I am watching what must be the twentieth spasmodic drift of my third variation on a tiny blue-winged olive theme down through a series of contorted hydraulics. If I'm really lucky, I'll get maybe four seconds of relatively drag free drift, if being the pivotal word. Several ribbons of conflicting current, all deflected in different directions at different speeds, run through this slot side by side. Yes, they do eventually all end up downstream somewhere in basically the same place, and that's just about the only place where any sense of congruity exists. But, that's not the real problem. The real challenge here is the abundance of willows at my back. Not a great spot for a back cast, therefore not a great spot for a classic delivery, therefore not even a very good spot, except for that trout, whose subtle rises in the riffle caught my eye. The only thing I've got going for me, and I've talked about it before, is having a few utilitarian casts up my sleeve. They're not real pretty, but surely the only ticket, especially here. I can't get any closer, which would put some space between me and the bank. The rising flows have made wading any deeper here a fantasy. It would be a stern test for even an expert, athletic, younger wader. So, no deeper. I fish waist deep from as close as I can get and still be upstream. There are easier places to cast and drift a dry fly over more willing fish, and I will, before I'm done here, question my sanity, but then what fun would that be. All the challenges aside, I'd really like, with all this adversity, to fool this fish!
Halfway through and smack dab in the middle of this particularly nasty set of dissimilarly behaving ribbons about thirty feet below me lies a better than decent rainbow. Leisurely, at his own unhurried pace, he rises to the surface, barely disturbing it, to terminate the journey of hatching naturals. I know he's better than decent because his technique is flawless. He's obviously had some time to perfect it. In this roiling mass of confusing currents, the trout, hidden by both his choice of lies and perfect coloration, rises and adeptly sucks in his targeted prey. I secretly revel in my practiced, albeit aging eye for spotting him, while at the same time cursing him for knowing exactly what he wants and only that. Fortunately, despite my efforts, he maintains his position and his (somewhat) selective feeding, which is probably a testament to my inability (so far) to get anything close to him, fly or line. But it won't, it can't continue much longer. It never does. If I don't figure something out soon, he'll hunker back down into anonymity to wait, as do most of the trout in my river, for darkness.
But then, so do I. This preoccupation, while captivating, is in all reality simply a time-killer. I hold my next candidate, a classic up-winged artificial close to examine my tie, but I wait for the light to fade. The temperature to drop. I wait with the trout for the darkness. And the caddis.
It's the middle of September. We're losing close to four minutes of sunlight every day now. The shadows have already crawled halfway up the cliffs across the river, and I reflexively look to my left wrist to check my watch but then remember I lost it in the river last week. I figure it's probably past six now, and there's maybe a half hour until the sun dips behind the trees at my back. It always amazes me at this time of year how light it stays long after the sun has gone. Maybe it's like that at the end of every day, but it seems to be more protracted now, in these hazy, late summer days, as though summer is refusing to admit the inevitability of fall. I cannot appreciate this time of year too much now, although I feel, as I wait, like a child lying in bed counting the minutes until Santa arrives. Every evening, after darkness comes on and the caddis appear, it's Christmas.
The transformation is unbelievable as the evening progresses. This summer there have been days and days of one of the most prolific blue-winged olive hatches I have ever witnessed. The surface was literally alive with them, but only a few smaller trout rose to eat. Not believing my eyes, I'd dutifully dig through my rather extensive collection of olives thinking that surely such a tasty, timely morsel as this could not be refused. But that mindset soon changed into one of near panic. After quite a few days of utter frustration, including a last very long afternoon, it all culminated in a memorable evening whereupon I witnessed The Transformation, had The Epiphany, and was delivered into heaven. Literally. God Bless the Caddis.
I was chatting online with my son this morning and he posed a couple of interesting questions after he'd heard my latest 'after dark' account; this in conjunction with his perusal and appreciation of a picture of the latest version of my never-ending search for the perfect soft hackle. It's a real piece of work, if I do say so myself. Got all the bells and whistles I'd innovated and used one at a time on previous editions. This one's got 'em all, as you can see at the top of the page. Anyway, I put it on my Google Plus page early yesterday right after tying it, and followed that up later with a short comment as to how well it worked last night. And it did work. Really well. But, I digest...
After he listened to me tell (again) of The Transformation and the numbers of fish as well as the numbers and varieties of caddis that I saw, and having a prior knowledge of the sparsely attended blue-winged olive hatch, he typed;
1) Does what the fish are eating have anything to do with the number available, or is that an arbitrary thing?
2) Are they really selective when there are so many varieties of the same bug available?
That's why he's a damn doctor. He's thinking. All of the time. And asking questions I have trouble answering. Truth is, I don't know. I suppose the only way to get a handle on any of that would be to pump esophagus after damned esophagus, in the light of a damned headlamp. I don't know why it is that (this year, anyway) most trout are foregoing the BWO appetizers and concentrating on the caddis, or more to the point, the many varieties of caddis, but they are. They sure as hell are. In that regard, maybe Aaron's onto something; maybe it is a numbers game.
I'm way behind the curve when it comes to understanding why they'll eat this and not that even when this and that are on the table at different times of the day. I'm having trouble understanding why it is that ten million BWOs can float past and not draw a single customer, and why two hours later the river is filled with splashing trout chasing caddis all over hell. I don't think it's because the BWOs suddenly taste bad BUT, to be honest here, and I am; I have never, in all my years of fishing this river, seen so many caddis both in numbers and varieties. It's simply incredible to watch The Transformation as darkness intensifies. At any given time if you breathe with your mouth open you have the opportunity to inhale 3 different kinds of caddis. I know. I've got first-hand experience. Why, if you don't mind, they'll crawl right up your nose! You become THE A. P.(anchor point)!
I've attempted to document this nightly occurrence more than a few times. I pull out my trusty water-proof (thanks again, Aaron) camera and fire away, hoping to capture the event digitally. But when I get home and download the pictures to my Mac, it always looks like it's either snowing or I got caught in a meteor shower except for that dark blurry spot which was a caddis (or several) that landed on the lense. Not to mention that I'm waist deep in some pretty fast water standing on really slippery rocks praying that I can still find my way touchy-feely back to terra firma without going for a swim and I probably just jinxed myself by mentioning that, but oh well.
It's not true that they only come out at night, though. That was a witty (?) way of describing The Transformation, which I capitalize because to me it assumes biblical proportion every time I am witness to it. There are fish that can be tempted by various flies during most hours of each day. Problem is finding them. After my first Transformation, I began to question my need to be on the river for so many hours during the summer months when I could pop on down for just a few hours each evening, and come back home with a sore arm! And up to this juncture it's been near to impossible to get anyone to accompany me, which would go a long way toward thereby validating it. That's okay. Call me a liar. Call me crazy. Call me crazy and shake your head. Call me if you want but I'll be back later. I've gone back down to get ready for the next Transformation.