Of Spring Trout Streams

While the moods of spring fishing veer to and fro, they inevitably contain elements of awkwardness. Like the lilacs, your skills are reemerging. Angles will be badly chosen, distances poorly estimated, casts authored you’ll pray go unwitnessed. Cold fingers form dubious knots, dunkings happen, and fish are routinely broken off. Rods, too. Spring’s unforgiving light, unfiltered by summer’s canopy, only amplifies your discomforts.

Most of which you’ll quickly forget as sport and weather progressively create a riot of opportunity. Soon, the river column will hold a bouillabaisse of aquatic life, and any outing may become the best day of fishing you’ll ever know. Temperatures of air and water reach perfection for fish and man alike. The Glamor Hatches turn on.

I’ve known people who skipped their children’s weddings to attend a major hatch, seen artists plead emotional breakdowns to pressing dealers. Spouses and loved ones fade away, obligations go lowercase.

Of a multitude of springtime riches, arguably the best remain the friendships. These come faster, and are more easily made, in the welcoming mood of possibility. Spring renews and creates alliances just as it affords the land fresh life.

I have in mind how, with the season’s first genuine warmth, Jack Gartside could suddenly materialize from a free-formed rustic campsite. Jack’s gone now, but when I see forsythia, I still expect to see him.

Beaverkill, Early Spring

I think of Roger and Lisa Keckeisen, freshly licensed to guide and to marry, driving coast-to-coast to meet red quill spinner falls in the tailout of a long fl at on the Delaware’s East Branch. They invariably edged the swallows, and always brought the fixings for a sumptuous fish chowder. And of Freddy Arbona.

who’d just published Mayflies, The Angler and The Trout, and while attempting to make a hatch garnered three speeding tickets en route from LaGuardia.

I recall James Emery, brilliant angler and virtuoso jazz guitarist, confounding fellow motel guests with demonic improvisations between sessions with the fly rod. And minimalist sculptor Joel Shapiro, gleefully “interpreting” someone’s newly caught brown trout in shards of riverstone.

But my most poignant spring memory remains an April afternoon on the Lower Beaverkill. Fishing with my friend Art Lee, I glanced up from Barnhart’s Pool toward the thin drone of an unseen aircraft. The day was blustery and strangely mild, and the speck of plane emerged gradually from behind a shadowed mountain. Passing directly overhead, its wings waggled an acknowledgment we returned, recognizing Lee Wulff ’s trim Super Cub, out surveying the valleys. A common sight in those years, and one to lift the heart.

We enjoyed wonderful sport that day and left the river late, the copses of flowering crab and dogwood luminous in the encroaching dark, as if there’d been a sudden fall of snow. Combined with the gusting, unseasonable warmth, the effect was vaguely unsettling.

On the way to dinner, we replayed and compared the day’s fishing, and our mutual delight in Lee’s small but enduring gesture. Arriving at the restaurant, we were shocked to learn his plane had gone down shortly after our encounter, and that he hadn’t survived the crash.

It was that day the first osprey returned.

Galen Mercer, a landscape painter, has been in sway to rivers since his first brush. He and his wife, Jaimie, live by the Battenkill River in Arlington, Vermont.