In The Eye of the Storm

April 19th, 2022

An act of defiance? Perhaps, though I consider it to be more of a practical approach to the ways of the seasons here in the Catskill Mountains. The storm was coming, the chance was there to grab a few moments of fishing, of light, before my world changed radically once again.

In the aftermath of the April 7th floods, I had searched for signs of the early spring once promised. On Friday afternoon, a lone brownie had granted me the grace of his rise to a brief handful of Gordon Quills, arching my rod and spinning my reel – the simple ritual that inaugurated my dry fly season, by far the most precious season of the year. Now, ten days after I surveyed the brown floodwaters, a serious April snowstorm loomed, offering to delay the hatches and the spring beauty along the rivers once again.

The afternoon was as gray as expected when I walked along the riverbank and found a seat to watch the flow for signs of life. Depending upon the forecast of choice, the storm might arrive as early as five, with wind and rain to cool the air temperature enough to welcome the heavy snowfall. It had been nearly half past four on Friday, when a few fluttering Gordons had awakened that riser from his winter slumber, so I sat and pondered whether a hatch might prelude the storm or be lost in it.

I saw the first duns around three, too far out to positively identify, though there appeared to be an occasional Gordon as well as some smaller fellows. A dun would pass by, followed by a long gap in my precious time. I rose and worked slowly out into the tail of the run. I took the smaller flies to be Blue Quills, though they could have been olives, but I banked upon the Gordon Quills being the choice du jour thanks to Friday’s appearance. Anglers have learned that trout often ignore the season’s first appearance of a species of mayfly.

The wind had begun to increase when the first rise winked white before me, and I sent a parachute Gordon on its way. The trout had risen once, and then another rose several feet upstream. Precious minutes ticked by as the wind interrupted my casts, and then one more rise, fifteen feet upstream and tight to the bank. Finally, there came one heavier boil on up into the run, then all would be quiet except the wind.

I began to think this was the work of a moving fish, restless to find a meal amid the urgency of the moment. At last, I saw a rise in the original location. A gust blew my CDC fly off target just as a dun bounced down the same line of drift, and the trout took – which one? I hesitated, succeeding only in putting him down.

More flies began to show, though by no means would this become a significant hatch. As a rise appeared I covered it first with a parachute Gordon that replaced the CDC and, when that was ignored, a parachute Blue Quill. I had changed back to the Gordon when I eased downstream a few steps to change the angle that I might better present my fly against the increasing side wind. The tactic resulted in a take, and a good brown hooked and landed.

A second, moving target materialized further below in that same line of drift, and I worked him with the impatience borne of the deteriorating conditions. Having no success, I was changing my fly, choosing one of my experimental Translucense 100-Year Duns, when I saw the ring of a rise well downstream. With the foe in front of me idle, I backed out and picked my way down.

The lie down river along the bank had welcomed a number of larger browns, raising my anticipation even more than the advancing storm front and ticking clock. I gained control, waited for the gusts to subside, and sent a long reach cast diagonally down to drift my fly close to that sheltering lie. The drift looked good, and with another six feet of line freed from the reel, I cast again, this time dropping the little dun at the top of that trout’s line of drift. It wasn’t that cast that took him, nor the next, but I adjusted my drift to fight the winds and had him at last!

Releasing that hefty brown from the net, my eyes searched upriver and down. There were few flies visible now, the hatch waning after an hour. I was about to accept that my window of opportunity had closed when my old nemesis rose again, still in the same line of slick current. I was below him now, and casting into the wind. That last opponent, the trout who had ignored every fly and every cast; found the Translucense Dun to his liking at the first presentation and took it solidly.

As this trout had occupied the same line of drift as the sixteen-inch brown that first came to hand, I suspected this fellow to be a recalcitrant twin, but he took all the pressure I could apply and held his ground against the strain. When I finally coaxed him to the net, I admired a golden hued brown of nineteen inches, already heavy through the shoulders so early in the season.

That trout signaled the end of my defiance to the coming storm, the little hatch now exhausted. No more rises would issue from either run or pool and, the adrenaline draining, I began to honestly feel the cold in my bones.

Standing there at the car to take down my rod, I savored the satisfaction of the moment with gratitude for that hour in the eye of the storm.

I beat the rain and the harshest of the winds home by enough time to hand my waders and take my boots inside where they wouldn’t freeze. Sitting back with a hot cup of coffee while the windows rattled, I watched as the rain gradually changed to wet snow.

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