Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Persistence pays

By TONY BONAVIST
Posted 7/27/21

My notes reveal that there had been no fishing since June 30, so it was time to go to the river. Since my friend, Rod, left for Montana on July 6 to chase trout around the “Big Sky,” …

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Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Persistence pays

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My notes reveal that there had been no fishing since June 30, so it was time to go to the river. Since my friend, Rod, left for Montana on July 6 to chase trout around the “Big Sky,” hopefully while avoiding encounters with a wayward grizzly, I had not wet a line. So, I called another friend and we agreed to meet at our camp along the East Branch, late afternoon on July 10. I arrived a little early and immediately walked over to the river to see if there was any mayfly activity. I found the river up about eight inches, after all the rain, with a few sulphur and olive mayflies hatching sporadically. When I returned to camp, my friend had already arrived. 

About 6 o’clock, I stepped in my waders, strung up a rod and went to the “home pool.” My friend headed down river about 70 yards to fish by a little point he calls “the nipple.” The home pool is a branch of the main river that breaks off, forming a channel that runs directly behind our camp. There is a nice grassy meadow between the camp and the home pool. I named the meadow “Molly’s Meadow” because that’s where my little girl boxer, Molly, used to nap while I fished. Sadly, I lost Molly in May of 2019, but I see her every time I fish the home pool.

While waiting for the evening rise, if there was to be one, I sat in my old friend Clem’s chair and reminisced about Molly, Clem and Dave; all three have gone off to the great river in the sky. There are fond memories and more than a little sadness as I think of those three special friends. Now, there is a certain emptiness that envelopes the meadow as the shadows lengthen. 

About 7:15 p.m., I saw the first surface disturbance from a feeding trout. There were a few more sulphurs on the water, so I slowly waded into position, waiting for the trout to rise again. I stayed in that position for about an hour and saw only two more rises. Around 8:15 p.m., my friend returned from the nipple. He seemed discouraged and said he was going to head home and watch the Yankees. 

Over the years that I fished the lower reaches of the camp pool by the nipple, I found that water to be very productive at dusk. So, rather than remove my waders, put away the rod, load the car and drive 75 miles home—Yankees or otherwise—I decided to check out the nipple. When I arrived, there was a rise midstream, then another upstream about 15 feet. At the same time, the sulphur hatch began to intensify. So, I gently waded in, hoping not to put down or scare the trout that had started to feed in this very slow-moving water. Wading in quiet pools sends little wavelets across the water, regardless of how carefully one steps.

Soon, there were hundreds of sulphurs on the water with trout feeding above, across and below me. Some were taking duns off the surface, but many trout were taking emerging flies. In the past, I’ve written a great deal about the lack of sulphur mayfly hatches on the upper East Branch of the Delaware to the degree that the species appeared all but extinct beginning in 2107. I blamed it on the extremely cold water being released from the bottom of the Pepacton reservoir. I based my determination on several research studies that supported my theory. Well, there I was, early July, fishing to the largest sulphur hatch I’ve seen in many years! So much for research, science and speculation without actual field data. 

There were so many sulphurs on the water that my little dry fly was lost among all the little dun, floating along—always a difficult fishing situation. As the night closed, I saw a steady riser directly across from me, just off the far bank. It was only a 20-foot cast, so I dropped my fly about two feet above the last rise and watched it float toward the trout. He took the fly and I raised the rod tip; the fish immediately headed downstream, taking 40 feet of fly line on the first run. In about five minutes, I had a nice-sized brown. With that, I waded ashore, headed back to camp, removed my gear, loaded the car, turned on the Yankees and headed over the mountain. 

Looking back on that evening, and the fact that I did not give up on the river, the flies, or the trout reinforced my belief that it is essential to stay on the water until it is too dark to fish. That is the period of the day, sometimes the last 15 minutes, when large trout are on the prowl, feeding heavily and much more catchable. 

Sadly, all too often, anglers travel long distances to fish, but for some reason, one I will never understand, quit fishing at the best time of day. What’s another half hour when folks have fished several hours already? Fortunately, I’ve learned to fish until the trout stop feeding, which means sometime after dark. That’s when persistence pays off, and more often than not, there’s a reward of a nice trout or two.

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