The television proclaimed that we are not too far below freezing this morning, and promised a warm day, defined as reaching perhaps 35, even 36 degrees. We will pay for Nature’s largesse come Friday night though! Another day that I will not wade bright water, another when the closest I may come is a walk along the ice laden river, followed by a drowsy dream of warmer times.
April is the target; not its beginning, but later near the middle of the month, such days hold the most hope for early mayflies, and rising trout. That week, that span of days when maybe becomes imminent, begins eighty-seven days from today.
Here in the Catskills, we never quite know what April will bring. Strong northwest winds are expected, blowing anything from moderately mild air to sleet and snow, but the sun will be closer and with us more hours each day. Warm southerly breezes can arrive at any time to make us feel giddy, as on the eighty-degree days that closed out last April; a preview of the perfection that is May.
May begins the finest time for the fly fisher, particularly those of my ilk who worship at the altar of the dry fly. It begins with the continuation of the Hendricksons, and progresses through the various spring caddisflies, March Browns, Gray Fox and at last the lovely sulfurs!
We are graced by many beautiful yellow mays, from those slender size twelves to the tiny size twenties of summer. There is always a bit of mystery as to which ones, and when might they appear. Some of my favorite surprises have come on warm, sunny days, first with a few of the smaller Dorotheas and then more; enough to bring the trout on the rise! Sometimes the larger flies will show between the little flurries of Dorotheas, and I will pick out the trout of the day and tempt him with a large, graceful CDC or 100-Year Dun. Each of these days is as different as it is special.
The sulfurs were my first hatch you see, decades ago on a bright afternoon on Gunpowder Falls. I was a novice then, proud owner of a single box for dry flies, and the pickings were slim. I knew enough to recognize the soft yellow flies as sulfurs, mayflies I had learned to expect in the dimness of evening; and I knew that, among my spare collection of flies at least, the Light Cahill was the matching fly. The trout disagreed, as they ravished the hatching duns greedily while ignoring both of my Cahills. They wanted that yellow. As a last resort, a 16 caddis, my sole yellow bodied fly brought success. Those wild Gunpowder browns taught me the lesson of color that afternoon, there where the little river’s clear water bubbled over bright gravel!
The evening emergences were my favorite times along the limestone springs of the Cumberland Valley. Often, we anglers would arrive after six and walk the banks with longing. It might be half past eight before the first fluttering duns would arise from the gentle currents. Half an hour of delight followed, made sweeter by its brevity and the sure, unwavering curtain of darkness.
On special evenings I might find an eager, early riser chasing the first few nymphs to struggle to the surface. An emerger was the crossover, the link between the trout’s world and the angler’s dry fly game. Oh, what joy to tempt one of those rare, early trout to peek into my world of air and light!
As I travelled early on to the wide waters of these Catskills, I found sulfurs on those first soft summer evenings. The wonder of that last light fishing was extended on the large rivers by taking advantage of every last wave of light in the sky, though it still had the old urgency. I shall never forget making long casts in twilight on the West Branch, tracking the bright orange dot of my my little parachute fly until the subtle wink of light that accompanied the bulge in the surface signaled a take! Darkness made the rod buck harder and the runs of those big-shouldered browns seemed like they would never end within the confines of the pool.
May becomes summer and the magic continues. It seems then to be forever until season’s end!