Turn into the fly shop and strike up a conversation with the dude behind the counter, and he might tell you the Olives are hatching around noon on most days. That’s nice. And if he really has his ear to the ground or his feet in the water, he’ll know that those Olives have been out in large numbers on the sunny days but not so much on the cloudy, rain-spitting afternoons that Olive chasers expect. Why? Well, none of us really knows that.
And as the young man takes your money for the half-dozen #18 Klinkhammers matched with the six Olive Puffys you’re buying, he might remind you about the silica dust for the CDC. That’s not local knowledge. It’s just experience and salesmanship. But he might also know what parts of the river keep the sun out of the trout’s eyes at midday, right during the Olive event. That is good local knowledge. And if you’re nice, he’ll grant you that little nugget too.
This internet generation of anglers has more access to information than ever before. These days, you can learn a lot about local conditions through kilobytes and browsers. Compared with just a few years ago, it’s easy to know when trout are finally taking Sulfurs on the West Branch of the Delaware or if the water has cleared after the latest round of thunderstorms. But local conditions are different from local knowledge. Here’s what I mean . . .
A lot of it comes down to knowing the water. The way I read the rivers around here is far different from the way you probably read them if you’re from out of town. I know the habits of our trout without thinking much about it. And every season, it’s a different story.
Fish sit on the green lines, right where the vegetation meets the brown sand, all summer long. And they do it in ankle-deep water that you probably pass up and walk right though. Until one day, with the sun high and shining from behind, you peer upstream to see trout streaking off, one after another as you wade forward. And then finally, you believe what is possible.
I can always tell when anglers are from out of town, even as they’re a half mile downstream from their out-of-state license plates. Our rivers are full of mystery. They wind and bend, dip and dive through pocket water and flats, over runs and riffles. And all that structure tends to call to experienced anglers in the same way.
The level just above the ancient tree and the power line tantalizes. It tricks every first-timer into targeting the juicy section on river right. Truth is, more and bigger fish are stacked up on river left, even though the structure — the layout — looks only half as appealing. Why? Because there are springs that seep from that bank, all year long. For a hundred yards, pure limestone water attracts trout in the winter to stay warm, in the summer to stay cool and in spawning season for the perfect gravel. That’s local knowledge.
I met my friend, Trevor, today, and we both squeezed in a few hours of fishing between family duties. The water was high enough that most anglers stayed home. But I know this river.
Dirty water is hard to read, and if your first time on a new stretch of river is under muddy conditions, where the creek bed is unseen, you’re in for a lot of guessing and tough fishing.
We walked downstream on an elevated path above the flow, and I pointed out the main features to Trevor, highlighting the new woodfalls on the near bank. I promised him that none of the water was over his knees, the rocks were mostly uniform, and there were no major surprises to cause difficult wading.
“Trust the pockets,” I told him. “There are fish everywhere.”
Those trout ate our flies because we had the confidence to fish well. And the fish were right where they were supposed to be.
That’s local knowledge.
As much as I love fishing alone, I enjoy fishing with good friends just as much. I usually turn off my guide instincts as we work the stream together, but I occasionally recommend a good piece of water to my friends or warn against another.
Jeff and I were camping and fishing with our buddy, Sam — just three guys on a Fall fishing bender. Long before I had kids and a mortgage, it was one of those open-ended, youthful fishing trips that only part-time employment and college enrollment seems to offer. Sam was inexperienced. Add to that, he’d never been to my favorite wild river.
We waded upstream and fished in the steep canyon of broken limestone chunks that averaged the size of our beer cooler. Sam cut up to the right where a nice, narrow channel merged with the main seam. He fished it for a while with no luck. Then he climbed up on the far bank and threw a few casts upstream. Just before he walked into the shade of the towering pines, I yelled after him.
“Sammy!” I motioned. “You’ll get trapped up there, man. The river runs against the sidewall a couple hundred yards up.” I yelled loud, forcing my voice to carry over the rolling water.
Sam waved me off, but I continued.
“It gets real deep and there’s nowhere to wade,” I warned, shaking my head. “The path ends too, because of the steep bank.” I trailed off when I saw that Sammy had his mind set upon his own course. He brushed me off again, smiled and tipped his cap before walking upstream.
But an hour later, Sam emerged from the deep shadows again. He walked all the way below where I’d given him the advice of experience, and he crossed the wide river. I could see he was soaked. Even his hat dripped with cold water. And I chuckled when he walked past me, cursing those “damn broken pines” that had tripped him up.
“It’s impassable, Sammy,” I laughed. “Told ya!”
Sam flashed both his middle fingers my way and kept walking.
That’s local knowledge.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N