The sun was brilliant that morning. Almost as bright as the laughter which began while suiting up and would run its course throughout the weekend. Trout were spotted from the top of the Hazel Bridge, lazily finning and sipping below.
"I'm gonna go catch those fish", my brother in law stated as he hurriedly wrangled into his waders.
"I'm gonna watch and laugh for awhile as you spook the hell out of 'em, Mick", I replied.
He grinned as if to say "screw you" but we both knew that this would most likely prove to be true. We had similar conditions last year and those same fish under that bridge were nearly impossible to catch unless there was low light and fine leaders. Or better fishermen I suppose. Be that as it may I couldn't blame him. To walk away from fish that you can see takes a certain amount of willpower that neither of us carry. Only reason I wasn't hanging around was because he called it first. That and I was enjoying a post road trip cigar. Ah, the simple things.
Two of us, my longtime friends Phill and Jay who were already at it, had arrived before The Mick and I and two followed shortly after. They pulled into the dusty lot just as my partner had headed for the stream and I had snubbed out the smoke and began to suit up. They were my buddy Jimmy and my brother Tom. It should be stated that the only "religious" fisherman (or junkies...you decide) are the aforementioned Mick and yours truly. The other four have varying experience with fly fishing but it is fairly safe to say that they basically fish about 48 hours a year; the Roscoe trip. Not exactly easy to string up and throw a fly line into the Catskill waters without any homework or water time but, hey, the beer (Trout Town Amber) is cold and the fire pit is warm. Still and all there were two guys left within our hodgepodge group of "Roscoe 6" misfits who had yet, in three previous annual trips, to catch a trout. One of them was Jay, a guy who'd give you his right arm even though yours was fine, who recently ventured up to the East Branch of the Croton back in August with me where I was able to help him net his first brown. He's slowly becoming a student of the sport and I think the experience of a bouncing five weight on the Croton will sure help things along up here. My brother, Tom, has never felt the bend of the rod in any river, excepting maybe the bottom of the stream bed. I was hoping to change that. He's the kind of guy that really fulfills the old adage that my Dad used to say, "catching fish is a bonus." I honestly think he could care less about "catching" but one wouldn't know that until they knew what it was they didn't care about. Get it? Either way, I needed to get these guys on fish.
That is where the "Honey Hole" comes in.
Big Jimmy has a knack for well timed dirty humor that is paired with a perfectly sweet kind of "you know you love me" smile and after a few of his famous "guffaw" ribs at me I was on my way. I had a hunch about a run that I am familiar with just downstream so, smilingly, off I went. I made it to the general vicinity of where I wanted to fish but before I got to the "spot", I saw a boulder protruding in some shallow riffles that I wouldn't have seen in higher water. A flip of a nymph just behind this rock brought up a nice feisty wild brown. First cast. Wow. So much for the Willow being "unfishable". Perhaps it was an accident, I thought. I should confess that as many fish as I have been fortunate to tangle with, whether on a dry, streamer, or nymph, they still all have the feeling of at least being "partially accidental". I promptly snapped a picture in amazement and released the small fish quickly.
I ventured a little further downstream with not much success and eventual texts from the others about my whereabouts and whether or not we could get into the cabin and what was for lunch. I'll tell you the truth I could just about fish all day and forget that I'm supposed to check in or supposed to eat, piss, crap, what have you. The texts were helpful. I decided to venture back upstream. On my way I saw another run that had never existed to the eye before in higher flows. This was bubbling, shallow, fast water, followed immediately by a plunge pool with depths of about 5 feet or so and the length of maybe two and a half bathtubs. I figured that with all of that oxygen and all of that cover there had to be trout down there. The Mick had just come downstream to report on all those fish he spooked up in the gin clear shallows as I was throwing a splitshot or two on my rig. Again, within the first or second cast up came a slender and long rainbow who put up a nice fight. Boy, this trip was shaping up.
Mick and I discussed those picky fish he was after as we slogged our way back upstream and that perhaps we could get them at dark on some streamers. We decided as well that I had stumbled across a good small stretch of water and we should get some of these guys on this run at some point. Lastly, we discussed how low the water truly was and that the Beaverkill would be no different. We'd gotten some good advice from some friends "in the know" earlier in the week that was sealed solid when we spoke to Dennis over at Catskill Flies upon entering town via exit 94 that morning. We needed to fish the Delaware.
