A Foible Day

My favorite cap and one of several favorite rods: a 1977 Thomas & Thomas Hendrickson 8-foot dry fly rod wears an Adams reel.

Another day in the smoke; certainly such conditions would bear the blame for anything unsettling that might happen, now wouldn’t they? I admit there was a different feeling than I usually get out on a beautiful Catskill river. I slept just fine overnight, but awakened feeling tired from a long day under that strange orange glow on Tuesday.

It was chilly for June, though that is not a complaint, particularly with the rain starved condition of our freestone rivers and streams. I wore a long sleeved sun shirt and a fleeced hoodie, yet turned back to the car when I began my walk toward the river for the jacket I had left inside. If the smoky haze contributed to my slight feeling of malaise, the lack of sunshine added to it.

From a fishing perspective, the day began wonderfully. I was standing in the edge of the river when a good trout smashed something buggy in a windblown bubble line several feet off the far bank. I eased out to provide some clearance for a full backcast, while tying on a juicy Green Drake comparadun. I knew the tall CDC wing would move enticingly from the influence of the rippled water and wind. I made my first cast short, an old habit sustained since it allows me to check the drift of my fly before placing it on target. The smooth Hendrickson taper turned over all fifteen feet of leader pleasantly, and the long undersized 5X tippet let the big fly drift and bounce naturally. The money cast alighted right in the middle of that bubble line and the fly danced atop the wavelets. I relaxed a bit as it passed the location of the rise, though thankfully I didn’t give up on that extended drift.

He came for it like it was the only fly in the river, with a tremendous geyser of white water, then bore down with his prize. I didn’t so much as raise the rod as simply hold onto it, and the trout was hooked firmly. The little Adams reel sang playfully as it’s serpentine handle spun with his energy and my rod bowed deeply. This guy was energetic, leaping high above the windswept surface three times! He switched directions manically, bored for the bottom of the deeper portion of the pool, and put his focus into ravaging my light tackle. The rocky bottom offering no release, he vaulted into the air again, streaked straight away and then leaped once more.

The living arch of the cane won out. I had him close for several frantic switchback turns before he tired enough to be led into the net. With gorgeously bright golden and burnished yellow flanks, heavily spotted with black and red, nineteen inches of wild Catskill brown trout finally surrendered my sodden fly. I could not have asked for a better start to the day.

That memorable encounter should have let me shed the negative energy and made the most of my day, but the worn feeling returned and I let it affect my fishing.

There are days when we all reap the liabilities of our own humanity, our imperfections. When it comes to fly fishing, the Red Gods smile and gladly help us endure the trials of such days. I think of them as foible days.

I traded offerings with one intermittent riser over the course of a couple of hours, sitting on a log between sessions, then rising, wading over and making a few casts. This trout appeared to be moving, though it wasn’t clear whether he was making a little circuit along a small reach of riverbank, or swimming about the pool on a wide ranging hunt. There would be two rises, generally soft, and then he would demure for fifteen minutes or more. As the afternoon passed, there came a time when he seemed to have settled down to a single lie, sipping choice tidbits. I rose, approached again and worked him thoroughly this time, only to finally have him take my fly with an unexpectedly solid plunk. The pent-up tension of this long engagement gave way to a classic overreaction by way of a rapid, overzealous hookset that whisked the fly from his vicinity before he could eat it.

And so the day continued in similar vein: wind rippled waters, impinged drifts from casting in those gusty winds, and missed opportunities whenever my concentration lagged. There was a light hatch of sulfurs, and several roving trout took advantage of it. The currents were tricky by the nature of the river muses, and the breeze made them more so. I missed takes, snatched flies away, watched the refusals pile up when the wind behind me lengthened my casts more than intended and compromised my drifts. Whenever I sought to take a break and tie on a new tippet, the gusts would intensify and bow the tag ends of the fine material from my fingers and tangle my fly line around the gear on my vest. Each event became a little insult to my usual careful angling technique.

Suffice to say that I was more than tired of the game by the time it ended. That first wonderful sky arching trout was the highlight of the day, and I spent the rest of it paying my dues a hundredfold for those moments of enjoyment. If the smoke clears though, I’ll be back to it again today with a smile!

