Rises don’t just offer a clue about feeding fish. They are a symbol of hope.
The light-variable, Indian-summer wind blew the sweet smell of freshly cut rye and timothy from across the field. Mr. Beaumont’s Holstein cattle had laid down in the pasture, and his quarter horses stretched out their necks. You don’t need a weather app to tell you that a soaking rain was coming, and I hustled to the river being careful not to disturb the neat windrows which might preclude Mr. Beaumont from letting me access his stream on future visits.
There was a riffle-run combination adjacent to the young alder run. Trout were rising in the soft current along the far bank. They knew rain was coming, and they were set on sipping in as many size 16 Blue-winged olives as they could before the river came up.
I made a short cast near the bank, and it barely drifted before it was sucked in by a foot-long brookie. The fish had an orange belly, bright red dots on its flanks, and emerald markings on its back. I don’t know of a prettier fish than a brookie in spawning display, and I slid him back into the water. Thunder, those drums of war, sounded in the distance. They were followed by a fantastic thunderclap and a deluge of rain.
Thanks to the latest in lightweight technology, I was dry, but I did think how I missed my oilskin jacket. That heavy, greasy coat always carried a musty smell, but boy it never leaked. The first time I wore it was when I bounced streamers along a river much bigger than this one. On that trip I caught more browns in a low-light hour than I did on three preceding trips. Every time I got a whiff of that musty smell I thought of catching. It was a wonderful smell, very different from the noxious odor of mothballs. My wool sweaters smell like that, and when I wear one it means my trout season is drawing to an end.
I was warm under my lightweight jacket because I wore a wool shirt that was nearly as old as me. The collar has been tattered for years and there are holes worn in the elbows. I bought this shirt shortly after graphite rods made a splash, and it had always been heavy enough to keep me from getting a chill while standing in the water, and light enough to prevent overheating on a sunny day. When it gets wet there is a steam that comes off my back that reminds me of spring steelheading. The difference in the land and water temperatures always creates that kind of fog.
I bought that shirt about the same time that I wore out my last pair of Converse waders. They were felt-soled bootfoot jobs that went for a decade before springing a leak. They’d last for so long that as kids we would buy boots some two or three sizes too large and stuff the toes with rolled-up socks to absorb the extra room. We’d outgrow them before we outwore them, that’s for sure. After buying the boots we’d pick up a pair of red and blue suspenders at the men’s store in town and see if we could convince a dad, uncle, or grandfather to give us an old leather belt to cinch around our waists. It’d keep the water out if we fell in.
The newest rod in my emerging collection was a rust-colored Fenwick fiberglass. It was a 7 foot for 6 weight line with a cork spacer in an uplocking reel seat. I liked that the plastic rod case was triangular, for unlike my Shakespeare Wonderrod it did not roll around in the bed of my F-250 when I downshifted and took a corner. I had a Pfleuger Medalist 1494 and a Cortland 333 level line that let shot slide easily through the guides. The more things change the more they stay the same. Fiberglass rods are making a comeback, the Medalist was recently overhauled, and Cortland is poised for the next century.
To grease my line I’d open my red tin of Mucilin. A dab on the pad wiped the floating line to slick proportions and it’d float like a cork. Paste worked through my fingertips liquefied easily, and when applied to the body of a dry fly the dun would ride high. The flies would be matted after catching a fish or two, but that was an easy fix. I’d boil water in a tea kettle, place a bunch of flies in a strainer, and hold it over the steam. That was easy, it still is, but Mucilin is difficult to find. When I find some it is housed in a plastic container.
I tied my own leaders from spools of bulk monofilament. As no fly lines had line end systems, I made my own by tying a Nail Knot to the end of the PVC. I left a hank of 25-pound nylon about 8 inches long and twisted up a Perfection Loop in the end. Then, I’d follow a leader formula from butt through graduations to a tippet, each with a Blood Knot. On some I’d leave a tag end for droppers, and I’d finish it off with a Perfection Loop in the butt. A loop-to-loop connected my line to my leader, and adding a dropper fly was a cinch. I’d coil and store them in plastic sandwich bags and mark their lengths and tippet X sizes with a felt pen. A piece of old fly line gathered my tippet spools together and made for easy extraction dictated by the uniqueness of each fishing situation, and I could tie it to the D-ring on my vest. I’m not so sure how I feel about extruded leaders, particularly since using them gives me one fewer winter project.
Old bike tubes, ones patched beyond repair, were valuable to fly fishermen. They made great patches for holes in canvas waders, and they also worked well for straightening coiled leaders. The resulting black streaks removed any sheen from the monofilament, and when the leaders laid out on the water they were as flat as a line drawn by a graphite pencil.
After nearly a summer’s worth of bailing hay I saved enough money to buy a new reel. Of all the reels on the market a Hardy Featherweight click and pawl reel sang most to me. It cost $56, and I believe the extra spool was $17.50. Don’t quote me on the spool price because I was so enamored with the smooth, delicate sound I bought the spare for utility purposes. They’re a bit more now, but it matched perfectly with a Gene Edwards Quadrate I bought for ten bucks at a yard sale. Everyone was crazy for graphite, and no one wanted a four-sided cane rod. I hear cane rods are making a comeback, too.
The rain was picking up, but the trout were still rising. I probably should have walked back to my truck, but I was having fun thinking about how much things have changed. I could think about them while making another cast. With luck another fat brookie would come out to play.