Sixty-seven Days

Seasonal Bright Water

I sat and watched old Punxsutawney Phil make his prediction at dawn this morning, flanked by hordes of shivering onlookers: six more weeks of winter. I wasn’t surprised, since my countdown stretches out over a significantly longer span. Sixty-seven days is a bit more than nine and a half weeks and, though I love springtime, the dry fly season just doesn’t begin until the new season has settled in.

I found an email from a friend over on the Esopus, one with an imbedded video clip of a famous fly guy tying Ed Shenk’s “Letort Hopper”. This video guy was about as far away from tying the actual legendary pattern as he could get, but what I saw, brought back a flood of memories.

It has been more than thirty years since I first sat alongside the man they called The Master of the Letort and learned how to tie his legendary fly patterns. I recall my feelings of excitement and a bit of intimidation; the same feelings I felt a day earlier as we stalked the meadows of Pennsylvania’s most challenging and historic limestone stream. Ed taught me how to hunt trophy trout, how vital it is to consider each move before ever drawing near to the water. I think of him frequently as I stalk the bright waters of our Catskill rivers.

The Shenk Tribute Rod, bearing Ed’s Hardy Featherweight, with a Letort Hopper knotted and ready for a stalk.

Remembering that morning in Shenk’s den, I recalled the specifics of the Letort Hopper as I messaged my friend about the liberties that fishlebrity took in tying the fly. When Ed tied Hoppers, or any other fly for that matter, he tied them with the efficiency of an expert professional fly tyer. The hooks chosen would be 2XL dry fly hooks and his favorites were always the size 14 and 16 flies. At the time he passed his knowledge to me, he had settled on Fly-Rite poly dubbing, #14 Golden Amber for the bodies, and preferred the mottled tan and brown wing quills from a wild turkey. The deer hair he chose was whitetail, tannish colored early season body hair with well-marked tips, and coarse enough near those tips that it would flare properly. Observing the natural world since he was a tot taught him the importance of Nature’s mixtures of coloration, and he selected his tying materials accordingly.

Hopper bodies were dubbed a bit thicker than mayfly bodies, the turkey feathers cut into strips twice the width required and folded in half lengthwise, then their tips were cut in a broad vee shape before sealing them with tying cement. Fly bodies and underwings were crafted, the feather cemented, thread half hitched and cut off, and then the bodies were set aside to dry thoroughly. Once several dozen of these had become thoroughly dry and hardened, Ed would begin the deer hair wings, measuring them even with the tip of the underwing, stacking the hair with the aid of a .45 ACP cartridge casing, and cutting the excess butt ends. These were tied in on top of the thread wraps securing the underwing, the hair flared prominently, and the thread brought forward to the hook eye and whip finished. Trimming the head of the fly was the final step, done after hair wings had been fixed to all of the finished bodies: flat at the front and rounded along the top and sides to achieve a “can” shape.

The extreme closeups certainly show the flaws in the fly, my imperfect trimming looks better at actual size, but they clearly feature the silhouette that is key to Shenk’s design and the correct proportions of hook, body, underwing, head and wing that make this fly a classic that has caught trout worldwide.

The late Ed Shenk presents a Letort Cricket fresh from the vise during a demonstration at Cold Spring Anglers, Carlisle, PA in 2007.

The Letort was a challenging classroom in those days, and I returned over many years to practice the lessons The Master had taught me. Observation, approach, casting and fly selection were paramount, as was my growing familiarity with the stream. I always marveled at how a few huge browns would hunt late, lingering precious moments after dawn. I would creep into the Barnyard Meadow at first light and begin watching the stream from a distance. There would be no motion save the current itself, and I would advance slowly toward the bank, ever watchful for signs of life. More than once I crouched in the tall grass on summer mornings when a broad wake would develop forty yards upstream and streak down and past my position. With the sun over the trees at the edge of the meadow, I would see the wide bronze flanks of a tremendous Letort brown as it sped past overtop of the weed beds. I began to believe that the gentle sunrise itself spooked those trout.

The Barnyard Meadow, in June.

I took my first large Letort brown trout in that same Barnyard Meadow, casting a size 16 Letort Cricket above a log jam two thirds as wide as the channel at dawn. The eighteen incher sipped the fly as it twirled in the tiny eddy if front of the upstream logs and gave me a real problem trying to play him out from beneath the fallen forest on light tackle. He was dark and beautiful when I finally lifted him in my net, completing my spiritual bond with the bright waters of the limestone springs whose legends still haunt me.