Fire On The Mountain

Smoke from the Canadian wildfires invaded the Catskills yesterday, creating an eerie atmosphere.

The day didn’t start the way I preferred. Awake before three AM, my aching back made sure that my sleep was finished for the night. We both had to rise early anyway, since my cardiologist had scheduled me for an echocardiogram in Binghamton at eight. I would have rather luxuriated in bed until my customary five o’clock, risen to my two cups of Starbucks coffee, and then tied a few flies while planning the day’s fishing.

The trip and the tests went smoothly, and I was back home and got a few errands taken care of by lunchtime. I changed into fishing clothes and decided to get a sandwich in town to take on the road. Lunch is always better by a river.

It was on the way home from Binghamton that I remarked that it looked like it was going to be a very hazy day. Within an hour, the skies looked like they were filled with thin fog hugging the mountainsides. The haze increased as I readied my tackle, and Cathy mentioned that she had smelled some smoke. The recollection that I had seen something on The Weather Channel a few days back about smoke from wildfires in Canada blowing southeast into the US had yet to surface, and I began to wonder if there was a forest fire somewhere in our Catskill Mountains.

I saw no signs of fire on my drive to the river, and I was finished with my lunch and wading the shallows when I finally remembered that newscast. By that point the skies were truly smoky, and the scent unmistakable. The sky conditions would create an eerie atmosphere throughout the afternoon and evening. At one point, around four or five o’clock, it became so dark I was having trouble tracking my flies. As the sun worked its way to the southwest, the smoky air took on an orange glow, strange but beautiful.

Fiery Haze

The fishing was as quiet as the scene for a while, until a few odd sulfurs appeared in the drift. I knotted up an eighteen 100-Year Dun and went to work, though my concentration was anything but sharp. My three o’clock wakeup was taking it’s toll. There were a couple of trout holding station in the low, clear water, each taking a fly in a nonchalant manner. I wasn’t seeing them eat duns most of the time, and they certainly didn’t show any interest in mine. Of course, I went through a few patterns and sizes: a small sparkle dun, a larger sulfur (I saw a couple), then back down to a sixteen 100-Year Dun. Nothing seemed to happen until my focus lapsed on one cast and I simply stopped watching the fly. Every angler reading this knows what happened then.

I rebuked myself and started casting earnestly with that fly. Of course, no trout touched it. Most of the few flies I was seeing looked to be size eighteen, so I tried a fresh 100-Year Dun in that size, the one I call the Classic Sulfur with the light orange thorax. That one got eaten before I zoned out again, and the nice eighteen-inch brownie cavorted all over that shallow flat.

I knew I would have to stand still and wait to see if the trout disturbed by that fish’s struggles would return to their stations. Unfortunately, that little break allowed my senses to dull once more. The fish came back one by one, and I zoned out and missed takes from three of them, wasn’t even looking at my fly when each took it in turn, and I was cussing myself for allowing my weariness to take control. I just kept looking at those smoky orange skies and hearing Charlie Daniels singing and fiddling in my head: fire on the mountain run boys run, the Devils got a date with the rising sun! It was a strange afternoon.

Recovering from my unwanted reverie, I worked at my concentration as evening approached. The trout were sly and extremely choosy, the handful of bugs on the water changing every few minutes. I took the best fish of the day on that same 18 sulfur, a golden flanked 21-inch brown, the second best on one of those green flies. You know the drill – observe and adapt. I finished my unusually vivid day with four good trout landed, and I felt better for my sleep deprived foibles early on. The report from the cardiologist was all good, so it looks like I get to go fishing again!


It is the fourth of June and forty-four degrees here in Crooked Eddy. The crest of our Memorial Day heat wave has curled and blown to froth in the wind, yet the rivers are wont catch a breath. We had a little rainfall on Thursday evening, a nice gentle rain despite the rumbles of thunder that preceded it’s arrival. Sadly, it was not enough to make a difference to our rivers. The Beaver Kill has recorded water temperatures of 70 degrees and higher for a full week and her flow is spare to say the least. This morning’s low certainly helps, but there is no rain in the forecast until Tuesday, and then only a chance of scattered thunderstorms.

