A Birthday Present

A vintage Thomas & Thomas Paradigm 8-foot five weight rod reclines on the grass after meeting my Hardy Bougle. Requiring the sacrifice of another favored rod to acquire, this piece of bamboo perfection arrived in time for my annual celebration. Another year of drawing breath each day and angling Catskill rivers begins. I couldn’t be happier!

There has always been something special to me about a Thomas & Thomas fly rod. They were the first to catch my eye in print, and their catch phrase “The fly rod you will eventually own” stuck in my mind. Yes, one day I thought, as I eyed the unobtainable in my local fly shop, The Fisherman’s Edge in Catonsville, Maryland. The marque stood for taste, craftsmanship and quality, both in graphite, and in their very, very special bamboo.

Twenty odd years ago I was able to aquire a few of their graphite rods, including two of their Paradigm models, the pinnacle of rodmaking. Coming from a background crafting equisite bamboo rods, the firm had a clear vision for how a fly rod, a trout rod, should feel and handle. Fly rods are supposed to bend! Thomas Dorsey understands that. It is said that the Paradigm rods bore his favorite taper. Though many rods have passed through my hands in the past twenty years, those Thomas & Thomas Paradigms are still the rods I reach for when conditions favor fishing with graphite.

The equisite pleasure of fishing an original Paradigm in split bamboo is, well, something earned through a lifetime of hard work, and an appreciation of bright water, pure mountain air and wild trout.

Ah yes, wild trout… the first ones I glimpsed were bright flickering shadows darting through tiny Rock Creek! I had begged my father to take me trout fishing, something magical and far removed from the environs of suburban Maryland. He picked up the guide book that accompanied fishing licenses and read of another handbook, one about trout fishing in the state. I treasured that little volume. Trout were fish of the mountains, but a small, fishable population of wild brook trout existed in Rock Creek Park. Try as I might that wonderful day, I could not catch one of those bright little shadows. My rudimentary angling skills were no match for their wildness, but they left an indelible mark upon my soul.

It has been a busy week, keeping up with my much younger companion on fire from his first vision of our Catskills, and the Paradigm arrived on the last evening of his visit. Fatigue outweighed my anticipation if you can believe it, and the looked for package wasn’t even opened until the following morning. Refreshed, at least partially by a good night’s sleep, I was out in the yard after sunrise, fixing the Bougle to the uplocking reel seat and making those first gentle casts. The rod’s feel was smooth perfection, just as I expected. There was but one place to fish it.

Bright sunshine greeted me, the forested mountainsides full of the uncanny flaming chartreuse blush of spring that lasts but a moment. All I needed was a mayfly and a rising trout, a tall order for the day as it turned out. The wind that was forecast to be down rose with vigor, and blew far more pollen and leaf fragments onto the crystal currents than insects. I let my frustration with the gale make me struggle to find my rhythym with the new rod, the old tale of power where finesse is called for.

I am no stranger to waiting along rivers, and I practiced that skill once again on this blustery afternoon. Hours later a calm spell offered respite, and I scanned the surface of the river for signs of life. The day betrayed only a few, here and there during fitful intervals of calm, trout cruising and sipping. At intervals a meaty March Brown dun would join the prolific vegetable matter in the drift, but none of these drew the attention of the cruisers. The only other signs of insect life were the occasional shad flies, and I imagined one here and there lying spent, hidden from my eyes in the mass of buds, leaves and pollen. They were not hidden from the roving sippers.

A March Brown dun finds a quiet resting place on the swelled butt of my Paradigm. The trout did not find him and his scattered brethren appetizing at all. A puzzle.

A moving target offers a special challenge. That is why bird hunters choose a shotgun with hundreds of pellets to pursue their game. A fly rod and dry fly offers no such coverage of the field. You cast to the rise knowing the fish may no longer be there. They offer no clue as to their course, it appears random. Hope for success lies in a quick, accurate delivery and the quarry hesitating nearby after his rise. It came together once.

A sip, then a dorsal fin wavering in the film for a second, and the cast is made. The long line rolls out, turns over sixteen feet of leader and the size 18 dry fly, yes I feel it now, let the Paradigm work… The take comes in slow motion, and the nerves are steeled to respond in kind, with a slow gentle lift that sinks the tiny hook as the water boils and he makes the reel sing!

A perfect cane rod responds to gentle casting tricks, and works fully when battling a fine finned adversary. The deep bow in the Paradigm is unequaled, the exquisite taper tuned to the task. This fellow gave it a proper workout, giving his all to break free from the tiny spent caddisfly that bit him back! He was bright and golden there in the net at last, flanks heaving, struggling still to jump clear of this springy mesh. A single twenty inch wild brown trout is a worthy opponent to christen a new favorite fly rod, worthy indeed.

