Suddenly Stalking

Moonrise over the Catskills in May

For the past month, spring has barely flirted with us here in the Catskill mountains. Rivers ran high and cold after a brief, sweet encounter with Quill Gordons, and fishing was more walking riverbanks and fruitless waiting than actual fishing. Nature’s changes can be dramatic, and certainly those wrought this second week of May have been.

Our skies cleared; the gusty winds of springtime laid down, and our temperatures began a steady climb through the sweet spot of the seventies up to eighty degrees. The wild trout of these rivers seem to have been caught unprepared just as we were. At a time they should be feasting on bountiful hatches of Hendricksons and caddisflies, they are moving fitfully in low, clear water under bright skies, hunting the last morsels of these waning hatches. Suddenly it is stalking time.

Walking, waiting, and finding a comfortable seat along the bank, I await the arrival of the sporadic mayflies, and then heighten my search.

The six weight rod has been stowed and the summer four weight comes to the ready. The late George Maurer’s Queen of the Waters has been called the best eight-foot four weight rod made. I know it captured my heart twenty-five years ago, when my friend Bill Ferris came by my fly shop and bid me to cast this gorgeous split cane foil!

The past few days have evolved to summer conditions: scanning for that funny water out there amid the river’s gentle currents. Those intent upon the perfect concentric rings of the classic riseform will miss a lot of opportunities. Some of these odd little disturbances look like brush strokes on the surface, others a quick, tiny wink that might be a seed pod flipped by the breeze – or something more. I stalk all of these once the straggling mayflies appear.

As the flies multiplied the other day, one finally held a station: wink, wink, ripple and glint. I know who you are my friend! I had prepared at the vise after dawn, fortifying myself with Lady H patterns, dun, cripple and trialing shuck flies to mimic the active mayflies emerging from the cold water into the warm air.

Lady H CDC duns and cripples.

I began with the CDC dun, offered at distance, less my approach ended the game before it began. He gave it no attention, that perfectly floating dun, its wings moving in the breeze. So be it, and on to the crippled emerger. Cast, drift, retrieve gently far away from the trout, for they have been restless, movers under such conditions. Obviously, a no. I had tied just two trailing shuck duns as an afterthought, for sometimes you must offer something in between…

He took it with that same slow, gentle caressing of the surface, and exploded into a run with the arch of bamboo! Rushing down river and away with elan, strength and speed: twenty yards, fifty, and I begin to ease toward the shallow shore as he finally stops and begins to turn. I battle him there at distance and he comes back slowly, darting side to side as I recover precious backing, then fly line. He streaks left, toward the familiarity of his taking lie, there among the rocks, and I move the rod to the side to execute the side pressure sweep that has turned so many of his kind intent upon destruction of the frail connection, but I am too late this time. He reaches his goal and cuts the tippet on the knife edge of stone. An amazing fish, what wouldn’t I have given to see him there in the shallows at my feet!

So I am there once again, sitting on the bank with the Queen and waiting when that funny water catches my eye one hundred feet away. Another traveler this one, so I make my approach as slow and gentle as I am able, while he meanders left and right, sometimes up current, always unpredictable. Brush strokes, a wink of light, and the game begins!

The sixteen trailing shuck dun is at the end of a bit more than three feet of 5X fluorocarbon, affixed to twelve feet of nylon leader. The Maurer’s parabolic action lays it out there perfectly in the shifting breeze, across and down with an upstream reach and a kick, seventy feet away. The casts vary as he meanders, a little more line for this one, somewhat less for the next. This one, yes, this one looks perfect; and then the brushstrokes surround the fly. He takes it slowly, as I steel my nerves, and raise the rod when the surface is calm again.

The little Abel sings a sweet note, different from my old Hardy’s; American music. This fellow fights his own way, he doesn’t chose the long tiring run, rather many shorter ones, digging for one rock and then another, fighting relentlessly against the golden arch of cane. The game is a long one; he does not tire easily. Gradually his runs lessen, his power ebbs, comes in shorter bursts, and the inevitability of the net creeps into my focused thoughts.

Twenty-two inches of spotted gold finally held aloft! The net hangs deeply with his weight. Rod quickly secured under my arm I lower the net to the water and reach for the little dun in the corner of his mouth. I free it and slide him back into the cool of the river, where he rests with belly on the stones nearly at my feet.

Waiting, this time with a broad smile. Was that a wink a hundred yards away, on the edge of the shade? Take a few steps and watch: yes, a wink indeed. Stalk slowly, too easy to push waves ahead in low water…

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