The Stealth Component

Rivers are terribly low, other than the West Branch which has been rolling along in excess of 1,000 cfs this week, the recipient of a mandated River Master release to meet the Montague flow target. This shot was from 2019, and I believe things are far worse now.

I have gotten deep into stealth mode this week, coping with some of the toughest fishing conditions of the season. I always take special care with my approach when fishing, but the lowest and clearest water of the season requires even more.

I have been finding resident eagles on some favorite pools during the past couple of years, birds that are staying put rather than roving over a wider area, and the trout have adapted. Few have been seen rising even when there is some sort of a hatch of flies to offer them sustenance. Since I am not a night fisher, I have had to adapt my game as well.

Perhaps the best way to envision this approach is to consider stalking in slow motion. That is hard to do, particularly when presented with a clue indicating an opportunity for a good fish. Hunting trout are often moving trout and taking a long time to get into casting range can mean that your target won’t be there when you get there. That is fishing. Continue observing and try again if you see one of those clues.

Casting accurately to longer distances helps, but only if you can do it with delicacy. Power casting is out. That high line speed that rod companies tout is your enemy under stealth conditions. That is one of the reasons I fish bamboo, or very light line graphite rods. Slapping the line down with your fly is not the way to catch wild trout at their wariest.

Yesterday my choice was The Queen of the Waters, a lovely eight-foot four weight from the bench of the late Dr. Bamboo, George E. Maurer. I have been fishing an Airflo line with a long front taper that really brings out the best of that rod’s semi-parabolic action, allowing easy distance along with extreme delicacy. Of course, it is still paramount to plan out each cast and take the edge off the power stroke. Even when you are in the zone with your approach and casting, fishing happens. I hit one nice, unseen trout on the head with the fly yesterday and scared him right outta town! If my fly had landed another foot to my left…

I moved two or three good fish in the course of my fishing, watching big wakes move out of cover, aiming straight for my fly, but choosing not to take it. Sometimes these ultra wary fish will follow a fly until it runs out of drift, as if waiting for a reason not to eat the bug that attracted their interest. If you think trout don’t learn from fishing pressure, you are wrong.

If you want to see this phenomenon, take a look at one of our angling classics, Vincent C. Marinaro’s In the Ring of the Rise. Marinaro crawled through the bushes along the legendary Letort Spring Run decades ago to photograph this kind of trout behavior and capture their various riseforms. Scientists did not agree that trout could learn back in the seventies, but they do now. One read through Marinaro’s Ring should have convinced them half a century ago.

I did have a very fulfilling day yesterday. I learn from and enjoy these experiences. I even got a great boil from one of those big following fish when I moved the fly that first inch for my retrieve. One of those big old wary browns was convinced that my Baby Cricket was the perfect late lunch, by the way. With the sun warming the low water, I decided to take my photo with that old fellow back in the river where he belonged. Wish I could get a polarizing filter for my pocket fishing camera.

Two feet of Catskill brown trout considers the advantages of the salad choices after his entre proved to have a sharp little hook in it!

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