Caleb Smith in July

July 9, 2020 – Caleb Smith State Park

As it turned out, I would have been better to fish yesterday.

It was cool and overcast with some rain yesterday. This morning as I walked Otto at 6 am it was already feeling hot and humid.

I had taken out the Fran Better’s 7.5 foot 5 weight graphite.  I ordered it from him a few years before he passed.  It quickly became one of my favorite rods and I used it almost exclusively on my last trip to Montana (Chapter 9 in Letters to Mack 3. When I returned I took it on a long walk and lost my balance breaking it; that’s in Chapter 10.)

So this is the repaired rod I have today. It has not been fished since the guy did his best to weld the parts together.  Anyway, I figured I should give it a try. I matched it with a Battenkill Mike Gibbon’s gave me and off I went.

The reservation was for Beat 3. 

4 and 5 were taken when I called and with the hot weather I wanted to be up by the springs (and fish).  There are 8 Beats on the river along with Vail Pond’s fishing piers and its smaller appendage known as Beat 14. 

When I arrived beat 5 was a no show.  Kat hinted that the fishing was reported to be better on 5 and then was telling me how the Park has been so busy and filled with all kinds of folks, a different crowd from the usual quiet hikers, bird watches and fishers. More noise, picnicking and trash.  “Call us if you need help with a clean-up” was my reply.  “LITU and LIFR both would be happy to help.”

I ask her about the Beat 7, one of my favorites, and she again says upstream has been more productive.  I have seen some nice fish on 7 recently but I agreed it is nothing like it used to be. “Perhaps the fish I saw washed into the stream from the pond” I postulated, since she was saying the stocking size was modest. Stocking has its challenges here and getting fish distributed between Beat 2 and 9 is tough. I told her I would let her know how I did since she was so kind as to let me know how others were doing on particular beats. This is unique to Caleb in my experience and I appreciate it.

Path to Beat #3

My co-angler this day was a quiet older fellow who drove to the Senior Access spot at #4.  When I passed we said hello and I told him to feel free to fish up 3 if he’d like and that 5 was also open. The Park rules are to stay on the beat you are assigned and I don’t mean to be a trouble maker, but 2 guys in all this water?

Walking to the top of 3,

I kept going until I was on what used to be Beat 1.  They don’t assign it anymore probably because the path ends and you need to walk though 2 to get to it.  It is also the tail-water from Stump Pond and the falls come over the top, adding warm water to the river even as the cold springs all around the area are cooling it down.

Top Beat where the path ends

The spring water was in the 60’s today but the river a fairly consistent 69-71. No native Brookies today.

I start with a small dry Sulfur Emerger. It floats well and goes where I want it to go but there are no fish in sight and certainly no risers.  Air temperature approaching 90. It is 8 in the morning. As is my way I just stand there for a while scanning the water for some sign. A smarter fisher would have a nymph or at least a streamer on.  This river is made for streamers and I have a few in my bag. Dry fly first helps me to zone in,  to join the water. I try a few drifts, some up, most down.  I come to a bench made by an Eagle Scout a few years ago.  Each beat has one in the stream.  I sit and wipe my brow.

Early morning mist on Beat #2

Looking for movement, for shadows…

as I wipe the lenses of my glasses which keep fogging up in the mist rising from the river and the sweat from my face.  Plus I have a Covid mask on my chin, a habit these days, even when alone although I pull it away from my nose and mouth here.

Across from the bench and a bit downstream, under some overhanging brush I see what could be a fish. It could also be a stick, a weed, a rock, or my over active imagination.  I wait for it to do something.  It seems of good size and not actively feeding.  Quietly and with as little casting motion as possible I flip the Sulfur to the opposite bank and crouch, having left the bench. The current carries it and I mend gently.  I am reminded of the benefits of a 9 foot rod when it comes to bank side placement and mending. I reach out with the 7.5 rod. The fly passes the mark.  Swinging it wide of her and lifting easy I set another drift.  It is closer to the bank this time as I have taken a step or two over. It is on target, right on her nose, if it is a “her” – hell, if it is a fish at all!

