Two thousand twenty-one, I can hardly comprehend that, me being the guy who once considered the concept of turning forty unimaginable. More than halfway through my sixty-fifth year, I find that still quite difficult to grasp. It’s not that I don’t feel the age in my body, more that the pain has been there so long that it seems more a constant of my existence, rather than a changing state of growing older.
Our second significant winter storm is fast approaching, and I bade greeting to the first snowflakes on my river walk a short while ago. The snowfall is less the threat than the freezing rain they expect to follow it, but then again, I have nowhere I need to drive to. I managed two miles this morning, between errands and my river walk, some additional exercise I welcomed after the Holiday chill. This afternoon looks like the right time to think back over the events of the season as I put away the balance of the hunting clothing and get my tackle room settled for the winter’s fly tying. I don’t mind the snow if it falls then melts away in a day or so, for it adds a little something to my river walks.
I look forward to a grouse hunt, a little mountain exploring I touched on with my flintlock, and there is still the chance of a pheasant hunt with JA and Finn. Such days are better when any snow and ice melts away from the mountain trails, leaving good footing for our old boots.
At some point, I expect the thermometer may swing enough to get me out on the rivers, though it does not appear that day will come this last week of the year. My thirtieth season of fishing in these Catskills awaits.
Twenty-one began with a harsh winter, low river flows and the fear of anchor ice, to say nothing of the destruction of the Christmas flood that pushed out all the ice from Gale. There was no winter fishing for me, the rivers remaining for so long locked in ice. Spring however seemed destined to be early, with sudden warm days in March that drew me to the river early and often. But even when the early stoneflies and midges appeared on those balmy afternoons there was no sign of a trout. Nature’s teasing continued into April with gorgeous weather, and still the life of the rivers remained stilled.
The spring hatches arrived finally, though I had to suffer watching the mayflies flutter from a surface barren of the rings of promise I sought. Though trying, the wait was worth it when the trout finally came up to celebrate the Hendricksons: a glorious hatch, better than I had seen for more than a decade. The flies so carefully crafted over the winter brought thrashing behemoths to hand, when stealth and presentation combined!
Though the fishing was magical, perhaps the best of spring was the chance to enjoy the company of my best friends upon the rivers of my heart. With vaccines at last offering protection from the pandemic, we were freed to enjoy one another’s company astream. JA and I had many wonderful days, and Andy finally came to the Catskills after so many years of coaxing. Of course, Mike and I enjoyed a couple of pleasant visits, though fewer than I hoped. I don’t think he has quite accepted advantages of the freedom of retirement yet.
One beautiful afternoon stands out amid the magic of the Hendricksons. I had waded slowly along the riverbank, waiting and watching for that first flight of hatching duns. One moment there was only the glare of quiet water, and then there were dozens of mayflies pushing through the film and taking flight, until the pool teemed with fluttering wings! Soft rises began and multiplied, but here and there I searched and saw the special rises, the soft bulges of displaced water culminating in a smallish ring. Ignoring the multitudinous rings and splashes of smaller trout, I positioned myself to offer my CDC dun to one certain, bulging rise.
My Menscer Hollowbuilt reached out through the wind and laid the fly in place, then arched deeply at my reaction to the bulge and vanishing of the fly. There is no finer crystalized memory of springtime than that moment: warm wind in my face, a golden arc of cane, and a screaming reel! Twenty-three inches of wild, outrageous brown trout suddenly aloft, then running again, battling fiercely until our union at the net – the perfection of angling the Catskill rivers.
As always, the rivers and their trout presented unique challenges. The later hatches failed to equal the intensity of the Hendricksons, and I took to hunting my trout earlier than normal. Ah, what a season it became though!
The Catskill summers are my favorites, for there is so much glorious weather, and solitude on bright water becomes a reachable goal. Trophy trout require every bit of knowledge, stealth and skill, but that challenge is what makes the game sublime!
A personal record was reached then passed in the wonder that was summertime. In August I acquired a special rod from an old friend, the first bamboo rod that made my eyes light up twenty-five years ago. Casting it upon the bright waters of my favorite rivers I tested its grace against time and memory, finding that same light in my eyes once again; and a five-pound trophy brown in hand!
The magic of summer continued, one amazing and blissful day after another. Then at last it was September, and Tom Whittle and I would draw the Shenk Tribute Rod from his handmade curly maple rod case and wade the Willowemoc together; he casting the prototype made to test the new taper, and I paying homage to my departed friend with the Tribute rod and his classic reel.
I will remember this as a year of rainfall and records, a year when I was blessed to fish once more with cherished friends and some very special tackle. Like every season on every wild river there was wonder and change, new riddles to solve. There was fishing I expected that did not appear, as well as some quite unexpected that made me appreciate once more how grand the game can be. There is a song that once meant a great deal to me called Roll With The Changes. That quite simply is the path to angling our wonderful trout rivers.
No river, no matter how familiar, is ever the same from one moment to the next. Each challenge is new, uniquely miraculous, and deserving of its own solution. Many times, I have seen something that seemed familiar upon the water and smiled to myself as if I knew the solution. As often as not I found I had been deceived. Our best observation cannot disclose all there is to know about the trout and the fly – exactly why we adore the game for our lifetimes!