Valhalla In Color

The mirror of the river

It is a Saturday, and today begins the second full week of October. The sun, rising over the mountains to the southwest, has driven back the cold rain and clouds that greeted me before dawn. This first week has been very much autumn, with more clouds and rain, more chill breezes than sunshine. Thursday though, proved to be a glowing exception.

Expecting afternoon temperatures in the seventies, I spent a couple of hours at a friend’s haunt, finally getting my hunting legs adjusted to ridges as opposed to riverbanks. Azure skies and brilliant sunshine made it tough to see in the forest cover, with blinding flares shooting through each gap in the ample canopy. There is a host of color in the mountains now, with every drive north revealing more. The birds were otherwise occupied it seems, as I counted no flushes working slowly through the early season covers that often provide some opening day excitement.

It got warm early, sixty-seven even there so close to the mountaintop, and I chose to enjoy my lunch and then trade my upland boots for waders. The radiant energy from all of that sunshine sealed my fate, simply drawing me toward the rivers. I will hunt more of these mountains on a chilly, somber day. I fear there will soon be many of them.

I had thought to visit a number of pools, to spend a little time exploring in search of a taste of dry fly activity. I found anglers seemingly everywhere. The first truly gorgeous day in October is a magnet for fly fishers near and far, eager for that same sweet taste of angling nirvana before winter brings our season to a close.

I had packed my little Orvis Madison bamboo and a seventies vintage Hardy LRH that fits it perfectly and assembled the outfit carefully when I finally found a small pool to myself. I hiked down to the river and took stock of the situation. Three quarters of the pool was brilliantly lit, with some shade along the far shore. A few tiny mayflies lifted from the gentle current of this low water paradise, and I knotted a favorite autumn olive pattern in anticipation.

Wading out, I spotted a tiny ring here and there, several feet back into the shaded water, and knew I would have to get close to that edge to see my fly tracking on the surface. Finally in casting position, I discerned soft rises from a couple of fish, but their locations and the tiny disturbances gave me concern. A large trout can feed with negligible evidence when he chooses to, though careful observation tends to reveal the subtlest bulge in the surface just before the ring of the rise appears. There were no bulges here, just the rises of a few very small fish. I cast a few times, finally seeing the splash of one of the little fellows to confirm my suspicions. I bade them goodbye. There was one more pool on my radar, and I headed there without delay.

There are pieces of trout water that appeal to the hunter, places that don’t bring smiles to the faces of every angler. These reaches do not offer a large number of willing trout, nor do they surrender the few they harbor to casual angling. I have spent many hours on this pool, and honestly, I leave more often than not without even the chance to make a cast. There are however moments, fleeting opportunities for worthy rewards for those with the patience to pass the empty hours and days between.

Easing along, I could see the occasional flutter of a few, sparse little mayflies, and that simple twenty olive remained knotted to my 6X tippet. The river was low, and as clear as glass, with that glorious sun blazing its glaring light into the deepest lies it looked like high summer, but the current glided along at a very comfortable fifty-eight degrees. My expectations were not high, though I held firm in my search: my fishing would take place here or it would not.

I had waded and watched for an hour or more with no sign of any disturbance in the surface, much less an actual rise. The number of flies had not increased, though here and there a few would float along unscathed. I was studying a section of rocky shoreline when I saw the white wink just to the rear of a protruding rock. That quick flash was easy to miss, and many would dismiss it as a floating leaf turning over in the current, a common enough occurrence on an autumn day; but I was watching intently and knew what I had seen – not a leaf, but a white mouth!

I began the stalk, moving as imperceptibly as possible. There was no strong current to take the waves from my wading downstream and away from that trout. One missed step, the roll of a stone underfoot, and the game would be over before it could even begin.

Halfway home, I was taunted again by movement in the current below that same rock, and the flash of a dorsal fin breaking the film. It is easy enough to let the growing excitement cause a few hurried steps and ruin the opportunity that seems so close to being offered. I fought the urge by stopping, studying to see if I could see any other motion, then continued slowly on my chosen path.

If I had timed my approach, I have no doubt that I spent fifteen minutes moving thirty yards. In position at last, I pulled line from the old reel and tested the fragile tippet: 6X in a rock field, what was I thinking? No choice, as the conditions demanded it.

I tried a couple of short casts, testing the current’s affect upon the fly and leader that lied between us, and then waited. The brown rose in full view this time, head, dorsal and tail breaking the surface in succession. As soon as he was down the cast was on it’s way, a bit sidearm even with the short rod, that the movement might be concealed. The olive alighted perfectly, floated for perhaps a foot, and was taken!

The big brown’s first reaction wasn’t violent, and I said a small thanks to the Red Gods as I stripped line to lead him out of his deeper pocket among those jagged rocks. When he entered the gently rippling current between us he turned and ran, allowing me to feather all of that loose line I had stripped in and get him on the reel. The old Hardy finally found it’s voice as the supple rod bucked in my hand!

I was thankful for the low water as the fight progressed. Had this adventure occurred in spring’s full flow I expect that brown would have emptied the reel on his way to the riffle downstream and won his freedom. As it was he fought close, making many shorter runs then turning back to those tippet hungry rocks. I managed to guide him away each time, finally bringing him to the net.

The brown was long, a bit better than 24 inches and fairly lean, a testament to survival in a terrible drought year. I was fortunate he allowed me a few precious seconds to snap a photo in the shallows before I cradled him gently and placed him back in the main flow. He rested there as I retrieved my rod, then shot out toward the rock lined thalweg of the river at my touch.

In my youth we called such days Indian Summer, days with bright cool mornings and long, warm sunlit afternoons. I have always welcomed such days, particularly when the first winds of autumn have awakened thoughts of winter and the rivers’ long sleep. Each precious day with the dry fly might be the last as October progresses.

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