Sunday, November 24, 2013

Summer Closeout

Be prepared.
Summer continued its annual swan song, as nights devoured days and the late afternoon skies burnt purple and orange, and I headed west to spend a few early October days with family on the banks of the Little Red River. As I weaved along the twisting and turning backroads to reach their Heber Springs home, Led Zeppelin's "Bring It On Home" blasted from my truck's iPod as I chased the fading sun before it disappeared behind the eroded bulk of Sugarloaf Mountain. The trip was three-fold in design: I wanted to see my parents, my brother and Bumper the Wonder Dog;  I wanted to spend a couple of days chasing pre-spawn brown trout in the river behind their house; and I needed a few days to let my brain breathe (so to speak) and to put aside -- at least for a moment -- the stress of work and responsibility. 

Headed west on Highway 64
The trip was successful on all three counts. 

It's always great to spend time with my family, and we enjoyed nice weather (a fall mix of warmth, followed by a cool spell) and great food and wonderful conversation. As usual, Mom kept us full of food, and we teamed up on at least one meal -- fittingly, an excellent pan-fried trout dinner. And, during the not-feasting periods, Dad, Tim and I spent a lot of hours playing in the backyard. The Little Red was very, very low, and the generators below Greers Ferry Dam didn't turn once during my three-day stay in Heber Springs. This drew the already-slow flow to a molasses-like pace, and the skinny, clear water made fishing tougher than usual. 

Fall colors
Bug hatches, however, were prevalent in the slight current. In the early evening, the surface of the river would dimple and shimmer and the air would soon be filled with newly-hatched caddis flies, midges and mayflies. Trout fed eagerly, but fishing actually became most difficult during these occurrences. Rather than matching-the-hatch (please know we tried, unsuccessfully), we typically turned to streamers. During other parts of the day, I enjoyed some good fortune on obnoxiously-fuzzy hopper patterns. The surface takes weren't frequent, but always violent, which made for a couple of fun afternoons. 

Dad and Tim work an upstream pool
Brown trout were beginning their move to shallower shoals in preparation for their upcoming spawn. We saw some truly impressive specimens, too, which made each cast more exciting as you knew that your presentation was either drifting or being stripped through water filled with some of the biggest fish of the year. 

Evening fishing was productive, but not great. We caught a few good-sized male browns in the 18-19 inch range, but none of the monstrous, orange-flanked fish that we observed patrolling various nearby pools. 

Hopper-fooled brownie
We did not observe any redds (oval-shaped spots on the stream bed in which the gravel has been cleared; the tell-tale sign of a big brown trout preparing to drop her eggs) and were careful not to tread on anything resembling the early stages of redd-clearing work. 

The time with Mom, Dad, Tim and Bumper went by very quickly, and seemingly hours after arrival, I was packing up the truck to head home. The good fortune of having nearby family is doubly-blessed by having the ability to spend such quality time with them. As I pulled out of the driveway, I waved a temporary goodbye, as the holidays loom and the next gathering is imminent. As I drove east towards home, the memories of another great weekend on the Little Red intermingled with a laundry list of upcoming job duties. Mile after semi-filled mile on I-40 east, I gradually re-entered the world of work and responsibility. But, I did so with a refreshed mind, an aching casting elbow and a temporarily-satiated angling mindset. 

For now, back to work ... 

Bumper, chillin'