Sudden Chill

The idyll of a calm autumn day. Autumn did not start like that this year! (Photo courtesy Chuck Coronato)

You know that you might be a bit too focused on fishing when you head to the river to meet 25 mile-per-hour winds on a sudden 55-degree day. Though the second official day of autumn, Friday felt a lot like winter as compared to the mid-seventies sunshine of summer’s finale.

I thought I had prepared for the weather, but those radical changes have more impact as the count of the years climbs. I still had that chill in my body hours later, relaxed in my easy chair in front of the ballgame!

We all know that wind like that is the enemy of fly fishing. It just limits our casting and presentation so much, in a game where those limitations truly matter. I had taken the rainy day off, and I really wanted to get out to greet the new season before the weekend and my commitment to tie flies at the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild/HVTU/CFFCM Roundtable on Saturday.

The Red Gods seem to enjoy needling fly fishers, there seems no other explanation. I have spent a lot of days on these rivers during a generally hatchless summer, so as soon as I waded out to battle the elements, they sent me some bugs. It was turmoil out there with the wind, the kind of conditions that trout don’t even try to surface feed in, but walking along the river’s edge I start to see mayflies: hebes and pale olives are drifting down the edge! After a while, I saw a couple of larger Cahills flying off the top of the wavelets.

I fished with a big dry fly, something that would be easy to spot, and I hoped might attract the attention of a hungry trout. These are not the kind of conditions for tiny flies on gossamer tippets. I tried the October Caddis, I tried the cricket, no dice. I did the best I could to control my line and leader in all of the swirling, gusting winds, all to no avail.

I decided to take one more shot at an old adversary, just to see if he felt the same kind of need to be out and about to greet the new fall season. I had tied on a nice size twelve Cahill, one of my Translucence flies that appeared to be a close match to the handful of pale, larger mayflies that I had seen flying from the wind tossed river. As I approached my final destination, I saw a sizeable surface disturbance in the vicinity of my target, just caught the commotion out of the corner of my eye. Was that a rise? Unlikely but possible I guess, though there have been branches blowing out of the trees and hitting the surface all afternoon. I continued my approach with determination.

Presentation is the final challenge. Fly design and selection, tackle choice and setup, wading and positioning are all critical, but in the end the cast must be executed despite the worst Mother Nature might throw at us and the fly presented perfectly naturally. The limitations presented by powerful winds blowing the line, leader, tippet and fly around as the cast unrolls will affect every aspect of our presentation, and not for the better.

The cast shot through the wind and unrolled with a significant amount of buffeting, and I backed the tip up with a gentle nudge as I dropped the rod tip to the water. The float looked pretty good considering, and it continued for several feet. I don’t know whether that old brown followed it down studying the fly, or if he was simply further downstream than I expected when the cast drifted toward him. I did get a nice, long float, but eventually I could see the first sign that my fly was beginning to slow down, a sure sign that all of the available slack in the leader and tippet had been expended. My next sensation was surprise and wonder at the explosion that erupted under that dry fly, like a missile strike had landed on my innocent Cahill! I burst into laughter and happily cursed that damned fish: “you just don’t want to be mine, do you?” I questioned. Of course, he had already given me his answer.

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