Reunion

This week joyfully brought a reunion of a friendship that has lasted twenty years. Andy and I met when he joined me on Pennsylvania’s Yellow Creek two decades ago. At the time, that little limestoner was my favorite dry fly stream, and one not too long a drive from home. We had some luck and enjoyed each other’s company. We both looked forward to a lasting friendship, and many memorable fishing trips, though life doesn’t allow for every wish.

While I had reached an age where life was stable and I had a manageable work schedule that allowed ample time for my hunting and fishing, Andy was in the thick of the blossoming of an active life. College, medical school, residency in a few different cities, marriage and children followed and, most recently, ownership of a lovely country house on my old favorite reach of the Falling Spring Branch. I am happy that my friend has built a full and rewarding life. He is the kind of guy that deserves it.

We still got together on the water, though not with the regularity we had hoped. Each opportunity was a celebration, with some fine trout battled and remembered. I had invited him to travel to the Catskill Rivers many times, something he wished to do, but this week marked the first time the stars aligned so I could share the rivers of my heart.

The weather was gorgeous each day, and the rivers had receded to wadeable levels. We fished in the evening that first day, catching the last minutes of a Delaware spinner fall. The old man hung too long in another location, hoping the chance for a trophy would materialize for my friend as it had earlier that day for me, and as such we missed what might have been the most active rise of trout of the week. Andy was excited nevertheless, and his excitement for the rivers was contagious to me.

The Old Man and the Sea: Piloting the drift boat as we begin our Delaware River float trip. (Courtesy Andy Boryan)

I was looking forward to our float trip as much as my guest, hoping the Delaware would open its arms and show my friend one of it’s best days. The promise of March Browns, and casting big dry flies to interesting runs with explosive consequences proved empty. The day provided a full spectacle of natural beauty and companionship, though little in the way of insect activity and rising trout. The big river is the moody champion of the Catskills, testing anglers like no other.

Our last day was a wading day, with an early start, and the hope I could find a hatch to treat us to some fast fishing. Alas the paucity of bugs and rises continued, and I made a last ditch effort to find some action. Another reach of familiar water was quiet, until later in the afternoon when a few soft rises appeared. Trout cruising, ghosting through wide, flat water and sipping here and there. I watched Andy working the wide expanse of the river, noting the perfection of his presentations with his vintage Granger cane rod. I was walking a hundred yards upriver, searching for the hatch I still expected, when I heard my name shouted. Turning, I saw Andy’s rod high in the air, with a full arch in the caramel colored cane.

Knowing he had left his landing net in Chambersburg, I walked as fast as the river would allow, finally netting a fine, big spotted brown of eighteen inches. He handed me his phone and I managed a single snapshot with the unfamiliar device: a moment of pure joy to share.

A hard won wild brownie, a gift from the river acknowledging a true heart, a love for angling and reverence for bright water.

We savored the moment together, as the aches in my bones prompted my slow retreat. On that slow mosey down river, a few risers burst to the surface, and we both cast at distance for a chance at feeling the life of the river once again. I was tired, feeling my age on this final day of keeping pace with an excited young angler half my age. On one cast I sighed and looked away, weary, though sad that our time together was coming to a close. In that moment, the reverie was broken by Andy’s shout “he’s got it”, and I turned to see a ring where my fly used to be. I was too late to hook the trout of course, caught in a moment of rest and reflection instead of the concentration that catching trout requires.

I hope it will not be too many years that pass until we may haunt bright water together once again. The Catskills have captured my young friend as they captured me some three decades ago. I can feel it.

(Photo Courtesy Andy Boryan)

One Year Later

Finding the right fly on the Upper Delaware River

I have fished this little caddis fly under different names. Our first meeting came on the historic Beaverkill nearly thirty years ago. There the fly was known as Shad Fly, named for their timing coincident with the shad run on the Delaware system. There were light and dark variations, the former a bright apple green, the other having that green mixed with a caramel tan coloration. I tied a pair of Gary LaFontaine’s Emergent Sparkle Pupas with an impromptu blend of dubbing and sparkle yarn and made my first memorable catches of Beaverkill trout.

Over the decades I altered that original dubbing, always staying close to the original green with just a hint of the tan. On the Delaware and her branches, the fly is called Apple Caddis, and my green fly has brought many trophy trout to hand in those ensuing decades. Last year I belatedly tackled preparing a blend of dubbing for the Dark Shad Fly, and tied a few flies I called the Caramel Apple Caddis. I was testing the new Dark Shad Fly along the big river one year ago. Casting to a rise I had a solid take and an immediate, monstrous pull. I reeled in my wounded dry fly with it’s hook straightened out.

While waiting for my visiting friend to make the long drive from the Cumberland Valley yesterday, I decided to scratch my itch to fish for a couple of hours. I strung up my big 8 1/2 foot Thomas dry fly rod with a vintage Hardy St. George and a number six line. Second chances are a wonderful thing.

