Fall Big’uns

So it’ll be fall soon and that sadly means several of the Croton Watershed rivers I fish will be wrapping up for the season. I took opportunity of the cold-snap to pursue “fall-run” browns on the Amawalk (Muscoot River). Browns spawn in the fall and leave the reservoirs for the small streams and tributaries that connect reservoirs. I’ve learned alot over the summer, caught many species of fish, but a  “big’un” alluded me…until yesterday. My favorite river lies between two largish parks providing hundreds of acres of solitude. A mile hike and several crossings rewarded me with lots of wildlife, including a Great Blue Heron, deer crossing the river, various snakes and frogs. I came across a copperhead that had a baby brown trout in his mouth.

After trekking over rocky outcroppings, through thickets and groves of hemlocks and swampy floodplains on the river’s edge I finally reached the outlet, the flow had really leveled out. Gone were the riffles. Standing there was an old-timer, must have been 70 at least. I was still huffing and puffing from the hike so I wondered how he’d made it in…turns out there is a more level shorter hike from a nearby highway. Oh well. “Tom” said he’d been fishing the river for forty years and it was the first stream he’d every fly-fished on. He seemed impressed I’d “bushwhacked” in to reach this spot and gave me first choice of fishing. I noticed several gorgeous rises downstream, big ripples that suggested big trout and headed in that direction. He graciously said he’d fished that spot for several years and was happy to share.

I tied on a #16 caddis and went to work casting across and letting it dead drift downstream. The first take was violent, he was on for half-a second and a big headshake and he was off. My heart was racing. I resisted casting again immediately, and following the rules, let the water return to calm for about 8 or 9 minutes. I tied on a smaller caddis with a bit of sparkle to the tail, and cast again. I fought “micro-drag” for a minute, then cast again. Just when I thought I’d put the big brown down, a big SLURP and the caddis was down. A voice in the back of my head was trying to wake me up from my shock, STRIKE DAMNIT, STRIKE! I struck and struck hard. He was on. It was like a brick had grabbed hold of the rod. Head down, the brown dove deep as they do and went for a couple of runs upstream, thank god. Downstream and he surely would have broken me off. I played him for several more minutes, keeping pressure on, keeping his head turned toward me. And he swam toward me giving me time to reel in some line. I reached for my net on my back and–it was gone! Somewhere on the hike I dropped my net! How was I going to land this big guy?

I calmly backed up toward shore and the fish rose enough for me to see him. He was at least 20″, long and fat with a very dusky sandy color suggesting he’d been deep in the reservoir all summer (where less camouflage is needed)! Now my heart was in my chest. His head was broad and fat. Oh Lord, how the hell was I going to land him? I could put my hands under his belly or grab him by the collar, but I’d have to pull him in close, and he’d surely spook. But I got him in, five feet, three feet, one feet. He was calmly treading water below my feet. And then I pulled him slowly him up to reach for him. Then I made a total rookie mistake. His head out of the water, I grabbed the line. And he woke up! Two big head shakes and he was free. He sat there looking at me…me looking at him, eye to eye. Then, he slowly put his head down and swam for a hole. What a fish. Sorry no pictures, but his image is burned on my mind’s eye.

Yep, fall fishing can be a lot of fun, and it doesn’t have to be all trout. Sometimes going for wily smallies can be just as much fun. While recently rafting in West Virginia with my brother, I took the time to hit the New River, a trophy smallmouth river. Wading out on a nice bend where the Dunloup Creek joins the New, I was able to cast just ahead of some nice little class 1 rapids. Behind every boulder there seemed to be a smallie! On a 5 wt they provided plenty of action, jumping and diving. Fast warm water can be a fly fisherman’s best friend, the fishing is simpler. A wooly bugger or conehead worm in just about any pattern will suffice.

Now as the cool crisp winds dry the leaves creating the hush sound of the woods in the fall, I feel a bit anxious. Winter is on its way. Soon the land will be still, but for now big ‘uns await in the cool creeks just below the colored canopy.

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