Dawn to daylight. From the dim, sparkling haze of first light, to the breaking solar rays across tree tops. These are the magic hours.
It’s a clean slate, a fresh-faced river — new light and raw beginnings for forgetful fish. Recently out of the darkness, the trout’s guard is down. He trusts more. He worries less.
The new day is a blank canvas — an unwritten chapter of events and plans. Not your plans, but the river’s plans. Because such decisions are not for us to choose.
A steep canyon extends the effect of early morning. It hides direct rays for hours longer than lesser mountains. And while wading a river under the canopy of a tree line, heavy mist springs from pocket water and fills your lungs in the cool early valleys.
Dense clouds extend the effect too, dampening the sun’s presence, delaying the onset of afternoon and stretching those cool breezes into the morning. But it’s a deception — a camouflage for what’s behind a white sky. Until finally, stronger rays take over, pushing back the extended morning, driving light through the clouds and staking claim to the skies, to the valleys, to the riverbed below.
Anglers know. Anglers notice.
We feel the shift from dawn to full daylight. Because stretched before the fisherman is a vast mirror, featuring the sky and forest, reflecting the truth from above into the eyes of every angler. Unclear and vague images of distortion, these details are lost in the harsh highlights of sun on water. And early in the morning, these same details are masked in blackwater, in a surface that absorbs everything and reflects nothing, hiding the secrets beneath. When blackwater does give way to the highlights of the sun, we know the morning is over. The shade is pulled back. And the river is laid wide open to whatever might accompany full daylight.
The birds sing at dawn, and they cease. They settle. And all is calm for the hours that follow.
Walk deep into the backcountry one morning, cut through the darkness before pre-dawn, and experience this. Arrive before the sun to a place untouched for some time. Feel the newness, the virginity of first light among the surrounding hills.
These are the whimsical dreams of a man possessed by what lies beneath a river, of an angler willingly burdened and drawn by the water, day after day, with the river as companion — a featured friend and familiar partner. These are the comforts of flowing water, best experienced at morning.
The summer sounds soften. The crickets hush, drained from a night of noises.
The black bear hangs on a little longer, meandering riverside until he’s caught off guard under the hemlocks. And he wanders away.
The dripping ferns.
The soft summer ground, wet from dew that soaks into shady moss.
The rustle of dry, drifting leaves in the fall.
The crisp crunch of old snow, crusted, with overnight lows hardening the top and renewing the surface in a white-mirrored glaze. And then a new snow, fallen overnight. A bare canvas at dawn, open for adding your own art, yours as the first footsteps drawing lines into the river.
The spring dew on spiderwebs, drowning trapped mayflies from the overnight spinner fall.
The fog. The wonderful fog, thick enough to disguise your presence. But from what? From whom? No one is here? No one.
Ah yes, the solitude.
For centuries, anglers have known of the most consistent opportunities that arrive at dawn. And yet, fishers keep sleeping.
Stay there, casual angler, fair-weather friend. Lay your head on the pillow. Enjoy the extra snooze, for it is wonderful, no doubt. And what is missed here will remain a mystery, understood by only those who’ve experience it. Day after day. Dawn after dawn. Fog after fog. Bare canvas after bare canvas. Silence after silence.
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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N