Early June should be the glorious peak of the spring mayfly season, though not in rivers that remain too warm to fish. I despair when I see troops of anglers wading seventy-degree rivers, determined it seems to fish where they choose, regardless of the impact upon our wild trout.

There are flies around, and cold water on the West Branch, though solitude will not be a component of the angler’s day. Two gentlemen I have yet to meet are headed to the Catskills from Massachusetts, hoping for a historic tour of the legendary pools and runs they have read about all of their lives. I will suggest they rise before dawn should they wish to visit the ghosts along the Beaver Kill, when temperatures might welcome them with a few rising trout. I’ll offer an afternoon along the West Branch, with the hope that the cold tailwaters might give them the chance to tangle with one of the trophy browns Catskill legends speak of, and feel the life of the river in the arch of their bamboo rods.

Then Came the Last Days of May

A Mini March Brown Dun that landed upon my shirtsleeve yesterday. He was barely a size 14. Its a full-time job keeping up with Mother Nature!

Fishing amid the quiet of evening is something I don’t do much anymore. Oh yes, during my traveling days I was out there until after dark night after night, squeezing every minute out of the handful of days I might be allotted upon bright water. Since retirement, I have each day at my disposal, or at least the vast majority of them. I get to stalk wild trout when I can take full advantage of the feast for the eyes this game provides on our beautiful Catskill rivers.

My photo files are full of scenery shots. I have always been captivated by natural light, and it’s interplay with water and sky and all the interesting features of the landscape.

Daylight provides the ultimate scenario for surveying all of the subtle clues that Nature offers the angler. I recall one afternoon last September, the season was drawing to a close, and it was bright and as still as a whisper. I was walking wide water, when I noticed the smallest little glint of light a hundred yards downstream, a single little pluck in the surface tight to the far riverbank. I stalked that tiny glint of light and, half an hour later, offered my little olive dun to that particular stone upon the shore.

A single glint of light from far away…

Thirty years ago, when I haunted the limestone meadows of the hallowed Letort and the sparkling little Falling Spring Branch amid Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, the evening sulfur hatch was my favorite event. Part of what made those times so special was the ephemeral nature of those few critical moments where fine wild trout could be tempted by soft yellow dry flies! The hatch generally came late, within the last hour of light on a generous evening, or more commonly within the last half hour or less. The hatch and the rises began and intensified quickly, leaving only moments to make that perfect cast and reap the reward of battle with a worthy foe. I touched that magic again last night.

I shared the river with three like-minded gentlemen, Kevan Best and his buddies Forrest and Kenny, all of us bearing fine bamboo fly rods that glowed amber in the lowering sunlight. The trout were playing a familiar game, too familiar during such hot, low water spells. Brownies were cruising, some of the smaller ones rising to an invisible wiggling tidbit where they found it, others boiling the water as they charged one of the sparse Green Drake nymphs swimming toward the light. Up and down the river, we all fought impatience, casting to the boils within range, knowing that our dry flies were not the choice du jour. We waited for the edge of darkness, hoping for enough of the big duns to bring the one to the surface.

Low, clear water and placid current fails to make a champion of most any cunning dry fly; our finest art shows starkly lifeless when compared to the twitching wings and wiggling abdomens of the aquatic prime rib we call Ephemera guttulata. Sixteen-foot leaders, undersized 5X fluorocarbon tippet and a realistic CDC fly seem at times to be the only solution, though they need help from the lengthening shadows on nights such as this one.

And so, to that last half hour. A rise covered, a heavy boil, and the lithe shaft of split bamboo comes suddenly to life! He’s big, angry and splashing and thrashing everything in his domain; and then, the line goes slack and silence returns. The moments seem like fleeting seconds then as I check the fly, feel the sharp prick of the hook and quickly powder that feathered wing back to life.

Darkness falls as the last light retreats beneath the mountains, and there, a white spritz catches the dying light where a dun has fallen. The cast is away, the fly just visible in it’s drift… How far has it floated, a mile? Just a few feet it seems, until that boil in the surface of the still water meets it.

