Indeed, I am watching the river gages this morning, for the rain continues steadily. I am musing and wondering how many days might pass before I can don waders again and slip into the gentle current. There are many memories of spring…
How many times have I felt my pulse rise as I crossed the bridge at Hale Eddy, the excitement of the new season palpable? Friendly greetings and handshakes at West Branch Angler, settling in for another stay along the river, arising in the morning with wading boots frozen on the porch of the cabin.
The West Branch always had a special intrigue, particularly in April. Hendricksons on one pool, Blue Quills on another, bright days, gray days, there was always a new challenge to explore!
I recall one glorious afternoon as it drifted into evening, Hendrickson spinners alighting early, before the lowering sunlight dropped behind the Pennsylvania mountains. The flies drifted along the edges of bankside current seams on the far side of the river, and the wide, soft bulges in the film told of wonderful browns. Wading as deeply as I dared those rises lied beyond the limits of my reach, but just barely. I fought to calm my pounding heart, and when I succeeded my casts unrolled out there along that seam.
The water was clear, and that far bank brightly lit, so those fish refused my offerings on 5X tippets. Six X at maximum range was a gamble – it takes a good sweep of the rod to move so much slack line to set a hook, sometimes too much for the fragile point. There was one I wanted badly, for once he showed his nose above the surface and I knew how special he was. Calming, casting, reaching to extend the drift precious seconds before the mid-river current spoiled the game, and at last I had him. He boiled and started his run, then the fly came free; lost yet relished, I return there often in my mind.
I recall special mornings, walking the river while many anglers lounged over breakfast, secure in their convictions that there was no hurry, that Hendricksons arrived at three. I would stalk certain lies with a biot bodied spinner knotted and ready, to find evidence of a gentle sipping rise in moving water, or a spreading ring amid a shallow tailout flat. Battles won and lost.
There was an afternoon I took an unusually long walk, studying the quiet river. Finally, I chose a grassy bank for a seat, unwrapped my sandwich, and enjoyed my lunch in solitude. Glancing casually along the bank I saw the first ring, and then another. I finished hurriedly, crawled low back downstream where I could slip in gently. I landed a number of fine wild browns that day, quietly sipping Blue Quills along an unremarkable stretch of bank, always grateful when the river shared her secrets.
There was the morning I waited for my best friend to arrive, waited that is along a favorite run. He was due at noon, and the hour was nigh when a barrel-chested brownie drifted down with the current and rolled nearly upside down to take a struggling caddisfly, so close he splashed my waders. An eight-foot cast with an eight-foot rod and my reel was spinning! He torched the drag and powered down river. A twenty-two inch brown rested in my net when it was finished, his flanks heaving as I slipped him back into the run; easily the largest trout taken with the shortest cast in my angling career.
I have a beautiful bamboo fly rod that was fishless until I brought her to the West Branch in April. Anglers were everywhere, my time short, and the river high. I hiked to an out of the way spot where wading would not risk my life, trusted to the magic of the river. Blue Quills again, and one trout feeding regularly in a horrendous lie. My little biot parachute bounced down the bubbly current but not quite clean enough. I sidestepped upstream, adjusted my angle, and that lovely, darkly flamed cane delivered the perfect drift. The rod was tested with a heavy arc and a pair of long, wild runs into the backing. Tested as only a trophy trout in high, fast water can test them. I admired the rich palette of gold and bronze, peppered with blood red spots, smiling there as the water rushed around my knees. No better way to christen bamboo!