Careful what you wish for…

A Heavy Hendrickson hatch

I had been dying for a good hatch of mayflies, struggling with the fact that, while the weather said early spring, the rivers decidedly said no, it isn’t. I would walk along the river toward my chosen fishing spot for the day, saying a little fisherman’s prayer for a good hatch and rising trout. You do have to be careful about gathering all of that mojo along a nice trout river, because you can overdo it.

I had seen a few flies one day last week, right before the weather decided we needed some more winter days. I hadn’t been back since, trying to give the trout and the bugs a chance to acclimiate to the five to ten degree drop in water temperature. When I visited the other day it became very clear that the stream life had acclimated.

I saw a rise at a distance, then another in a different location, but the black clouds overhead made me think that those splashes might have been rain drops or sleet. I saw no flies on the water, but then one of those splashes repeated and I was certain it was a trout. I have not seen a hatch like the one that began to unfold in a decade or more. Red Quills and Hendricksons by the thousands came bobbing down the current for several hours. There were so many naturals on the water, all wiggling and fluttering as they tried to fly off, that I expected every trout in the river to be gorging, but that wasn’t the case.

Individual trout would rise from one to three times and then stop. If they were in casting range I covered them, and if they weren’t I simply looked for one closer. There was no point in moving toward a rise, as that trout would quit before I got within range. Those I did cover ignored every fly I put over them. There were simply far too many naturals to compete with. As the afternoon continued the flies in the drift would change a bit. As it got later, the smaller Red Quills seemed most abundant, and a few trout began to feed more steadily. The skies became darker and I cursed my dark sunglasses as I couldn’t track the somber winged flies I had in the correct size and pattern.

When my dry gets lost among the naturals I get a bit too quick on the trigger, particularly with the level of excitement a mega hatch creates, and that was my undoing on this day. Three good trout took my fly and my quick strike only pricked them. The most I got was the beginning of a strong pull from one of them, before the fly popped free.

I spent some time at the bench the next morning, tying two dozen flies in hope of a rematch. Plenty of lifelike CDC flies and some bright Trigger Point wings that I could spot amid a maze of insects. There were flies the next day, though the hatch was much more reserved. The trout stayed with their sporadic rises for the most part. I saw a nice bulge at distance and let the Thomas & Thomas have it’s head. The long reach cast laid that small Red Quill down perfectly a few feet upstream of the open water target. The bulge came and I tightened into a nice trout that tugged sluggishly a couple of times then turned and hit the afterburners. Gone!

No one ever likes to loose a really big fish, and we immediately question why. I got my answer when I lifted the end of the tippet from the water. The very end was shaved neatly to a point. My tippet caught a tooth when that big boy turned and cut it. I did find an acrobatic brownie that liked the fly I showed him after a bunch of casts. That trout cleared the water at least half a dozen times! I ended my day with a smile after all.

Walking out, I wistfully took stock of the events of the past 48 hours. I had witnessed one of the greatest hatches I had ever seen, the kind I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to see again. I had pitted my skills against tremendous odds and had another dose of the wonder and humility that this sport gives you sometimes. I had managed to figure out which fly had the best chance of tempting a big wild trout to take a chance amid a plethora of mayflies, so I’ve done some more tying to be fully prepared with enough of those for me and my friend.

I hope today brings another terriffic hatch for John’s benefit, though not one of the same magnitude as the hatch I witnessed. You can get wonder and humility all through the trout season, but it would be nice for the two of us to catch a couple of those big fellows this time!

Missing A Bullet

The summit of Point Mountain wears a coat of fresh snow on April 16th, 2020. We will not have a repeat this morning, though it will not be warm and pleasant today either. The weather forecasters are squawking about as much as fifteen inches of snow for “Upstate New York” – thankfully much further upstate than the Catskills!

Funny but the forecast high for Hancock today is a damp, breezy forty-six degrees, the identical conditions I encountered Monday afternoon when I finally found and caught my first rising trout of the season. I guess I need to go fishing today rather than on more of those sunny, warm and glorious days the last several weeks have provided.