The shrill cry of the vintage Hardy echoes in the darkness, as the cane bucks and arches with his energy! Power I can feel, time suspended as he rushes toward every unseen bit of cover: “Fight him as hard as the tackle allows, this is the evening’s last chance!”

I hear Kevan’s approach as the game becomes a duel of slow pressure and quick reflexes. This fish tires slowly, and I can see his length in the dark water, close, but not close enough! At last, he lets me lead him grudgingly within arm’s reach, the mesh slips below his bulk and the game is won!

I feel for the fly, twist it free and Kevan wades near to take a look. The brown is twenty-three inches, wide flanked and heavy, a five-pound trout I guess. Slipping him free of the net he darts away, still with that vigor and defiance of the wild, and the two of us wade slowly toward shore.

Alive as darkness falls…

A Celebration

A variation of my Green Drake Crippled Emerger

Indeed, yesterday was Memorial Day and a national celebration and remembrance of those who have served America and paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It became a personal day of celebration too, as it evolved.

I regularly tease my friend JA that he needs to do a better job of understanding retirement. True he does enjoy life, I mean he had an unbelievable week of fly fishing in Argentina this spring, but he seems often to have too many things to do. I give him some good natured grief for things like working at his cabin rather than going fishing! Yesterday, the finale of our spring dry fly season, he finally took the evening off to join me for some fishing. Green Drakes have been spotted here and there, and I truly wanted him to get a taste of our greatest thrill with a bamboo fly rod in hand.

The beginning of the Green Drake hatch is reason for celebration all by itself. They do not appear in their former multitudes, and they are truly ephemeral in their dance upon bright waters, yet they are still truly special to witness. Big Catskill trout like them too.

We met down by the river, each bearing a fine bamboo rod created to honor the memory of Jim Payne. JA’s was a creation of his own hands (see, I said he was too busy!) and mine a collaboration between Pittsburgh rod maker Tim Zietak and the late George Guba, and a veteran of the Drake Wars. It was a lovely, and very warm early evening, the water stroked by an occasional breeze. A few tiny flies flew from the surface, sulfurs we concluded, as we waded slowly to our chosen fishing grounds.

For the first couple of hours, a few scattered trout enjoyed teasing us with the occasional rise. Whenever one of these cruisers ventured within range, we flicked our flies out for their inspection. Though we never heard them laughing, we had clear evidence of their disdain. Gradually, a few large mayflies began to appear at a distance. When the first of those flies vanished in a swirl, we concluded our relaxing interlude for the evening and became deadly serious.

As the flies increased, they would never be numerous, I targeted casts to cover each scattered rise before me. With a sporadic hatch, our wild trout tend to reduce their cruising behavior to more of a local patrol scenario. They would not hold a station and rise with regularity. Long experience with these habits have led me to try earnestly to put my fly on each rise form in a matter of seconds, showing that trout another tasty mouthful before he moves on in his patrol.

I could see several Drakes pop to the surface in one particular area, wriggle a bit, and then drift quietly. My dun pattern drew no interest, so I switched it out for a crippled emerger pattern. I designed these with a very full, tri-color CDC wing, for movement and as a more realistic imitation of the insect’s heavily marked wings. The most recent incarnation is truly a special fly, with props owed to JA for his preeminent abilities in processing and dyeing natural fly-tying materials.

I cannot recall what momentarily distracted my eye, what stimulus caused me to glance away from my drifting fly. I glanced back, quickly enough it seems, to see my fly had vanished. When the dreaded look away happens, it is typical to stare for a second or two at the empty water, just enough time for that stealthy trout to spit out the fly and go on about his business. This time, my tired old casting arm reacted before my brain finished processing the scene. That was a blessing!

The rod arched heavily, menacingly, and the line cut rapidly upstream as I stripped to maintain tension, when that initial run stopped, I began to reel the slack line onto my old, classic Hardy Perfect, before he launched into another seething run, and collected the slack for me. The night air was rent by the screams of that 1950’s bit of British hand-made perfection. Have I ever mentioned that I love that sound?

