Autumn Along The Delaware

I was walking along a familiar path the other day, headed back from a quiet morning’s fishing, when a light breeze showered me with yellow leaves. Funny how something as simple as little dried, yellow leaves falling upon your shoulders can bring forth a burst of sweet melancholy for the change of seasons.

I have fished more than ninety days since my season began in March, from those first murmurings of springtime, the memories flash through five months of wandering the rivers of my heart. It is still high summer, but August is waning, and those last few precious weeks of the season are not far off. You cannot deny the message of the falling leaves.

Once again I marvel at how different each season can be. The weather, the hatches or the lack of them, and the flies that find favor with the trout. As a fly tier I strive to show them something different, something fresh each season, for our shy wild trout become acquainted with a lot of flies through the season. Nature always brings surprises, so my fly designing that begins in winter is a year long activity.

This season began by teasing, flirting with springtime quite early. The rivers buzzed with stoneflies and midges, the sun bright and warm, but no trout rose to the occasion. After my longest, coldest winter in the Catskills it was both agony and ecstasy to walk the rivers once again, to feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, and witness the stirrings of life amid the flowing currents.

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I walked that leaf strewn path on a bright summer morn.

A heavy West Branch brown and Dream Catcher fly rod rest amid the flooded grass of an island that no longer divides the great river. Hurricane Ivan brought change to that reach of river in the blink of an eye, washing away the islands that provided foraging grounds for the trout and filling in the deep rocky sanctuary water nearby with gravel. There are shallow flats there today.

This has been a hot summer, though we have been blessed with a tremendous amount of rainfall. Too much at once it seemed back in July, when the storms came day after sultry day, but the rivers have benefitted. Full reservoirs have resulted in better cold water releases across the region, improving conditions downstream as the chilled flows reach the wide vistas of the Delaware. I have hunted many foggy mornings, for the trout have been out hunting too.

September lies on the doorstep, and I wonder how the fishing will change as summer flees and autumn begins. Will the late summer hatches be light as those of the preceding months have been, or will we find flotillas of isonychia and hebes drawing the trout to the surface. Might cold water and hot breezes find me searching for hopper explosions along the Delaware? I have often thought of the possibilities given just the perfect set of circumstances… I have the fly!

Before I know it more signs of change will haunt me. In a wink it will be October, and the lure of grouse in these mountains will draw me from the rivers. I look forward to bright mornings with JA as we search the covers to see how this year’s crop of birds will challenge us; then long afternoons upon the rivers, casting dry flies with amber cane. October is bittersweet.

The most beautiful month of the year, it brings the last of the best weather, but with it comes the end of the dry fly season. That is a heavy toll for this angler, for the dry fly is the light in my soul, the doorway to bright water.

Time remains to savor the glow of a Catskill summer, to cast tiny flies with light rods, to feel the first chill on those special mornings; but time is fleeting.

I look forward to a celebration. As the last weeks of summer linger the Shenk Tribute Rod will arrive in the hands of its maker, and pass unto mine. His Hardy will be fit to the hand crafted seat of 800 year old maple and my departed mentor will walk with me along the rivers of my heart. I had no fitting way to honor you when news came of your passing my friend, but the time is nearly come.

The blank of the Shenk Tribute Rod, in strings; July 2021. Seven feet, designed to carry a four weight line, this special taper designed by rod maker Tom Whittle blends the magic of Everett Garrison and Vince Marinaro with Tom’s own. Tom was a founder of the Pennsylvania Fly Fishing Museum and co-author of the definitive book on the late Vincent Marinaro and his rod making. Tom’s Stony Creek Rods were born to provide remarkable performance in a series of diminutive bamboo rods.

The Master’s Featherweight: Ed loved short, light rods and the smaller reels that accompanied them, and he took some truly formidable trout on his chosen tackle.

Life on a river is constant change. Each drop of water that flows has a journey, and each drop is new as it swirls about my legs before passing on. Fresh currents linger only long enough to float a fly for a single cast. Honor the water and make that cast with care and appreciation for the gift of bright water, and of trout.

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