I did find a nice hatch the following day, when conditions were far more perfect in terms of delightful spring weather; plenty of sunshine and temperatures a full twenty degrees warmer. I watched various Hendrickson mayflies flying around and bouncing down the current, all of which failed to entice even a single trout to rise. The next day was markedly different, somewhat inhospitible in fact, but there was little activity to fascinate the angler. Spring in the Catskills: Nature offers a different stage each day.

There have been dozens of fine fishing stories crafted around the, the worse the weather the better the fishing theme, absolute classics. It does happen that way sometimes too, though I have spent a lot of miserable days shiverring in trout rivers watching and waiting for hatches that never appeared, and trout that never rose. Not that any day spent along bright water is truly miserable. There are certainly wide ranging outcomes possible in regards to creature comforts. Chances are I’ll be out there again today.

A friend down in Maryland braved high water to fish the Grannom hatch on Pennsylvania’s Little Juniata River yesterday. He reported several trout landed, though he qualified his report with the revelation that he simply couldn’t get to a lot of them. I’ve done the same, and I know there is a special satisfaction when we fish in chancy conditions and come out on top. The little bit of risk is exhilarating, though we’re careful not to do anything stupid.

As we get older, I think we crave that little bit of exhilaration, but we have to temper those desires with common sense and safety. Fishing is far too beautiful a lifestyle to let it end prematurely.

I have passed up on casts to some real brutes, feeding ravenously on early season mayflies, because I realized that the one or two more steps I needed to get close enough to make a perfect presentation were two steps too far. As galactic hero Jean Luc Picard once said, “I have become increasingly aware that there are fewer days ahead then there are behind”. No point in shifting the balance on that scale in the wrong direction.

At the time, those good decisions were agonizing. We never know when the fish we see rising is the trout, that mythical fish of a lifetime that lurks in each angler’s subconcious, and that makes it very, very hard to turn away. I try to reflect upon the pure fact that my greatest trophies did not require risking my life to capture. Rather they required stealth, patience and skill, often in low water conditions; and that is more satisfying than that little thrill from some risky wading.

There is going to be a lot of cold water around for the next few weeks, and cold water is the enemy of careless fishermen. We have to dress for the colder water even on the sunny days, something that is very easy to do in this age of hi-tech gear, and make sure we stay on our feet at all costs. Dunkings in forty something degree water are not conducive to enjoying many long years of fly fishing retirement!

The unequivocal reluctance of Spring

Warmth in March and early April can make us believe spring is in full bloom. But things can turn in an instant!

I was enjoying a gorgeous day yesterday, the brilliant sunshine clearing away Monday’s damp chill. The glory of springtime in the Catskill Mountains was all about me, the mountainsides carrying a warm reddish glow from budding trees, and the grasses greening and sprouting more each day.

My test for that ephemeral early spring was passed at last, with mayflies fluttering on the warm air as I prepared for some spectacular fishing! It has been more than five months since the last dry fly angling for 2020 passed into memory, and I am more than ready, standing in the edge of the river with an old cane rod at my side.

The hatch came forth earlier in the afternoon than expected, and I changed flies a couple of times in anticipation, guessing at the identities of those winging skyward before me. Alas no patterns I carried would produce a rise this day, for every trout in the river patently ignored all of those fluttering naturals.

Anglers ponder the reasons for such days. The river’s flow was nearly perfect, its waters clear, and the temperature was right there in the good range. I counted at least three different mayflies, capturing a Red Quill and a Light Hendrickson in size 14, and seeing larger tannish flies on the water as the hatch progressed. No trout would rise under these seemingly perfect conditions, not one.

The old line is often uttered in excuse: well the trout just don’t recognize those mayflies when the hatch first begins. Hogwash! Trout have been found to have eaten bits of sticks and leaves, discarded cigarrette butts, seeds and all manner of detritus. They are quite willing to sample things that might be food. Their instincts do not simply disappear in the absence of regular mayfly hatches. Hundreds of wriggling, ascending, emerging and drifting insects all around them and not one trout feels compelled to sample a taste?

