Our general cold front has had some legs, and our days and nights are still chilly. That has helped the rivers to be sure, as will the rain that has lasted all night long and shows no sign of stopping today. The weather radar shows a long, long band running remarkably south to north so our chances of fishing today seems to have washed away.
I have guessed wrong on the weather the past couple of days, wearing my rain jacket all day Tuesday and letting some early morning sunshine send me on the river in my shirtsleeves on Wednesday. I counted maybe two dozen raindrops Tuesday and spent an uncomfortably muggy fishless day on two rivers. Yesterday I froze until I finally waded back to the car and donned a fleece jacket. I did manage some productive fishing despite my case of the shivers.
The chilly, cloudy conditions finally put a few sulfurs on the surface, not a lot, even giving a variety of sizes, but just enough to entice a few of our more difficult trout to cruise around and pick off the ones that looked vulnerable to them. Technical dry fly fishing is my passion, and this day certainly fed my passion.
The cruising phenomena has become more frequent during the past season or two, and it presents a unique challenge, particularly in gin clear, slow pool environments. Our Catskill wild trout have evolved, no doubt finding new ways to succeed amid increasing fishing pressure and more limited hatches.
The bottom line is, the angler cannot chase them in flat water. Every movement sends pressure waves which puts the trout on higher alert, so the game requires good long range casting ability. The guy that makes a dozen or more false casts before delivering his fly isn’t going to win this game. By the time his fly arrives where he spotted a rise, that trout has moved on.
Repetitive casting to the site of a single rise isn’t a winning technique either. It takes judgement and a bit of luck to determine when a fish is taking a break from perpetual motion and hanging out in one place. Two rises in the same location get my attention, and I will make one good cast to the fish immediately after each rise. If he rises again in that spot, I will cast again and continue casting until catching him or instinctually believing that he isn’t going to accept my fly.
This can be a frustrating way to fly fish but casting over and over when trout are cruising means you are likely lining your target fish or others that are moving through unseen. Often you will simply turn them off their already limited feed and the water will grow very quiet. Patience and experience are necessary, along with the casting skills to take advantage of the opportunites offered.
I fished and shivered for a couple of hours without moving very much at all. It took me a long time to stalk into a position where I could cover the section of the pool where I noted a few sporadic rises. I started with a size twenty sulfur dun with a wispy trailing shuck and stayed with that fly until I had offered it to two or three different cruisers. There were twenties on the water, but there were also some larger size eighteen naturals and a few sixteens. The eighteens seemed to have become the most numerous, so I knotted one of my standard CDC duns in that size.
That fly was offered to a couple of different fish before I noted one that was hanging out in the same location. I worked him carefully, satisfied that my Thomas & Thomas Paradigm bamboo rod was giving me good distance capability with a much more delicate presentation, and finally got the take I had waited for. That was a quality trout, and he fought very hard for his size; seventeen inches in the net.
I stayed with that same fly as morning evaporated into early afternoon, but I wasn’t finding any more risers that weren’t constantly on the move. There’s no telling how many seconds a cruising trout will remain in the same location after rising and taking a mayfly, some swim up, take the bug and never stop moving. Even an immediate, accurate cast isn’t going to catch that fish.
Eventually I figured that most, if not all of the trout cruising through the water within my casting range had seen enough of my CDC dun and chose to alter the game. I chose a size sixteen 100-Year Dun, tied with one of my orangey dubbing blends, figuring the strong profile would be hard for one of these cruising trout to resist. Cruisers seem to be attracted to moving insects, but I reasoned that the sparse little sulfur hatch had been going for an hour and a half or more, and the trout were now actively looking for them, wiggling or not.
I had a close look from one cruiser, then saw a strong rise just out of range along a sheltered bank. I took four smooth, cunning steps as I stripped out several more feet of fly line, then delivered my signature fly a couple of feet up current from the riseform and a foot from the riverbank. It drifted about four feet and was engulfed in another heavy rise.
The old Paradigm arched boldly, leaving no doubt I was into a heavy fish. He headed my way quickly, forcing me to strip line as fast as I could, all the while trying to drop each coil away from my body on my downstream side. Slack fly line loves to tangle, and the consequences from those tangles can be lost trout or worse: a broken tip to a cherished rod.
I kept that brownie under control thankfully and managed to get that slack line back on my little 3″ Hardy St. George. Yea, large arbor reels are what the marketing machine wants everyone to have, but none of them match a vintage bamboo rod, nor sing with a running trout like a classic Hardy!
Trout number two measured out to twenty inches, before I slipped him back into that cold, clear pool. The cruising and rising seemed to slow considerably after another quarter hour, and that’s when I waded out to grab that jacket. I was to get one more shot before calling it a day.
An old favorite lie beckoned, and I stalked close enough to watch for any sign of activity. Within ten minutes, I saw two un-mistakeable little silvery winks of light deep on the edge of the shadowy bank. Three careful steps put me in range for a long, graceful cast, and I watched that little 100-Year Dun drift, drift, drift; right into another silver wink.
When that big old brownie took, it would have been easy for him to turn and break my line in the submerged tree trunk a foot behind him, but he chose to shake his heavy head vigorously and swim out of the cover toward me. Maybe he was in the mood for a little exercise. Stripping line again to keep up, I managed to drop all of that slack fly line to the side and downstream. I started reeling in that slack when the trout seemed to be holding and head shaking in one place. I would quickly learn that was the wrong call. Better to risk problems with trailing line than to rest the fish mid-fight.
I felt a dodge and a weave and suddenly the load on my rod was much lighter. I retrieved my line to find three golf ball sized globs of mossy goo on my leader, one for each knot. I was light half of my 5.5X tippet and fly and of course, a fish. He had laced my leader through some emergent weeds shrouded in goo and used his lacework to break the tippet without my even feeling a surge.
Just fishing, the good comes with the not so good, though it is always great to tangle with a wily old wild leviathan! Who knows, maybe he will get a taste for 100-Year Sulfur Duns after chewing on it for a while.