The Magic of Currents

Rivers are still receding very, very gradually, as here on a bright, gorgeous October afternoon. Dry fly fishing still lingers, teases, though few flies seem to be hatching.

I have managed to find a couple of nice trout this week, what may indeed be my last taste of dry fly fishing for the season. Our rivers remain at much higher flows than expected for mid- October, and what fishing I have located has offered a lesson in the magic of currents.

On Monday I spied a lone ring in deep water and, upon closer inspection, found a fine trout cruising around in a pocket of quick, intricate currents, sipping tiny mayflies of the blue winged olive persuasion. The currents were in a word, insurmountable on their own. Was that enough to set the stage for a wonderful challenge? No. Was the wind blowing and swirling perchance? Of course it was!

This was not the first time I have amused myself for a few hours trying an impossible trout.

At intervals I would relax for a moment and scan the wide expanse of water within clear vision. Not once did I detect even the slightest evidence of another feeding fish. I do love a challenge, but I would have easily conceded in this instance and moved on to another riser if there was any hope of one.

I had decided that this fish was not going to be taken under the existing conditions half an hour into our engagement, but he was persistent and I took that as a slight glimmer of hope, for I have caught impossible fish a time or two. Not this one though.

I realize that the currents in a receding river change constantly, though when one recedes as gradually as our Catskill rivers have this month, the change is extremely slight during the course of any given afternoon. The winds of course are another variable, and there is no predicting whether these myriad swirls in direction and changes in velocity might come together with one suitable cast in one golden moment, and send my tiny dry fly right down the pipe on a perfect drift. Some intrinsic faith in serendipity helps to keep me amused when fishing is at its toughest.

Tuesday dawned as Monday had, with a thick gray mist of cloud cover. Here in Hancock it is normal for our morning humidity be be at or near one hundred percent, even in the winter. Life at the confluence of rivers begins with misty mornings on a very regular basis. By late morning the sun had burned of that haze and lit the autumn colors of the mountainsides, making the bright, clear water truly sparkle. I cannot help but be thankful for days like this.

The winds were weaker and more regular, and calm conditions add to the feeling that fishing is going to be better. The currents had calmed somewhat too. I wasn’t in position long before I spotted that first little ring, yes, right back there in the cauldron of tricky currents that had so completely befuddled my best efforts the day before.

These were new currents, the river’s flow had dropped something like eight percent from the day before. Would that be enough to make those bedeviling current tongues more tractable? I hoped that it would.

My trout performed as he had on Monday, moving about the “cauldron” and sipping an insect here and one there. The rise forms varied constantly, everything from subsurface stirrings to the occasional nose above the surface take, bringing doubt as to whether he was taking just the sparse olive mays, or sampling various tidbits from the drift. I was perhaps fifteen minutes into the game when he tipped his nose up and let my little olive comparadun slide into his mouth.

I cannot be sure whether my timing was off by a critical microsecond or two or if the tippet hit his lip and caused him to begin to reject the fly he had just inhaled. He sort of twitched his nose as I was coming tight and my fly caught nothing. The refusal is a very hollow victory. It tells you there was something right about your fly, but that one or more other things were wrong.

We continued the game for some time after that, complete with fly changes, and perhaps another late refusal when my tiny spinner ducked out of sight and then back millimeters before the rise came.

Different flies, the same original fly, nothing changed the odds in my favor. I had made subtle shifts in position for a couple of hours of fishing, still convinced that a downstream presentation was the only suitable approach. Monday’s flow had made it the only possible approach, and I had steadfastly stayed the course. Perhaps I was wrong, too set in my ways, and I considered that the flow had been reduced so I could not assume a different approach was impossible this afternoon.

I eased out of my casting position, backed into shallower water and downstream, working back into the deeper water to the side of that trout’s feeding ground. I wasn’t able to wade into that side attack zone twenty-four hours earlier, but this time I could, and I did.

The trout had taken a break as well, and when the rises resumed, he too had relocated slightly, lining himself up in a direct thread of current. There was a little flurry of mayflies bouncing down that thread of current, and he had decided to take advantage of serendipity, as did I.

I had knotted the original little olive comparadun to a new tippet after my relocation, and went to work to find the perfect drift. Within fifteen minutes we had both found a rhythm and finally completed our engagement: I cast, he rose and accepted my fly, and I tightened exactly on time and was rewarded with a hard pull down toward the rocky bottom of that cauldron.

Like all wild trout, he used the currents to his advantage, and I used the fly rod and my experience to mine. Dipping the net to slide him into it, I marveled at his heft and his deep autumn coloring. This was a nice wild brown trout, a quality fish to be sure, though he wasn’t in danger of pushing that coveted twenty inch mark. Well earned to be sure, and well appreciated.

Of course I scanned that wide expanse of water before retiring for the day, but it seems that my friend was once again the only game in town.

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