These monuments mark the fisherman’s trail into the upper reach of the old Barnyard Meadow, since renamed Marinaro’s Meadow by the Cumberland Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited who owns and maintains the access.

We lost Ed Shenk nearly three years ago. His passing was unexpected, for though many years had passed since our first meeting, he never seemed to me to age. Though our friendship was comfortable and cordial, I could not help but hold the man in reverence, for he was a towering figure in the lore and legend of American fly fishing.

Colors

My dubbing boxes: three and counting, filled with the main blends I use to imitate the fly hatches of our Catskill rivers. There are dozens of little labeled baggies holding wisps of blends concocted for rare hatches and once angled streams, but these boxes house the mainstays.

I am a color guy and, if you have read a few posts on this blog, you know that matching fly color is important to me as a fly tyer. I learned the lesson the day I fished through my very first hatch: color matters! It is one of those oft debated topics among anglers, fishermen tending to be convinced by their experiences and influences for or against the importance of fly color and pattern versus presentation. My experiences have led me to the conclusion that all the facets of the fly, the line and leader and presentation make a difference in fishing success, thus I try to put my best foot forward in regard to all of these factors. They are all important, and their ranking as related to angling success varies constantly at the whims of Nature!

I know that matching color and translucency are important, and I know that the level of importance varies under a myriad of conditions of light, current, water clarity and temperature. I have flies in my boxes that are not perfect color matches of some of our primary hatches, and they are proven reliable patterns.

Yesterday I took to tying a few Blue Quills, the common and traditional name for flies to match the Paraleptophlebia adoptiva mayfly. The traditional Blue Quill is tied with a stripped peacock herl quill body that may vary in color based upon the herl used, often producing a grayish to brownish body with a darker stripe. The mayfly itself is brown, generally darker than the brown toned quills, but I have long tied my favorite little Blue Quill Parachute with biots from a wild turkey primary feather. That fly works! It has taken many trophy trout for me when Paraleps are on the water, and it isn’t brown.

After I tied half a dozen old faithfuls, I chose a dyed wild turkey primary to tie a few size 16 quills in a deep hatch matching brown color, covering all my bases. One of the two places I ever bought flies in the Catskills was the Roscoe shop owned by the late Dennis Skarka. Dennis tied his Blue Quill Parachutes with bleached peacock quills. His flies had a nice lighter gray body with the dark striped segmentation, and they were deadly. That’s the effect I have in mind when using the wild turkey biots and trailing edge fibers.

My spring fly boxes for the beginning of our dry fly season will have both colors of my biot parachutes, CDC winged duns featuring both biot and dubbed bodies, and a few hackled duns with peacock quill bodies, often in a poster style with an Antron post wing. This spring, there are some Translucence 100-Year Duns that will be joining them. I will have the fly side of the game well covered. Presentation comes with every cast and includes every step toward a casting position and every adjustment to leader and tippet made before a fly is tied on.

There are days when matching the color of the natural flies is paramount to success, and there are days when it isn’t. When you get right down to it, the importance of color might vary from one rising trout to another. Whether that is influenced by the light and water clarity or the fish’s mood no one can say. My goal is to be prepared to match colors to the greatest extent possible, as I think its pretty hard to go wrong with the right color fly.

The Truth of Missed Opportunities

A new morning, another glimpse of memories of springtime!

To have the simple beauty of clear blue skies and brilliant sunshine greet me two days in a row must have been too much for me to savor. I thrilled to it, walked the riverside again reveling in the sunshine, yet still believed that the chill of winter would rule the day. Paradise lost!

Refreshed from the cold, bright riverwalk, I languished through the day, watching the wind ripple the flag and reading of old rods and old times. When at last I expected the mail, I stepped onto the porch and was struck by the warmth radiating from the southwestern sky. A glance at the thermometer beguiled me: 48 degrees! With February knocking, 48-degree sunshine feels quite like summer, and I was driven to sit awhile, to sip my favorite Cold Snap ale and enjoy the moment. By the time I had checked the contents of my parcel from Dette Flies and finished my draught, the awakened thermometer betrayed fifty-one!

That pleasant moment left me with regret, for I realized this day had offered more than a sunny riverwalk. The gift offered was a fishing day, one I failed to unwrap and enjoy.

Whispers of Sunlight

Ice and snow catches in the slack water… and grows there until sunlight returns.