The other patent excuse, well they must have been feeding upon the nymphs, may seem to hold water, though I have seen dedicated nymph fishermen go fishless on similar days while I stood by with dry fly at the ready, watching. Late in the hatch I took that excuse to task, swinging a weighted soft hackle nymph down through the water without a touch. If there had been fish feeding upon nymphs I should have at least encountered one of them momentarily. No sale on that excuse either.

Anglers hate to admit that they don’t know. We love to talk endlessly of our thoughts and theories, but the truth is such events are as much a part of the magic of fly fishing as the days when every rise intercepts our fly. May those discussions continue, even though we will never figure it out; and secretly, don’t want to.

What’s he thinking?

Our beautiful, balmy early spring makes ready to demonstrate her reluctance with but two days out of ten expected to reach sixty degrees, more rain clouds than sunshine, and snow showers peeking back into the forecast on Friday. Seems like a perfect Catskill spring to me. Time to reach out and touch that magic!

Firsts

This seventeen inch Delaware brown became the first dry fly trout of the new season on an unlikely April afternoon.

I took a break from fishing to begin the new week yesterday. The rain they predicted came later in the morning, a downpour at first, though it soon evened out into just the kind of spring rain the rivers and their anglers welcome. The rivers rose a little, but nothing drastic, and the on and off showers through early afternoon today were more off than on. The warmth I enjoyed throughout last week had vanished.

The forecast called for steady rain throughout the afternoon, and that wasn’t happening as it got close to two o’clock, so I decided to take the short ride down to the Delaware and fish a bit. I changed my cotton pants for a pair of warm polyester sweats and layered my Nano Puff vest beneath a thick sherpa fleece jacket. With my waders on I pulled my heavy duty rain jacket over everything and proclaimed myself ready for the river on a wet, forty-six degree afternoon. The half-mile walk got me warm and cozy.

There were no bugs on the water, and the current in the bend was slower than I like it, but I started swinging a Hen & Hare’s Ear, letting it sink deep where the exposed rocks lined the channel. Eventually I had a pull, tightened up and pulled in about two pounds of chub. Yep, the river had dropped enough that the trout had moved out of the bend, leaving old rubber lips in their former domain. Time to walk out I reasoned.

I took a while walking along the pool, noting the birds buzzing the surface and expecting some sort of hatch might come off. I don’t know what had them excited, but I never saw a sign of an insect. I did cut the weighted soft hackle off and replaced it with a size 16 olive that was just sitting there in the vest, a remnant from last season. I walked further upstream, still seeing birds darting low over the water, and wondering just what they thought they were going to eat. The rain would fall steady for a few moments, then slack up, and nearly stop. Every time it stopped I would strain my eyes for some glimpse of mayfly wings. Nothing.

I had passed the head of the pool and come upon the transition zone where the light riffled water began to diffuse as the depth increased, walking a few steps, and then stopping to search for something, any sign of life. I was on the bank now, hoping that the elevation might let me see what those birds found so interesting. I never solved that puzzle, for I spotted a little ring just ahead and froze in my tracks.

The line was pulled from the old St. George and out through the eight foot Orvis’ tiptop and dropped off the bank into the water. I pulled a few more feet of line out, lifted the rod into a high backcast to avoid the stalks of dead knotweed, and made the cast. I couldn’t see my olive, but I knew where it was. When the second little ring appeared, this time with more oomph, I raised the rod and hooked my first dry fly trout of the season.

That trout was as surprised to find himself tethered to an old stick of bamboo as I was to have found him and had him eat my fly on the first cast. We did our little dance, and I realized pretty quickly that he was a nice fish, not an over eager tiddler lazing where the water slowed below a jutting point of land. I worked my way down the bank and found a spot to get in. He charged for the middle of the river a couple of times, but the relentless big bend of the Orvis turned him around and coaxed him into a jump or two. Scooping him in the net my grin was a mile wide.

That seventeen inch brownie amounted to a gift from the river, as I never did see anything on the surface that might have triggered that initial rise. I never saw another rise out there either, and I looked, believe me. One rising trout on a cold, rainy day, the most unlikely day of the month so far. Firsts. My first dry fly trout of the year, taken on my first cast, after spotting his first rise. He was also the first trout I have taken on a dry fly with that venerable old Orvis Battenkill.

