The water was so cold it made my hands ache, but given the circumstances it was pain I was more than willing to endure. Nestling a twelve-inch, wild Brown Trout in my hands I unhooked the Zebra Midge and eased him back into the water. He swam slowly back to the depths of the far bank.
Reaching into cold water to cradle a trout is something for which I will make many sacrifices; half-frozen hands seems a very modest cost. Fortunately, the early winter weather was mild and I didn't have to bundle up too much. I'm sure there will be days of sleet and snow to come but this day both the air and water temps were in the mid-40s and I was spared.
The recently closed year was a good one. Like most years it had highs and lows. Some memories stand out in brilliance and clarity -- cruising down the spine of the Blue Ridge, seeing Half Dome for the first time, drifting over countless Sockeye on their redds -- and others I'm trying to tuck away in that spot were sour memories go to die. Old questions were answered, new ones were discovered and some things remain disturbingly unknown. But overall, a good year and I enter the new one in a better place than the last and I'm hopeful the trend will continue.
I fished a familiar stream not too far from the house. It's an old friend. She's a minor tributary of a small river where I caught my first trout on a fly rod a couple of winters back. It's an old friend who is well known but with just enough mystery remaining that one can have a small adventure when walking her banks. She used to hold Brook Trout throughout though it seems Browns are now taking up residence. I decided to walk a bit upstream to see if maybe I could find Brookies lurking in her headwaters.
Anyone who follows Small Stream Reflections knows that the Ausable Bomber is a great small stream fly. I tie this one myself and fish it more than any other pattern on streams that are narrower than my leader is long. A couple of trips ago I was fishing this pattern in some turbulent water and couldn't keep it afloat. It didn't seem to matter. The pattern works just as well as a wet fly. That's how I fished it New Year's Eve, wet with a midge pattern below and a bit of strike putty above.
Farther upstream I came upon a deep undercut bank that the receding water had left exposed. The water against the far bank still had some depth and a few casts brought to hand the second Brown of the day as well as a very small fish that shook itself off -- my guess is a Trout parr but it could just as well have been a Dace.
The bend seemed to be in a new place. Over the years since my last visit to this spot the water moved into the ridge carving a steep bank and depositing the felled trees in a tangle at its tail. The structure of the pool was classic with a turbulent head, a smooth glide and then a drop off at the tail that remained deep right to the lip.
A few years ago I would have skipped right to the head of the pool and fished it aggressively but I've since learned that trout can hold through-out and my eye was on the tail and the glide. The first couple of casts were ill placed and either didn't drift correctly or landed in totally unproductive water. For the past hour I had been checking my back cast to avoid overhanging bushes but this spot lacked interfering flora so I gave it a full cast and put the fly right at the seam between the shadowed water and that illuminated by the last rays peaking over the ridge.
The take, that little flash of the gills plates and the turn back to the shadows, seemed to take forever and when it was done the line came satisfyingly tight. A short, sluggish fight brought this sixteen-inch, small stream monster to hand.
It was very satisfying that the last trout of the year was a true small stream trophy though I would have preferred to catch a Brookie. That's not a complaint, just a fact. Doubly satisfying was that it came as the day waned; the valley was heavy in shadow and the air was rapidly cooling. Somehow, catching my last trout in the last light of the last day of the year had some poignancy. I will tuck this memory in safely next to those of the Blue Ridge and the West and the Last Frontier and savor them in the frigid, early days of the New Year.
Happy New Year to you all! May you collect great memories in the coming months.
|Air temps drop and fog begins to fill the river valley|