I spent most of Sunday morning in the comfortable waters of the Allegheny River. I had little reason to move. The weather was perfect and the fish (both hatchery and wild) were rising in a long deep pool. For the most part, the tranquility was broken only by occasional chattering of a jay or kingfisher, and the splashing of hungry trout.
Sometimes the fish were taking an emergent insect just below the surface film; other times they were nailing the adult flies on the surface. My problem lay in finding out what turned them on.
I tried the usual suspects on a long fine tippet: Black Ant, Trico Spinner, Blue Quill Spinner, Adams, soft-hackles, midges, caddis pupa… and all the fish would do was follow, make a close inspection, and depart. I tried various strategies– drifting, mending, twitching the fly, mostly to no avail. I felt like I was in church, trying to figure out a sermon, making sense of the insensible, wondering why, with all the possibilities before them, the attendant feeders had to be so finicky.
“They were real finicky yesterday,” said an arriving angler from New Jersey. “Refused everything except an Ant. And even with Ants, the hook-ups were few and far between. One of them, though, was a 25-inch rainbow! Caught it right there where you’re standing. I made a video, but it wasn’t easy.” Since Jersey anglers (and those from metro Philly) tend to speak the truth about their Potter County catches (lol), I had little reason to doubt this fellow, though the largest rainbow I’ve ever landed in 33 years of fishing the Allegheny measured four inches less than that behemoth.
“Finicky” seemed to be the operative word this weekend. And come to think of it, I was finicky in selecting the Allegheny for this outing… The day before, Jim K. and I fished a lovely but challenging stretch of Wiscoy Creek in western New York and walked away with catching and releasing just a few small browns. The drive was long; the weather was hot. Today I wanted something easier, so I made a careful and deliberate choice…
I wanted a fuller flow, with cool water temperatures, close to home, and with a chance for larger trout. I looked across the expansive pool and watched the rise forms that eventually told me to be patient, to retract my vision from the starred horizon, focusing on the mystery hatch while trying to match it with an artificial in my boxes.
It’s not my favored way for studying bugs and what it is that eats them. My survey, and others like it, seemed too modern, specialized and calculating. I prefer to look askance at the whole spectrum of events if possible, to see connections in the full view of nature, even if it lacks a scientific focus. But that’s not what the trout were doing; they were keying in on one stage of one specific hatch at a time. If I wanted to be as smart as a fifth-grade hatchery fish, I had better figure out what those guys were feeding on.
I got lucky. I learned that what the trout were taking (at first) was Little Blue-Winged Olives, the smaller the mayfly, the better. I made good catches, and transitioned slowly as the fish began to feed selectively on Ants later in the morning.
What relief! And hatchery trout are dumb, right? Well, disadvantaged, maybe, through no fault of their own. They didn’t choose to grow up in a factory eating but a single kind of manufactured food. They probably enjoyed this weekend’s smorgasbord, selecting one winged species at a time.
It was Sunday morning, looking at the start of Fall. My soul was saved, for now.
Happy Autumn to you all.