Thirty years of angling Catskill rivers has given me a fair understanding of the seasons. Like most fly fishers, my definition of spring necessarily includes the year’s first mayfly hatches sufficient to produce a good rise of trout. Contrary to angling texts, the order may vary, though either Quill Gordons, the little Blue Quills or the Hendricksons, even a combination of any two or three at a time, will be featured. For the sake of discussion, a thing we anglers enjoy when we cannot fish, I have categorized spring in accordance with its appearance according to the calendar.
An early spring, that precious gem we all covet, brings one of the three named hatches of fly and a rise of trout during the second week of April. A normal spring sees that rise of trout during the third week of the month, and the late spring finds us searching and waiting for fulfillment until the last week of April, if not the beginnings of May.
If you have read this blog of late, you know that I felt we were firmly settled into the early category this year, until a flood got in the way. Nevertheless, braving high water in my search as soon as I was able, I finally encountered a ten-minute hatch of Quill Gordons late on Friday’s blustery afternoon and took the single rising trout that appeared. Success! An early spring indeed, and just under the wire; or not. The weekend was cold, damp and yes, windy, and it was twenty-six degrees at sunrise this morning in Crooked Eddy.
While enjoying the afterglow of yesterday’s ballgame, my phone interrupted my reverie with a chorus of beeps. I immediately thought of my dear friend JA, suffering the abomination of angling in Patagonia and no doubt catching dozens of large trout on whatever magnificent fly he chooses to throw at them, but it was not an international text alert. No, that devilish little annoying device reported nothing less than a Winter Storm Watch for Hancock and vicinity. The Weather Channel agreed this morning, upgrading that watch to a warning and promising us a foot of heavy, wet snow through the night and into midday tomorrow.
What type of spring might this become now?
I will happily fish in April snow squalls, and shiver in the penetrating dampness of April Showers, casting low to battle the winds. All I ask, all any of us ask is a modest hatch of flies and a handful of rising trout as salve to our winter weary souls. Alas there is nothing we can do. Take the snow shovels back out of storage my friends, and lay the fly rods aside.
I think back to the many late seasons when April’s promise was washed away. Tying flies half-a day’s drive to the south asking why. We had waited through all six months of winter, was it not our time, our due? The last years before retirement were the hardest, for though I prospected the streams of Southcentral Pennsylvania, those late rushes of winter weather in the Catskills had a way of bleeding through to those environs. We might not have gotten snow, but we got rain and cold, and high, cold, muddy streams down south are no more conducive to salving the dry fly madness we endured after six months of deprivation, to say nothing of the declining hatches in that region.
Pardon my lament, though I am certain that you feel it too! I will not retreat, and I will not surrender! Many of the fine old books I treasure have tales of fishing bounteous hatches of Gordons and Hendricksons during snowstorms and gales. Never one to doubt those sages, I wonder if memory contributed to a bit of artistic license, if all those miserable conditions endured spawned a false recall of a day when they stepped into angling Valhalla amid the storm? I have fished many such miserable days, wanting, expecting the hatch to come amidst the worst Mother Nature might throw at me. Never can I recall even one such day when the gates of Valhalla opened. Memory indeed contains countless impressions of wet, cold, tired and fishless days when not a single cast was made.
If you drive past a swollen river, gaze past the snowbanks and see a huddled figure lurched forward, braced against the roily current, it will be me; Dry Fly Madness adorning my shoulders like a badge.