Monday, August 8, 2011

Into the Mist

Mist rose from the Youghiogheny River downstream of Confluence, Pa., on Saturday afternoon. The mist provided evidence that the summer heat wave that ruined July was continuing into August. And it showed that the bottom release dam a few miles upstream was keeping the river water at temperatures that would keep the trout very comfortable.

From up on the road I could see the rings created by rising trout rippling across the water's surface. After a
morning of fishing the rapids downstream with only one rise, I was pleased to see rising fish. But from a distance I could neither judge their size, nor species.

As I stepped into the cool water, I noticed three things that told me this was going to be different. First the water was flat. No riffles. No runs. It rolled downstream as smooth as glass. The river was more close to 200 yards wide and not a ripple, except for the occasional ever-expanding rings sent out by the rising fish. Fish were rising regularly and they were large. First their noses would appear, then their heads, bigger than my fist. After inhaling their food, their shoulders would break the surface. From where I stood they looked they were wearing shoulder pads. They would flick their broad tails like a broom on the surface as they returned to the depths.

Earlier this year I had seen a few rises on the State College streams, but those fis
h weren't as large, nor where they steady feeders. But this is what every trout fisherman hopes for when he starts rigging up, a hatch met by rising fish.

I stepped into the water and bent down to get a good look at what had the fish's attention. Drifting calmly on the flat water, wings erect, were size 16 blue winged olives. The miniature armada kept coming as I scanned the surface upstream. I tied on a BWO dry fly and started casting in the direction of a rising trout. I quickly was reminded how lame my casting skills are. My clumsy casts put down one trout after another. I could have blamed it on the table-top smooth surface or the clear water underneath. But casts that sprayed water and dropped flies on top of fish were the real cause. I did generate one rise, but missed on the strike.

The CSX train rolled past along the far bank. More trains and trout. I could hear the sound of rapids downstream, but couldn't see them. Otherwise the river was quiet. No one else was around. The normal flotilla of rafter and kayakers had died down by late afternoon, perhaps scared off by the rain.

The intermittent showers slowed the hatch. But the trout kept rising sporadically and I worked on my casting and tried my best to get into a position where I could get a drift without spooking the trout. I cast across stream 15 yards to a rising trout. A snout broke the surface, I held my breath as the fish started to descend back into the river and then raised my rod to set the hook. The fish immediately jumped from the water, showing both his size and his color -- golden brown. It says something about how resigned I was to continuing that day's bad luck that I convinced myself that I had hooked a rising carp. That illogical notion disappeared as the brown trout swam past me in the clear water and I could clearly see his big spots and flat tail.

A few moments later the trout came to hand. It was the largest Pennsylvania brown trout that I've caught on a dry fly in more than 15 years. It was followed by some bigger and some smaller fish, including two long rainbows.

As dusk fell, the mist deepened. I couldn't see the river surface more than 10 feet away. If the fish were rising, I couldn't tell. I didn't mind. I waded out of the mist smiling, knowing that on this night I would dream of tiny sail boats, glassy rivers and rising trout.

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