Ten Minutes

A little sun, a little cloud, a lot of wind; a day like so many of our spring days on Catskill rivers.

It was a long day for me, geared up and headed out around ten in the morning, and by the end of that day, I felt it. The years remind you of their tally, even when you try to forget.

I was tired because I covered a lot of water, wading against strong current in the kind of fast water where you’ve got to be certain of every footstep, lest the river take you away. I felt those currents in my legs last night, sitting back and trying to watch the ballgame. I dozed through more innings than I watched, the pain waking me when I tried to rise and climb the stairs.

The winds were typical for April, strong and gusty and unrelenting. Throughout the day I saw only the little black caddis that have hovered around the water for a couple of weeks. With the sun out bright before Noon, I saw a fish move away from me when I inadvertently waded close to his lie. A good fish, but he surprised me there, out in the middle of the river in that strong flow. I cannot tell you that fish was a trout, though I hoped it was. The rushing water and its depth obscured the details.

The hours passed as I searched, my flies finding no takers, my eyes no fluttering wings upon the surface. At last, the winds became too horrendous to battle in that wide, open reach of river and I sought relief. The protected reach I sought was still festooned with anglers, so instead I parked near a smaller pool, just to take a look at the water. The winds were not quite so steady there, though I saw nothing but an occasional caddisfly. I considered my options and stayed, sitting down on the riverbank to watch and wait. No more searching, no more water to cover for these old bones. Time for patience and reflection… and hope.

It was nearing three o’clock when I decided that any activity I might see would be brief, and that I would have to be out there and ready to take advantage of it. I confess this little pool is a comfort zone early in the season, a place I have found that unexpected opportunity when I wanted it badly. After three days of hunting non-existent rising trout, this was my last hope. This week, my target week, was nearly done, and the warming trend that promised what was not delivered was ending too. There is snow in Tuesday’s forecast.

I waded out slowly refamiliarizing my feet with the contours of the bottom, and when I reached an appropriate position, I dug them in firmly and waited.

Clouds were gathering, battling the afternoon sun with its welcome warmth. The winds calmed for short moments, then gusted back to life as I waited, scanning the surface that my eyes might turn one of those windblown seeds into an actual mayfly.

Ten minutes is not a lot of time in the course of a day, though it can be enough time to heighten the spirit. I saw the first one out at distance, a little essence of gray color and motion that I recognized as a mayfly struggling to dry its wings as the wind tumbled it along the choppy surface. I spotted two or three fluttering that way before I saw one actually sitting in its normal posture, the vision my brain could use to confirm my initial suspicion: Quill Gordons.

Now you will read many authoritative treatises on Epeorus pleuralis, and each will tell you to expect the hatch by one o’clock. Decades spent upon these rivers tell me that mayflies have a very different sense of timing than anglers. I smiled to myself as I selected a fly from my fly box and knotted the 100-Year Dun to my tippet.

I did not try to count the flies that emerged during those ten minutes of activity, though it was not a significant hatch. If I were to guess, I would say a couple of dozen flies fluttered and tumbled past me out there in the thread of the current, with only two or three actually sitting on top and riding the glide, and then it was finished. My eyes strained looking for more, all the while searching for the rise of a trout.

I was ready when that rise finally happened. I lofted the line and sent the fly out there, just short to judge the drift, then pulled another few feet of line from the reel and made the cast that would begin my year. The canted wing of my dun drew my gaze, my fly riding the glide, until that splash of white told me it was time for fishing now.

The rod bowed and bucked as the trout fought the pull of the line, using the strength of the current to his advantage. I did not rush him, could not in that fresh, strong spring flow. I gave line when he demanded it, took it back when he allowed, until the moment ended in the meshes of my net. He was a quality fish, a good brown trout of perhaps sixteen inches, and he had proved he was as ready for the dry fly as I was.

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