It's not truly the "first" outing of the year. That was actually on Opening Day and, truth be told, I didn't expect to catch anything anyway. So there.
But on my first real outing of the year, I did want to hook that first fish, play it into my hands and release it to fight another day.
It was still early in the season, so when the clouds drifted in front of the sun, it was cold (an Adirondacker would never say "cold," but since I'm a flat-lander at heart, then, yeah, it was cold.) I knew the fish would still be down, foraging for the nymphs that had yet to emerge and move to the stage of the lifecycle that so many fly-fisher wait for. There would be no hatches today; no dry flies floating on the water. Armed with a flybox full of nymphs, worms and all kinds of underwater creepy-crawlies, I took my first step of the year into the Ausable. A shudder ran up my spine as the cold water temperature ignored what little insulation there was in my wading boot. The second step wasn't much better and I knew I wouldn't be up to my chest in the melting run-off today.
But that was OK, because the fish would be looking for the warmer waters of the edges, as well.
The first few casts were strictly to get the kinks out. As much as we dream about casting, hooking and playing that first fish all winter, that doesn't help with the actual mechanics. I certainly don't have this fly-fishing thing down to a science, where muscle memory instantly takes over when I put the rod in my hand. I have to work my way up to some level of confidence all over again each spring. This, apparently, was going to be the day to do that. But I've found that each year it does get a bit easier and the learning curve is not as steep.
Now up to midcalf in the water, I began to ply the edges with a Pheasant Tail nymph; a little weight on the line to get down into the trout's feeding lane. At this time of the year, the coldwater fish are sluggish, to say the least, and won't travel all that far for a meal. At the same time, they are hungry and will be looking for whatever they can get. It balances out to a situation where presentation is going to make a big difference.
The first casts in this particular pool undoubtedly put down any fish that dared to stay there and it was time to move on. Luckily on the Ausable, there is always another pool or riffle right around the corner.
A little more sure-footed, I moved up on the bank undercut quietly. It was sitting in the sun and even if only for a few minutes, I knew that it would warm the water enough to make the fish start thinking about a meal.
I was in luck this time, as the riffle at the head of the pool that quickly became the undercut was in the clear as well, no hanging tree limbs or deadfalls to catch an errant early-season cast. That's good because, just like those warm summer evenings in July, you usually have one chance to get through the fish's feeding zone. Especially those that live in the dark undercut recesses of the river.
Just as the nymph hit the water about four feet above the pool, it began to sink and I could feel it bounce along the bottom. As soon as it reached the pool, however, the bottom would drop out and it would be left suspended – ideally right about the same height as the trout.
Sure enough, as the strike indicator hit the calm water, it disappeared. And sure enough, I was millisecond behind in making the strike. The quick jerk released the fish and sent the indicator, split shot and pheasant tail hurtling back to me.
I ducked with the finesse of a seasoned angler. Truly, the first one of the year.
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