A Fitting Farewell To Spring

The beauty of the Upper Delaware River in June.

Yes, there is another week remaining in the season according to the calendar, but the last cool days and nights of springtime are behind us. I had not floated the Mainstem even once this season, and the pleasantly cool water temperatures early this week beckoned me come hither and enjoy a day on the big river. I convinced myself there would be mayflies and caddisflies about, enough to make some interesting fishing, but alas this final salute to spring proved as beautiful and barren as the season had been.

My best chance at a trout came relatively early in my trip, when I found a pair of little rises along a deep, fast water bank. To the casual observer, it was clear these were small fish, popping something invisible to me in the film amid the micro-eddies caused by bankside boulders and submerged rocks. I know that such easily dismissed little rises can betray more than little trout, for I have cast to many over the years, often hooking up to larger than normal brown trout.

I kept that in mind as I worked that fish popping in the eddies, and his companion that showed himself only after I had anchored. He was so close to me I could not stand to cast to him less I spook him thoroughly. I never caught a glimpse of what it was these fish were sampling, nor did I provoke any interest with the plethora of flies I offered.

The downstream wind that rose in early afternoon would have made it tough to present a fly to any other rising trout, but it kept the sun’s warmth in check and made for a very comfortable drift. I stopped and fished a few riffles of my acquaintance, those I know will hold some sizeable rainbows, but managed but one feeble take on a downstream drift. My reflexes were too quick, my energies saved for hours by that point, and I failed to touch that fish, my only take of the day.

I had just enough cell signal to send and receive a text, letting Cathy know I’d prefer a six o’clock pickup rather than the one planned for eight.

Perhaps it is fitting that the Mainstem float trip, something I never seem to make enough time for, was a mirror of my most difficult spring.

The spring’s best hatch of Hendricksons drifts unmolested down the wide currents of the lower Beaver Kill’s 46-degree water.

And so hail and welcome to a Catskill summer, leaving the house at six for a cool, quiet morning of stalking trout. Summer is my season indeed, the time I find the solitude my soul covets.

Hunting trout before the sun climbs the mountains that shelter the river, the sweatshirt is welcome on this fifty something degree morning. My sole companion: an eight-foot four weight bamboo fly rod rigged with a light spring and pawl trout reel. I pass the first two hours sending casts to cruising trout, hoping that my fly will arrive before they have turned away. Eventually I find what I am looking for and the game turns very serious.

My approach becomes even stealthier, barely a short step at a time, with frequent pauses. The trout are hunting too you see, their senses on high alert. Maurer’s Queen sends the fly out there, a long cast with little effort, the dry fly settling gently with just a tiny little plop. It doesn’t drift much more than a foot before the explosion comes!

I strip line frantically, holding the rod away from the potential tangles of my vest, as he’s coming toward me. As he turns that first time I feel his power, his weight. He takes line now, and I seize the opportunity to reel in the slack line. When it has been gathered, he bucks hard and the reel screams.

The fight is long and tense, rod high when he’s running, rod low to use the power of the butt when he goes to cover and must be turned, my fingers feathering the rim of the reel’s spool to add resistance each time the line melts away. As I bring him close his size nearly rattles me, this is not a brown to trifle with.

Safe at last in the net, I free the fly and try to line him up with the marked centerline of the mesh: 13 and 11, he’s better than two feet long! I submerge the net and reach for my camera, then snap a quick photo before I slip him back into his river. Couldn’t get him lined up straight, he’s between 24 and 25 inches, a hell of a brownie! Can’t ask for a better first hunt on a summer morning.

I let myself calm down once he’s back at home, settled tight to the bottom. I tuck the rod under my arm and ease forward, submerge the camera and snap a couple of underwater shots. I let him rest there while I check the leader and replace the 5X tippet, then step toward him so he shoots away!

Two more eventually pop the fly, though neither feels the steel when the cane reacts. I reason that the fly must have started to drag, unseen, back tight to cover. Cest` la vie!

Rivers change constantly. No matter how familiar, they are never the same from day to day.

Morning number two, a few degrees warmer as I arrive an hour later to perfectly still water. No rises in sight, and no reason to cast to distant cruisers. Watch and wait…

Once again, the game’s afoot, hunters on the prowl. Stalk within range, cast fine and far off, concentrate to follow the fly through dappled sunlight and shade. This one takes so softly I have no choice but to hesitate, to pause and then give him the rod. Boom! Another powerhouse!

The music of the click pawls is loud in the clear morning air, echoing against the rock of the mountainside. The Queen handles him with her mixture of power and finesse: twenty-two inches, a fine Catskill brown!

I check the fly, tug on the tippet and slick it through my fingertips to check for abrasions – all good. But no! Another cast, another soft take and I never even feel him, yet my fly is gone! The tippet knot gave it up. I never checked that end of the four-foot strand. Such is fishing…

Better than two feet of wild, Catskill brown trout recovers from his dance with The Queen!

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