It was a temptingly gorgeous afternoon, the wide river clear and calm, nearly windless, and the mountainsides full of the vibrant green of spring’s first blush. A fine day to be a landscape artist. There were just a handful of the little caddisflies about, very few actually, as I scanned the water carefully for signs of life beneath. Looking left, I heard a distinct plop to my right. I turned, but saw no remnant ring upon the surface. I took the leader in hand and pulled the fly line through the tight little English snake guides, ready for a cast…

I saw the next rise clearly, a playful little plop good trout often display when taking these little caddsflies leisurely. I lofted the line, false cast twice to work out some more, and made a cast, shocking the rod then dropping the tip to acheive the required drift. Plop! The ancient cane came up into a deep, deep arch and the fish started straight for me. I knew I had a good trout, as I stripped line madly to keep tight to him, but I didn’t know quite what I had just yet.

When he turned that hideous bow returned to the frail bamboo, and I though about the casting wonders of old Fred Thomas’ fly rods with their fine, delicate tips. My suspicion had been rainbow, but instead of the classic run and wild abandon of the Delaware rainbow, my foe parlayed short bursts of power to win his freedom. We fought at close quarters, so I kept that fearsome bend in my rod tip. The first time I brought him near the surface I saw him clearly. You know a two foot brown trout as soon as you see him, there is never a doubt.

We battled for a long time, each slugging hard and neither giving up. Each time I tried to bring him to the net, I reeled the end of my line and half my leader through those tight vintage guides, and each time my heart skipped a beat as he took it back, the line/leader connection hanging on each guide and the tiptop. Each time he rushed away I expected the frail tippet to part when that connection fouled at the tip, yet each time the rod showed enough power to turn him just enough to avoid disaster. Clearly, this one was meant to be.

I got a good measurement, checked it twice, and fumbled one handed for my camera while I held the laden net down in the water. The comedy of trying to lay the fish below the rod for that quick snapshot offered some flopping and tense moments, but I managed to click off two shots, then set the camera on a clump of grass so I could quickly revive and release the fish. Twenty-four and one half inches of wild Delaware River brown trout: last year’s opened hook? I’ll never know for sure, though big fish tend to haunt favorite areas, just as old trout fishermen learn to haunt them.

Just a little better than two feet of Delaware River brownie and the 1939 F.E. Thomas Bangor cane rod that subdued him. The Bangor grade rods were the Thomas Rod Company’s working man’s fly rods, with no special wraps or frills, just the same legendary Thomas quality and casting power that made Fred Thomas one of the legends of his craft.

Spring Gets Its Due

The Delaware River at Buckingham, Pennsylvania in the full greening of spring.

Finally now in the middle of May we have a run of perfect spring weather! The mountainsides are green and friendly looking and the rivers are rounding into perfect wading conditions once again. I was pleased to hear from my friend Andrew from Chambersburg and to firm up plans for his visit this week. I have been trying to get him to join me for some Catskill fly fishing for several years, and at last the time has come.

Andrew is a physician and has a large and growing young family, so there are countless demands upon his attentions. He measures his opportunities to relax for a little fishing in hours, sometimes minutes, rather than days. The weather and our rivers seem poised to show him a good time, and I hope they bestow a few of the special gifts they have shared with me for nearly three decades.

I sorted through the flies I had tied for him this morning, filling a fly box with the dries for the current hatches, and leaving others in the pill bottle they have occupied these past months. I filled that box out with some caddis, spinners and sulfurs, as well as a few March Browns; the hatches we hope to meet during his stay. Oh, and there are still a few more to tie…

I blame myself somewhat for my friend’s infection with the vintage bamboo bug. My love for fishing old Granger’s rubbed off on Andrew, and he can be found casting a couple of his own when he steals away some time on the stream. I truly began to appreciate mine when I brought them here to the rivers of my heart. I hope he makes some lasting memories of his own here this week.

My first Granger 8642 Victory, and its first Catskill trout: a gorgeously spotted twenty inch wild Neversink brown that believed my Hendrickson CDC Cripple looked more appetizing than the original. May 2014

Dues Paid

Sunset on the Dog

It was a beautiful morning, sunny and clear, and not a breath of wind. Mine was the first boat out of the launch so I knew I had untouched water before me. I was anxious for a repeat of the action I had enjoyed on Monday, and I slipped quietly down the first few miles with my spirit as bright as the morning sky.

I didn’t expect to see any activity in the upper river that early, and I didn’t. At the end of the last long riffle I drifted easily along the bank searching ahead for rises. Seeing none, I dropped anchor and waited. It was a perfect scene, I was early, alone and I had time to relax and wait for the flies to increase in number and the trout to rise. Perfection doesn’t always last.

The wind rose quickly into a full downstream blow. The forecast had been for 5 to 10 miles per hour, but this was a lot more than that prediction foretold. I slipped the anchor, moved downstream and stopped again, hoping that the water a touch further down from the riffle would be conducive to feeding trout. The flow gage had read 2,830 cfs at dawn, up 500 cfs from Monday, and now there was the additional wind current to deal with. Fewer protected pockets along the banks means fewer feeding trout.