I was looking at pictures of the river and, glancing up, saw snowflakes drifting down from the gray of the heavens. I finished my breakfast and, walking back found the living room flooded with sunlight! An unexpected blessing this, for it was just yesterday I perused the ten day forecast, reading the word cloudy ten times.

I found myself instantly inspired, brewed my second cup in my Rambler and stronger than the first, grabbed coat and hat and was away. A morning riverwalk is best this time of year, at least when there is a gift of sunlight, for it turns south early such that my road is shadowed by the mountain.

As I reached the bank above Crooked Eddy, ice crystals danced in the glow, animating my view of the river – simply beautiful! The moment took me back to other views of these tiny snowflakes, lit by the morning sun, with their ability to stir the soul. I had watched them here one morning of my first winter in the Catskills, high on a Pennsylvania ridge where I searched for whitetails, and west toward the Laurel Highlands where I took a bright cock pheasant on my very first hunt behind a pointing dog so many years ago.

I found the tracks of a deer tracing the roads edge amid my own boot prints from yesterday, and then further down, another larger set. They seem to walk that edge as much as I!

Alas the glory of the sunlight soon battled with dark cloud masses advancing from the southwest, and the chill of the late January morning returned as the clouds won victory. I sipped the hot coffee and smiled to myself as I walked; my spirit refreshed by the lovely bright interlude!

A New (Old) Approach

A couple of new approaches to my favorite mayfly design: The Fox Squirrel and Royal Coachman.

I do read a lot of older books as I work my way through the Catskill mountain winter, so perhaps those favorite authors are to blame. Dana Lamb seemed to write of casting a Fanwing Royal more than any other dry fly, and Connett and Gingrich flew that same flag, right here on Catskill waters. My online friend, Ed Ostapczuk, has penned a pair of wonderful books concerning his sixty-year love affair with the Catskill rivers, two of a small selection of recent volumes that I would recommend. As ranking Sage of the Esopus, Ed likes a Hairwing Royal Coachman when the isonychia mayflies are hatching there, much as Gingrich did.

I messaged back and forth with Ed yesterday, mentioning that I might even tie some 100-Year Coachmen for fishing, after sending him the photo of the Christmas Fly I posted here a month ago. I was pondering the proposed activities of my snowy morning when I decided that I may as well get out some red silk, peacock, and a Rusty Smoky Dun Collins cape I’m fond of and tie a few to line a compartment in June’s isonychia box. Always be prepared to show them something different!

I had to look a bit to find a suitable feather for the rolled feather wing of my 100-Year Dun style. Woodduck breast, of fanwing fame, is too short and delicate, but flipping a pair of mallard wings showed me what I needed. The fibers are shorter than those of a waterfowl flank feather, so the wing refused to fold to produce the clumped, Gordon style wing. My manipulations though, did give me a suitable wing profile. I’ll have no problem showing one of these to an isonychia connoisseur on either Beaver Kill or Delaware.

While musing about the contradiction inherent in an attractor canted wing mayfly imitation, I recalled the effectiveness of several classic general purpose flies and determined that a Fox Squirrel version of my fly would be a good addition to my fly box. There are times when hatches are sparse that a buggy, general purpose dry fly will turn the trick, just ask any of the hundreds of thousands of anglers who sing the praises of the Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear. I have always liked the looks of squirrel fur due to the variations in color and the short, spiky, barred guard hairs. For an all-around buggy early season fly, natural fox squirrel is my favorite, so I blended some with one part Squirrel Belly Antron and the barest hint of fawn colored red fox fur. A Darbee line Rusty Dun cape provided the perfect hackle to encircle the woodduck wing!

I could tie a few Fox Squirrels with the cree hackle I use for my Catskill version of the fly, though I do like the look of that rusty dun. Something to think about for tomorrow…

The snow petered out quite early but has returned with a vengeance. Perhaps we will get enough to work on that aquifer recharge I’ve been wishing for. Time for a hot mug of Starbucks Italian Roast while I consider whether a snowy riverwalk will be in my afternoon plans.

Bankside

The tackle for the day rests upon autumn leaves as the angler reclines streamside, waiting and watching for what the current’s thread may reveal.

I have spent many hours sitting upon riverbanks, learning much which I might otherwise have missed.

In my early days of flyfishing I seemed always to be wading and casting, at times wearing myself thin passing the least productive hours of the day searching all the water with my fly. It was my growing appreciation, no, my passion for the dry fly that saved me from expiring riverside due to overzealous fishing without catching.

