Revenge of the Chill

Hendricksons on the windblown surface of the river. There should be trout rising when the river is covered bank to bank. Things don’t always happen as they should.

For the third morning our temperature is below freezing as the day begins. Rivers are falling, and flies are hatching, but the chill can wreak havoc with the angler’s plans.

I visited two pools yesterday afternoon. I waded out slowly and set my feet hard into the cobble, yet the wind nearly knocked me over more than once. There was brilliant sunshine and flies upon the water: Blue Quills and Gordons, and later Hendricksons, seemingly a perfect spring day if I could stay upright. There was even perhaps a fifteen-minute lull in the gale when the usual lies could be clearly studied, but there was no hint of a rise to be seen. I felt the chill gripping my legs as I waited. My stream thermometer read 46 degrees.

I have chased the Hendrickson hatch for decades on these Catskill rivers, and this is not the first time I have felt water temperatures plummet once the hatch had begun. I recall one spring, witnessing blizzard hatches on the West Branch and then the Willowemoc, with neither reach of water betraying anything even remotely mistakable for a trout’s rise. I sought the counsel of the First Lady of the Willowemoc, Mary Dette Clark, in her front room of the Dette shop on Cottage Street. Mary related that there had been cold rains in the highlands that feed those classic miles of Catskill rivers and that she was not surprised to hear that trout disdained to rise for the hatch, so I base my low expectations on both Mary’s decades of experience as well as my own.

A classic Catskill dry fly – the Red Quill, tied by Mary Dette Clark while I watched, and we chatted about the massive, fishless hatches I had seen on my spring trip.

On the final pool of the afternoon, I found the river covered with hatching mayflies from bank to bank, the wind had calmed, that is to say that the gusts were no longer constant at 25 to 30 miles per hour, and I could scan a very long reach of water. Not a single rise was revealed to my searching eyes.

A freshly hatched Hendrickson dun suns himself on the grip of my Paradigm.

I walked half a mile of river in my search, from the churning foot of the long riffles, through the deep, boulder strewn run, and down through the fullness of the pool to the lip of the next major riff. Flies emerged, drifted and flew into the wind in search of the bankside trees along every foot of that flowage. It was a sight to behold. Fittingly I bowed my head for a moment, paying homage to the grandeur of Nature before I took my leave.

There is a sense of sadness in witnessing a troutless hatch, for anglers know that another year must pass before they have another chance to knot a Hendrickson dry fly to their tippet and stalk their favorite reach of trout water. Though the sheer abundance of fly life provides comfort in the health of the river, we never truly know if we are witnessing that spectacle for the last time. Many faithful anglers, like myself, have far fewer days ahead than lie behind, and that knowledge becomes somehow more acute at times like these.

May the winds lie down, and the trout rise to the wonderful mysteries of the hatches forever!

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