Monday, May 14, 2012

Trout Among Swallows

There's no hatch here.  Too much fine sediment.   Too many cars.  Too many lawns.  And yet, I always return, always with a new batch of lures or flies in case I see a hatch.  In a year of fishing here, I have yet to see one.  The fine sediment, an artifact of centuries-old mill dams along the river, chokes up many of the pores between gravel and cobbles.  The River is a beautiful mess.

I took my time this morning.  Hank wanted a chocolate milk from Starbucks "the chocolate milk store."  It was 52 degrees and I was going fishing for a few hours.  I could use a dark, burnt coffee.  Starbucks sells a lot of those.

We took our time at Starbucks.  Hank - we often call him "The Mayor" -introduced himself to everyone in the place, situated across the street from the Towson University campus.  "Hi Wadies!" Hi ladies, indeed.  I wasn't in a hurry.  There is no hatch. Only fine sediment and trout waiting on the upstream end of deep, cold pools.

 I dropped Hank off at daycare and set up the road a few miles, near the Pennsylvania border.  I stopped and stepped out in a few spots.  Looking for rising fish.  Looking for a hatch.  I saw neither.  I enjoyed my coffee.  The river gage had read 80cfs.  Looked about right.  Time for a few more sips of coffee.

This place has changed a lot since our double 100-year storms last fall - two hurricanes separated by about five days, if memory serves.  The river ran at 17,600 cfs immediately after the second storm.  How ya like them apples? Somewhere in the neighborhood of a 5,000 year discharge.  So yeah.  The place has changed a lot over the last 9 months.  There are some signs, at least fluviomorphologically (ha ha big word), that the river wants to recover.  But it's no place for a hatch.

I checked a few spots and saw no trout.  Took a few more Starbucks sips.  Burnt as always.  I threw on my waders and gave a quick glance to my Redington and Cabela's fly rods.  Not today, boys.  There is no hatch.  I grabbed my St. Croix ultralight instead, and tied on a Joe's Flies Woolly Bugger.  I grabbed my plano boxes full of Mepps, Joe's Flies, and Rooster Tails.   Browns and Rainbows reproduce here, out of sheer evolutionary will, lack of fishing pressure, and an instinct to eat anything that falls in the water.  Sounds perfect.

I started at the Bridge Pool.  I've caught several 6-9" trout here over the last year, and felt confident I'd repeat that success.   On my third cast, I caught the young smallmouth in the picture above.  No hatch.  No trout.  I worked for another hour and a half, not seeing another angler (I've never seen another angler here), and covering about a thousand feet of river.   For the first time since I started fishing here, I didn't even see a trout.  I had one pool, the Sycamore Pool, left on this section.  I had come into this outing both confident and relaxed.  This was not going to plan.  One thing was especially weird - I was getting divebombed by tree swallows.  I've never seen them here before.  They swooped, pulled up to avoid the trees on the opposite bank, and then looped in again.  What in the hell were they doing here at all?

I skulked across the floodplain, keeping low in the shadows, and finally hiding behind the big sycamore that (I say) gives the pool its name.  No hatch, of course.  I somehow stirred up a bunch of stupid biting gnats in the poison ivy and ragweed, and I thought, well why not - let's change lures.  I let the first cast of a Joe's Flies Black Gnat tumble from the riffle into the pool, with some tin weights on the line just to get some depth.  A shape rose, then struck and missed, and quickly sunk again in the silty water.  RAINBOW. I retrieved, took a deep breath, and tried again.  Better cast.  Better tumble.  Strike.  Hit.  Drag out. Hook set.  Retrieve. Got back in the water to bring him to hand.

I released him within a few seconds, and had a good chuckle to myself.  Surely, the gnat spinning fly and the gnats in the weeds are a coincidence.  There is no hatch here.   At this point, the tree swallows were starting to get really annoying.  The chirping, the near collisions with my head, and their constant presence was just a bit much to take.  I was trying to concentrate.  Damn birds.

About 10 seconds later, the wind shifted strongly, but settled down after just a few seconds.  A cloud of black gnats on the water.  Up and down river as far as the eye could see.  A hatch.  And upon them like a pestilence was the cloud of tree swallows.  Still no rising fish, but here it was.  An actual hatch.

I'd about fished out this section and decided to hit the trail and see some other spots.  The run/pool ratio is much less generous, and giant boulders and rhododendrons make most fishing methods difficult to impossible, but it's beautiful anyway.  I had committed to being on my work computer by late morning (and actually getting stuff done), so I really had no time to grab my fly rods.  I mean, what was the chance that I would see trout rising to meet this hatch?  These trout eat ants and bees and worms and moths.  Emerging gnats? Yeah, right.

I'd last seen this reach in January.  It's still changing.  Much of the sand that used to be in the upstream section now sits here in bars, under big granite boulders.  Because it runs so heavily, so much of the time, it flushes the old mill sediments from upstream (don't worry, they end up behind other dams downstream).

The swallows were working harder than ever.  And with just a few minutes of free time left, I ambled on out to some big boulders and just watched a pool from the shadows.   And then I was amazed.

Dark figure eights rising from the bed of the pool, stopping for a half second to sip gnats on the surface, and then a fast arc down to the depths.  Over and over and over again - browns and rainbows - none huge.  Dozens of fish.  Hundreds of swallows.  Thousands of gnats. What a treat - to be entertained by nature at work after an already productive quick break into the woods.

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Over 12 years ago, I started this blog. There were very few conservation or outdoor blogs at the time, few websites with fast-breaking con...