For centuries poets have reminded us that autumn is the season for contemplation. The parallel between the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives is too compelling to ignore, especially as one accumulates decades. I know that, for me, in fall, time seems to slow, obeying some kind of non-Einsteinian law. This is a time for looking back, reassessing, trying to apply sense to a world and a life that can be mystifying.
I believe in fall my attitude towards angling changes, also. Faced with the prospects of diminished sunlight and shorter angling days, days perhaps too cold to be on the stream, and trout lethargic with the onset of winter, you’d think my fishing would take on a frenzied aspect. Just the opposite seems to occur. A little philosophical, I am less concerned about the numbers of fish I catch, more aware of the environment I’m immersed in. Perhaps I’m just sated from a spring and summer of fishing.
Last weekend was perfect for autumn fishing. After the two-hour drive, my wife and I arrive midmorning at the stream. The sky is generously painted with broad brushstrokes of white and grey, reminiscent of a van Gogh. After hastily setting up camp, we walk the old logging road to the river, our wading boots evoking a sound from fallen leaves like rubbing two pieces of paper together, a pleasant anticipation building with each step. By the time we get to the riverbank, the clouds have evaporated, revealing an endless blue sky with abundant sun. The stream is perhaps at its lowest level of the year.
My wife and I fish this stream a lot and have learned its various moods. Before we even begin the trek to the stream, we tie on the “white fly,” a parachute dry consisting of a white Antron post, white thread body, and the lightest cream hackle that I can find. In the morning on this water there will be a reliable hatch of a light-colored mayfly; only the size will change as the year progresses. Being October, we’ve selected a #22. In winter, we may fish it in a #24 or #26, which is as small as I can tie this fly.
At the stream’s edge we stop and stare at the water’s surface. This particular pool, defined by a large boulder, is our usual starting point. A few mayflies are hovering but not a real hatch, yet. I remove the line from the EZ Keepers and extend the 12′ Iwana, my wife pulling line off her 5 wt. I’m fishing twelve feet of the new 4.5 level line from TenkaraUSA, with the pleasant green color. To this I’ve attached six feet of 6X tippet and the fly. I cast, and the fly lands softly,easy to see in spite of its diminuitive size. And so begins the piscatorial debate. The current here is languid, so the trout tend to leisurely rise to the fly, inspect it thoughtfully, applying whatever algorithm it is they use. If they take, it’s with an air of quiet confidence; if they refuse, they simply descend slowly to the depths from which they came. Before long I’m rewarded with a take and the pleasant sensation of a fish on. Soon the mafly hatch intensifies, as does the catching. After a while, I move upstream to where I know there is some shallow riffly water. This is probably my favorite water to fish, because the strikes are sudden and violent. When I was new to flyfishing, I used to pass this type of water by, not understanding that trout were lurking at the bottom and edges.
Momentarily satisfied with the fishing, I take time to look around. The bonfire of autumn color is beginning to wane. Soon it will reduced to embers, then the ashes of winter. Now and then a gust of wind coaxes a leaf blizzard from the trees, many landing in the stream, others clicking quietly against the bank. The oddly pleasant odor of decaying leaves is very evident. Literally a hundred turkey buzzards circle overhead, tipping their wings in the air currents. They must enjoy their flight so. The sun’s warmth on my face is a nice counterpoint to the autumn’s chill air.
When we return again, it will be November. The trees will be barren or brown, except for the river willow:
The Autumn willow,
Keeps its gold,
’til taken by December’s cold,
And the Winter long, unseen,
Fashions a Spring mantle, green.
On this night, I pull back the tent fly so that I can watch the transit of the crescent moon and his celestial companions across the black sky. I’ll regret this later as the temperature falls, but for now I am fascinated, still, by the notion that the starlight reaching my eyes is hundreds or thousands of years old, that the star that birthed this light may no longer exist except as this stream of illumination wending its way through the universe.