Have I mentioned that this has been a tough season? That fact isn’t changing from my consideration of all available evidence. Perhaps a mild hurricane system could send us enough rain to freshen our watersheds, perhaps even bring us back to those lovely Catskill summer days with highs in the seventies, and cool, fresh nights. Barring that, well, I guess I can just continue to pray for an all night, gentle soaking rain.
I have taken to hunting trout along the West Branch, as it is the one river in the region with enough cold water to withstand our recent heat wave. West Branch wild trout are somewhat legendary, for they get more pressure than any river in these mountains, and those trout have evolved. The slightest mistake will cost you your catch, an unchecked knot, one cast too many or just a few inches too close.
I don’t fish the “best” spots, for they are overrun with wading anglers and steadily barraged by drift boats. I try to find a little peace for a few minutes at a time until the next boat comes through. Fishing secondary locations has given me some enjoyment, and a few nice fish, despite a continuing run of questionable luck.
The high heat of midafternoon takes its toll on one’s concentration and stamina. I have felt pretty good out there considering, but oh the price of those tiny little lapses!
There is a particular fish I have visited a few times recently. His lie looks inviting to the eye of the hunter, though most anglers would pass it right by. The water is shallow, and the location in question is off to the side of the main thread of current enough that it doesn’t look like a prime lie. It is.
I have seen at least one gentle rise there on each trip, no more. I have fished it each time, drawing blanks until yesterday. Presentation is paramount in this kind of lie, and finding the perfect tactic takes some study and some practice. I guess you could say that I have been practicing.
Yesterday afternoon I approached that spot with a few stray sulfurs on the water. Every once in a while, a dun would drift down through that lie on the secondary current, but there were no rises. I positioned myself slowly and carefully, doing whatever I could to avoid alerting the unseen resident. Bright sun and shallow water are not the stalking angler’s friends, so I stayed well off, leaving myself a long reach cast to offer my sulfur. The seven-foot rod I had chosen easily made the distance, dropping the fly gently, but the aerial mend wasn’t quite perfect.
The fly drifted down while I fed slack to extend the drift, but the old boy was deeper in the lie than my previous visits had revealed. He took, but by then I had an awful lot of slack line on the water, more it turned out than I could move with one sweep of that seven-foot rod. I hooked the trout, but very lightly, and he came toward me immediately, adding more slack while I feverishly tried to strip it in and keep contact with him. My mantra for 2022 came to pass once again – the hook pulled out, and another big fish that should have been caught, wasn’t.
As the day wore on, I fished elsewhere, catching a couple of trout, having a bigger one bend my small hook open and escape and yes, a couple more pull outs. As the off and on little sulfur hatch petered out for the last time, I reeled up and headed out, passing that old lie again on the way.
With a what the hell attitude, I began another slow, stealthy approach. It had been a couple of hours since I more or less hooked that fish, so I figured there was maybe a 1% chance he would be interested in one of the day’s last sulfurs.
I stalked closer this time, taking a better position to make my presentation. My first pitch came off fine, drifting through the pocket without a hint of drag, but there was no sign of a look see. I checked my little fly and removed the threads of the famous green slime the West Branch produces in copious amounts and sent it out again. Bulge, take, and this time a solid hookset! He charged out from his lie again, into the main current, my little arc of bamboo straining to keep the pressure on him. With a tight connection, this time I could fully appreciate his size and power, but not for long. Maybe I should just start chanting: the hook pulled out…
So, there are some pretty long odds against fooling and hooking the same big old brown trout twice in one afternoon, particularly when he wasn’t feeding. I managed it and managed to lose that connection both times. Did I mention that this has been a very tough season?