Fish fish

I try to always fish on my birthday, and by fish, I mean fish fish.  What’s the difference between that and trying to cherry-pick the evening rise?  Well…everything, really.  My day off was May 9, and I’ve said for years that the fishing is always good on May 9.  Is it?  Well, yeah!  This year I had a scorching bright and windy as hell 75 degree day in May, and so I spent my morning considering some options.  They were:  1) Chips on the table, heading to Mio, 2) Find a creek, and 3) Head to the North Branch and just figure it out.  Mio seemed an okay option to fit into some part of the day, but going to Mio first thing in the morning could lead to an entire day sitting on a log reading a book and hoping that one fish would rise.  A fine thing to do, but not if you want to fish fish.  The creek would lead me astray.  It would be fun, but it would take the entire day…and that seemed even riskier than Mio.  North Branch it was.

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One very excited angler!  

I arrived just as Jordan floated around the bend.  The river was sparkling clear.  A few caddis.  A few olives.  A few hennies.  This sunny weather, man.  This will have to go down as the most fickle hendrickson year I can remember.  A
Anyway, that North Branch: All beautiful water.  Not the most productive place to be on a bright May day, but productive enough, an equal mix of pool and riffle.  I had whipped up a dry and dropper combination the night before, and even thought to video tape it.

I fished the river slowly, and found the trout huddled in the shadows and the shallow drop-offs.  They were finicky, spooky, and small.  But there is a time for big easy trout, and knowing ahead of time that this wasn’t that time, helped me come to terms with the situation.  The goal, when you’re fishing on a tough day, is to figure out what the river is willing to give.  I worked upstream slowly and didn’t move fish anywhere but those shallow, shadowy shelves.   The wind howled in the tall pines but it was pretty calm down by the river. After a while, and a few brook trout, I swapped the beadhead for a green soft hackle, and caught a nice little brown from about four inches of broken water just above a shelf.

It was enough tediousness for two hours.  I decided to try some bigger game.  I left the North Branch, and drove straight east to fish below Mio dam.  And there I sat on a log reading a book, saying hi to the passing boats, watching a few hendricksons hatch, and not seeing a single rising trout (though one of the boats hooked and lost a dandy trout on a nymph rig) before I decided that I needed some gas station sustenance, and to see if just maybe I might situate myself for a spinner fall in the water nearer home, wind or no.  The fishing is always good on May 9.  Right?

When I stepped into the river, I saw no anglers, and a ton of hendricksons bouncing in the air.  By the time I was at the magic tailout, I had targets.  Two rainbows off the top of the bubble line proved easy to catch.   The handful of browns that were rising in a little tongue of quiet water between two bubble lines were more difficult.  The sun fell quickly as it does in early May.  The wind stayed high in the tops of the white pines but barely ruffled the surface.  When it was almost too dark, I cut a wide swath around the pod of trout and positioned myself so I was facing upstream into the glare and began to pick them off.  They wanted 6x, and while the fishing was damn good, it would have been great, I thought, if I had a slightly sparser bug.  Still, they were good browns, mostly 10-12 inches, and one big one that I managed to not catch despite its best efforts to be caught.  Sparser bug, sparser bug…

So I went home and tied one.  Tied three, in fact.  Determined.  Enchanted.

Which is how I ended up, the next night, just downstream of a big fish head-rising on a quiet South Branch seam to the few spinners that actually hit the water.  And when he ate my freshly tied bug, and leapt seemingly halfway across the river, drag peeling silently, tree frogs singing, and Lance enquiring about the size of the trout from downstream, the gravity of fly-fishing joy that is dry fly fishing just sort of pulled me right down to the riverbank where, kneeling, I slid the trout into the net.

It hasn’t been a good spring.  It’s been a tough spring.  Snow, east-wind cloudless days, and now temperatures in the high 80s.  But, for all the heartache it has caused, the little flashes of action — the first good day of blind fishing dries, the first big hatches of caddis, those first spinners — have buoyed spirits.  In this heat, every morning, there are hendrickson spinners flying over the water at the lodge.  The caddis begin hatching mid-morning.  Fishing a double dry rig has been pretty effective during the lunch hour.  In the late afternoon and early evening, the light hendrickons and mahoganies are mixing with the evening flights of caddis and the short mayfly dances to provide a mixed bag that will benefit greatly from some cooler evenings.  If I had one tip for the next few hot days, fish early and late, if you can.  But don’t just fish.  Fish fish.

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Scott with a midday dandy

A little rain would be nice as well.  Saturday we might get our wish.  If we get a big blast of rain, the streamer fishing could be pretty awesome with these warmer water temperatures.  In the meantime, Purple Patriots, Borchers, Purple Daze, with or without a trailing dropper, soft hackle, or caddis, will be very good searching combos in the upper rivers.  When the weather breaks, expect the hatches to go off more in the middle of the day and early evening, a welcome change indeed.  The season has caught up with itself, and there’s a hell of a lot more to do now on the trout stream than there was a week ago.  Enjoy it!

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