This foe gave no quarter, and I forced myself to match him run for run and blow for blow. He would streak for some bankside boulder or hidden snag, and I would lay the rod down parallel to the water to apply pressure with the rod butt. When he turned, I would reel as fast as I could while he boiled and surged. I never got a look at him until I had my net in hand and the leader’s butt reeled almost onto the old Hardy’s drum. We were both tired then, and I led him close enough to bring the net up underneath him. He thrashed, boiled, and tumbled partially into the bag while I fought to raise it from the water. At last, it was done.

The fly was securely imbedded in the front of his lip, and I twisted it free far more easily than I expected. He was terribly heavy, and I braced the net against my legs and scrambled for my camera. I lifted him once, calling to JA upstream, and then laid him back down to kiss the river. He swirled unsteadily, and I netted him again, then held his face into the current until he swam out of my grasp and turned back toward the cover he had hunted. The largest wild brown trout I have ever been privileged to capture on the dry fly had me shaking as I returned the net to it’s holder and collected my leader and it’s slimed and soggy fly. A bull of a brown trout, twenty-six inches long, I estimated his weight at six and a half to seven pounds.

I would battle another leviathan before darkness overtook us, that battle ending when the fly pulled out. Our celebration was completed when JA hooked up on a bruiser of his own, a four pound fish pushing twenty inches, and so fat he could not get his hand around him, his best on that reach of bright water.

There was never a big, frenetic hatch. Just enough of the great Drakes to urge some of the largest brownies to play in the clear, shallow waters. Truly the most exciting technical dry fly fishing an angler may enjoy! I hope that our evening was indeed the beginning, that the hatch will appear for a few days that I might follow it and partake of the magic once more. There are flies to be tied after breakfast…


I probably have a couple hundred Green Drake dry flies on hand, tied during the past fifteen years. It is always worthwhile to tie a few more though, to make some detailed changes, experiment with new ideas, even to design a few brand new patterns.

On Saturday night, a couple of gentlemen that I think of as friends were honored as Catskill Legends. They are both exquisite fly tyers and true scholars of our Catskill fly fishing and tying history, Dave Catizone and Tom Mason. I was pleased to congratulate the pair, as I too have a special fondness for our fly fishing history, something both of them spend a great deal of time and a terrific amount of effort to foster and support.

I had that in mind this morning when I sat down to tie just a few more Green Drakes, dry flies for the hatch that long ago captured my heart. I considered a technique that Tom had demonstrated, touch dubbing a well waxed strand of silk and spinning the bobbin, creating a fly body with movement: the essence of life! I tied my Drake bodies full as compared to some of Tom’s ephemeral North Country classics that he ties with this method. The goal was to craft a subtle imitation of a very big mayfly with a softer outline and that gentle movement. I used a bit smaller hook too, a size 10 1X Sprite dry fly hook, letting the indistinct dubbed body give an impression of the larger bug. Fishing in low water, I believe these 100-Year Duns might prove to be an advantage.

I know which rod will accompany me to the river as the shadows begin to gather come evening, a well-used copy of a classic Payne 102H. It is a modern rod built in the image of a classic. With the strength of modern glues, I feel secure stalking amid the darkness for the chance at a trout that might prove too much for a true vintage rod that’s seen more years than I.

I have already taken out a vintage Hardy Perfect to compliment the rod. It too bears a modern edge, as it carries an Airflo Tactical Taper fly line. It’s long, thin front taper will allow me to set these large dry flies down as gently as possible with the long casts required in low water.

I guess I find it fitting, this blend of old and new, for the goal of such tackle is to honor the quarry and the traditions that shaped our sporting consciousness. There is something very special about fishing vintage classics, touching the history they hold with the magic of a spirited wild trout spawned in our time. We are fortunate in that regard, for our forebears fished in the age of heavy stocking of these Catskill rivers.

Consider the gifts we have been given and honor the traditions of sportsmanship passed down to us.

Hunting In Low Water

Memorial Day, the peak of our spring dry fly season, and perhaps the hunt will be for a few damp stones along the river banks, rather than the trout of our dreams.

This is not the first time we have been hit with the season’s first heat wave beneath cloudless skies on this most popular weekend for the Catskill angler, yet it may be the first time that much of the damage has been so easily avoidable.

