As I stood there, fumbling with the two ziplock bags I employ to keep my camera dry should I slip and take an unwarranted swim, a nice trout stuck his nose out of the water about ten feet downstream from the furthest rock to the right, in the seam formed by the current deflecting off the shallow shelf these rocks are a part of. It was a very deliberate rise, and I had the distinct feeling this fish would come to the surface again.
I didn't bat an eye, determined to get a picture of the rising fog before the sun burned it away, deciding that down the road, this picture would be the best way to preserve the memory, although I had no idea as what this particular memory would hold as yet. So I lined it up, held the camera still, pushed the button, and by god it worked. One shot. That would have to do. There was some pressing business to take care of.
I stood there for not very long before he rose again, and with a lazy swirl turned back upstream, blending in perfectly with his habitat. My next thought, as it always is when trout are coming to the surface, was to eyeball the water in hopes of seeing, and hopefully identifying whatever it was that had attracted and was holding the trout's attention. And since I was standing right in the middle of the same ribbon of current he was working in, all I had to do was look down.
And, I saw nothing. No bugs of any type that I could see. Not even a midge. But, there he went again. And then again. No hurry. Nothing to get excited about, but my hands started to shake a little. I wondered what it was he was so unhurriedly continuing to eat out of the surface film, and, much more importantly, how much longer I had. The fact that he'd been at his current station feeding in this manner for this long already was not lost on me.
The trout on this river come to the surface and feed occasionally just like any other trout on any other river. And that's about where any similarity between the trout feeding on the surface of this river and those in other rivers ends. Whereas groups of trout in other rivers will congregate in areas where hatches are occurring and whereas those trout will feed on or in the surface for sometimes extended periods, that is seldom the case here. If you see one riseform, call it a hatch. Call it the morning, or afternoon, or evening rise, because that's probably about as good as it going to get. And if you are so blessed as to witness the same fish rise more than twice in the same half hour period, well then you're seeing something special. Better find out what's being eaten in a hurry because time is of the essence. Every subsequent rise could be the last one you'll see here for some time.
So when I saw this trout come to the surface again, I couldn't help but think I am truly blessed.
Okay. I'm blessed. But being so blessed still didn't provide any visual of a single living entity on or in the water's surface that might give me a clue as to what this trout was dining on. It began to get to me. I ran through a quick list of go-tos, ending up where I began, with no idea. So, as is often my standard mode of operation here on this river when faced with a lack of evidence, I pulled out my box, extracting from it my solution.
A soft hackle. Big surprise, right?
Okay. No surprise there. Experience is a good teacher. Having been in this situation before though not necessarily with figuring out what a steadily feeding trout is eating but having been through enough frustrating sequences where I swore I knew only to put the fish down straight away or have him run silent run deep because I put something over him that he found utterly disgusting. I've had success in these situations by simply swinging a very lightly weighted soft hackle over the fish's lie. I'll go bigger or smaller dependent upon what I think the fish is eating. Most of the time it works, which is also very unlike any trout in any other river I've ever fished. Those fish want the real deal, or something that very closely resembles it. I think the reason it works here is that we are, for so much of the year, blessed with caddis. There's very rarely a day that goes by where there aren't caddis flying around. That will be reinforced in my mind later when I return to the bank and brush the now leafless branches of the bushes along the water's edge.
As confident as I am in my soft hackle, I know I'll have one, maybe two swings through. More than likely just one, so it has to be spot on. The nice thing about this situation is that I have a really good idea of his location, thanks to the regularity of the rings. The only thing problem I might have is with the direction of the flow as it passes the edge of the shallow shelf. A quick downstream mend at the right time should negate any deviance in the path of the swing as it arcs over his position. Sounds easy. I smile. Sounds easy.
The cast has to be made almost perpendicular to the flow. From where I stand, the current comes from my right shoulder to sweep across in front of me to the left as it passes until contacting the shelf some thirty below, where some of the energy is captured in an eddy directly below the shelf. The rest is reflected off the shelf bending the main current back in to the main flow. It is right at this point where the seam between the two areas, the eddy, and the current, is most viable, and lucky for you I can't draw a diagram, so nod your head like you understand perfectly.
It's a short roll cast. I throw a little line out behind the cast and wait for the line to start to bend. I throw a quick downstream mend when I see the line closest to me start to bulge upstream and then the faster water toward the middle of the river arcs my fly line. There is nothing to do for the next second or so but wait, and watch, and shortly there is a flash, and a swirl. I lift my rod. There is a jolt, and with it weight.
Yes. I am blessed. Blessed to have this river. Blessed by its inhabitants. Blessed by the time here I have spent. Blessed with the simplistic sense of what I need from this life. I am so truly blessed.
And God bless my soft hackle.