I found a pair of risers, a little further down on my third drop. The initial gusts, the ones I hoped were a phantom wind, one of those quick little blows that comes suddenly out of the mountains and then vanishes, had made it clear they were here to stay.

Fishing to bank feeders sliding up and down in tiny pockets of softer water is a presentation game. Long leaders, long tippets and reach casts are required to give a fly as much time as possible in each pocket with a natural drift. Fishing these lies from a drift boat means casting downstream and across, then reaching upstream; on this day right into the wind. This would be a day of difficulties, of splashy refusals when the casts were accurate, for the wind would straighten every precious curl in the tippet by the time the fly alighted. A dues paying day.

That first pair offered three refusals between them. Throughout the day, when I was able to find rising trout, this scenario ran on repeat, just like a video loop. A calmer moment between gusts would allow a cast with a little bit of slack, and the drift would be almost perfect, until that last inch. The trout would come to the fly until some tiny unnatural movement would trigger his marvelous instincts to refuse, splash it but decline to take it, and the angler would raise his rod into nothingness.

My solitude evaporated a bit later than my expectations. In early afternoon I turned around to count seven boats bearing down upon me. I had no deck gun, no crew to repel boarders, though it was hard to shake the feeling that I needed both. It wasn’t a battle. A few anchored above me and waited: that guy’s found a fish rising, we’ll wait and try it if he doesn’t get it! I didn’t, though I did get three or four refusals. The others simply rowed past, fishermen with puzzled looks wondering if this was all they would get for their $500 day on the river. Weather is the great equalizer. Even luck finds it hard to triumph over it.

I had one chance at luck, down river at my last stop for the day. It had calmed for a few minutes, and I was sitting at anchor waiting. A few roving trout began taking the odd Hendrickson mayflies that were drifting by on the surface, their light patterns finally clear to see on the flat, smooth surface. I stood slowly and made a few lazy casts to rings downstream. I knew those trout were moving, that it was a game of luck, but I played my hand. On one of those casts I watched my fly drift out of sight into the glare. A moment later the water bulged nearby and I lifted my rod: a strong pull, a good boil, and the hook came away. Luck nearly gave me one big fish for the day.

The wind rose again a moment later, so I sat down and waited for the next calm spell. When it finally came, it didn’t last long enough for me to stand and begin looking for bugs or rises. Neither did the next calm spell.

A gorgeous, sunny day on a spring trout river, and I had a few laughs, finding the humor in the circumstances and the vagaries of fishing. I think I’ll live longer being able to laugh at splashy refusals and missed fish than groan and curse at those occurances. I have seen fishermen beat the water with their expensive fly rods and stream all manner of profanities at a fish that splashed their fly. That has to take the joy right out of fishing for them.

Fishing is much more than success, it is more than big catches and bragging about your numbers, the kind of talk you hear around the fly shops and bars. Fishing is a lesson in life, in joy and humility, in beauty and wonder, a lesson in patience and appreciation for the little things.

Solo on the West

It may not feel like May on the West Branch, but May it is indeed, and there are flies on the water.

It was all of forty-five degrees yesterday morning when we loaded up and headed for Deposit and my first solo float of the season. With the drift boat in the water I was layered up and ready for a long chilly day: Capilene, Armour Fleece, Nano Puff and a fleece lined shell to break the wind. It is may isn’t it?

Yes, it is indeed May, though it still isn’t acting like it. Funny how these mountain weather patterns run sometimes. It was a year and a day since I shot a quick video of the snow squall that covered my boat in a white blanket last year. At least there was no snow in the forecast this time.

Birds were working low to the river as I slipped quietly down the Barking Dog Pool. There were a few caddis lying on the surface, not the insect I expected on a chilly cloudy day, but I tied one to my tippet just in case. The flies seemed stunned by the cold, either that or they were early morning egg layers shiverring through the last of their life cycle. The birds would be the only predators interested in them as I drifted quietly down the miles of the upper river, enjoying the solitude and the lapping of water against the hull.

It was after noon when I floated down a long riffle to find a horde of tiny caddis at the head of the receiving pool. I spotted rises along the bank, just as tight to land as they could get in the higher flow. I saw, or at least thought I saw wings amid the flotilla of caddis, mayfly wings, and I plied those bank feeders with a couple of blue quills and a tiny olive to no avail. Those trout had to be eating the caddis, and that realization let me know I was in a world of trouble. The tiny pale winged flies were as thick as pollen on the water.

The Shad Caddis or Apple Caddis as they are known on the West Branch is a prolific species, and nearly always imitated with a size 18 fly. I do tie a few twenties, and I knew just where they were: in the other Shad Caddis box tucked securely into my fishing vest, at home in my driveway. To tell you the truth I think size 20 may have been too big anyway.

