"Tom," I said, "you're with me, brother. Gotta get down to that hole and get you on some fish."
He replied softly as he glanced up from buckling his wader belt, "Sounds good, man."
We worked our way down the stream in the grey morning. A couple of gentle rises in the large pool just down from the bridge proved too hard for me to ignore. Tom hung back and puffed a cigarette. The purple smoke hung tight to his head in the dewy air. I cast carefully to the wake of the rises. Not carefully enough. Nothing doing.
"Screw it, man, let's go," I grumbled.
He laughed. I don't like to lose a challenge and my brother knows it. Ah well, those that know us best...
We trudged across the barren stream. More rock than water at parts. I looked at his set up and adjusted it a bit. Not much was being said between us but what was, was important. We'd been through something this past year and he's been through more so the sentiment was appreciated by both. It's funny that even brothers in their forties can have growing pains. More rock than water at parts, I guess you could say. It was a simple moment and I don't wish to dress it up as more than it was, but I am still thankful for it.
On to the "Honey Hole" that I had found on the previous day. We were going to nymph it and we were going to nymph it hard. I handed Tom his rod and described the drift, the angle, the flip, the repeat, the whole nine. He stepped up like a champ and began to prove himself a quick study. A fish was on within the first couple of casts. An immediate smile burst through the cold slate background. The rod bouncing and dancing, me coaching, The Mick shuffling quickly upstream to take in the action. And then, fish...off. Shoot.
"Alright," I said, "get back at it. Hook another one."
He did. It didn't take long until we had a fish in the net, the first ever on a fly rod for Tom, with more to follow. It was, as the kids these days would say, epic. Soon downstream were Big Jimmy and Jay as we all began to line up at "The Hole". We caught any number of trout between us that morning as the rain began to happily fall. I don't think any of us felt a drop. These guys had been coming up here once a year for the past three years with not a whole heck of a lot to show for it only for the dam to finally break. It got to the point that The Mick and I were competing on hook ups to net ratio...I mean, who's ever had this opportunity? Not us. This was an embarrassment of riches and we all appreciated the bounty. The fish, for the most part, were small and feisty, and were barely out of the water before we could get them back in and they would dart back to the depths. We wondered out loud if it was the same few fish and every once in a while a "brute" would barrel down on our nymphs just to put a thump in the hearts of us and either break off or just bury themselves and spit the hook. Lots of "the one that got away" fodder for the Bloody Marys that followed back at the cabin. This window of time on the water was something I know I might never witness again but it will play on "repeat" in the mind for as long as I can roam the streams.
After the late breakfast the rain came harder. The boys were full of bacon and eggs. The breakfast beer paired nicely with the meal but I knew my limit. There was a full day of fishing ahead, and, as you might recall in my last post, I asked you to decide if the Mick and I were just passionate or straight up fishing junkies, well...
The car rolled out with just the two of us and the "Big D" on the brain. The wide waterway with it's promise of fat fish in the riffles had us travelling over sodden hills and through farming valleys on the back roads of the Catskills. I hadn't ever witnessed as many deer as I had along that day's adventures. We'd try a spot where we'd park in NY and then enter and fish from PA. We huddled under the rear hatch as the water pounded down. It was a quiet business like approach. I made reference to Gierach who once stated something like "some people wouldn't think this was fun." Of course, who of us, writer and reader, wouldn't? I always think of that when fishing in the rain and chuckle at the absurdity.
The Mick starts to pound the runs with what he calls "trout candy", a big yellow and brown stone fly with rubber legs, and is rewarded yet again with two handsome and hard fighting browns. As the rain begins to tame, he decides it time for a stogie and props himself up on a rock for a bit with a subtle satisfaction. I'm having one of those outings where I'm constantly introducing my ass to my elbow so I might finally know the difference. I'm happy for my partner but, as it goes, his success becomes my demise. I am rushing and moving too fast, and at one point I snagged the fly off of my line and probably fished a straight split-shot for 10 or 15 minutes because I was being too lazy to check the rig. Upon making the realization that I had been fishing a completely useless setup I proclaimed to the hills across, "Like I needed the practice?!?!" to which The Mick bellowed with laughter. I decide it is a good time for a break as well.
There is the unmistakable wafting smell of camp smoke rising through the trees about seventy five yards or so behind us. Glancing back I catch a glimpse of a makeshift civilization with trailers, tents, and tarps abound in no particular order. We are close enough to the site to sense that it's inhabitants must all be huddled somewhere just waiting for the weather to break and soon enough a couple or three kids come bounding to the bank upstream of us and begin hurling rocks into the river. They have claimed their freedom from their parents and from the rain and they shine with the essence of childhood curiosity and grit. We were fishing in Pennsylvania, parked on the NY side, but it felt like we parked in 2014, and were fishing in 1957.
The drive to the spot we had been the previous evening was laden with the scenery of the Delaware. Low lying sun broke through the day's worn out rain clouds and glimpses of the river through the windshield reflected it's golden glow as dusk quickly approached. It was a longer ride than either of us figured but there is something comforting in driving along on a fishing trip when no one is expecting you. The guys, we would find out later, had fished some on the Willow and had napped some. Their only concern of our arrival was whether or not we would be replenishing the Roscoe Beer supply. We would be.
Our destination had arrived with little time to fish but the Isonychia were soon spotted. I was thankful to end the day with the dry fly and combed the water up and down until I found some risers. The light was nearly gone. After fishing nymphs all day, the sensation of snagging the bottom becomes one of muscle memory. So much so that when the trout hit the dry fly, my brain told me that I had snagged bottom. I quickly re-calibrated the thought and soon decided that I had a large fish on. Upon my realization he made a tremendous splash in the dark water and then burrowed down to the bottom. This fish was powerful and he let me know it. His runs were purposeful. He peeled line, stopped, hunkered down, and waited for me to walk downstream. He did this about three or four times and I never even got close to him. The Mick was fishing downstream from me and at one point, my bicep aching, I looked up at him with the rod doubled over and yelled, "I don't know what to do??" I was outmatched. Upon finishing my sentence the line went slack and the fish was gone. I bellowed out one sweet and clear profanity into the night sky. It was a heart breaker.
We rode home down Route 17 back toward Roscoe. Trout Town, USA. The kind of place where both "Honey Holes" and "heart breakers" exist and they are both sealed in in my memory along with the backdrop of laughter of friends and family, both here and gone.
As always, I can't wait to go back.