This 8 foot 4 3/8 ounce Orvis Battenkill first wandered the Catskill rivers with me in November, too late for last season’s dry fly activity. The classic impregnated Orvis cane rods be fished without worry in wet, cold weather.

The Test is not an English chalk stream

Springtime on the Neversink

Indeed the Test that I refer to will develop over the next five days. My test for an “early spring” revolves around the early mayfly hatches; the Blue Quills, Quill Gordons and the Hendricksons appearing during the second week of April. The calendar reports this weekend lies amidships in that second week, so it is clearly time for something to happen.

I have haunted rivers for five of the past six days and I have encountered no hatch. I have seen one large mayfly, several tiny ones too small to be Blue Quills, and two red bodied insects that zipped past in fast water before my fingers could close upon them. I am telling myself they were Red Quills, the so called male of the Hendrickson clan, though a fly not possessed is a fly not identified. I have not encountered a single bit of clear evidence of a trout’s rise, that is, none of those lovely spreading rings in the surface we fly fishers adore.

We have been blessed with a run of beautiful weather, and it has been a great pleasure to haunt those rivers during a warm and inviting week, but now it is time for Mother Nature to close the deal. Dry flies have been tied, rods polished, lines cleaned and reels lubricated; and all have been given a test upon these warming springtime waters. Madam, kindly proceed to the Main Event!

My smallest 100-Year Dun, a Jave Red Quill size 16, tied to copy the solitary flies I think I saw bobbing down a bright riffle on two occasions. I am guessing, as only one drifted close enough for a grab, and my fingers failed in the attempt.

Similar reports have filtered in from some friends angling different Catskill rivers. Only one of these intrepid souls has managed to find a Catskill trout willing to inhale his dry fly, and I salute him. Another, further southeast in the warmer climes of New Jersey has had a bit more action. If it was safe enough for us to gather, I envision a group of older gentlemen standing around with blank stares and fidgeting with their assorted bamboo rods. We share a similar affliction, the love of bright waters, and the desire to angle same with the grace of the dry fly. Retirement is a wonderful thing. What better way to celebrate it than to wander the myriad of trout streams and rivers arrayed here in the Catskills. All we ask are rising trout. We don’t even demand to catch them, as we celebrate the glorious intricacies of the opportunities to try!

True devotees of the dry fly can talk for days about the trout they tried to catch, to say nothing of the volumes of tales available regarding the ones they actually brought to hand. I have thirty years of memories to draw from, and despite taking more than my share of fine wild browns, brooks and rainbows, some of the best tales from those memories involve trying as opposed to catching.

It is the trying that ignites the thirst for knowledge and the spark of creativity that results in new and better flies in the vise. We all have countless flies that catch trout for us and for our friends, though we have no flies for the trout we cannot catch! The same condition applies to casting techniques, designs for special leaders and even our approach to the water.

I have been known to spend two hours working on a trout I cannot catch. That time includes a lot of study of the insects in the drift, the riseform, the way my line and leader move on the water, and how my fly floats and behaves in the current. I confess to a passion for complex currents. A great deal of thought and effort is condensed into two hours of fishing to an uncatchable trout, and when the solution is found, it can be glorious.

Many times the solution is something very subtle: a more sparsely tied or ragged version of the same fly, two steps upstream and one to the right to change the angle of the cast ever so slightly, or a tippet three inches longer, or shorter. Sometimes the solution is that special fly, the one designed and tied the last time I tried to take a trout in this lie, and failed. I often think and refer to these pursuits as The Game. It is a game with changing rules, some that forever remain unclear and thus provide a grand fascination.

The casual fly fisher encounters a difficult trout, makes half a dozen casts, and then moves on if he doesn’t catch it; covering water, a perfectly acceptable approach. Take such fish as a challenge however, and let your passion grow: enjoy The Game!

Success and Regression

Sign from above?

