristics of a run for perhaps fifty feet before the bottom dropped away into the equally brief gut of the pool. I was standing right on the edge of a forty-five degree sloped river bottom that slid quickly into deep, dark nothingness, when I saw one good rise across the pool, where a point in the rive bank formed a slack water seam.

I tried the Light Cahill Parachute I had tied on when the evening’s only mayfly had flown past me further down the pool. There was no response. I clipped the fly and replaced it with a small Grizzly Beetle, just as Matt started down the riffle from the opposite side of the flow. I made four or five casts with the Grizz, each drifting along that seam, flirting with the slack water hide. On my next cast the fly vanished in a little pluck at the surface and I had my trout.

The brownie fought doggedly in the deep, cold water between us, finally surrendering to the pressure of the three weight rod and accepting his place in the net. He was a nice trout, sixteen, perhaps seventeen inches of wild Neversink brown, and a fitting way to end the day.

We talked back and forth as we removed waders and packed up rods and reels, making plans to fish again on Friday. By then I may know if the Orvis can be saved. Water damage seems unlikely in an impregnated rod, but Dennis will do his detective work to determine of there are any visible faults in the cane that would hinder repair of the rod. If the bamboo is sound, the rod will be a little shorter than the eight foot length to which it was made. Perhaps I will take it back to the Neversink in search of a rematch. One day.

My now wounded Battenkill reflects the autumn sunlight on an early outing, November 2020.

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