Snow is coming today, perhaps throughout the day, and I am settled in for another winter morning. Was it just Sunday evening that I sat on the porch in shirtsleeves? The warmth of September seems far away.
March gave way to a brightness of spirit in the old days, whether snowy or sunlit on any given day, there was always the expectation, the confident belief that tomorrow could be bright and warm: a day for fishing!
After my fly shop days, I worked a four-day schedule, designed to give me time to fish, to hunt, to write and to dream. Winter was still a rather bleak season, though our fishing remained at least somewhat available, thanks to the gifts of the limestone springs. The February warmup would come and go, in some years offering the first taste of dry fly fishing for the season in waiting, but March was always filled with new hope.
I haunted Big Spring, once Nature had healed the damage from the Commonwealth’s mismanagement, and I began to look at March as a dry fly month! Many were the Monday mornings that I walked the meadows, hunkering along the banks to watch the bright gravel, once the morning sunlight had its chance to banish the overnight chill.
March routinely brought days of promise. Early in the month the stream’s bright water might offer Blue-winged Olives with a touch of overcast or the Little Black Stoneflies on a sunny afternoon. Some days both would appear. These were not the heavy hatches so often vaunted in angling lore, the insect populations were recovering after all, but there would be flurries of activity to reward the patient angler. Hunting these occurrences, I never knew what magic the subtle rings I spotted might foretell. Big Spring held some prodigious rainbows in those days.
Stalking closer and studying the riseforms would fill in the details of the story. The quick little bursts in faster water were usually young rainbows, some hand-sized and still parr marked, while others stretched to nine or ten inches, showing the typical crimson band along their flanks. These fish were always fun, their wild energy overflowing from the hookset, bringing terrible bends in a light three weight rod, or a vintage bamboo.
It was the subtle, bulging riseforms stalked in the slow reaches that caused my heart to race. This was a game for 6X tippet and a prayer, for many of those Big Spring bows exceeded twenty inches. Deceived, they would streak away across the shallow flats, destined for their favorite weed bed! Many times, my frail tippets succumbed to those weeds, or one of the rocks projecting from the gravelly bottom. There was no controlling that first rush, nor the second.
March was a special time back in those years, beginning with sparse olives and finishing with the Early Brown Stoneflies in a full size 16. An impromptu hatch of Early Browns provided one of the wildest flurries on a sunny afternoon. I was walking along the bank, stopping frequently to watch each reach of holding water, when I saw the first stone fluttering on the surface. A trout rose hard in the run before me, and then another, as I cut off my Little Black Stone and knotted a larger brown version. The first trout took the fly greedily, while more rises began to pop throughout the run. In perhaps twenty minutes it was finished, but five quality rainbows had come to net during the rush, the largest a solid eighteen-inch fish who ran and leaped throughout the run.
It seems funny now, still waiting for a reluctant Catskill spring, to remember how I once looked forward to fishing in March! The limestone springs provided a unique challenge in those days. With much of the aquatic vegetation dying back in winter, I always thought of those times as the bare season. A stalking angler was much more obvious to the trout given the water clarity and more open pools and channels. That clarity also demanded the finest tackle. Six X tippets are not the angler’s primary choice for trout measured in pounds, but the wild trout were wary of anything heavier.
My common winter rig was a three-weight rod of medium action, a small disc drag reel, and an old gray Orvis fly line that was as subtle as possible. Still, my leaders ran to sixteen feet. I wish someone still offered a nice gray line like that. Stealth matters. The soft rod and gentle drag would give me a fighting chance when I fooled leviathan. Though many battles were lost, the elation of that first rush was something! The memories warm me even now, as I wait for snowflakes.