Counting the years now behind me, I realize that much of that time has been spent watching, and it has been during these times that countless lessons have been learned. In truth, fly fishing should not come down to some relentless pursuit of everything that swims. One caught up in such a constant, fevered search hasn’t time to listen to the river, to learn what Nature has to teach.

In decades of sitting and watching rivers, I have witnessed countless subtle clues to the magic and the mystery of trout and fly. Volumes of angling lore have primed the neophyte to expect to be engulfed in a cloud of mayflies when visiting any stream his guidebook states holds certain hatches. Finding no such cloud of fluttering insects, he splashes and tramps through water that might have made hjis day sublime. It takes time to learn that writers oft get caught up in the bliss of their most breathtaking moments astream, portraying rare occurrences as commonplace. An afternoon spent sitting quietly on the bank reveals the truth behind fantasy.

Cultivating patience and stream craft is the antithesis of the instant gratification society leads many to seek, and the patience learned along riverbanks has led me to see and appreciate the wonder of rivers.

These old eyes see so much more when given the time to study currents and eddies, pockets of shade and the tiny motion of a single mayfly plastered in the film. I cannot count the times that studying the subtleties of the river’s flow has revealed the lie of some trophy trout. Waiting puts me at ease, and once the clues have been discovered, the transition from rest to a careful stalk comes naturally.

Learning the habits of rivers, and those quiet hours of study help form an understanding of the game that cannot be taken from a book or an article. The knowledge gained from years of careful angling fuels instincts that guide my fishing. Certainly, there are times when covering water is the best gameplan, but not with a hurried, haphazard attack. Wading teaches a connection with the river, care and stealth should be the result. When I “cover water” I am hunting; I concentrate on certain parts of that water, constantly assessing the best approach, the prime casting position for each reach of current I have targeted.

I have reaped great pleasure from time along the water. There are times when I have been relatively certain I would not take a trout, when my pleasure came instead from watching an eagle glide between treetops, or the soft shadows of clouds above the mountains. I have a special fondness for the myriad effects of light upon the water and the landscape, and take moments to appreciate the simple beauty before me.

Snow For Our Watersheds

We had plenty of snow during the winter of 2019 – 2020, and good river flows later that season.

I awoke this morning with news, snow is coming! We could see nine inches on the ground by Tuesday evening and return to a classic winter landscape. Now I am no skier, I don’t have the knees to be a winter sports guy, but I am wholly and completely an angler. Snowfalls tend to be far more beneficial in the role of replenishing our watersheds, at least barring those ugly quick melt events that bring us flooding and ice jams.

Snow in the mountains is beautiful, particularly once the storm system passes and the sun lights up our mountainscapes. It does sadly keep this old man out of the mountains themselves, a place I have been interested in getting back to, but for my part I am willing to pay the price for a fruitful fishing season. What would really be ideal would be for our temperatures to stay right here, around freezing overnight, and just above throughout the afternoons. Snowpack with a slow, controlled melt is the situation that gradually recharges our aquifers. Melt half of that nine inches over the course of a week or two and then drop a few inches more – perfect!

I will still happily welcome a February warmup! A few days to get me out to the rivers for more than my usual walk along the river road; a few days for a real walk along the riverbanks, with bamboo fly rod in hand. I want to swing that Dazed Dace fly of mine and see what it can run into…

They’re waiting for another chance, a solid hookup, just to see what kind of old leviathan they can tempt!

I certainly know that a nice, sustained snowpack won’t bring about that first hatch and first rise any earlier than usual, and it might even back it off a bit. I am still counting the days you know, but this is the time to look ahead and dream about spring, summer and autumn. The rivers, and their fishing, will be better off with filled aquifers, filled reservoirs and a nice slow melt that gets us to the promised land with perfect flows for mayflies and rising trout!

Wet and Raw

A Morning’s Work: Translucence Olives & Paraleps.

I can hear the steady rain on the metal roof as I type, and the cold air bit harshly when I answered the door a while ago. Though most days have lingered above freezing, it is still January here in the Catskills. I would welcome another fifty degree day before the overnight lows complete the icing of our rivers.

