The evening began on the lower end of First Fork’s Delayed Harvest section. The afternoon rain had cleared into a beautiful evening – a little too beautiful, in fact, as the sun beat down on the water, and at times it felt downright hot. I picked up two fat rainbows on a Sexy Walt and anticipated a hatch of some sort.
The hatch never materialized. In fact, the stream seemed utterly void of insect life. Two or three fish sipped “no-see-ums” but other than that, feeding activity was minimal. It cooled off after the sun went down, but that didn’t change much.
I sat on the bank a while and chatted with a guy across the stream. He mentioned seeing a bunch of Green Drakes up near Costello the evening before. He’d been fishing the project, but when he went back up to where he was staying, Green Drakes were plastered all over stuff.
Green Drakes are famous for moving upstream as they emerge. If you find them on one section of stream one night, you can typically find them a little farther upstream the next night. Oddly enough, where you found them the night before can all of a sudden go dead, and you can find yourself waiting for a hatch that may never happen simply because it’s already over, or because weather and conditions have changed enough to suppress hatches completely.
So I said goodbye to the stranger and decided to head upstream. Through Wharton, no signs of bug life. I kept going. One of the enigmas of mountain country is how localized weather can be. It had rained longer and later in the afternoon above Wharton than it had below Wharton, and so First Fork felt like a whole different stream the farther up I went. There were still damp spots and small puddles on the side of the road, and a slight haze hung in the valley.
And that’s when I hit the wall.
Where the stream came close to the road, Green Drakes had overflowed onto the roadway and pelted the windshield. Nothing like seeing the bug you’re after flattened right there on the glass in front of you!
I went a little farther up and walked in behind some camps to one of my favorite pools on First Fork. Green Drakes filled the air and trout gobbled up whatever fell back to the water. I think every fisherman has that one place where they’d prefer to hit a mayfly hatch. That pool that you know is always loaded with fish. This was that pool for me.
Six or seven years ago, my wife Natalie (who was then my fiancé) and I timed the Green Drakes perfectly at this pool. We got to the stream just as the sun went down, and within a few minutes drakes started coming off. We caught two trout before the hatch really even got going, and every minute it seemed as if more trout began feeding on the surface.
And then I heard some commotion behind us and a woman with a flock of grandkids (probably ages 8-15, I’d say) in tow was walking right towards my favorite pool. They all wore flipflops and had bath towels slung over their shoulders. Without saying a word, they waded into the tail end of the pool and swam upstream.
“How long are you planning to fish?” the woman asked.
“Probably until dark,” I said.
She sighed hard and scowled, “Well, these kids need to swim! You have to share the creek!” It wasn’t so much the request as it was her tone of voice that irritated me. I’d done nothing to her, yet she talked to me as if getting even for some past transgression.
“People have been fishing here all day,” she said. “It’s our turn.”
I could’ve argued that. In fact, I’d driven past there earlier that afternoon and had seen the same woman and kids swimming in that very same pool. I also could’ve argued about why they’d decided to swim again after sundown and now that it was getting downright chilly, and I even could’ve argued that she wasn’t the landowner, who I happened to know.
Regardless, it was a losing battle. Behind her came more reinforcements, the whole family clan, carrying lawn chairs and swimming accessories. Natalie and I reeled in our lines, tipped our caps, and trudged back to the truck. I believe it was the right decision. In a world where so many non-hunters and non-fishermen are so eager to post their land, and outdoorsmen everywhere are losing access to prime land and water, it’s sometimes necessary to swallow your pride and walk away.
Anyway, heartbreak happens. That’s one of the drawbacks of trying to hit a hatch that often occurs around Memorial Day Weekend, when camp activity is at its peak. I guess she was right. You have to share the creek.
Now it was time for redemption. And I got it. And it was sweet. This time around, I had not only the pool to myself, but the whole section of stream.
In Hatches II, Caucci and Nastasi describe the allure of the Green Drakes like this: “To many afflicted Eastern fishermen, the ‘Green Drake Hatch’ is as irresistible and habit-forming as black jack, whiskey, or easy women.”
I can’t disagree. And when you hit the hatch just right – any hatch, for that matter, not just the Green Drakes – take it all in and let it fill your heart. You never know when the stars will align again. The Green Drakes were on, the trout cooperating, and all around was a chorus of spring peepers, one of the sweetest sounds in all of nature, and I savored every minute.
I caught my last trout shortly after dark. Thousands of drakes were still in the air, silhouetted against the night sky. I saw dimples of feeding fish in the moonlight. I cast out in the general direction of a rise, and when I heard what sounded like a slurp, I lifted the rod tip on a hefty 16-inch brown trout that fought hard and put a little knock in my knees. I admired the fish in the darkness and then let it slip back into water. I couldn’t have scripted an ending any better than that.