December 12th, 2005

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
This is where our readers tell their stories . . .

The Siren Song of Beaverkill Browns
By Rob Jagodzinski, Irvington, NY

I'm tired, hungry and a bit bewildered after eight fishless hours of prospecting for Beaverkill browns on a cold spring day.

The industrial-strength coffee that jolted me awake at 5 a.m. wore off long ago, and now I'm running on fumes.

My arm is beat after flailing away with nearly every fly in my vest.

My feet and knees ache from slipping on slick rocks and wallowing through waist-deep, 50-degree water.

To top it off, I'm a bit surly after losing the only fish of the day, a powerful brown that was rolling on nymphs in a deep, ledgy run. Moments after I sight-cast to the fish, he struck my hare's ear nymph and proceeded to run off 20 yards of line. Then he sulked in the middle of a fast chute and finally threw the hook when I put too much pressure on the 4-weight rod.

The fly came back to me bent open. At least the 3X tippet held.

Now, hours later, I'm trudging toward my truck, debating whether to quit for the day or keep searching for some kind of rise. A caddis and blue-winged olive hatch is coming off heavily in the bright, late-afternoon sun. The still air is alive with scores of these bugs, silently hovering, fluttering, dipping. But I see no fish coming up to greet them.

This isn't the way it's supposed to work. It's not the way I envisioned it on all those winter nights as I tied flies and leaders in front of the woodstove.

"All right," I mutter. "Just find one rising fish. One is all I need right now."

My pleas are answered when I spot three splashy rises hard against a wall on the far bank.

My weariness evaporates as a rush of adrenaline shifts me into high gear. The fish lure me into the water the way Greek sirens lured unsuspecting sailors into peril. I enter the river and try to figure how to negotiate 30 yards of fast current and troughs to get into casting position.

Leaning heavily on my wading staff, I hopscotch atop shallow rocks and over shoals, skirting holes and armpit-deep runs. I make it to a spot about 30 feet downstream and to the right of the three fish, which continue splashing and porpoising steadily. All three look to be of good size.

There's a relatively flat rock that forms a shallow shelf in front of me, and I step up on it for a good platform.

The fish are lined up in a heavy rip along the wall. It will tax my modest casting abilities to throw a good drift over them.

I'm uncertain what they're rising to, but suspect it's the caddis. So I tie a no. 14 apple caddis to my 5x tippet, strip out 30 feet of line, make a few false casts, then drop the fly about a yard ahead of the fish at the tail of the run. I only get a short drift before the current drags the fly under.

Two dozen casts later, I've managed to get 4-5 good floats over the fish without putting it down. But the brown has studiously ignored each presentation.

I change flies… to a brown caddis. No response. To a size 14 blue-winged olive, which I also see in the air. No response. BWO emerger...no response. I cast to the two other rising fish. No response.

My hands shake a bit as I dig into my vest again and pore over my fly boxes. I still think they're taking caddis. A bushy elk hair caddis with a bleached wing catches my eye. I knot it on with fumbling fingers, praying the trout keep feeding for another couple minutes. They do, and once again I false cast and drop the fly out ahead of the last fish.

The fly skitters over the trout.

I roll cast, throwing more slack in the leader.

I hold my breath, expecting a blast.

The fly gets a good drift, but no take.

Once more...roll cast...drift... nerves tight to snapping.

Now.

The fish rolls on the fly. I tighten up and my rod jolts to life...fish on.

The brown at first shoots toward me and I strip like mad. Then, with the granny-gear torque of a log skidder, the fish turns and drives downstream, spooling off 30 yards of line as my rod bows deeply.

"Now I'm in for a fight," I say to myself.

The trout sets up below me in a boulder-lined sluice, then starts shaking his head, sending tremors through the rod. I can't move him from this lie, no matter what position I hold the rod.

"Okay," I whisper to myself, trying to stay calm, "I need to get down off this rock and head toward the bank before the hook lets go like the last fish."

I step off the shallow bench and into the current. I hold the rod overhead while my boots search for a path through shin-busting rocks. My wading staff trembles in the fast flow. At one point, water slops over my chest waders and I have to retreat and look for a better route to shallow water.

After a few minutes of this, the fish shows no signs of quitting, but I'm getting tired of floundering around trying to make shore. When I nearly lose my footing for the third time, I curse and consider breaking the fish off. Then I remember the other large trout I've lost this season, and decide to make one more lurch for the bank.

This time I manage to find a path to shallow water, where I start working downstream in an attempt to get below the fish. Using the current to his best advantage, the trout also drives downstream.

I finally make some progress, regaining most of my flyline. Now the fish is in quiet water, but he makes another run and rubs his snout in the gravel.

"Powerful son-of-a-gun," I marvel aloud.

I turn him and get his head up. I reel up to my leader as the trout whips the water to a froth.

It takes me two shots to net him. When at last I get him into the mesh bag, I put down my rod and place the heavy net in shallow water to let the fish rest.

I'm shaky and winded as I kneel to look at the trout. Ember-red spots glow across the fish's bright-pewter side. His thick shoulder is nearly black, his belly is honey colored. His head is bright as gold foil with a jeweled black eye and heavy jaw.

I take a couple quick photos as the big brown rests in the submerged net. I lay my rod next to him...his nose is just shy of the 20-inch hash mark I painted on the rod's butt section. Biggest fish of the season so far.

Then I remove the fly from the fish's jaw and slip the trout from the net back into a quiet eddy. I cradle him for just a moment. Then the brown explodes in a spray of water, shooting back into the main current. In a second he vanishes.

I wade to a riverside ledge, where I sit and exhale, still shaking. Rich evening sunlight saturates the air that's shot through with caddis and mayflies dipping and hovering over the silvery Beaverkill.

I rest awhile, taking deep breaths of earthy spring air, taking in the sights and sounds of the river as my pulse settles. Then I gather rod and net and staff and head back to the truck as shadows lengthen.

Another fish boils and slashes at hatching bugs as I near the parking lot. I laugh, absolutely spent and happy, deaf for the rest of the evening to the trout's siren song. ~ RJ

About Rob:

Rob currently works for the Associated Press as News Editor for the Press Multimedia Services in NYC. Responsible for rewriting and posting breaking news, business and sports stories for AP online customers including Yahoo! news, ABC.com, and hundreds of Web sites operated by daily newspapers throughout the country. He has a wide background as a editor and writer, including a stint as Photojournalist for Pacific Stars and Stripes. We are delighted to welcome his voice here.


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