Springtime on the River

A few photos from the past few days.  With a setting like this, fickle fishing is not really a concern.

This used to be a more active floodplain.  Now it has given way to a lush, grassy, semi-wooded setting.
This used to be a more active floodplain. Now it has given way to a lush, grassy, semi-wooded setting.
It appears that much of the riparian forest here is undergoing a radical change in vegetation communities.  The lack of regular, high flows is probably precluding the estblishment of seedlings.  The result - the remaining trees are growing older with little replacement.
It appears that much of the riparian forest here is undergoing a radical change in vegetation communities. The lack of regular, high flows is probably precluding the estblishment of seedlings. The result - the remaining trees are growing older with little replacement.
The first day of April and the beginning of a quarter mile long riffle through verdant oak woodlands.  Who cares if the fishing is so-so this afternoon!
The first day of April and the beginning of a quarter mile long riffle through verdant oak woodlands. Who cares if the fishing is so-so this afternoon!
This was about as close to the water as I got here.  Didn't feel the urge to wet a line - too many other things to be consumed in.
This was about as close to the water as I got here. Didn't feel the urge to wet a line - too many other things to be consumed in.

Thirty minutes of timeless water

I’m sitting next to the classroom window on the third floor. From this vantage point I can see how the wind is faring. I pretend to pay attention to the instructor, occasionally nodding in agreement at some unheard point of emphasis. By two o’clock, the breeze is waning, the flagging branches of the trees below show moments of stillness. Their branches are laden with white blossoms that seem to shine brighter in the lightening breeze. It looks really warm and green outside now.

The instructor cuts us loose a bit early. It’s one of those moments where the co-workers get ignored as they make plans to gather somewhere for an impromptu end-of-day social hour. “I’m going fishing,” I say as I pass them in a focused trot to the truck. These,too, are the moments when the bathroom urges are forced to wait. Along the way, I also realize there are too many stop signs and stoplights between here and the river. The iced coffee after lunch doesn’t help soothe the urgency of the situation.

Arriving at the little dirt pullout, suiting up is an efficient, well-rehearsed routine. In minutes, I’m crossing the old floodplain and at water’s edge. The breeze still comes in gentle waves. Not the incessant gusts of yesterday. I hope these are the last gasps of something going away for a long, long while.

The bugs come off sporadically. Pale morning duns are readily apparent and the occasional caddis buzz across the water and in the streamside willows. Still, though, after a couple minutes of careful observation no fish are seen. Regardless, this is one of those moments of arrival. Everything’s gone right, I’m on the water; now I can exhale and adapt to the pace of the river. Perhaps there are fish to be seen, but only after slowing down and focusing on the sights and sounds. The water moving by creates a rhythm. I listen for the chops in the rhythm that might indicate a fish. The little boil far downstream, after careful watching, is just the upwelling from a submerged boulder. These things take time to notice.

Two long hours are spent watching and waiting. A couple of fish are seen, but they do not reappear. The sun sinks lower behind the trees. The caddis begin to move away from the trees, gradually venturing farther across the river. The duns float by in the calmer edge water, their upright wings visible in the last rays of sun. As I’m watching I realize the wind has vanished. Somewhere along the way it played itself out unannounced. Then I see the gentle rings downstream along the edge in knee deep water. Then again, a head tips up followed a second later by a gentle tail movement guiding the large fish back down. All this happens with a soft kissing sound. The fish slides upward again, sipping in one of the duns. Towards midstream, another fish grabs a passing bug in a more audible manner, leaving a growing boil to float downstream.

It’s on.

The fish move into the knee deep margin water to softly sip in the drifting duns. They are big fish, given away by that interval of time between seeing a head then a tail as they porpoise up then down. The fish here are extremely spooky, coming into this shallow margin water for the easy pickings. My feet shuffling along the cobble bottom will put them down if not careful. Everything now comes down to a hunched-over whisper. These are the most difficult fish on the river and exactly what I’m after. Unfortunately, the otters decide this is their water to frolick in for the evening. Moving on downstream, near the tail of the run, more fish are working in the calf-deep water – their rises barely visible in this more turbulent shallow water.  

The last light of day begins to fade. The first of summer’s crickets ratchet up their evening song. All of this lasts for maybe thirty minutes. But this is the one half hour that days are spent waiting for.  Tomorrow, I think, will be even better.

Wind (a fishing report – kind of)

The oak woodlands are bright green with the beginnings of wildflower carpets across the sunlit hillsides.  Along the river, the purple lupine and golden poppies celebrate the new sun.  This could be the quintessential spring scene except for one thing: the wind.  I saw the warnings – gusts up to 40 mph – on the heels of the storm passing to the east.  Wind that’s in a hurry to race in a big counter-clockwise arc to fuel a storm over the Rockies.   All the little places where I might find a little respite are even more trouble as the wind eddies and swirls unpredictably in the lee of the bankside trees.

On the water, the mayflies and caddis come off in good numbers.  But the winged adults skitter along the water too quickly to offer easy pickin’s for the trout below.  Swallows maneuver across the water, handling the wind with ease, grabbing up the bugs.  Not a single trout can be seen on the surface.  There’s no need, they can simply grab the bugs ascending in the water column and forgo the unpredictable surface fare.  Normally, this would be an afternoon of steady surface-feeding fish.  But not today.  A few productive reaches are visited – all with the same wind-whipped setting.  Instead, I take the time to explore two potential new sites.  Good water to be had.  But it will have to wait until another time.  I’ll be here all week – and hopefully have a chance at a classic spring day drifting dry flies for large, surface feeding trout.

Spring bike rides

The best way to see Spring here in town is on a bike. The last few days of March still might bite with a hint of winter, but the sun shines higher now and a familiar time is once again at hand. These early days are as much about the hope of Spring as they are about the actual time of year. From the bike, riding along with a brisk breeze, you can see how the grass has sprung up overnight. Here the smell of green and growth ripens in the afternoon warmth and rides along the afternoon wind. There’s something about the light and air and smell. Something has changed.

I don’t know if Spring is actually a season here or just a subtle transition to summer. Everything is now linked to summer. That green grass getting taller and slowly drying into July and August seems more pertinent than a breezy Thursday afternoon in late March. So this is more about feeling and remembering more than seeing. Bike rides tend to do that.

Turning on to K street I remember those early days here, wondering what it would be like. Now I know. Now I know what to look forward to. Now I know what to look for. Someday down the line, some morning, the hermit thrush will be singing outside the window, the fields will be full of daisy, and the season will have played over and over again, day-after-day. Summer will be real. Late March on the coast is a time a change and everything seems to look forward now.