Those few minutes immediately preceding daylight are some of my favorite. The world is quiet, the river slumbers. Walking the trail into a favorite run at this time of day is still one thing that never gets old.As I walk,the anticipation of those first few casts and just being there as the river slowly wakes up from its summer sleep is enchanting.There is no need for a light as my feet have tread this tail so many times before. Every once in a while I look straight up through the towering cedar,fir and sugar pines to see the ever lightening day and my trail laid out in the sky. The sound of my feet on the well worn trail is a comfort. I know these trails as I know the halls of my own house.The crunch of needles,sticks and brush hitting my ankles tells me I have wandered off course and I adjust my stride and again find the smoothness of the path that will take me to my run. I arrive with time to sit and enjoy the surroundings of this place I call home.
I have already have a fly tied on and now I am just waiting for the light to be just right and I will step out and begin the day. I convince myself several times that I can see and start for the rivers edge but stop myself short. I know that I will not be able to see my fly quite yet and especially the small dimple or rise of a fish that moves,follows,flashes or rolls on the fly. I want to be able to see all of those things and I wait impatiently like a small child. Finally it is light, or at least fish able light for me. I take the hook off the keeper as I slowly and quietly step into the water. The chill of this early summer water hits me instantly. I ease my way out onto the casting station, trying desperately not to make any disturbance in the water. Even so,small ripples radiate out across the glass smooth surface and into the tail out.
I let the waves settle for a minute and strip off a handful of line in the mean time. I start with a very short line as fish can hold amazingly close in this run. As fly and line hit the water for the first time my senses go into hunter mode. I am laser focused on what I am doing now. I lengthen line accordingly, searching and probing every inch of holding water showing my fly to any likely fish that are there. I get my whole fly line out and find a rhythm.Now nice efficient loops are laying out straight,the fly fishing the instant it hits. As the purple muddler minnow arcs lazily across the pool, I see a flash down below the fly. This is the flash I may never have seen if I had not waited for proper light. I have found a player. I don't even give the fish another chance at the muddler. I go into the box and pull out a small dark fly of my own creation and tie it to my leader. Different fly same approach but I do however,reel in ten feet of line and start above where the fish showed. You never know where the fish actually was. Did he chase it down after it already passed him? Did he move up 10 feet and take a swat at it? Did he come from inside? Outside?I have had luck doing about everything on these fish but for this fish, I just went with my first feeling. Show him something smaller and darker and get him to EAT!
The casts when you are working a fly down to a known fish are some of the most nerve racking ever. At any moment you could be mauled by an eager fish, you just don't quite know where. You almost want to look away and just feel the grab and react on what you feel. But, it is more like a car accident on the side of the road, as much as you try you look away, you just can't. I am halfway now to where the fish showed and the feeling of excitement is palpable. I try to keep my composure as the fly swings slowly through the "zone". I get to where the fish rolled and put a drift through......nada. Maybe I should have left the muddler on I mutter under my breath. Another cast and another with no action. I am now 10 feet past where the fish showed and definitely second guessing my fly change. Another cast swings through the heart of the run and I have now let my guard down. The fly is in the last third of the swing and I feel a light pluck and then the line snaps tight and the reel begins to spin. Just as quickly,my mind snaps tight and it's wheels start spinning. The new day is shattered by the sound of a well used fly reel going through the paces. The sound of the reel is almost obscene in this early dawn. You could swear that everyone on the river could hear it. A pristine summer fish comes to hand as most people still have an hour or two in bed.
The dawn patrol rewards the diligent seeker once again.