New York City is about to begin their drawdown of the reservoirs tributary to the damaged Delaware Aqueduct. Though the details still seem to be shrouded, commencement seems eminent on June 1st, three short days hence. With afternoon water temperatures reaching from 69 to more than 70 degrees yesterday on the tailwater rivers below those three dams, common sense, decency, and at least some appreciation for the wild trout and the anglers who flock here to Mecca, one would like to think that the New York City Department of Environmental Protection would move their valves from this morning’s minimal release flows and give the rivers and their permanent and temporary inhabitants a break.

Friday would have been a good time to raise the flows enough to counteract the heat wave and welcome the thousands of hopeful anglers. I am not demanding high flows for boating, for most of these anglers prefer to wade the rivers and experience the special magic of bright water and wild trout close to their hearts. Another 150 to 200 cfs of flow from Cannonsville, Pepacton and Neversink would have created near perfect fishing conditions, thanks to the cool nights we may thankfully continue to enjoy – just a mild preview of the higher flows planned to accomplish their drawdown.

Our ten-day forecast promises not a drop of rainfall, with highs reaching 90 degrees by Friday. Fly fishers know this time of the season affectionately as “Bug Week”, and it is sad that the greatest sport of the season will be diminished by, what, avarice? Come on New York, protect the environment, and give is a drink!

Vintage Catskills

Bright water in May!

This fourth week of May is closing out in fine style. In fact, one could say it has been vintage Catskills. I have enjoyed a couple of days fishing with two good friends, the trout and the elements cooperating to show us a good time.

Mike Saylor and I were expecting calmer winds yesterday afternoon, as well as more crowded fishing conditions. We found the tables turned though, having the selected reach of the West Branch nearly to ourselves and the winds strong and steady straight downstream. Mother Nature insists we pay our dues sometimes.

The caddis hatch that provided my friends and I with some nice technical dry fly fishing was quite sparse yesterday. Coupled with the wind rippled surface conditions, that meant that the few trout that did show themselves weren’t rising regularly. In fact, most seemed to be taking just subsurface.

Expecting calm winds of course, I had chosen to make this a vintage bamboo day. Armed with a classic old Catskill rod and one of my oldest Hardy Perfects.

Some will maintain that you can’t fish such tackle in windy conditions, that you need stiff, frighteningly unforgiving graphite rods and overweighted fly lines. Hogwash! Did anglers stop fishing in the 1930’s and 1940’s when the wind blew? Of course, they didn’t. One of the wonderful subtleties of bamboo is it’s sense of touch and control!

Fishing the flats we had chosen required some longer casts and using the tackle to take best advantage of that control. I find it best to fish with the wind under these circumstances, that on this day meant approaching the trout from upstream and across. Contrary to the modern, more power theory, I slow down my rhythm and allow an extra tenth of a second or so for my back cast. The wind helped to drive the downstream cast, and all that was required to put the slack that wind removed from my leader back into play was a very subtle reverse twitch of the rod tip inches before the fly touched down.

Regardless of how nicely that classic tackle performed under tough conditions, the trout were particularly difficult with just a handful of windblown and waterlogged caddis to interest them. The fact is, I didn’t take a fish on my go to caddis pattern that had been golden on the previous days.

The saving grace was the fairly short duration hatch of Hendricksons. Since the trout weren’t rising regularly, I changed my tactics and covered more river, stalking slowly. Before I noticed any mayflies on the water, I spotted a single heavy rise across the river. As the afternoon warmed, the winds grew stronger, gusting at intervals; the Red Gods hard at work to stifle our efforts.

When I reached a casting position above that heavy riseform I had stalked, I tried my caddis, since I still had not seen a mayfly. If that trout was still holding in that lie, he wasn’t having any caddisflies. I figured he might have blasted an early mayfly, so I knotted a worn, well used A.I Hendrickson to my 5X tippet. I smoothed some floatant into the shaggy fur blend body and worked the bunched-up hackle fibers around the base of the canted wing so the fly would sit correctly on the water. Satisfied that the fly had one more fish in it, I waited for the gusts to calm a bit.

My Atherton Inspired (A.I.) Hendrickson has been my most productive Hendrickson pattern this spring.

