New Haunts and Old

Autumn Along the Beaverkill

I missed a lot of fishing through the first week of autumn. Between high flows and blustery winds, it has been downright inhospitable for the wading angler. The rivers have been dropping slowly and I decided to begin the task of finding some interested trout yesterday, cane rod and dry fly in hand. The wind would prove to be a factor once again.

The first pool I visited is a newer destination for me, as I have prospected that water for the past couple of seasons. I have yet to enjoy any kind of significant hatch on that reach, though it seems to have everything a mayfly and a trout would wish for. I return as I did see a good hatch of Hendricksons in the early season two years ago. The winds were blowing thirty miles per hour that day, the gusts even stronger, when I spied the big duns from the bank. A couple of good fish were pounding those duns out there in the fray. I waded into the high, roily flow and tried to cast, but it was hopeless. The pool has been filed away in memory though.

Yesterday the forecasters called for NW winds from ten to fifteen miles per hour. They were off the mark a bit, something that has been commonplace all season. The river was high, too high to get close enough to the single rise I saw and make any kind of presentation. Winds like that will put some terrestrials on the water, and I offered a big meal with that in mind, but that lone riser never returned to the surface. Eventually the wind and the current chased me back to the car.

I visited another relatively new haunt next, hoping the curves and bends of the river valley might shelter the water a bit better. I have fished this pool in high water a number of times, so I was able to at least get to the edge of the better holding water. I was hoping for some decent activity, fondly remembering my first October there catching nice trout sipping ants. Too much blow and too much flow today, so there was no quiet water for that kind of fishing. I did spy one rise out in the current, and found a nice brown more than willing to take my fly. He fought well in the heavy current, putting a deep bend in the old Battenkill, and testing Dennis’ repair. The rod is sound my friend, and it’s nice to have it back on the water.

Orvis made a lot of bamboo fly rods during their heyday. Curiously, most of them are rated for heavy fly lines. It is not uncommon for most anglers to drop down one or two line weights from those ratings and enjoy a fine casting trout rod. My old 4 3/8th ounce Battenkill is marked for a DT7 or WF8 line, and I fish it happily with a WF6. Even in strong winds it casts that line with authority. This was the right day to have chosen the Battenkill.

With no more rising trout encountered, I found myself back on the road again, this time visiting an old haunt. I used to fish Lower Mountain Pool quite a lot in earlier years, finding some solitude beneath the mountain’s slopes, and a few good browns among it’s varied currents. Springtime crowds drove me elsewhere years ago.

I waded the strong current to access my old favorite reach, water that has surrendered some fine trout in the past. I worked the area thoroughly this time, fishing the edge of sun and shade and the pockets of deeper water behind each sizeable rock all the way to the bank. My fly drifted without interruption.

One final drive found me watching the river from the pull off, then wading in to a never fished reach of a pool I fished often nearly thirty years ago. I made my way out into the main channel with the water lapping at my vest pockets, until the next step became too deep. The winds had calmed somewhat since morning, though the gusts were still a factor. A heavy rise greeted me, tight to the bank of course.

I let the old rod work, pitching the big fly out there, but the light 5X tippet wasn’t willing to unroll properly at distance in that wind. My fly drifted down a foot and a half from the bank, unmolested.

I reeled in my line and set to work on the leader, cutting it back, then knotting a fresh four foot section of 4X fluorocarbon in place. The total leader was a tad shorter now, around twelve feet, and I knew it would deliver that chunky dry fly all the way home.

I waited for a moment between gusts, then lofted the line for a cast. The fly shot in tight this time, under the tree limbs, and nestled in the softer water less than half a foot from the bank. I extended my drift, and it was not until the fly was on the verge of dragging that the little blip in the surface signaled the take. The Battenkill bowed heavily as I lifted sharply and pulled the hook home!

The rod was bouncing in my hands with each heavy head shake, and I had no doubt I had found the kind of trout I was searching for. I stripped line as he came out into the current, catching my first look when I pulled him into full sunlight, a brown that would easily go twenty inches. I worked the reel handle when he turned away, trying to get back all that excess line I had stripped in so I could play him from the reel. My next thought was to work myself back into shallower water where my footing was sound.

I have made that maneuver many times while playing a big trout, and it usually works out just fine. In unfamiliar water, with a strong flow, I had to grab my staff and turn upstream to start back. The brown moved closer, enough that the rod nearly straightened for just a moment. I dropped the staff and stripped some line, pulling it tight to my foe again, but the damage was done. I made it back into shallower water, the trout still battling at the end of my line, but when I tried to work him closer the fly simply pulled out.

I saluted the old warrior, wondering how many other anglers had he outlasted on this historic river. I had a good section of bank to fish, and I felt certain I would have another shot at the catch of the day. As I worked down river the clouds gathered and the wind grew colder. I felt my chances escape with the sunlight.

Big browns are where you find them, and the search begins anew after each flush of high water.

Each encounter with a fine wild trout becomes sweeter as the season wanes, for I never know which rise to my dry fly will be the last of the year. October still holds promise, but these last days of the dry fly season will pass far too quickly. I will cherish each moment that the golden autumn sunlight warms my shoulders, each cast along bright water, each drift and take until winter comes.

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