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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.