I went down to the river this evening to do a little fishing. Supper was done. I’d washed the dishes. The rest of my family was busy with other evening activities. And I still had about 90 minutes remaining until dusk. Casting a few flies and perhaps dancing with a trout at the end of a taut line seemed like a perfect way to end the day.
Although the calendar tells me that summer doesn’t officially start until this weekend, the weather has felt like summer all week. Just before supper I went to the garden and ran a hoe very lightly in between rows of beans. My forehead was drenched in sweat within five minutes. The promise of standing in the cool waters of some Vermont river seemed especially appealing.
The previous weekend I’d been up in Maine fishing for two days with my friend Randy Butler of New Haven. It had felt like summer up in Maine also. The Magalloway River along the New Hampshire border had less than half the volume of water that had been flowing through it just two weeks earlier. And the outlet of Mooselookmeguntic Lake — a famous fishery known simply as “Upper Dam” — was lower than I’d ever fished it in May or June. I was able to wade places I’ve never waded, and landed about 40 trout and salmon in six or so hours of fishing.
Most of those fish were landed on dry flies, which is another sign that spring is moving into summer. (Many were caught on a dry fly that I tied, which was a sign that they were not especially selective fish. I don’t tie many dry flies, in part because I don’t lose many, but mostly because I’m not very good at them. This winter, however, I decided to learn the Royal Wulff pattern. And the only way to learn is to tie a lot of them. One of the ones I tied didn’t turn out too hideous, so I tied one on, and a few trout begrudging obliged my efforts. But that is the subject for another column another day.)
The rapid approach of summer notwithstanding, not all the Vermont rivers are like those two I fished in Maine. Thanks to our late wet spring, Otter Creek is still flowing like it’s March or April. Certainly not like June. I drive by it nearly daily, waiting for the water to come down. It hasn’t. Not much, anyway. As a result, I have not fished Otter Creek yet this year, even though it is one of my favorite local waters. It is by no means unfishable, but it certainly is not in condition for wading — at least not in the locations I like to fish. Even so, I started the evening driving to Belden Falls just to check it out. It was even higher than I was expecting. My two favorite boulders to fish from were under water. I had not chance of even wading out to them.
The water levels on the Otter Creek made me think of my good fishing friend David O’Hara, who grew up around great trout streams in the Catskills of New York, and then lived in Vermont for decades. He now lives in Sioux Falls, S.D. He says the word “Falls” in the name of his city must have been added by somebody with a good sense of humor. He describes the river that flows through the city as “too wet to plow, but too muddy to drink.” Except right now there literally is a river flowing through the city. It has been raining there for several days. One town south of him is now an island, accessible only by boat. And even so, there still are no trout there. He tells me not to remind him of that fact. So I won’t complain about the current state of Otter Creek.
But I still didn’t fish at Belden Falls. One look at the high water below the dam at Belden threatened any belief that summer was upon us. I turned and drove back to the New Haven River. And my faith in summer was restored. The river looked perfect. I unpacked my gear, set up my rod, and waded upstream headed toward a certain favorite spot — the spot I’d had in mind two hours earlier while sweating in my garden with a hoe.
Just as I rounded the last bend, however, I heard voices. Six young adults, having arrived via ATV, were having a party on the gravel bar where I’d hoped to fish. They were chatting, sharing some beverage, laughing and joking, and carrying on like — well, like they were six young adults beside a river on a summer evening in Vermont. Apparently they hadn’t checked their calendars either. Summer doesn’t start until the weekend.
I thought about pointing that out to them, but decided against it. I turned and walked back to the hole downstream, and waded out into the cool water. It did feel great swirling around my legs. I fished for 20 minutes without seeing a fish, turned and went home to listen to some baseball on the radio. Seemed like a summery thing to do.