Pondering The Equinox

October Riverscape: East Branch Delaware, Cadosia, New York – a model Stonehenge in a dry season, 2020.

I took a few moments just now, sitting on the porch with a chilled draught to enjoy the evening sunlight. Appropriate for this very damp year that a cloud quickly obscured that sunlight and paused to offer a little squall as I sat and drank. As of yesterday morning’s tally, the Catskill watersheds have received 18.77 inches of rainfall this summer, 173 percent of the historical norm. Tailwaters remain high as New York City is dumping water from it’s full reservoirs as a guard against hurricane season flooding, while the freestone rivers are rounding into shape to offer good fishing for the onset of autumn.

I count a little more than three summer days remaining. The autumnal equinox arrives at 3:20 PM on Wednesday, allowing a last summer morning with the added bonus of the first evening of autumn. Imagine fishing two seasons in one!

At this juncture, it appears that autumn will begin with rainfall, well more than an inch and a half through Friday morning. That would have been a blessing last year, though it is clearly an excess at this time. My friend JA told me last week that there was “water running down the mountain everywhere” not simply in the brooks and streams, a scene I remember seeing frequently during the autumn of 2018. I tried to traverse some clear cuts in hope of flushing a grouse or two and found a latticework of tree cuttings with their own bog underneath; and the bog was flowing.

With the reservoirs full, it seems like a good season for a light snowpack. Winter rainfall would be good for the rivers, maintaining an adequate base flow to prevent deadly anchor ice, methinks a good part of the answer to our sparse season of fly hatches this year. The floods around Christmas scoured the rivers, for they were iced over until the flood waters cleared them, grinding the river banks and bottom in the turmoil. When flows on the Delaware receded, the city leaned out the reservoir releases with flows too meager to prevent anchor ice during the frigid cold snaps that followed. Of course thin hatches of a given mayfly this year cannot magically become heavy hatches next year, no matter how favorable the winter. Recovery will take time.

Stalking a rise in autumn’s low water, Chuck Coronato waits for a clear path to cast between the drifting leaves.

In 2020 I enjoyed seven months of dry fly fishing, capturing the first riser I encountered on March 27th, and my last on October 26th. This season began later, though I was out fishing in early March. Warm weather and hatching stoneflies promised everything, and failed to deliver. It was not until April 12th that I walked up on the Delaware River’s first run and spotted that single telltale ring. One cast, one rise and the first dry fly brownie of the season came to hand. Dare I hope that the end of this season will come later as well?

The first dry fly trout of the season is always special!

I won’t be stalking ankle deep water to begin this autumn season, and that is the one thing I can be certain of. Beyond that, Nature will have her way.

The equinox this week and then October in the blink of an eye! Mornings on the mountains, and afternoons in the rivers at their feet, a sublime existence if there ever was one. Perhaps the Red Gods will smile upon me this year and I will swing true and caress the mottled feathers that will become winter soft hackles. What a feast roasted grouse can make! Time to buy a new hunting license, rub down my field boots with mink oil and walk about town to soften them up, and past time to swing the Model 101 at flying clays.

I know winter lies off in the distance, and I’ll do everything I can do to keep it there for the next three months!

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