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A Catskill fall


It seems like just the other day that we were grumbling about a late spring, cold water temperatures, high flows and lack of rising trout, and here we are, in September. One has to wonder where May, June, July and August went.

Summer is on the wane. It is subtle, almost sneaky the way it begins. And we barely notice at first, yet there are little signs that fall is just around the corner. Perhaps it’s a few fallen poplar leaves along the two-track into the camp. Or it might be the lower angle of the afternoon sun, over the home pool. And it might be the frequency of monarch butterflies, which visit the few flowers left and ride the soft breezes that will eventually lead them to Mexico. Then it might be the absence of the robin’s song welcoming morning and the close of day. All of these little signals, are signs that summer is fading and fall is just a short time away.

On the river, the few fallen leaves ride the currents and spin round and round in the eddies. The spring flow that filled the banks is now reduced to the point that river stones lie bleached in the afternoon sun. In May and June, mayflies and caddisflies hatched in profusion, bringing hungry trout to the surface—and upon occasion, to our flies. First quill Gordon, then Hendrickson, March browns, green drakes and on and on. An abundance of food, all but gone as the rivers early season bounty fades into summer, then fall. Now only diminutive trico mayflies remain from the excesses of early season hatches.

As the days shorten, the nights cool and water temperatures drop, the olives begin. Of the mayflies, olives are one of the most reliable. There are many species of this group, from tiny 24s to larger 16s. They hatch every day in fairly small numbers, but in a constant parade, providing a steady diet for the trout. The fish feed mostly on the nymphs and emergers, but sometimes they will take the duns, and perhaps there is a rare day with the dry fly.

It is with cold legs and numb fingers that we fish these last hatches, once the sun’s rays leave Catskill rivers. The leaves have turned, and the mountains and river bottoms are a blaze of color. When we wade the riffles and pools, where on soft June evenings spinners danced above, we are greeted by flocks of wood ducks and teal, gathering for their long flights to warmer waters. And when the breeze comes to the river, there is a nip in the air. Leaves fall and ride the current in large rafts, that put the trout off and hook our flies, causing the leader to spin on the backcast.

It is tough fishing Catskill fall. The flows are down, the flies all but gone, the trout wary, with the larger ones preparing to spawn. Yet it is a beautiful time. The heat and humidity of summer are gone, and while the days can be warm the nights are crisp, with a hint of woodsmoke in the air, as locals prepare for a long winter. So it is with more than a little sadness and heavy heart, that we pack the rods, lock the camp door, check the home pool a last time to begin the trek home. And it is during this long drive, as age creeps up, that one wonders, as the grim reaper sharpens his scythe, how many more Catskill falls there will be?


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