The boys cracked lots of smiles and a beer or two over "catch up" talk as the early afternoon arched to mid afternoon and pulled pork sandwiches from the slow cooker back home warmed the scene. The vibration in the fishing lodge at that moment could be summed up readily by a Robert Earle Keene tune that we play up their religiously called Feelin' Good Again and we sure were. On to the business at hand, though, which was letting the guys know that we'd be travelling a half hour or so west out to Hancock to try our run at some "Big D" rainbows in the riffles. We'd leave soon and be there 'til dark. All were game. We geared up and peeled off.
There is something exciting about venturing to new water. I guess it goes hand in hand with fishing on a whole; a constant quest for the unknown. Throwing a line in the water on the off chance that you might find and bring up something on the other end is the crux of the matter and doing it on new water deepens the experience. Driving to the Main Stem of the "Big D" had me both excited and curious and feeling about twenty years younger than I am.
After a few directional misfires and some confusing signage that led to a section that we were told had solid riffles, we finally arrived. My brother in law is a no nonsense kind of guy. He goes about his fishing in as methodical a way as anyone who carries a fly rod. He doesn't get ruffled and he knows how to laugh at himself. Something I aspire to. We make a good pair on the streams and I was really following his lead on this mammoth of a river. He marched through the pines and onto the bank, he looked carefully yet swiftly at the seams, picked his spot, tied on his stonefly, and he was on fish in no time. The guy always manages to impress me and then downplays his success. One thing we do share in common is rooting for the other guy. We have what can readily be described as a friendly competition with each other but both of us more like to push the other guy than to root against him. With that said, here he is on a brand new river that's twice as wide as the largest river we've ever been on, and he's got two handsome wild fish in the net, a brown and a bow. Impressive to say the least. The sonofabitch.
As for myself, I am moving up and down the river and fishing a nearly identical rig as the Mick, all the while ignoring the fish that are rising around me and wondering why I am not finding the same success. I start doing everything wrong with my subsurface attempts. I am moving with no purpose, getting a bit frantic and just plain thinking way too much about the whole business. I decide to stop and snap a picture of Tom, who fishes just downstream from me. With a backdrop so quietly beautiful behind him, I am immediately aware in that moment that our father is there in those mountains and that he is pleased. Now if I could just stop fishing like an idiot and remember why I am really there. I need to take my cue from my brother and not worry so much about the "catching".
After giving the proper thanks that this moment has afforded me, I begin to finally listen to my instincts and I change my set up from 4X nymphing to 5 and finally 6X tippet and a nice looking, locally tied, Isonychia. These big insects were drying their wings all along the stream top but it seemed that the fish were only keying into these bugs in certain stretches of the river. I wandered around for a while looking closely for what I had ignored upon my arrival; a solid pod of rising fish. I finally found one and began to go to work. These were what some would call "smart fish". I am not sure about this popular theory but I do know that one thing is for sure, and I had just proven this to myself; there are most certainly dumb fishermen.
After a couple of hours slipped by along with the late afternoon glow, the evening soon arrived. Tom, Jimmy, and Phill called it quits not before an admirable attempt at trout as the others of us stuck around. Phill had some important business to tend to and that was, no doubt, prepping and cooking one of his now near "legendary" status lodge dinners. I have known Phill for more than forty years. I can't remember all of my life but what I can remember, he is a part of. To capture our friendship in a couple of sentences would be all but impossible but I can say that he truly gets enjoyment out of others' enjoyment. Whether it is food, music, or what have you, Phill is there hoping that you are enjoying the experience. He is also a world class ball buster but he meets his match in the other five of us. Good clean fun.
Back to the Iso which is proving to earn some interest from the fish around me but I have trouble getting a take. When I do, it is unquestionable. The aerial jumps that this beautiful Delaware rainbow makes are numerous and flamboyant. The fight feels like it is happening in slow motion. The water droplets that fling off of the airborne trout catch the sunlight as if a photographer was inside my eyes and he had slowed the shutter speed. I will not soon forget my first trout on this famous river. I will also never forget the trout I would lose the next evening on the same stretch...
I missed another couple of fish as darkness fell. We packed up the car in the cool dark evening and headed back up the winding road toward Hancock. We stopped under the florescent buggy lights of a souped up gas station/mini mart for what might have been one of the best cups of coffee that Jay, Mick, or I had ever tasted. It was a subdued and satisfying ride home. When we reached the cabin we were greeted by that warm fire pit I mentioned, good music, great laughter, and a promise to fish tomorrow. Hell, what more could a guy want?
To be continued...