1. Small black stoneflies skittered across the pool. Trout began to rise and gulp the stoneflies that attempted to finish their journey from the water to the land. Standing under a bright midday sun, I began to curse myself for being unprepared. For all my anticipation of this early stonefly hatch, I’d forgotten to carry the container that included patterns for adult black stones. Naturally, my nymph pattern was ignored. My dry fly substitutes were also ignored. Only the skittering stoneflies would do. The sun was in our eyes.
I walked upstream into a riffle flowing under alder shrubs. A rainbow darted out and grabbed the drifting Woolly Bugger. Seconds later it was gone. It looked to be in the 16 to 18-inch range. The spring fly fishing season had begun.
Up in the woods along this headwater stream, I stopped to cast in the whirling currents of a small, deep hole. A fish darted from beneath a log and took the fly. I saw the striped fins of a good native trout. I held, thinking to myself, if this one escapes, it’ll be three strikes, fisherman, you’re out!
The trout came to the net. I took a quick photo– a wild fish, most likely. If so, it would register as one of the largest wild brookies I have fooled. That’s not to say that a wild brook trout is a foolish creature. There’s probably more brightness on the side of a dull spring female than a human brain can know.
The first few notes of a newly arrived song sparrow drifted weakly from the distance. This had been a colorful afternoon along the Pennsylvania woods.
2. The next day, a fishing partner and I decided to check for steelhead in a major drainage system of western New York. Once again, the weather seemed perfect– mild but cloudy. A first flock of migrating robins was spotted roadside on our drive to a headwater stream.
Our upstream hike began around mid-morning, a late start when you’re scouting for migratory fish. A half dozen other anglers were returning luckless from the hunt, although one fellow claimed to have released a good ten-pounder. A cover of lake-effect snow softened in the warming breezes. So far, the stream was low for March, its color a typical deep-clay.
About a mile up the stream, at a place where chandeliers of ice hung wickedly from the sides of a gorge, I kicked out the first steelhead, an average two-footer lying close to the water’s edge. It shot into dark currents of a large pool, which I gave to Tim since he was new to this creek.
The steelhead remained few and far between. In a couple of weeks the spring spawning run would be charging full bore to the gravel beds. The steelhead would be moving through the gorge till stopped by a substantial waterfall.
Sheets of blue ice hung from the rock walls. Winter ran its life-blood down the cliffs. Two anglers in the mood for springtime entered the quiet dimensions of rock and ice. At the falls that ended our ascent along the stream, Tim kicked out a resting steelhead. As we cast into frigid waters of the glen, it was hard to escape the conclusion that the big fish were beyond us for a while. A friendly sun was in our eyes.