Recent riverwalks revealed skim ice along the lines of slack current and wherever the flows have retreated, but the main run of the river continues, leaving a touch of hope that another spell of warmer days might lead me to those banks with fly rod in hand. It has been two weeks since my last sunlit day upon the West Branch, and the first trout of the year. Eighty days lie ahead before a dry fly might be attached to rod, line and leader, and cast with intent. It is the season when I feel each one of those days.

I busied myself with tying this morning, putting up a dozen Translucence 100-Year Duns, half olives, half paraleps. Tonight, various friends will gather for another of the Catskill Guild’s open tying sessions, where we shall discuss the merits of various patterns for the venerable March Brown. Oh, would that such a grand and beautiful mayfly might actually hatch during the month it is named for! We borrowed the name you see, incorporated it from the British Isles, where the March Brown imitates an early season fly.

In the Catskills, it is the first large mayfly with heavily mottled wings, but it will not grace our rivers until well on into May. It is an intriguing hatch, puzzling in that it seems to be changing over time. For twenty years, every March Brown dun I lifted from the surface of a Catskill river was indeed brown, a warm caramel brown on it’s underside, bearing those magnificent tan hued wings with their dark blotches of mottling. During the past decade, the duns I’ve captured are yellow, mostly a pale dirty yellow with a yellowish cast to the wings and somewhat lighter mottling. Nary a single brown fly has revealed itself to me during that time.

The March Brown of the past decade: dirty pale yellow with that yellow cast to the wings. Have they simply gone blonde?

The flies are still primarily a size 10, and their hatching remains sporadic through the day, so I do not doubt they are the same species of mayfly. Has some change in water chemistry bleached them out a bit? I would love to ask a trained entomologist about that. My quandary grew when a brilliant safety yellow version of the fly began to emerge on a favorite reach of the Beaver Kill during Woodstock’s golden anniversary year. Ah the mystery of Nature!

The trout made me do it! A Woodstock March Brown Parachute that seduced a heavy brown in excess of twenty inches long, when the psychedelic colored naturals were on the water.

Preston Jennings, in his “A Book of Trout Flies” lists his dressing for the American March Brown to be tied with “red fox belly mixed with sandy fur from a hare’s poll” dubbed and tied with orange silk. His protege Art Flick tied his version with “light fawn-colored fur from a red fox” also dubbed onto orange silk. His “Streamside Guide” includes photos showing a very light color indeed. Interesting that neither of the classic Catskill patterns sport either caramel brown or yellowish bodies. Both have certainly taken untold hundreds of thousands of trout.

I still have a fly box stuffed with caramel brown imitations, Catskill ties, Comparaduns, parachutes and CDC duns and emergers, and I still fish them at times.

Most of the March Brown patterns I tie are crafted to match the pale, dirty yellow mayflies I have observed on the water, and I will continue on that course until Nature throws me another curve. Yes, I still tie the “Woodstock” safety yellow flies for the Beaver Kill too, for the trout have proven to be very selective to that bright color during the hatch.

The Translucence version tied with heavily barred woodduck and cree hackle.

Post script: It is 8:42 PM and we just wrapped up our Guild Zoom gathering. Our winter online tying sessions are informal and a particularly enjoyable way to pass a winter’s evening. We shared some ideas and a little history regarding the original American March Brown dry flies, and everyone tied a few flies for their spring fishing. I tied one traditional fly, modified from Art Flick’s version by using medium pardo Coq-De-Leon tailing and cree hackle as opposed to grizzly and dark ginger. In one of my dubbing dispensers you will find a fawn fox blend in accordance with Mr. Flick’s pattern. After that, I tied three Translucence 100-Year Duns in the pale, slightly dirty yellow coloration discussed above, and a pair of 100-Year Duns using my standard yellow fur blend of fox, beaver and a touch of Antron.

One of our tyers asked where the March Brown originated and Tom Mason joked that it had been around for “thousands of years” referring to the long history of the British fly. Tom, who has a passion for the history aspect of our sport related that the first publishing of an American pattern was indeed Preston Jennings 1935 volume, confirming my own belief. We discussed the differences and similarities of Jennings and Art Flick’s individual patterns, with Flick’s being the most popular among our group. There was little doubt that preference reflected a bunch of Catskill tyers’ love of the woodduck feather.

All those interested in Catskill flies and their tying are invited to join the Guild and participate in both our virtual and live gatherings. Membership dues are $20 per year, collected in February, and can be easily handled online at http://www.catskillflytyersguild.org .

Catskill Lingering

A Beaver Kill morning from two decades past, watching an unknown angler probing the head of Hendrickson’s Pool.

