Sunday, March 25, 2012

Emerging Awareness, Part Two (March 25, 2012)

Trudging down an elevated footpath overlooking the Poudre, I gather intelligence, oblivious to the perfection that surrounds me.  A sip of hot coffee, sweetened to perfection with cream and sugar, warms my insides while the sun in the sea of blue above me takes care of my outsides.  I've timed things perfectly.  I'm early enough to beat what I'm certain will be a flood of fellow angling fanatics to come, yet late enough that the overnight chill has burned off and the riverbed is coming to life.  The path to my ultimate destination sits at the top of the steep riverbank, a shelf of rocks descending from my perch above to the water's edge.  The river is clear, and there are big fish visibly racing along the bed of the stream. Many of them are surprisingly large.  The visual sighting of big trout very nearly throws a roadblock in front of my progression.  I'm tempted, but the water is too calm for me.  In a moment of clarity and self-awareness, I realize that the fish I see are big for a reason.  They can sense my presence.  A couple of steps down the rocky embankment sends them scurrying away at full speed.  I'm nowhere near stealthy enough for these fish, and my dilemma of temptation is solved.  I move along.

When I get to where I'm going, I'm both pleased and wary with what I see.  Ringlets of water popping up in rhythmic progression.  The trout are awake here, and they're looking upward.  Their rises, however, are subtle and controlled.  I see no signs of naked aggression.  Whatever they're feeding on, they're feeding like gentlemen.

Hmm...this all seems too familiar.  The deeper I fall in love with this hobby, the starker the realization that I've gone too far down the road in this obsession to simply fall back into old habits.  I've learned that my default setting for surface action can no longer be set to "dry fly."  The season, like the bug life, is still young.  There will be ample time for the fish to slam hoppers and stimulators.  Things are simply more delicate right now.

My default setting is different today - a small but bushy Adams trailed by an RS2.  The Adams will serve, I think, a limited purpose today.  If I lose sight of the RS2, I'll watch the Adams as an indicator.  If it sinks, I'll hit.  If something surfaces near it, I'll hit.

With virtually no idea whether I'm doing anything right, I decide to gink the RS2.  The tuft of white antron is visible on the water - a small white dot that looks identical to all the other small white dots on the water's surface.  But I can follow it.  In almost no time, a small brown takes the emerger.

I release the brown back into the current, fearful that his small but vigorous fight has disturbed the fish I've really come here for.  I hold my breath and wait.  In short order, the frenzy begins anew.  Having calculated correctly with the dry/emerger combo, I'm in for something special.  In rapid progression, beautiful rainbows dine with abandon on the emerging bugs, and occasionally inhale my imitation.

Like all perfect moments, this one comes quickly to an end.  The sun is now higher in the sky, and the trout have eaten their fill.  I briefly consider changing my game, maybe trying a different approach to extend the perfection.  And then I realize that it's been enough.  In fact, it's been just right.

The elevated pathway leads me back to my car.  The bank is still steep, the water is still clear, and the big fish are still down below the surface, ready to dart away at the first sight or sound of human intrusion.  A challenge for another day.

I'm ready, at long last, to render a verdict:  Emergers in March.  At least for this angler.   I'll leave the mayflies for later...May, perhaps?

Watching trout sip...
The Flywriter

Emerging Awareness, Part One (March 10, 2012)

I was surrounded by rings of water, telltale signs of feeding trout that did nothing but increase my frustration as I watched the imitation mayfly drift effortlessly past me, time and again.  The water flow  - actually, it was more of a meander - was completely not to my liking, especially since my repeated casts and drifts were yielding nothing in the way of results. I'd gone as small as I could.  There were no dries in my fly box smaller than a 20, and the parachute BWO I'd chosen simply wasn't to the trouts' liking on this day.  Fishing without any decent sunglasses was leaving a strain on my eyes, my polarized glasses a casualty of my own absent-mindedness.  Somewhere along the banks of the Poudre, my little windows into the sub-surface life of the river sit, waiting for another angler to stumble upon an unexpected gift from the Flywriter.  I was suddenly longing for the smoking hot days of late summer, wishing I could simply toss out a monstrous hopper to active, lively trout that inhale meaty terrestrials rafting down the middle of a fast, shallow riffle.  Instead, I was being taunted by little kisses from below the surface, disturbing just enough water to form dozens of concentric circles in clear, nearly-stagnant water.

I was conditioned from a young age to react instinctively to signs of rising fish.  If they were feeding on the surface, you forgot about whatever nymph you were drifting and replaced it with a dry that resembled whatever bugs were on the water.  In March, on the Poudre, that almost always means an olive hatch underway, and a basic BWO mayfly gives you the results you want more often than not.  That's been my M.O. for years.  Two weeks ago, I learned that it's more nuanced than that.

I suppose I was being lazy, or maybe just hopeful.  I understand how emergers work, and I had a feeling that all the rings on the river's surface were evidence that the trout were feeding on them.  O.K., it was more than just a feeling.  It was obvious.  I was just hoping it wasn't.  I never quite know how to fish an emerger effectively.  Dry fly fishing is so cut and dry.  Cast, drift, watch, and set.  Watch and react.  You're either quick enough, or you aren't.  Casting to trout that are feeding on emergers leaves me feeling like I'm fishing to trout in Never Never land.  Not really nymphing, and not quite dry fly fishing.

No sense watching 'em refuse this mayfly any longer, I thought to myself.  I decided I would have to fact the music and figure out this emerger thing.  Slipping some tippet around the bend of the mayfly's hook, I clumsily attached a basic emerger pattern and sent the tiny bug flying.  The mayfly landed softly on the surface, and I strained to see the emerger.  It was gone, seemingly into thin air, although I knew it was somewhere in the vicinity of the mayfly.  I watched the mayfly intently, hoping it would at least have some utility as an indicator.

Another glance upstream revealed another ringlet of water.  Ten seconds later, I lifted the rod tip and casted to it.  The mayfly landed in the middle.  In the next nano-second, a flash on the water's surface caused the mayfly to disappear, triggering a familiar cognitive reflex in my mind, and I set the hook.  And then...resistance.  The rod tip began to shudder, and the fight was on.  Son of a gun took the mayfly.  Go figure.

At this point, I was puzzled, although my confusion was less relevant after a heck of a fight with a large rainbow.  Twenty casts later, my mind became consumed by it.  The only way out of the dilemma was to continue fishing both flies.  Shortly thereafter, the internal debate grew even more difficult to resolve, as another beautiful trout slammed the end of my line, this time taking the emerger and running downstream with it.

That was it for the day, leaving me no closer to enlightenment than when I started.  I didn't catch enough fish to infer any statistically significant indication of what a trout prefers in March on the Poudre.  Which is good news, in a sense.  All the more reason for continued research!

Hope to see y'all in the laboratory...
The Flywriter