The road dead-ended at the state forest lands in Potter County. I knew that the trout streams would be low but, given the sudden coolness in air temperature, I figured that the water temps would be cooler also, and safe for casting with a barbless dry fly.
Gone were the dog days and some of the hottest, most stifling weather in… well, at least a year. Gone was that sense of late-summer lethargy that could really sap the energy of a student or a teacher or a highway construction worker or a factory clerk. Gone was that sense of entrapment or frustration or imminent doom– at least for now. It was time to wet wade in a mountain stream near home, no matter how challenging because of dry summer conditions, and to play with the wild trout.
Sure, it would be important to step along as carefully and quietly as possible, to measure each side cast or bow-and-arrow cast before it was delivered (I’m like every other small stream fanatic– perfectly capable of making death threats unto goldenrod or alder branches intercepting a wayward fly or tippet). And it’s important to make a quick release of every captured trout. The weather may be cooling and the spawning colors brightening, but these low water conditions of late summer remain stressful to these otherwise tenacious and beautiful fish. Hold the fish gently; release the hook quickly and place that creature back where it belongs.
Fishing for Potter County natives on a crystalline September day was thoroughly relaxing. The trout rose readily for one of my favorite autumn dry flies, the Rio Grande King, a dark floater with white wings that can imitate any number of insects including mayflies, caddis, and black ants. I lost count of how many small brookies came to hand, and when I hooked a 10-inch male trout in a long placid pool, it fought like Moby Dick, if only through a wild pastoral dream.
The quickenings brought on a flood of colorful images and memories from recent days: from a crazy ramble through the gorge at Watkins Glen with friends and family and a million tourists from across the sea, from a subsequent tour of wineries above Keuka Lake, from a poetry reading on the summit of Wheeler Hill, from a holiday bonfire blazing with the call of owls, the clinking of bottles, and the bursts of laughter, and from a dozen other small events where the table of imminent autumn was being set, and where, hopefully, we would all take our seats with anticipation and joy.