The trout were on. It started with nymphs, but when the emerging caddis popped to the surface, a green summer morning turned into something special.
Steve was the first to switch to dry flies. Around 9:30 a.m. I leapfrogged his position and stopped to visit for a moment.
“Man, these are the days you dream about,” Steve said as he kept fishing.
Standing in the creek, not far off the bank, he glanced over his left shoulder in my direction, judging the length of his fly line against the back casting space I’d left him. And I continued wading closer to my friend in the ankle-deep water.
“You switched to dries?” I used the statement as a question.
Steve and I followed the same mantra: Trout must give us a really good reason to fish a dry fly, especially when nymphing is good. While many anglers may see nymphing as a last resort, we treat it as a first option in the fertile limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania. The best fly fishers around here (maybe anywhere) have an A+ nymphing game, and they build the rest of their talents around it.
“Yeah, seems like the bigger fish are actually feeding on top,” he said, pointing to a rising fish. “Look.”
Steve gestured up and across the creek, where the top half of a dead maple tree had fallen into the water and stuck itself to the river bed. The bank behind it remained steadfast, as the massive trunk and root system was intact. The small branches were rotted or broken off, and flood currents had angled fifteen feet of the wide maple shaft and branches about forty-five degrees against the main flow. With the blunt end anchored to the streambed and against the solid riverbank, it was easy to see the half tree would create prime structure in this section for a long, long time.
It’s a common scenario for this river, in particular. Some of the streams around here are high gradient, with roads or railroad beds narrowing the stream and forcing flood waters into the main channel, washing out all but the most stubborn structure. But this creek runs through valleys that are far enough away from man’s influence to meander and turn, to dip and plunge with the whims of nature, without any persuading or redirecting from humanity. Flood waters therefore spread across the valley, and much of the good structure, like the half tree stuck to the streambed across from Steve, remains intact for decades. This river is full of good wood.
Steve picked off a small trout just ten feet in front of him. He seemed happy when it spit the hook after a few aggressive jumps, and he wasted no motion, turning the slack line given up by the lost fish into his next backcast. His line straightened out, just to the left of my position. Then he pushed the X-Caddis dry fly forward with precise motion. The fly landed only a foot further instream than where he’d hooked the last trout. And a few casts later, another trout slashed at Steve’s dry but didn’t take.
I settled in behind Steve’s left shoulder while I chewed on a granola bar and watched my friend work the river.
Methodically, he fished the edge of the next seam, inside the one where he’d hooked the first trout, and Steve caught two more trout. They were also small.
“You have a plan, don’t you?” I said the question like a statement, and Steve didn’t reply right away.
A single, large cloud blocked the sun for a few minutes as Steve now worked into the middle of the stream, and I followed. After hooking and landing a mid-sized fish, my friend replied.
“I’m saving it,” he said.
“You mean the log? That prime cut over there?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Steve said, as he slowly moved close enough to reach the outermost seam, just off the tip of the half tree.
“That’s a hell of a spot,” he said, nodding across the water and continuing to cast. “Look at the channels created just downstream of it. Imagine what kind of trout is holding in the guts of that thing. I mean, the best trout in the area is making a home right there, no doubt.”
Steve hooked another small wild brown that ejected the hook on the second jump, seemingly at Steve’s command. His words paused with the fish on, and then he continued.
“But what if that Whiskey is feeding in the riffles? What if he’s cruising the bank water looking for injured baitfish. Maybe he isn’t holding in that deep green prime cut right now. Maybe he’s out in this short run.” Steve gestured ahead of him, to the top of the outermost seam he was still fishing.
“On a day like this, I’d rather work into a piece like that instead of barging right in and banging on the door.”
Steve said those words just as he took two big steps into the main flow. He locked himself into the pocket behind a midsized rock and false casted a couple of extra times, sizing up the perfect distance before he let loose, never taking his concentrated eyes from the water.
And then it happened . . .
Steve’s X-Caddis was guided by fate. It ducked under the first branch and dodged left around another. It landed in the sweetest, darkest little corner and danced with the bubbles for an impossibly long moment. And just before the anticipated drag of a tethered line swept the dry fly from a stall, the King appeared.
“. . . Or our Whiskey could be right where he’s supposed to be!” Steve yelled.
He set the hook hard downstream. I watched Steve fight against the wild trout’s determined will to return into the underwater branches. Steve coaxed and convinced the trout with side pressure, giving up line only against the heaviest surges. It was a good hard fight.
Minutes later, I slipped my net under Steve’s trout.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N