It was another gorgeous day, even more beautiful than the days before, and I sat a while then stood in the river waiting for the inevitable. Inevitability doesn’t come with a time table. The rivers have continued to recede, offering perfect conditions for the dry fly and a rush of spring hatches. With water temperatures once again reaching the magic fifty degree mark, I was certain something wonderful would happen.

After three and a half days of waiting, the sinner within me reared his ugly head. I cut away my dry fly and knotted a Hen & Hare’s Ear to the 5X tippet. Curiosity got the better of me after staring into lifeless, perfect water for two hours, and I had to know if there was a trout out there. I made several swings nearly convincing myself that the trout had vanished and only magically appeared upon the wings of the season’s mayflies. About to rebuke myself and cut the fly off, I made one more cast, longer and further upstream, and then fed a lot of slack line out behind the mend. The fly swung deeper, and a fish took hold.

Though the life I felt through the quivering bamboo excited my senses, I had mixed emotions. Nevertheless I enjoyed playing this fine brown trout in the clear, sunlit water, at last bringing him to the net, only to be startled by an exclamation from behind. An audience, a witness to my sin! The voice seemed somewhat familiar, and I recalled a gentleman I had met at the Dennis Skarka Fly Fest last February.

I released the brown, eighteen inches of vibrant gold and bronze, and thanked him for his service before turning to speak to my unexpected companion. Indeed the gentleman knew me and was the same fellow I remembered. We had shared memories of the Cumberland Valley more than a year ago, a place near and dear to our hearts. We spoke pleasantly for a few minutes, before he excused himself to find other water, like me, ever hopeful for a rise of trout on such a gorgeous afternoon. I hope he found one.

Upon his departure, I cut the weighted fly from my tippet and offered an apology to Mr. Dorsey and the late Mr. Maxwell for subjecting their beautiful, classic dry fly wand to such indignity. Perhaps I am too harsh in judging my own shortcomings, for these venerable masters of the craft, in describing the Hendrickson models among their Individualist bamboo rods had this to say in 1979: “These rods are graced with exceptional ability to adapt to diverse fishing situations. The Hendrickson rods are capable of long casts, yet meet the challenge of short in-close dry fly work with equal ease. They do not differentiate between surface and subsurface work and adapt to both equally”.

I do not dispute that the rod performed admirably, nor that I enjoyed catching a nice wild trout on this breathtakingly beautiful afternoon, though I cringe a little any time I cast a weighted fly on a fine cane rod, even the off-season rod I often carry for winter fishing. Bamboo represents experience, skill, tradition and an unwillingness to compromise on the part of a rod maker, someone who appreciates these things as essential to the soul of fly fishing. My apology was an honest expression of my belief that it was deserved.

There were evils far more potent at work on this day than my minor indiscretion. The engines of construction offered evidence that a small but favored wild place may soon be lost. Most of us have but a few such places if we are lucky; places where our spirits soar as we approach, and all in our lives seems better while we linger there. Penance for my indiscretion? I place too much portent behind the brief, simple act of a fisherman. Perhaps simply, cruelly, inevitability.

An Eventful Spring

An early May day in the Catskills – we’re not far from that now!

An eventful spring so far: haunting rivers earlier than expected, cane in hand and dry fly at the ready, I am enjoying the gorgeous May weather this first week of April. Trees are budding, and the first tinge of green is appearing on the mountainsides. I saw flowering trees along the Quickway yesterday afternoon.

Standing in the river Sunday I glanced upstream to see a pair of young deer searching for early sprouts along the bank. I am glad to see they made it through a challenging winter. The eagle greeted me upon arrival, and bade me good night as I trod the banks toward home. Quite vocal, though unseen, I returned his greeting with a smile.

Monday afternoon I sat along a favorite stretch of bank, surprised when a full grown wild turkey launched itself from a grove of trees straight across the river. Minutes later his companion deemed it safe to cross and followed. The grouse have been drumming for a couple of weeks. Catskill wildlife has awakened and responded to the early spring, ready to fatten up after lean months in the snowy mountains, and set about their rituals of courting and procreation. All save the trout and their mayflies seem ready.

