Today my dad and I spent the late afternoon poking around the north woods on our way to the river. You do this when there isn’t a cloud in the sky and you’re not convinced there’ll be a trout in the river, at least a trout for you. The trees have color but not much. Our local scenic overlook gave a pretty good aerial survey:
No drone required
When we finally got to the river my friend Andrew pulled up into the parking lot and shared a picture of a gigantic brown he caught last week…you know, back when it was cloudy and rainy and cold. My dad and I knew there would be no trout like that available today, but we figured we’d find something. We waved Andrew good-bye and finished rigging up. When we stepped into the river it was after 4 pm.
The river was dead. Or looked dead. No olives. No rises. A few flying ants had smacked into my windshield on North Down River Rd, but there were none by the river. The river is wide, shallow and clear in our chosen stretch, interspersed with islands, which pinch the river into knee-deep “pools”. My dad worked downstream on one side of an island with a flying ant and I put on a pair of soft hackles and swung them through the run right below the put-in. I had four good pulls but not hook-ups.
I decided to re-rig with a dry and dropper and get below the run and work back up through it with a dead drift. This worked on a couple of the brook trout, one of which was a hump-backed male that, if photographed correctly with nothing for scale, could have passed for a foot… Okay, okay, not bad.
Dad rigged up with a pair of soft hackles while I worked upstream. After a few weeks of big water, the wide shallow flat threw me off. In a big river, the holding lies are obvious: A shelf is where the river drops from shin deep to chest deep. A log jam is the size of a car. Up on the skinny river, it’s a single rock, a single branch, a thin tendril of bubble line, a color change in the bottom. But with a light rod, light line, long leader, small flies, the reading of the fine print of a small trout stream is just right for a lazy, timeless, fall afternoon. I found a few in a little plunge pocket behind a log and hooked one better one.
Upstream, on the east bank, a quarter of the river squeezed between a couple of logs, I saw a rise in the middle of a gentle run. I called my dad over. There were a few olive spinners. Maybe a few ants. He fished a Patriot down the little bubble line and hooked two, landing a fine brown:
All this heat and clear skies should blow out of here tomorrow night, and leave behind fall. There’ll be leaves in the river, and hopefully the rivers will be stained and high, and certainly these pre-spawn browns will pause from their upstream push to chase the fly. I’ll be out there a few times this week betwixt a short family camping/hunting/fishing trip up north. On the cloudy cold days a’coming, look for fish rising to olives in the flat water sections in the afternoons. Catch some fish on nymphs. Wade quietly. Explore. Even on what looks to be a limpid river, there are trout feeding…take your time and enjoy the puzzle. Small brookie or trophy brown, each one is worth the effort it took to fool it.