I made one cast, between the gusts, and placed the fly in the perfect line of drift, parallel to a bubble line of current trailing from a submerged rock. The trout took it, I raised that lovely old rod, and all hell broke loose!

That fish made a hard surge and took off downstream trying to spool my ninety-year-old Perfect! God I love that sound, but I began to wonder if he was going to stop. My mind flashed: Rainbow? If he is he’s headed all the way down to Hancock! Damn, fish! He took a breath and I lowered the rod, pointed it at him to use the butt to apply pressure. I got three or four turns of the reel handle and he was off again.

I kept fighting him like that, the rod down low to the water and pointed his way until he checked his run, and then I’d reel when he grudgingly came my way. Sometimes he would just pull and turn his flank into the current, so I would roll the reel up to even the strain on the eighty-year-old bamboo. It was a long battle, the cold, oxygenated water had that trout at his best, and he gave it all. When I finally got a look at him, I was surprised he wasn’t three feet long with all the power he had displayed.

In the meshes at last, he lined up to the 12 and 8 marks on the net bag, twenty inches on the nose. He was a brownie, fat and thick bodied from gills to tail, and I slipped him right back into that cold flow once I twisted the Hendrickson from his lip. Yea, vintage Catskills!

The Pinnacle

It is Friday, the 26th day of May, two thousand and twenty-three, gateway to Memorial Day weekend and the pinnacle of our Catskill dry fly season. It is 35 degrees here in Crooked Eddy.

Once again the spring season has reached it’s climax, too quickly it seems after proceeding in fits and starts from that quizzically warm second week in April. It could be my own tainted recollections, but it seems this has been one of the windiest runs of spring weather among my decades stalking Catskill rivers.

My longtime friend Mike Saylor rolled into the Eddy yesterday for an all too infrequent visit. He battled Boston traffic during the early morning hours, heading south from a visit with his new granddaughter. Mike and Cheryl have been travelling the world since his retirement, both with and without a fly rod in hand. It is good to see him back to enjoy some of our old Catskill haunts.

That spring wind was brutal here in Crooked Eddy as we shared greetings and donned our waders for an afternoon of fishing. Fearing the worst, we found conditions much better once we reached the river and waded in.

The trout were waiting for us. Numerous soft rings interrupted the ripples from the breeze across the shallow flats, good fish delicately taking the scattered shad caddis. My CDX brought music to the scene quickly, as the little Hardy was urged into song by an angry brownie. He was gorgeously colored, plump and firm in the net as I twisted the little fly free and sent him back to ponder his dietary choices.

It was pleasant fishing for a pair of old friends, easy wading, and smooth, gentle casts each time the breeze abated. The wild browns were strong and willing, though as always demanding of perfect pattern and presentation.

When Hendrickson duns joined the caddis on the water, the trout quickly shunned the CDX, and an Atherton Inspired 100-Year Dun replaced it on my long 5X tippet. The fly was immediately accepted, and that familiar chorus rose amid the rustling notes of the wind.

We tallied half a dozen fine fish between us, and Mike made sure to call me over to help him out by netting his twenty incher. A fine reunion for two friends who fished often during thirty years of friendship. We have waded the rivers and streams of the Catskills, Montana and Pennsylvania, chased steelhead in Ohio and Michigan, always eager for one more cast.

Another day lies before us, so I will tie a few more flies to tempt those brownies…

Two Days In May

Evening approaches on the wide water of the Delaware (Photo courtesy Andy Boryan)

For the prime time of May, fishing has been a bit slow of late, so when my friend Andy found a couple of days to spare, I couldn’t offer too much encouragement for him to toss his gear in the truck and make the half day drive to Hancock. I told him about the past week, and that things can change at any moment, finally adding my own personal rule: whenever you can go fishing, you should!

Andy rolled into West Branch Angler right behind me on Monday afternoon, and it didn’t take long for us to uncase the bamboo fly rods. Yes, I have to take much of the responsibility for infecting him with that disease, along with the friend who gave him his first cane rod as a wedding gift. I’m not apologizing for my role for, as I noted two years ago watching him fish his vintage Granger on another Catskill river, bamboo suits him.