Tucked inside my tyer’s den it is easy to drift back in memory… There were days I waded rivers on younger legs, and many when the anticipation spilled over as I turned at last from NY 17 toward the Hale Eddy bridge!

Springtime in the Catskills, it always brings memories of endless days and nights at West Branch Angler. Stepping from the warmth of the cabin to find my wading brogues frozen upon it’s porch; tasting the sweetness of fresh Belgian waffles and strawberries at breakfast and the sherry oak smoothness of a Macallan hoisted high at the Troutskellar, once darkness has overtaken the river at last.

Many times, I arose early to tie flies at the table in the White House Lodge’s kitchen, and more than likely one of those flies would be the magic spark that made the day sublime.

A handsome West Branch brown that took a fly-of-the-day tied just that morning.

I remember Mike Saylor and I standing in front of the Lodge and watching a young black bear scuttle from the pines and down the riverbank for a drink, just after we drove past. When we headed back that way for our evening fishing, he had left us a gift piled right in the middle of the road. We still laugh about that sighting, wondering where that bear gets his drink now that there are cabins where the pines once stood.

There was a wet and stormy morning when I took Jim Downes’ little 7 1/2 foot Garrison clone down to the steadily rising river. As the current in the run increased, I waded closer to the bank to keep my footing, casting a big isonychia cripple far ahead and tight against the grass. That was where the trout hunkered that morning, and the tactic brought three fine brownies to hand!

The little Garrison clone and the biggest of those bank-hugging high water browns.

I look back fondly at more than two decades of visits to my second home, and sometimes miss the chance to awaken at the Lodge and tie some flies for breakfast. I still feel a touch of the old thrill when I pass the Hale Eddy turnoff.

The West Branch draws anglers by the hundreds once spring has awakened the mayflies and the trout, and my friends at West Branch Angler still greet them all with a smile. I keep my visits to the quieter times these days, content to browse the fly shop for essentials while catching up with Ben and Jake and Matt. Each time I gaze toward the water I recall special moments in time, and trout that thrilled and exasperated over so many wonderful seasons.

April’s Charms

“I’m looking for the April thunderstorms that wash away the drab colors of the winter time; I’m looking for the spring to break wide open; to hear the phoebe and the robin and the meadowlark; to see and smell the violets and the blossoms on the apple trees; to watch the swallows sweeping low across the satin surface of the stream: to wait for ripples of the rising trout, as evening falls and nymphs emerge and all the world is sweet with scent and song and gentle colors.” Dana Storrs Lamb, “Woodsmoke And Watercress”

How easy to sit and dream of April in the Catskills! I have hunkered upon the riverbank, catching sleet in the folds of my jacket as I pulled hood and collar higher to protect my neck, ever watching the bubbling riffle below for the telltale bob of sooty wings. I have braced myself against the pull of strong currents, reaching that my fly might fall just inches closer to the bubble below that rock, hoping that it speaks more of life than of current; waited until the cold made my legs feel like the stones themselves before forcing them to bend, to move and retreat from the rush of water that threatened my footing. I have warmed myself in the glow of evening sunlight and cast a fly to subtle rings where spinners met their ends. April is everything, the birth of a season with all of the trimmings!

Hunting riverbanks with polished cane, the fly boxes brimming with winter’s creativity, the latest answer for trout too cautious to come to the angler’s call. I relish even those early days, when experience knows the answer the heart resists; not yet…

Nothing quite so lights up the senses as that first glimpse of movement, of life at the surface of the cold, sparkling waters. My eyes search for proof, a mayfly drifting by point blank, the bulge and wink amid all the frenzy of the current that says rise. When at last my senses are rewarded, when the mission becomes one of casting rather than walking, the surge in my heart is bliss. The cast feels different somehow, though I have made them by the millions the muscles and joints don’t respond with the same smoothness, but the line unfurls, the fly alights… and the season begins at last. Those muscles remember as the line grows taught, the cane arches boldly and the ancient reel speaks.

Endless days spent searching, and at last the flies come. Chances are the first engagement is brief, enough to see them clearly, to know they are real and alive, but no more. The hours dwindle in vain searching – there must be a rise! It may be another day, perhaps a few before the search is fully rewarded. The spirits toy with April weather!

Eighty-six days until my steps quicken upon the riverbank, and my hand squeezes the cork with purpose. It is 19 degrees at dawn here in Crooked Eddy.