Strangely I am quite content, with my lust for rising trout subsided, at least until an early stonefly buzzes up from the river and makes me tighten my grip on the cork just a little. Oh, certainly I want to embrace the full measure of spring fishing, but I am simply at peace to be out along bright water again.

If I was privy to the mystical count of those degree days I expect determine the timing of the hatches, it would be easy to sustain that sense of calm. There would not be the delicious excitement of Nature’s uncertainty creating daily rushes of anticipation. Part of me covets such knowledge, though the other part relishes the mystery and expectation.

Temperament

A springtime dreamscape: sitting and waiting, imagining so many times past with joy and elation at both Nature’s bounty and her mysteries

Some laugh to see the solitary angler, sitting quietly with eyes ever watchful, wasting the day they think. For they are among the many too hurried to see what lies before them, rushing to “the spot”, eager to get lines in the water, believing all they have to do is cast their fly to catch all of the trout in the river.

There were times that I fished with more energy than knowledge, though I am thankful I always took a moment at least to appreciate what was before me, to acknowledge the color of light in the sky, the soft tones reflecting off rippled water. Yes, as an eager fly fisher I sometimes felt I had started too late, missed too much. A prisoner of geography, I fished since I was seven or eight years old, wherever I could. My Uncle Jim, and later my father brought me to the ponds and tidal rivers of southern Maryland. I longed for trout, the impossible quest I read fervently about in every sporting magazine I could get my hands on, and fly fishing!

The appreciation of the outdoors, the rivers, lakes and streams came from that beginning. Uncle Jim and I would find a spot along the bank of the slow Patuxent, bait our hooks and set our rods on forked sticks. We would watch the river go by, take in the sun and sky, marvel at the ducks and birds, wonder at the splash in the water: a fish!

My first real trout fishing came many years later, in a tiny Berkshire mountain brook, down the hill from Uncle Jim and Aunt Carole’s cabin. The wild brook trout came to spinners flicked from my ultralight spin rod when I visited in summer. I’d keep two for the celebratory annual breakfast, release all the rest; and I wished hard for a fly rod. I bought my first one back then, the only one I found at the little store in town: heavy fiberglass with a Martin reel and a level seven line. It wasn’t a trout outfit, but there were no trout at home. It saw duty when the bass fishing slowed, and I cast tiny flies and mini jigs for crappie or sunfish. It was another decade before a move put me in reach of trout water and I finally secured a proper rod, reel and some trout flies, and began to spend time in the most beautiful places around; places I had dreamed about all through boyhood.

I had so much to catch up on, so many years of dreaming and wanting this experience made me rabid for it, and I delved into it with abandon. Covered water, fished with that energy, fished too fast yes, too fast. That appreciation for what was special about the outdoors brought me back though, taught me to take my time, to watch and learn before wading in and casting. Thanks Uncle Jim.

Now I am that solitary angler, sitting on the bank or standing in midstream with an old cane rod in the crook of my arm; watching. The others pass by on the trails – how’s the fishing with a raucous laugh, and I hear them snicker: that guy don’t know you can’t catch ’em just standing there, on their way to rip some lips.

The brash voices have faded when I see the tiny dimple behind that rock on the far bank. Observation has long since given me the fly. The old rod comes up, pauses as the slow loop uncurls behind, and then curls forward tight and slow and gentle. The fly drifts, slowing in the current an inch from the rock, until the dimple appears again. The boisterous intruders are forgotten now, as the golden toned shaft bends deeply and the ancient reel purrs.

Sitting In The Warm Grass

Forty-five years and still feisty: a seventies vintage combo waits for action.

Yesterday felt like the day, but the flies and the fish weren’t ready yet. Still to be along the rivers again, walking and noting the subtle changes winter’s high flows had wrought was enough to bring joy to my spirit. Sitting on the warm budding grass along the river bank is far more pleasant than in the padded leather chair before my tying desk.

The weather for the week seems to be improving as we go. Where the low sixties were a welcome promise just days ago, we now look forward to beautiful sunshine to drive the afternoons close to the seventies. Though the hatches are still in waiting, spring has certainly arrived, and I am all the better for it.

