The cold rain and wind left no doubt: autumn is here and fully functional. All of the signs I observed during late August and those first weeks of September proved true, they kept telling me to expect an early autumn, and not the long run of sunlit days in the seventies, even touching eighty that often pass through September and well into October.
I was pleased to angle at last with my friend JA, too long sidelined this season. I had hoped for a better day for this reunion, as we stood on the river’s edge talking of flies and the haunts of wily old trout. I had observed a few good fish since the weather turned, and a few more flies. Hopeful signs, though the better trout had paid them no mind, while the little fellows rose cautiously when the mayflies were on the water.
We separated and waded into the flow, the wind carrying yellowed leaves and driving the rain into our bones with its gusts.
I knotted a big dry fly, keeping in mind some recent challenges, as I stalked a hint of motion I observed along the bank. Yes, indeed it proved to be a fish, sipping something there in the margins. I hoped the big dry would be welcomed.
I cast just off the bank, mindful of the need to work a moving fish gingerly. One over eager throw tight to the bank could end the game, and I knew it. Each cast worked over another foot, and then another rise appeared, tight to the shore, and I dropped the fly three feet up current on that same line of drift. There was no response, neither any interest in a repetition of the expected money cast. Moving again?
I resumed my little mantra, casting fifteen feet out from the bank, playing out each long drift and then tightening just enough to pull the fly under before slowly stripping it back for the pickup. The next cast dropped softly, I mended the line and extended the drift once more, but there was nothing. Pulling the rod tip slightly as the fly quivered at the end of its drift, I stripped once and felt a little tic. I paused, stripped again, expecting I had a leaf on the fly when the pull came, and I struck hard with both rod and line.
The leaf pulled harder, shaking its head, as the Leonard came up and swung to my right, the St. George breaking the silence of the cold rain with the first notes of the angler’s sweetest song!
There are moments of reckoning. This same old warrior had bested me thrice since June, but not on this day. The battle lasted, yet I felt the confidence this time. JA waded closer and snapped photos, for which I am eternally grateful. This trout had grown to mythic proportions, and JA has shared the tales of his victories. Within sight as the fight turned decidedly my way, I guessed the brown at two feet. He missed that mark by perhaps half an inch. His bulk, brilliant coloring and early kype were as impressive as his oft demonstrated ability to escape my grasp.
Though bands of rain passed through several times that afternoon, our final moments on the water were bathed in emerging sunlight, the young trout rising to delicate little mayflies, a fitting accompaniment for the celebration in my heart. Best of all this day was enhanced by the company of one of my best friends, company sorely missed throughout the breadth of the season.
The sun felt good as we waded out, lingering on the riverbank to capture the scene. Autumn in the Catskill Mountains is haunting and beautiful, as are the rivers born there. It has been a difficult season of floods, droughts and growing challenges for the wild trout of the Catskills. May autumn linger, passing slowly with many more moments of golden sunlight to ignite the mountainsides with the full splendor of the season!