I watched his casting with the lovely Sweetgrass pent as we encountered a few rising brown trout at an old haunt of mine. He fell for the 8-foot taper that Jerry Kustich had designed for me back in 2020, a crisp four weight that offers anything you might want when fishing Catskill rivers in summer. Andy loves the rod, and it shows in his fishing. The fine presentation that duped a very nice West Branch brownie early in our little tour of rivers, complimented by the wide smile as the fish took line against the arch of gleaming bamboo, made that crystal clear.

That initial success helped us enjoy our time together even more, as our sparse little parade of mixed mayflies and thus the rising trout vanished rather quickly into the afternoon haze. We headed out for the wide expanse of the Delaware, hoping to find a good evening rise, but though there were some scattered sulfurs and a pair of March Browns drifting past, the trout we encountered played an oft repeated Mainstem role. I expected rainbows, keyed in by their constant movement and the splashy little spurt rises, and told Andy we might have a lot of fun, or a good dose of frustration with these trout. The effort to cash in, to finally put our flies in the spot at least one of those traveling bows was heading toward kept our energy up, though it proved to be unrewarded. Andy did cross paths with one of them near dark, though his celebration looked a lot like a man standing in a river admiring his broken leader. I wasn’t quite so lucky.

The “Old Man” went vintage for the tour, casting the five weight Thomas & Thomas Paradigm (Photo courtesy Andy Boryan)

We dodged dust and guide boats, meeting in the fly shop parking lot the next morning, bringing back many memories of decades of mornings at West Branch Angler. I had hoped we would find the river uncrowded with our morning start, and though solitude wasn’t in the offing, we found enough room to search for a rise. We each found only one, neither the consistent kind we craved, but gave them some time and plenty of casts, just in case. By Noon, I decided it was time to execute my afternoon plan, the one that came up rather golden as it turned out.

Rather than dealing with more waiting and a paucity of bugs, we fished through three different hatches in the course of a few hours. There were sulfurs on the water when we arrived, and a few soft rises showed nearby. I was still giving my friend the lay of the land when his rod arched with the pull of a big, angry brown trout. “Hey what are you doing, I’m talking here”, I laughed, “you should be paying rapt attention, not catching fish!” I was answered by a grinning “I’m showin’ you up old man” punctuated by the ratcheting scream of his reel. Luckily the “old man” wasn’t the one who forgot his net, and kindly landed the youngster’s brightly colored nineteen-inch wild brownie!

Old golden belly put the test to Andy’s Sweetgrass pent, expressing his outrage that his lunch had a hook in it!
(Photo courtesy Andy Boryan)

We spread out and got to work, fishing through the sulfur hatch and right into a very nice hatch of Shadlfy caddis. As soon as I exchanged my sulfur for a CDX, I felt the big bend of the Paradigm’s classic progressive action as the result of choosing just the right riseform to cast to. Now my old Hardy rent the air with screams of torment. Ha! Vengeance for the old man! That brown measured a cool 21 inches.

We each landed three hard fighting trout, and missed as many more. When the caddis finally petered out, we looked at one another and Andy said “what do you think”. Before I could answer I spied a flotilla of taller gray wings drifting by – Hendricksons! I had three fish in a row, sipping delicately in shallow water. Neither of the first two tolerated a cast, despite my most gentle presentation. Big fish are not comfortable in inches of water! I dropped my fly further above the last trout in the row, and I guess he must have slipped down beneath it to give it a real close look. The surface parted, his white mouth opened, and I was a split second too quick to raise my rod. Goodbye opportunity for a last taste of Hendricksons!

We waded further, searching for additional risers. Despite of good number of big, juicy Hendricksons drifting down the current, we failed to find a taker to set up on. I was headed toward a devilish lie, one where I hooked and lost the same big trout twice in the same day last season, first when the hook simply pulled free, the second two hours later when a hard pull straightened it. I found no one at home.

Andy spotted a single rise, never repeated, and thus we called our day complete. We were smiling and talking as we waded back to our exit trail, happy and fulfilled for the excitement of the chase which highlighted our afternoon. Until next time, my friend!

Friends – May 17, 2021 both in camo mode (Photo courtesy Andy Boryan)