The anticipation is palpable now, and I find myself wandering around the yard casting rods and trying lines with visions in my head. A few new ideas at the vise have materialized, the product of nervous energy as I have more than enough flies and plenty of new patterns to test.

The Dun Dun: Conceived as a Translucence
Series all purpose early season mayfly
A prospecting alternative 100-Year Dun with Trigger Point Fibers added to the wing for visibility,
lively and translucent with that same earthy dun colored silk and barred rusty dun hackle.

The Fox Squirrel, my own buggy Catskill Style dun has found time on my tippet in the opening hours of this new season. The fly offers a more traditional answer to the looks enough like a mayfly and its alive puzzle. My thought is that, since the trout aren’t tuned into specific hatches yet, a buggy tannish, grayish mayfly sized bug like the Fox Squirrel might just elicit a rise should I be lucky enough to put it over a neutral trout that’s enjoying the warming water and at least some stirrings to his metabolism. Fellow Guild member and Esopus Creek sage Ed Ostapczuk turned me on to the Dorato Hare’s Ear, a long lived Catskill pattern conceived along these lines, and even buggier when you take the time to blend your hare’s mask properly. The Dorato is one of his favorite flies.

It is a long standing tradition among fly fishers that buggy flies look like something to eat to a trout. My memory of the Cumberland Valley days brings a smile when I think about fun with buggy dries. My friend Jerry Armstrong was one of the leaders of Falling Spring Trout Unlimited, and I can recall his laughter when he told me about some of his fishing in the nearby mountains. He cajoled me into tying some big size 10 deer hair ants and then we took a drive to one of his favorite mountain creeks. “The more trout you catch on it, the better it gets”, he assured me, and after releasing my first brownie I could see how frizzy the ant had become with folded hair cut by the fish’s teeth. “Keep fishing it he cackled”, and I did as I was told. After two or three trout had mauled it, hairs stuck up everywhere, and any resemblance to an ant had vanished. All that was required was to cast this hairball to a likely lie and wait for a brown to blast it! We both caught a load of brownies that afternoon, none with subtle takes, as our laughter echoed off the neighboring ridges.

Springtime and fishing bring joy. The fishing can be spectacular, but it doesn’t have to be to be enjoyed.

Early Season Flies

A silk dubbed translucence dun for the sooty yellow colored early Quill Gordon mayflies encountered on the Beaverkill: the Crystal finish Darrel Martin dry fly hook helps the natural cant of the wings without the built up rear of the thorax acting as anchor.

The dun colored silk body of this translucence dun is a good general match for early season mayflies like the Quill Gordon and Hendrickson; hatches that I hope are not far off!

Twenty degrees this morning, though the bright sunshine has returned to restart the warming cycle with a new week of spring weather in the offing. Now I will begin to search in earnest for the first hatches of the season. Despite the warmth of March I have seen only the little stoneflies, tempting to the trout in warmer climes, though ignored here once again. Olives should be on the water, though the bright skies which lead to warming rivers are not conducive to heavy emergences of these faithful little flies.

I am hopeful that the rivers’ flirtation with fifty degree temperatures has awakened the stream life, that those several warm days in March urged the nymphs forward in their last push to maturity. Early hatches are a rare blessing in the Catskills, one not seen by this angler in a decade. I can picture the cloud cover increasing on a warm afternoon, and a stirring of life in the quiet water. Tiny wings upon the surface, just a few, sporadic but there, and the first soft dimple appears. There, along the bank that was long in the glare of sunshine, but now lies in shadow! Was that trout there all along?

Fingers tremble knotting a wisp of silk and CDC to the thin tippet; shoulders tighten with anticipation, and eyes scan for the proper casting station. The lobbing stroke of winter and weighted flies is abandoned now, and the wrist action is crisp and short. The tight loop unrolls smoothly and the leader kicks, its energy expended just above the surface, and floats down in soft curves. Dimple, pause and tighten…feel the essence of life in the cane, the electric charge to the spirit brings pure emotion.