I caught up with one of the guys on the Westchester fishing forums to fish the East Branch of the Croton recently. Appropriately nicknamed, “Elsewhere”, we had been PMing each other about a salt or freshwater trip (my forum name is “Brooklynite”). Turns out, he’d never been on the EB and since I spent most of October on the salt, I figured what the heck. I wasn’t counting on the 200 CFS which makes the normally serene and mellow crick turn into a formidable little river. I wasn’t counting on Elsewhere not ever catching a trout on a dry either, though he’s definitely a salt-native. Not that it mattered much because with the high water we’d be swinging flies where we could.
Getting up there by 9am from Brooklyn means getting up at 6:00am but its worth it to beat the traffic and watch the orange rays of the sun warm the Putnam valley. If you get past the Hutch (Hutchison parkway) and on to 684 by 730 or 8 then you’re likely to encounter a fog bank or two. This is only a minor problem, as the lure of being first on the water pulls you continually forward onward to Brewster. Fog be damned. Once this summer I was on the EB just as the sun peaked over the edge of the spillway near the inlet. There was fog on the river bottom and I watched a family of deer make a crossing, including two young fawns splashing in the water. The goal for that early rise was to catch a trico hatch, my first ever. Imagine the air filled with tiny white flies, it looks like when the wind hits a snowdrift on a bright winter day and the ice crystals rise into the air. The tricos didn’t disappoint, but my presentation did, and I had to wait until later and a caddis hatch to hook up.
I beat Elsewhere to the water and took to scoping it out. It didn’t look promising, but since it was his first time on the water, I planned it out. We would start at the “bathtub” pool, then fish slowly down to the sodom bridge pool, skip a couple hundred yards of light riffles and hit the tailout of a long glide pool, then hop down to Phoebe’s hole. Then lunch at Norm’s (chili makes 50 degree water enjoyable), then maybe downstream to the trestle bridge pool behind the Honda dealership. If we were feeling lucky, we could hike a bit out of Brewster and stalk ‘bows nearer to the outlet.
When you go fishing with someone, well, you have to re-adjust. Your pace is yours, theirs is theirs. You have to be patient. I wanted Elsewhere to hook up so I gave him deference on certain pools, tried to put him in the best spots. “I caught a nice brown out of that hole this summer, but the storm (hurricane Irene) probably messed it up, why don’t you have a go anyway.”
Still, fishing was hard. It was cold. Up here, the leaves were the color of dull rust. The blowdowns were everywhere, fallen trees reconfiguring the riverscape. Passersby nodded, yup, tough fall fishing, with the weather and all. “Caught one, but couldn’t keep it on.”
Elsewhere was a keen optimist, and I decided I like him, because I like people who look on the brighter side of life. He was optimistic all morning, but every now and then remarked that he was a salt guy. He mentioned something about getting skunked over beers at lunch and I told him to perish the thought. See, we were putting our time in. Every angler knows, that a river doesn’t just give it up. You have to get in-tune with it. And we did, eventually. After lunch, ignoring the calm wide pools, Elsewhere attacked the high riffles with gusto, a sinktip and a muddler minnow on the swing. Bump, and he had a rainbow on. But rainbows love riffles, they surge, they turn, they jump. They aren’t like browns, all ambush and dive. This rainbow wanted off the line. Then, calamity. Recasting in futility, Elsewhere snagged and yanked too hard. SNAP! went the rod tip.
That’s called paying your dues.
He took off to retrieve his nippers that he’d left behind at the bar and to go for the spare rod in his truck. I sighed, and took a deep breath. We had about an hour of light left, and in patches of sunbeams I caught a glimpse of a hatch. A hatch? It was 43 degrees out, the water was about the same, a hatch? I crept down to a pool and up to eddy where the water turned back in on itself. There they were, like little sailboats with the most beautiful dusky wings. I picked up the little bug off the water, a blue winged olive, blue wings, olive body, the BWO. There were dozens of them on the pool. Where were the rises, where were the trout?
I stared at that pool for ten minutes.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, so long I thought the hatch would end and the bugs would be flushed downstream, finally, a beautiful 14-inch rainbow rose up out of the bottom of the pool and began to eat. Slurp, suck, sip, chomp. It was like someone rang the dinner bell. This trout was eating like his big brother was gonna come along and push him out of the way. I tied on a #16 BWO and cast out, but it got lost in the glare of the setting sun or in the mix of orange, red and gold leaves on the water. I got angry and on my backcast snagged in a tree behind me. The bow had been eating for 10 minutes! He was gonna let off, the hatch was gonna end! Oh what the hell, I thought, and tied on a cream parachute cahill or was it a PMD, I don’t know. I figured, I was going blind, the trout was gorging and just maybe he would ignore the fact that the bug didn’t quite fit the time of the year. I cast and watched it dead drift upstream in the eddy and saw him zeroing in. I sensed, just the slightest bit of “what the fuck is that?” from the trout and then the resignation, “well I’ll just eat it anyway, variety.”
I lifted the 5wt and he was on. Out came the net and he was landed in under 10 seconds. No chance was I letting this muscle-bound rainbow take me for a run. No playing around here. In the net and a brief moment to admire the fish in the dusk, and back in the water. No harm no foul. I’m sure he probably took a few minutes to shake it off and went right back to his meal. As I stood up, I felt my fingers cramp from the cold, but I let my goofy grin out and said a small prayer for a very late BWO hatch on a cold Autumn day.
Elsewhere and I probed the riffles and pools, saw a few bassy splashes and decided it was time to knock off. From dawn to dusk, we had put our time in on the East Branch. I had paid my dues months before, all summer long and perhaps, I was enjoying the benefits of being a paid-up member of the club. I’m certain Elsewhere will go back and find his own brown or rainbow there. I just hope he can get one in before all the leaves have fallen and the icy grip of winter pushes away all but the most determined anglers. The East Branch always takes its toll.