Evenings on the River

Usually about this time of year, late May to early June, I finish up my springtime walks along the feeder streams and hit the main stem of the rivers for some fishing. The water levels in the small tribs of the headwater districts are dropping and the vegetation has grown to the point where fishing there is pretty much over for a while. The rivers are calling with their heavy insect hatches, easier casting lanes, and larger trout.

After several days of hot, late-May weather I visited the upper Genesee River one evening and discovered that the water temperature was disconcertingly high for this early in the season. I almost turned around, but thought, if the trout were sullen, I could always cast for smallies or even a carp if I encountered one. Surprisingly, trout were snapping up Sulphur duns in several shallow pools, and so I put the long rod into action (an 8-foot 4-inch three weight) and had good results culminating with a heavy two year-old that I brought to the net and carefully resuscitated.

Compared to casting in the little feeder streams for wild trout, fishing the Genesee is Easy Street. After finding a productive stretch of water that contains (for the most part) hatchery browns and rainbows, you tend to step along slowly, watching for bug activity and feeding trout. The casting is delicious… there’s no stalking on your hands or knees, no fighting with brush or with limbs that can snag a back-cast. Stocked fish aren’t as wary or beautifully colored, but that’s not to say that challenges don’t exist. Here you struggle more with choosing the best artificial fly pattern or with ways to fool a particularly difficult fish. The views are longer, even if your place in the river valley is close to another angler or a busy road.

The first of my new river sessions started near the New York/Pennsylvania state line, a point fairly close to home. My second evening started downstream near the village of Stannards. Luckily we had just experienced a thunderstorm and a cooling trend which brought the water temperatures down a little. Seventy degrees F. is still a bit too warm for trout, but the fish were active late in the day, leaping from the water as they chased emergers. I had luck from the start by casting a Sulphur dry fly. After releasing four small browns from the mayfly pattern, I found that the Sulphur no longer interested the feeders. It was caddis from there on out. I tied on an Elkhair dry fly and attached a dropper to it, a soft-hackle wet fly that the fish wouldn’t leave alone. They preferred the dropper to the dry fly by about a 4-to-1 ratio. After catching a dozen trout before dusk, I lost track of numbers (thankfully), but recall two browns that pushed the 15 and 16-inch marks on the net.

For my third night on the river I visited a stretch I hadn’t fished in four or five years. The Yorks Corners access tends to attract a lot of bait and spinner anglers and it’s not my favorite piece of water, but I worked my way upstream into a remoter area. I needed a place where I could do some late-day thinking, where I could work on my sun-down chapters of life without allowing self-pity to drown my efforts. I could be successful at it if the fishing was good enough. Otherwise pollution would enter my thought streams and the day would wind up with a morbid finish. I caught half as many browns as the night before, so it didn’t turn out badly, but the fish were only standard hatchery size. Whereas caddis emergers were the ticket to success the night before, this time out the spinners were the major draw– big Rusty Spinner flies and even the Coffin Fly (the Green Drake spinner form), which seemed appropo for my intimations of mortality.

Evenings on the late-spring river pass quickly and with wonder. They can be totally relaxing or frenetic or some shade inbetween. They are great to share with a friend or a family member. When the bats fly with the onset of darkness, you can step from the river toward the invitation of a cold beverage and the memory of good fishing action when the sun goes down.


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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