Technicalities

Our wild brown trout don’t get big by being careless. Their existence and the myriad changes within the microcosm of their bright water environment are the essence of technical fishing, my first love.

Yesterday brought some clouds to the Catskill rivers, after four days of brilliant sunlight and truly azure skies. It was a breathtaking week, Nature reminding us of her grandeur amid a very reluctant spring. As anglers, we enjoy the warmth of the sunshine and appreciate its sparkling reveal of the clear rivers and sheltering mountainsides in that brief chartreuse first blush of spring. We know that those high skies can make our fishing even tougher, but there are days when it is quite worth the tradeoff.

Rather than enjoying the spring bonanza of heavy mayfly hatches with fine trout nearly jumping over one another to feed upon them, the long awaited first week of beautiful spring weather brought us straight into an arena prime for technical dry fly fishing, my favorite kind. The hatches of Hendricksons and Blue Quills were waning, and the Shad caddis made only a peripheral appearance, so the quality, difficult trout I seek were very selective in their feeding, exactly what I have come to expect under bright skies in low, clear water.

I walked the riverbanks under cloudy skies yesterday, with an upstream breeze that would add another challenge to my fishing. The wind would calm periodically, and the sun appear, though each freshening of that breeze seemed to be accompanied by a new passing cloud bank. I surveyed the changes winter’s flood had wrought on the river as I waited for, I hoped, some sort of hatch.

After a while, a few tiny Shadfly caddis were seen drifting along, and eventually they attracted the interest of a trout. I negotiated the “new” river to reach a good casting position and affixed a typical size 18 version of my favorite caddis pattern. I sought to fish the rise from distance, but that upstream wind had other ideas. I wrestled with it for a while in stubborn determination, and of course my presentations suffered. It seemed that, if I tried waiting on the wind to subside, it just kept blowing.

I finally accepted the challenge of making a closer approach on an untested stretch of river bottom. I had noticed that my fly looked somewhat larger than the naturals my trout sucked down every once in a while, and went to my fly box for one of the size 20 dries I had made sure to store within. It was just days more than a year ago when I encountered hundreds of tiny size 20 shadflies on a frosty West Branch while floating the river. I hadn’t brought my twenties that day, luckily making due by performing surgery on a couple of sparser eighteens. Lessons learned. Shad caddis are always size 18, unless they aren’t.

With my new position and dry fly, I renewed my patience with regards to that wind, and was rewarded for my efforts. Just as the wind laid momentarily, I gave the Paradigm a smooth, gentle stroke to unroll line and leader, dropping the tiny fly in the ideal line of drift with soft coils of tippet. Glup, said the trout and then the vintage Perfect was spinning with his rapid departure!

He fought like a champion, that brownie! The old Hardy is as old as I am, and time has turned its action quite silky, its music still sublime when it plays the tune of a hard running fish. The amber arc of the bamboo absorbed the head shakes and changes of direction, until I was finally able to lead him to the net. He was gorgeously colored and wide flanked from gill plate to the wrist of his tail, no doubt having weathered the long winter better than I.

I worked two others through the course of the afternoon. The second was even more sporadic in his feeding than the first, and he resisted the caddis as well as a couple versions of the Lady H mayflies that appeared in the drift for short intervals as the day advanced. I saw nothing else on the water, save a couple of expired duns, but that recalcitrant trout even refused to have a look at my impromptu corpse, its CDC wing twisted over to one side of the hook to mimic the dead naturals.

Six straight days of river cleanup, lawn work and long afternoons of fishing had taken their toll. I realized how much late in the afternoon, when that third riser appeared. I cast my fly automatically and stared it down current right into his mouth, pausing a bit too long to watch it. You do have to tighten up on them old man. Duh! Well, I could have been two for three. Technical dry fly fishing reminds me a bit of baseball, for I walked out all smiles after batting .300!

Glup!

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