Summer’s Finale

Summer’s glow on a beautiful Catskill morning.

Walking along the river yesterday afternoon a few of those early falling leaves got to me once again. Though it seems hard to believe, here we are amid the last two weeks of summer. My favorite season has felt much shorter this year, thanks to Mother Nature’s breaking things up with a healthy dose of roller coaster weather. The entire year has followed that pattern: an array of disarray.

Sixty degree sunshine in March, eighty and low water in April, and let’s not forget Memorial Day weekend with it’s daily highs of forty-eight very damp degrees as the lady’s coaster climbed and fell. Should we have expected anything different for summer? Between those gorgeous stretches of sunny days in the seventies, cool nights perfect for a good, sound sleep, it has been a stormy season.

I remark as an observer, not a complainer, for the changes have forged my best season of fishing thus far in my short retirement. During the early years I travelled to visit and fish the Catskills, I generally assumed the wide variations in weather and conditions had a lot to do with my luck. Over time, as my trips increased in both length and frequency I began to realize just how different each and every season can be. After three years living here I expect a wide array of new experiences each season, adopting an attitude to simply sit back and enjoy Nature’s full tableau of experiences.

The passing hurricane system gave us enough rain to shut down my fishing for a week, though the western Catskills fared much better than the eastern side of the region. I spent a couple of hours here and there late last week and early this week, but yesterday I finally headed out for a day of fishing. There were warnings in the forecast again, so I expected to fish until the storm clouds gathered and Nature invited me to leave.

Rivers and the life within them change after each run of hazardous weather. High water finds trout relocating somewhat, and the insects are at the mercy of the stronger currents, so the fishing can change markedly, bringing a new challenge. I fished carefully and diligently from mid morning into early afternoon without moving a trout, until I noted a couple of light colored mayflies riding the surface. There were reports of orange Cahills being sighted, so I had tied a handful that morning. I knotted one to my tippet as I observed the first rise.

The consistent hatch and feeding I hoped for did not appear though I managed to cast the fly quickly over one of the sporadic rises and take a foot long brownie. I waited and cast to another that betrayed his presence once or twice, but there simply weren’t enough insects to get them excited. Walking along the river’s edge I had my moment with those leaves and, noting the time, decided to fish one more reach that has been kind to me this summer. Wading into range I spotted a dimple along the bank, and let my impatience lead to a tactical error.

The rise was below me, and there was a productive stretch between us, so I made a few presentations as I moved gently into position. I was thinking that trout would stay right where he was, that he had found a lie to his liking with some tidbits in the drift, and I made one cast too many as I closed in on that lie. My fly reached the end of it’s drift twenty feet above the observed rise and slowly began to swing away from the bank. I was about to draw it back toward me when a bulge appeared just behind the fly: my trout had closed the distance. In the shade at distance, I took the bulge for a take and reacted, touching nothing, and letting that trout reconsider his immediate need for a snack. Such is fishing.

I decided it was time to visit another piece of water entirely and, after several vain attempts to get that warned away trout to sample my fly, I retired from the place, lamenting my missed opportunity, believing it might well be my only one for the day.

Another angler arrived at my destination at the same time as I did, so I gave him time to walk down to the river and choose his spot. Once he was settled I decided my game plan and walked the bank upstream, figuring on fishing two lies fairly quickly. The dark clouds had begun to gather, though any actual storm threat seemed an hour or more away.

It took some time to make an approach, as I fully appreciate the necessity of stealth. Hunting trout is indeed hunting. Just as in stalking any game animal, if they sense you coming they will be on guard at the very least, and gone if you do anything dubious to alert them. I reached a casting position after fifteen minutes and readied my tackle. My impregnated Thomas & Thomas Hendrickson had the duty today in anticipation of getting caught in an afternoon downpour. I was thinking about that first cast when a tiny dimpling rise showed tight to the bank, right on cue.

There are moments when it seems you will never catch a break, much less a trophy trout; and then, once in a while, there are those when everything aligns like magic. One cast, one take, and the battle is joined.

The veteran CFO opened with it’s characteristic purr before I stripped line to catch up with that big brownie racing from the bank. When he got to deeper water he found the pull more direct, so he headed back where he came from, the reel sounding off enough that the angler downstream looked up from his fishing to see what was happening. We fenced, that trout and I, with the orchestra of that old English made spring and pawl punctuating each gain and loss. There were several more looks from down river, and then when there was no immediate landing, a question: “is it a nice one”? “Yes”, I answered, and my chance companion replied “great”. A brief conversation, for I was otherwise engaged.

At last I led the old boy into the net and scooped him triumphantly with a surprised expression from that nice young man below. He was not aware that this thick flanked twenty-one inch brown was a milestone fish for me. I made a few more casts, working my way to the second spot, then reeled up and walked slowly to the bank.

I stopped and talked with that young fellow a moment, letting him know what fly that trout had accepted when he asked. He was working over a sipping trout and finding them adept at ignoring his flies. He thought they were eating olives, and I mentioned that the few in evidence were very, very small, adding that a simple fly in a size 24 or 26 might be the right choice. He had “18 and 20”, he told me, and he was too far out in the flat water for me to offer him a fly. He said he did have a flying ant, and I remarked that they had been around in summer and that one might do the trick. I hope he solved the puzzle and enjoyed the pull of a nice trout too.

A fine, heavy late August brownie willing to accept my offering.

One thought on “Summer’s Finale

  1. Nice fish Mark, you were missed at the Gathering this weekend. Several people mentioned they were hoping you would be there. Maybe next year.


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