My solution, after convincing myself that none of those trout was going to hit my 18, was to perform a little surgery, trimming the shuck and wings back a bit; not a size 22, but the best I could do. A trout with mud on his cheek from rubbing against the bank finally selected my surgical patient from the thousands of real bugs just long enough for me to feel a little tug. The breeze had blown some downstream slack in my line and I didn’t get the hook home. Small fish, not one of the good ones I expected. Easy solution, pull the anchor and drift down twenty-five feet to the next little bit of soft water.

I brushed up my carved dry fly and went to work on the first of the new group, steadily feeding on all of those tiny shadflies. Dropping down into the pool was all it took to find the larger trout. They don’t grow big by fighting any more of that 2,300 cfs current then they have too. By the way, my surgery was successful.

My fly bobbed along half awash three inches off the bank and became lunch for a very surprised and energized brown! He was off the bank like a shot and pulling downstream with all of that current on his tail. Fighting wild trout from the boat is always an adventure, particularly in high water. It’s hard to get them to the net, and fighting and handling the long handled boat net solo is a chore. The current wants to rip it out of your hand when you dip it. Nineteen inches, a very respectable full bodied West Branch brownie.

It took a lot of casts, and another short drop to put the fly in front of his twin, whereupon I got to repeat the wrestling match with trout, doubled over fly rod and net. Grinning from the tenacity of the fish and my good fortune, I just kept slipping down that bank, adding a couple more nice brownies to my tally, and surrendering a third one early when he managed to shake, rattle and roll enough in that heavy surface current to twist the hook free.

Time to relax and drift again, as I encountered a pair of boats working the soft water at the bottom of the pool. That drift covered several river miles and a couple of hours, as I stopped at a few favorite locations to sit and watch for rises.

It was getting close to three o’clock and the caddis still littered the water. Sliding down another long riffle, I found a telltale ring tight to the bank where the undulations of the shore line created a little haven. I swung the bow out, took hold of the anchor rope, and put my foot on the release pedal, dropping it gently as the currenty rapidly moved me toward my target. Perfect.

Hmmn, this fellow won’t eat my caddis… it is three o’clock…Hendricksons! I groped in my boat bag for my box of drift boat flies and selected a well hackled Pink Enhanced Hendrickson parachute. That brown was a tough one, sliding back and forth along the edge and absolutly refusing to pay any attention to my fly. The great thing about a good bug day is there is usually another nearby. The combination of the micro topography of the river banks, the flow, and the wind sets up little pockets of soft water, even along the banks of a fairly straight pool. The trout will congregate in these prime feeding lies when there is food on the table.

A dip in the bank downstream from my recalcitrant edge feeder featured another riser, this one out in the current trailing from a subtle jog in the shoreline. It took a few long casts reached back into the wind to put my P.E. Hendrickson on line with that moving target, but the take was solid. The heavy head shakes and the long, bulldogging run into my backing left no doubt this was the fish of the day. I was concerned when he took all that backing, as there was a lot of strong current between us, whipped even stronger by the rising downstream wind. A steady firm hand brought him back. You have to know your tackle’s capabilities. How much pressure will that 5X tippet take? The hook? Its easy to get impatient and pull just a little too hard.

He was an absolute bear to get into the net. I was still close to the riffle and the surface current was heavy. I had the rod doubled time and time again, trying to get him to the top beside the boat. Finally, after half a dozen aborted tries, I had him. A smile of relief, a quick measurement along the net handle’s scale, and a snapshot before release. Big head, wide shoulders and a bit more than twenty inches of muscle. Thanks Mr. Brown, glad you dined on my P.E. Hendrickson today.

Solid Muscle, with fins!

Boat traffic was heavier in the lower miles of my float, so I didn’t get to work a few spots I would have liked. I did get to the last one first though. I managed a foot long trout while I was waiting for the sippers this area attracts, then cast my 100-Year Dun Red Quill to the first sipper over in the funny water, where the current backs up. He sucked it down on my third cast and put up more of a battle than his size warranted: a Delaware Rainbow. You have to love them. What’s not to like about a fifteen inch trout that fights like he’s a lot bigger than he is.

As evening blossomed, the other sippers proved immune. Were they taking the caddis, Hendricksons? Not mine. There was still enough breeze that I doubted any spinners were around, though I tried one anyway. No sale. I took a break from casting and dug out my phone to check the time: six thirty. Time to go. Cathy would be at the ramp in half an hour.

I rowed through the flat water as glimpses of lowering sunlight illuminated the clouds: a beautiful evening, even if it was chilly for May.

Art Flick’s Schoharie

At long last, in my twenty-ninth season angling Catskill rivers, my boots finally trod the gravel of the great Art Flick’s beloved Schoharie Creek, completing a long delayed homage to a Catskill Legend.

