August 23, 2010

Late Summer

Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.
Russell Baker

Caddis. All day. Every day. They fill the air around me, jostled from their midday perches as I bend back branches of alder and willow searching for my next foothold. Thousands of them, driven into the air prematurely as I fish my way downstream. In a few hours, they will take flight again, this time with a mission. Mate, lay eggs, and die, all the while targeted by trout, who lie now in the depths, waiting for that magic hour shortly after sunset when these Caddis will fill the air in earnest.
Gentleman by the name of Al Troth needs to be mentioned here. It is his simple pattern I long ago adopted from which to tie a multitude of variations upon. By far and away, this simple, but terribly effective dry pattern has hooked more fish here on my river than any other, the classic BWO coming in a distant second. My soft hackle and the Troth-style dry are the two patterns I fish most often, and for a simple reason. They hook more fish in more types of weather and water conditions than any other ten flies I have ever used. And that's not bull.
Low water is here. Lower than I'd expected it to be, especially after the promises of higher powers to keep it above a certain CFS. I wondered how they'd do that, given the inordinate scarcity of snow last winter and the usual lack of rainfall once the summer heat finally kicked in. Apparently there are some things that our powerful Army Corps and our benevolent Utility cannot change, and for that I am grateful. I'm even more grateful when I see a large swirl downstream from where I have found a solid foothold.
There are two huge rocks about 4 feet apart some forty odd feet below me. I am now, because of the low flows, able to stand directly upstream from them. Upstream, pulling duty as an incubator, is a rocky shelf. The fast flows are oxygenated here, providing a valuable piece to the periodic hatch chart. A vivid memory from early this summer comes back as I extract my lightly weighted soft hackle from the keeper. I was standing just off the bank in water waist deep, about thirty feet from where I am now, gazing downstream at these same two rocks whose water-worn tops then barely bulged the currents flowing over them. There were fish feeding below them, but about all I could do outside of a few frustrating casts was to observe and fuss. There was just no way I could reach their position. I know this to be true because I tried everything. Now these two leviathans divide and deflect the currents, and the deeper water behind them just upstream from where the currents come back together is a prime position for a territorial trout (often more than one large, territorial trout) who seeks both cover and a feeding place. The size of the swirl confirms my suspicion. He is covering the river side of the currents, feeding in or just below the surface. I strip line off the reel, watching the hydraulics in the area of the swirl. It is perfect. The currents form a conveyer belt to his lie, bringing prey right over his position.
Another lazy swirl.
I roll cast down and across, my soft hackle landing upstream and diagonally about fifteen feet from the rocks. After mending out a few more feet, I let the river take over, and it shapes a perfect belly in my line...

There is, in moments like this as my soft hackle arcs toward its appointment, a certain timelessness. All that has needed to be considered, calculated and prepared for is done. The river is the guide. The messenger.
The lower third of my bellied fly line is very close to the rock. I know that it will not make contact because of the hydraulics off the rock, but my soft hackle will swing directly into the deflection a short distance below.
And that's about as far as my observation gets when I see a flash in the swirl, and feel an abrupt jolt.
It's a bit of a hike back up the steep trail. I stop about halfway up, fixing my gaze on the water flowing around and between those two big rocks. I need to remember this day forever. I need to remember them all. They need to remain as clear and vivid in my mind as when I experienced them.
That's all we really have, you know.

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