I was going to take a ride to the Eastern Catskills today, but then one thing led to another, and I admitted to myself that I really didn’t have a high level of confidence of finding good fishing. I decided to head nearby to the West Branch and try to get a little distance between myself and the crowd.
There were two guys planted in the Farm Pool… OK I’ve said it, it’s a run not a pool, but I’m not the guy who named it! Anyway, two guys there, and one was of course in “the spot”. Must have been the first one there, for the second guy was well upstream in the riffle. Another pair parked next to me while I was getting ready to fish. The driver recognized me from my many years at West Branch Angler, Tom he said, and told me he had always seen people fishing there but never had waded out himself. He asked me if fishing was good there and I answered him honestly “not really”.
I explained that a lot of people seem to fish there out of habit, that there was once a lot of trout in that water and tons of bugs hatching, but that the City’s dewatering and two winters of anchor ice had really done a number on those mayflies, and insane fishing pressure had done a number on the trout. I left Tom with the thought that, though there would not be a substantial hatch, they should see a few rising fish.
I waded away from the growing gathering of anglers until I was alone in the middle of the river, and I spent an hour or more walking no more than 100 feet further while studying the river on both sides. Eventually, I spotted a quick little ring in the shallow flat.
I had tied on one of my new size 18 Dorothea 100-Year Duns and set out to stalk within a long cast of that ring. I spent more than an hour making just a few casts every time one of those ghost trout sipped a sulfur. Not one displayed any interest, so I walked, and I waited.
The hatch was even thinner than it had been a few days ago, and you can’t expect trout to get too interested in almost nothing to eat. At intervals, there would be a brief little flurry, and maybe a dozen flies would drift past within the sixty-foot casting range I considered comfortable for my three-weight. I can throw more line with it, but power casting kind of defeats the entire purpose of fishing a three-weight outfit.
I called the fish ghost trout for a reason. Mature wild fish aren’t comfortable in very shallow water, particularly in bright sunshine. When there was a little flurry of mayflies, a trout or two would sip and move a couple of times, then vanish. They were edgy, but they wanted the handful of flies that they could get, so they hung around in that shallow water, but drew the line at holding to a feeding station. I had played this game a couple of times during the past week or two, thus the three-weight Thomas & Thomas with my nice dull gray Airflo Delta Taper fly line. My casts were going to be as unobtrusive as possible, since the odds were already stacked against me.
As the afternoon got on with itself, a little flurry of the larger size 16 sulfurs drifted by. These were the flies that had interested the ghost trout in the past, so I knotted a sixteen 100-Year Dun to a brand new tippet. The first one I stalked was the best one, but he didn’t hang around long enough for me to get that one perfect cast over him. I would have to wait for another.
The second sipper treated me better, coming up well in range, at least as soon as I removed the balls of green slime my leader had collected while I waited for him. A good float and that natural profile did him in, and we got to play jump and run in the shallows. That eighteen-inch brownie may have been the most brilliantly butter yellow and golden hued trout I have ever brought to hand. I should have snapped a photo, but I had already spotted another ghost nearby.
“Too good to be true”, I told myself, as that one vanished before I could extend my line enough to make the cast. I had to cool my heels until another little wave of sulfurs came through to see a trout no more than fifteen feet upstream. He took the fly confidently, but my timing was too quick for his proximity, and I pulled the fly away before he could turn back upstream with it.
Another flurry of mayflies, another little ghost ring, and this time my cast and my hookset played just right. He came out of the water three or four times right where I had hooked him, then decided to try to make a run for it. We had a good time standing there in the middle of the river, a little musical accompaniment from my Hardy Duchess, some more leaps and bounds, and a meeting of the minds snug in my net. This aerialist was an inch longer and a bit heavier than his golden companion, and I thanked him for his energy.
All in all, an interesting afternoon on the river. I would strike too quickly and miss a fourth ghost, this one barely ten feet from my rod tip. Must be the camo waders convince the trout I am just another rock draped in green slime! The truth is I had been completely still for several minutes both times that a trout rose very close by. Stillness is stealth after all.
I think that the three-weight outfit was the right choice, though I do still have my old Orvis 8’4″ two weight. That rod has seen service on the West Branch before when fishing small flies to skittish trout in shallow summer flows.