I have often visited the Schoharie in print. The late Art Flick was a giant among Catskill anglers, a bright light from the Golden Age, and a champion of conservation. Many times I have dreamed of a walk back in time and drinks at the Westkill Tavern, and of course an afternoon on the stream with it’s proprietor. I have an audio recording of Flick reading from his Streamside Guide, and I have played it while my hands fashioned his pink bodied Hendricksons and Red Quills at my vise, imagining I am there in the bar just as Schwiebert described it, listening to the tales and pronouncements of how best to approach the hatch.

Fleeing the dangerously high waters of my own western Catskills, I made the long drive northeast as clouds gathered to soften the morning sunshine. Winding along the Pepacton I smiled at the greening of the landscape and glimpses of bright water right up to the boughs of the overhanging evergreens. Our rivers will run high for some time.

My route took me through Big Indian and I stopped to spy on the Esopus, finding it indeed “tan” as the river’s sage had promised. It was he who remarked that the Schoharie had looked “beautiful” up in Hunter the day before. I had hoped to fish the smaller West Kill, it’s reputation for wild trout drawing me as much as Flick’s reverence for his home water. Alas near the village the river ran chalky with silt, from the evident bridge work I thought at first, until my glance found clouded water coming down from upstream. My introduction to the West Kill would have to wait for another day.

In Lexington the Schoharie finally came into view, clouded itself, so I turned upstream to make for Hunter. Around Jewett a sign directed me to a short loop road and a parking area overlooking the stream. It’s river bed seemed a mixture of the angular rock I find in the West Branch Delaware and Pennsylvania, though with edges rounded by the fast flows as the little river seeks the Hudson. There was a slight stain here, and no visible pools of holding water, so I drove on to the bridge in Hunter. I like the name.

The access map showed perhaps half a mile there with PFR’s, and I found a pulloff just over the iron bridge. With an eye toward the smaller West Kill, I had chosen Tom Smithwick’s very capable seven footer for a five, and the short, crisp taper would prove a proper choice as a steady downstream wind greeted me as soon as I waded in near the bottom of the reach.

The Schoharie appeared tan here too, though its water was quite clear, the color coming from the rock and stones of it’s bottom. There being neither flies nor rises in evidence, I knotted an Atherton Number 5 to my tippet and began probing the deeper areas behind a few scattered rocks. I had been concerned about high flows, but the river ran at a very comfortable level through the flats below the iron bridge. I found no trout in that flat, but smiled as the first Hendrickson dun lifted off and posed midair for my inspection.

The Red Fox pelt hanging beside my tying bench has none of Art Flick’s urine burned fur from a Red Fox vixen as specified for his iconic version of the Hendrickson dry fly. To fashion the pinkinsh imitations he championed, I have to resort to blending my fox fur with a bit of fluorescent pink Antron. I called the blend Pink Enhanced Hendrickson when I conceived it, and it has proven itself on my home rivers. I hoped it would suffice for these waters, tied in an otherwise standard Catskill style.

The Pink Enhanced Hendrickson, in homage to Art Flick’s iconic Catskill dry fly.

Wading close to the bridge, I noticed a few more duns bouncing down the thread of current closest to the left bank, though no rises appeared. I waited as the flies continued, then resigned myself to continue upstream into faster water. There had been one bulge in the current, half seen out of the corner of my eye while I’d waited, and I sent a few casts downstream over that spot, one of them interrupted by a strong pull.

The trout gave a good account of himself, using the bright current to resist the pull of the bamboo, and coaxing a flourish or two from the ancient Hardy to accompany the music of the water. Eventually I brought him round with light but steady pressure and slipped him into the net. I noted his color immediately, a tannish gold overwash reminiscent of the unique hue of the Schoharie’s bottom. I hope Art was satisfied that I’d landed “one of the good ones a foot long” that he spoke about in that audio recording.

My first, and only foot long Schoharie brown. He accepted my improvised pink Hendrickson imitation, fashioned in homage to the great Art Flick’s iconic pattern.

I would fish all of that lovely, rock strewn, broken water in the photo with no further glimpses of trout. The sparsely hatching Hendricksons seemed confined to the moderate riffle just above the iron bridge, and I fished that water well a second time when I walked back downstream.

I bowed my head in thanks to the memory of the legend. At last I had waded his Schoharie, found a hatch of Hendricksons, and taken a trout on a pink Catskill style fly, enough to pay my respects. Home lay two hours distant, and heavy clouds were gathering. I bid the Hudson River Catskills adieu, and enjoyed the pleasant scenery as I retraced my morning drive.

Searching for Rivers

The Mighty East Branch Delaware above Cadosia Riff and the Village of Hancock

Seven AM, and I step out onto the porch to the heady scent of new mown grass and the incandescence of clear blue skies and sunlight; but the grass is frosted white and the thermometer hovers just below freezing. It is another spring morning in the Catskill Mountains, and I am searching for rivers.

The Delaware tailwaters are terribly high, above the dangerous range for waders and the experts only range for boaters, and I neither take life for granted nor fool myself with ego when it comes to my experience behind the oars. In short, there is no fishing.

