Farewell To Autumn Splendor

Friday, October 15th: An 80 degree afternoon, golden light upon the riverscape, and the fire of autumn colors grace the mountainsides.

The rain is falling hard here in Crooked Eddy. They call it Invest 94L, this first nor`easter of the season. I know it as the end of our spare autumn dry fly season, my most solemn day of the year. The Catskills can expect two to three inches of rain today, and enough wind to strip the color from the mountainsides, leaving a soaked and sullen landscape. More rain will follow as the week progresses.

I have made the best of this bright October. The weather was pleasant, the panorama of the mountains as gorgeous as ever, but wadable days upon the rivers were fewer than hoped for. I longed for the low, cool flows of Octobers past, and fine brown trout sipping small ants and tiny mayflies and caddis, finding little of that. I never expect heavy hatches come autumn, but there was very little available this year.

I enjoyed a record year, despite long periods of high, roily water, and I am thankful; though the end inevitably comes and leaves me longing for one more golden afternoon!

The glory of another golden October afternoon.

Stormy days are often fly tying days, but there is no reason to tie the dry flies that inspire me today. There is a bag in the corner holding feathers from a chukar partridge, my first bird with the 101, my first bird ably flushed and retrieved by JA’s wonderful Lab Finley. I thank them both for their work, their friendship and companionship. JA and I enjoyed many good days upon the rivers this year, a shot in the arm freeing us from the fear of doom. I look back upon those days and smile; may there be many more!

Finn offers my first chukar to her master. Their bond is deep, and united by hunting, as they share a deep love for the field and each other!

There are some interesting soft hackle feathers in that little bag, and soft hackles figure prominently in my winter fishing. They say La Nina can be expected to bring us a wet, mild winter, and there will be more water open to fishing for the off season now, so perhaps I will open that bag and tie a few soft hackles as my acceptance of the change of seasons.

We sat around a campfire on a warm, bright morning just yesterday, sipping coffee and talking of trout and cane rods and flies; four of us enchanted by the rivers and the wild. Our host spoke of finding dry fly fishing in November and December, while I confessed to having no such luck over my three winters in the Catskills. Perhaps I simply want it too much, crave it too deeply in my soul! It can be that way sometimes. We crave something too fervently and it continues to elude us.

It is high time to spend more of my days in the mountains. The vanishing leaves will make the birds more visible, though they will adapt their tactics and perhaps be even more difficult for the hunter. As if those gray ghosts of the forest have anything to fear from a solo hunter! Not this one anyway. I am still looking for my first Catskill Ruffed grouse!

I did not grow up as a wingshooter. The men in our family were deer hunters, and the magic and mystery of archery captured my soul in my early teens. As a boy there were infrequent coveys of quail. We would look for them, once a covey startled us in a particular field corner, but they rarely showed up in those same places on future hunting days. My primary bird hunting involved the fast flying mourning doves, legally game birds in southern climes, and a supreme challenge for the shotgunner.

These days my archery tackle hangs on a rack beneath the window to my right. When I hunt deer now I walk with rifle in hand, as I walk the shotgun during bird season. I was not dealt a full serving of the hunter’s luck, a fact I long ago accepted, but I do enjoy my walks in the woods.

The same force drives me to walk the rivers in winter. I do swing some soft hackles, though I do not stand for hours in the chilled current making hundreds of casts. A few casual casts are enough to soothe my want. Should I at last encounter that holy grail, the rising trout in winter, I can guarantee my attitude will change abruptly. The leader will be instantly remade, and that little box of dry flies that always hides within my vest will magically appear. Just as it was decades ago on the limestone springs, where the grail was often a reality.

I fondly recall the great Ed Shenk telling me that he had encountered sulfur mayflies hatching on the LeTort in every month of the year, and I always carried a few, just in case I happened upon so magic an event.

A limestone spring in winter…
…and Blue-winged olives in the snow!

The rain is pounding the metal roof now, and I can almost hear the flow down the gravel drive. The rivers rose yesterday from half an inch of overnight rain. Three inches at this rate will likely bring a few to flood stage. I am guessing it will be at least a week into November before I can walk a river bank. The drift boat sits idle, and it will remain so until spring, for there is no dry fly fishing to make it worth the pain of rowing. I won’t cover it just yet, for one never knows if Nature has a bit of magic left, one moment more before winter. Wishful thinking? Yes, very much so, but it helps in the realization of what lies before me. April is five months away.

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