ramblings of a catskill flyfisher

A trout finally landed after a struggle

By TONY BONAVAIST
Posted 6/2/21

The first six weeks or so of the 2021 trout season have been a mixed bag of weather and streamflow. When the season began on April 1, flows were down due to early snowmelt, with the release from …

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ramblings of a catskill flyfisher

A trout finally landed after a struggle

Posted

The first six weeks or so of the 2021 trout season have been a mixed bag of weather and streamflow. When the season began on April 1, flows were down due to early snowmelt, with the release from Pepacton Reservoir a mere 65 cubic feet per second. The freestone rivers suffered the same fate. Then, around May 2, significant rain caused all the reservoirs to spill and the freestones to rise accordingly. During this period, nighttime temperatures dipped well into the 30s, causing river water to drop into the low- to mid-40s at night. So, these last few weeks have been a period of high water and low-water temperatures. Despite cold water temperatures and bizarre flows, Hendricksons emerged about the third week in April—right on time. That hatch normally lasts about two weeks, but I found duns on the East Branch on May 15. An interesting, somewhat abnormal year to be sure, but a lot of early-season trout fishing is like that.

So far, I’ve been fishing four times: twice during really low flows, once during very high flows and, most recently, there were medium-high flows. Each time, there have been some Hendricksons, and on May 15, a decent blonde caddis hatch that my friend called “Apple Caddis.” It’s about a size 14, and the egg-laying females were on the water long enough for a few trout to feed. While the caddis were about, I missed a nice trout on a buff caddis imitation and, a few minutes later, the same fish on a rusty spinner.

After that, the river became very quiet with only one fish rising steadily, which I rose and landed around 6 p.m. on a rusty spinner. Without getting into size, I’ll just say that it was a very nice wild brown in excellent condition.

In past articles, I’ve indicated that, as an angler, I’m not inclined to talk about the trout I catch. However, upon occasion, a bizarre event happens that needs some explanation. This is what happened at 7 p.m., on May 15: After I landed the fish I hooked on the rusty spinner, I moved upstream about 75 feet. At this point, the river splits into two branches, coming together at a little point with a stump in the middle.

As I waded along, I saw a very good rise in the right branch above the stump. I knew I could not cast to that fish from my location, so I crossed, kneeled in the river side muck, and made a 15-foot cast upstream from the last place the fish rose. I was a little short, so I lengthened the cast, the fly floated about three feet and the trout took. When hooked, it immediately tore off downstream, taking all my fly line and part of the backing. I knew, at that moment, if I stayed in place, my reel would soon be empty and the trout would be gone. So I quickly waded (almost ran) across the right branch and waded downstream after the trout. That began a give-and-take tug-of-war that went on for a very long time. For tackle, I was using a nine-foot, three-piece Winston and a 4wt fly rod with Stroft 5x tippet. That tippet material tests at six pounds and is very strong for its diameter. And although I continued to put as much pressure on the trout, as my tackle would bare, I could not get that fish to tire. Several times, it took long runs with most of my fly line off the reel. Part of the problem with landing large trout at this time of year, when the water is extremely cold, is that oxygen concentrations tend to be very high, with levels up to 12 parts per million or more. Under those conditions, it is extremely difficult to tire large trout.

Anyway, this stalemate went on and on, and the longer it lasted, the more convinced I became that the trout at the end of my fly line was at least five pounds—my largest ever. Finally, after almost an hour, I yelled to my friend Rod and asked him to bring the net. After such a long struggle, I wanted to see just how big this trout was and get a picture. When the fish was close, and right at the surface, Rod made a scoop and the fish was in the net. Because it was almost dark, the trout looked huge, perhaps 25 inches. When we got is on the grass and pulled out the tape, it measured 21 inches. By no means a small trout to be sure, and a very nice fish for any river. I’ve caught a number of fish in this size range, and the struggle normally lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the tippet. So why did this fish take almost an hour to land? Inspection of this trout, once in the grass, revealed my fly lodged just behind its left pectoral fin! I had this happen once before and learned that fighting a fish hooked in this manner is like pulling a board through the water sideways. That is exactly what happened here. A foul-hooked fish lead me, an experienced angler, to believe that I was fighting a much larger trout—perhaps a trout of a lifetime! Sadly, not the case—just a freak, foul-hooking trout incident!

trout, early season

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