Perhaps somewhere, in one of those high mountain streams I have neglected, a trout will rise today, but the prospects are incredibly low. So still I search, asking questions, sending inquiries over the wire to those who may know distant waters. Stream gages are a wonderful tool, though useless without practical experience to bring the numbers into real focus. One hundred cfs can be a delightful, somewhat low flow here, and a raging torrent there. Everything depends upon the river channel, its depth, gradient and bottom composition.

A favorite mountain stream, a small tight channel with undercut banks and log jams, where deep water comes to your knees.
The wide Delaware River near Buckingham, Pennsylvania where 1,000 cfs is the beginning of low flows.

With freezing nights and days in the fifties, the high mountain streams are still icy cold, their trout not conditioned to rise. The larger rivers, while more resistant to the cold, offer little in the way of surface feeding lies in high water flows. Neither welcomes the dry fly angler under current conditions.

Forecasts call for more than an inch of rain over the next four days, something I would welcome under different conditions. The City kept their reservoirs near capacity in April, as the rainfall for the first months of the year was less than normal, and there was no place to store the rainfall from recent events. Things balanced nicely for April, with perfect wading flows and plenty of feeding lies available to the trout as the Hendricksons heralded a new angler’s year, but nothing lasts forever.

My window is shrinking; it may be a mirage after all. Is there one smaller stream I could visit, one that reaches that just right flow and temperature on this afternoon, one where I could steal a few hours with wild trout rising to the fly? The tools are available; the little one piece Smithwick stands in it’s wooden case, nearly as tall as I am. It has been far too long since I cast a line with that magic wand!

Sixty-five inches of classic cane, the smallest CFO, and a lovely wild Appalachian Brook Trout

I have been seduced by trophy trout prowling broad rivers, places where half the game is finding the niches where such fish rest and feed, and live their lives in avoidance of casual anglers. As the unwanted result, I have left the Brook Trout to their mountain rills, forsaken the pure joy of weaving along these bright ribbons through the forest, ducking beneath the fallen branches ever watchful for the wink of a quiverring fin. Brookie streams are secret places, tight quarters where each cast, and each backcast must be planned, mapped out for their prospective paths through the understory. It is too long since I have listened for the sparkle of water within a solid hedge of rhododendron, and wondered…

Water

Strong flows in big rivers challenge the wading angler, but provide plenty of oxygen and insects in the drift for trout.

I started out yesterday morning with the idea of fishing some different water. My first choice was a drive to the Neversink and the opportunity to meet a fellow fly fisher, a Covid Friend. No he doesn’t have that virus, it is simply a term which applies to a number of guys, most members of the Catskill Fly Tyers Guild that I have corresponded with via email during the past fourteen months of coronavirus forced solitude. I think we all helped one another through the winter by talking fishing via our keyboards, when personal contact was too risky to consider.

I was looking forward to the chance to meet face to face and share the water, but the beginning of this rainy week had other ideas. Monday’s rain pushed the Neversink up to 300 cfs by early morning, and neither of us thought it would be good wading. That river won’t see either of us for a while, as the heavy rain they expected last night has the river roaring with the discharge closing in on 2,000 cfs with their reservoir spilling.

Our Delaware reservoirs were spilling already and rose further overnight. With more rain today, Friday and on into the weekend, wade fishing is pretty well over for a long time. It looks like time to get the drift boat wet. Floating has its charms, but I am a wade fisherman at heart.

A drift boat appears out of the gathering fog as evening nears on the West Branch

I like to float when the river isn’t busy. That can be quite peaceful, an introspective day gliding along, searching for mayflies and rising trout. Of course our Delaware and its branches gets very busy this time of year. I remember when there were a handful of river guides running float trips. Now there must be a hundred of them. Even when they spread out throughout the system, that’s a lot of traffic, and many of the newer guides insist upon floating even in low water and on the smaller reaches of the upper tailwaters, intimiate environs suited to wading only. Trying to navigate a busy river takes the joy right out of fishing.

In mid-May last year, I floated the West Branch on a weekday with the river still carrying an unfriendly wading flow in excess of 1,000 cfs. The morning was quiet, uninterrupted by either people or trout, but the afternoon was like running a gauntlet. In several reaches where I had hoped to fish, there were so many boats and waders squeezed into every inch of river that I had to row a zigzag pattern back and forth across the river just to try to get through without ruining anyone’s fishing. There was no spot for me to fish myself. At one pinch point, I had to drop the anchor and sit there to maintain a little courtesy, as there were waders stringing out into the narrow passage within casting distance of three anchored guide boats. It’s fly fishing folks, not a mob scene.

I was sitting there for half an hour when the Red Gods seemingly appreciated my patience and threw me a consolation prize. A trout rose to eat a Hendrickson a boat length in front of my bow, so I tossed him a fly and caught him, a nice 18 inch wild brown. After I slid him from the net into the river, his cousin rose very close to the same spot, and I caught another one an inch or two smaller than the first. By the time I released that trout, the waders to my right had backed out of the water and two of the boats had lifted their anchors and were moving on. I pulled my anchor and rowed through that crowded pinch point as quickly as possible.

When I got home that evening I parked the boat and proclaimed my West Branch floating season completed for the year. I honestly don’t understand the reasoning behind this crowd mentality. Fly fishing is the ultimate one man outdoor pursuit. Quiet solitude was once it’s hallmark. I particularly don’t understand some of these guides. Do they actually believe they are providing a quality experience to their clients? Back when I travelled to the Catskills for my fishing I treated myself to a day or two of drift boat fishing on the big river when I could afford it. The guides I fished with, Pat Schuler, Ben Rinker and Sam Batschelet prided themselves on providing a quality experience. I enjoyed some wonderful fishing, and got to appreciate the quiet and solitude of a beautiful, wild river. These gentlemen worked very hard to get away from the crowds.

More anglers need to learn to be flexible in their fishing. When you find a group of cars parked at your intended pool, keep driving, try another reach of water. If you fish with a guide, insist that they provide a quality experience, not a game of bumper cars in drift boats on the most crowded section of river they can find. If flows are low at your destination, tell your guide that you would prefer to wade fish and leave the boat in his driveway. Everyone’s fishing will be better and more enjoyable with a retuirn to courtesy, sportmanship and common sense.

The Little Dirty Yellow Hendrickson

The first pattern, a Poster: The Little Dirty Yellow Hendrickson
The Jave Quill version of the LDYH in a CDC dun pattern awaits testing.

I have been doing my mayfly research for the next hatch I hope to be fishing, and the more I read from my references the more interesting things have become. I first encountered the mayfly I dubbed the Little Dirty Yellow Hendrickson on the Mainstem Delaware in 2019, then my friend John and I plucked a few from the waters of the West Branch during a float trip that same spring. They showed up after the main Hendrickson hatch was over, though the first duns I got my hands on certainly looked like Hendrickson duns to me, though smaller duns of a decidedly different color.

Once upon a time, if you went into a fly shop for a package of sulfur dubbing, you got a fur blend that was reminiscent of sulphur, a dirty, dark yellow with a golden overtone. Where I fished, sulfurs were a major hatch, but they varied from a fairly pure sunny pale yellow to a pale yellow/ pale orange mix, like most of the sulfur dubbing you see today. When I first captured the “new” mayflies, I dug out a thirty year old package of Orvis sulphur yellow dubbing and started blending from there.

My name for these size 16 mayflies was purely descriptive. They had the gray tails and fairly dark gray wings of the Hendricksons, along with the same distinct rather blocky thorax. The back of the abdomen and thorax shared a dirty gray tone, and the underside was that darker, dirty, sulfurious yellow.

In talking with fellow anglers, several chimed in with an “oh, those are Invarias”, meaning Ephemerella invaria, commonly called Big Sulfurs. I accepted that for a while, until I did a little bit of research and decided these were not E. Invaria mayflies. Angler, author and Catskill legend Al Caucci maintained that he and Hatches co-author Bob Nastasi had sampled several different unidentified species of mayflies in the Delaware system that appeared to be closely related subspecies of the Hendrickson (Ephemerella subvaria), some of which they referred to as Ephemerella X. From Caucci’s description, I don’t think these are his X bugs, but I do believe they are Hendrickson relatives. I will stick with Little Dirty Yellow Hendrickson or LDYH (Lady H).

Though I have more curiosity regarding the science, I am not an entomologist. I am a fly fisher, and I have the knowledge I need to find them, tie them and fish them effectively, whatever species they may actually be.

The Poster pattern above is the first pattern I tied to imitate the Lady H hatch, and it has been well proven on a number of selective trout. Best of all, I landed a pair of two foot long wild browns on that fly last spring. I tie a parachute version too with the same materials.

Since I started seeing these duns coincident with the apparent end of the Hendricksons this week, I gathered the appropriate flies into one box, and then decided to try a quill bodied version of the CDC duns that have been some of my top flies this spring. The Jave Quill Lady H should be a killer as well. Just to be safe, I tie a few of my patterns in a size 14, though most of them are 16’s.

Perhaps one of these days I will make the acquaintance of an active professional entomologist who will know the species of this mayfly, or take a few back to his DNA lab to solve the mystery. It does seem that every time those guys do DNA tests they rewrite about a century of accepted fly fishing literature in regards to hatches, something I am not necessarily in favor of. After all, does it really matter all that much if we have a brand new Latin name for the bug tied to the end of our line? If we know the appearance, habits and habitat to encounter these mayflies, then we ought to be able to have some success fishing the hatch.

I kind of like Lady H as opposed to Ephemerella schmotium delawarus once Dr. Joe Schmo actually identifies and names this new species anyway.