Caleb Smith Upstream

Up she comes and gulps…

but the slack in the line doesn’t alert her of the trouble she is in.  I tighten and she is annoyed, but not too much.  Moves to mid-stream and settles down again.  I begin to retrieve the loose line onto the reel and then give the line a gentle tug. Fully awake now she jumps, not once but 4 times, running up and then down and across this narrow stretch. Gives me her side and I return the tactic with side pressure as I try to pull her in.  70 degree water is not fatal to rainbows but a fight of most any intensity may be. I see her side again and she is big.  How big?  Does it matter? Big. 

Another run and jump and I consider breaking her off rather than exhausting the fish but she took care of that.  She is gone now, with my fly. Wow.  It is barely an hour since I started, I have not even gotten to Beat 3 and this beauty of a fish.  (So remember, never take beat 2, there are no fish up here.)  I go over and stick the thermometer in where she was lying, apparently spring fed, it was 62 degrees.

I am smiling, having had a nice fish. It is a great day already and can do nothing but get better.

While contemplating what just happened I hear a blip. 

Small, just across from me.  I have the Iris Caddis on so I just wait.  I am thinking maybe a tiny Brookie holding in the cool water of an incoming spring.  Blip. Definitely small. I think about just letting the fish be but end up flipping the fly in.  Need to get closer. Again, too far from the bank.  I risk hooking the overhanging bush and it lands where I want it, the fish takes. I barely strike and the 3-4 inch sunfish is in the palm of my hand.  I smile. It is a good day.

I work my way through the rest of 2 and into 3…

tying on another Iris Caddis when I lose my fly in a tree. Then again. Now I need to change tippet as the leader is a mess.  While retrieving it a green inch worm (about an inch and a half long) is dangling.  I think of putting on my imitation but first drop this one in the water and watch it move downstream. It is out of sight when it gets eaten, if it did.

Golden Darter

I think about tying on more tippet (I am fishing with about 11 feet of leader) when it occurs to me a streamer doesn’t require quite as much.  I tie on a Golden Darter Chuck Neuner designed  rather than more tippet, a fly I have not used in a season or two. It rides nicely in this water which, by the way, is off color due to the heavy rain we had, probably spill over from the pond or runoff from the woods coloring it. I switch to a Black Nosed Dace and am reminded that it was the first fly I used in these waters. At the bottom of 3 I put a dry back on, one from Paul McCain –  a nicely made Adams Parachute in 14 but tied smaller with a healthy indicator. I put it though the last few likely holes and then take a seat.

Parachute Adams from Paul McCain

I could work my way upstream…

or get out and walk back up to fish down again, but I am curious about Beat 7 after talking to Kat. I know we are to stay on our assigned beat but it seems like my beat today will be #237. I get out and walk past my friend who is still on 4. I think about walking straight to 7 but it is so hot and once out of the water the waders really heat up. I get in at mid-5 and look more than fish, drifting the Adams under bushes, over holes and near logs.  In the corners along the retaining walls and under the fish shelters they build. Nothing. Also no flies on the water and no rises. None.

Caleb Smith Beat #6

It is beautiful and I am at peace…

just enjoying the slow, water cooled stroll. I don’t mind not casting as the shoulder has only a limited number in it per hour. When I come to 6 I drift the fly in the usual places to no response.  I fish this area on automatic pilot having been here over so many years and caught so many fish. 

Beat 6 Caleb Smith

As I approach I am using a lot of line. Long leader and lots of line while trying to keep a low profile and avoid too much casting. Then I think to myself that this is silly.  There are no fish here. Haven’t been for a few years for that matter, not since they cut back all the brush and stopped using the stocking cart. I continue my technique in the next section none the less. Slurp!

Caleb Smith Surprise – 18 – 20″

Right in front of some debris, in close to the bank, a set of lips came up…

and inhaled my Adams. Unhappy about that decision I am rewarded with another aerial display of three or four jumps and then a strong upstream run.  I am trying to put the brakes on as she passes me, her colorful side showing and, I swear, bigger than the last one. I again try to shorten the fight but would like to get at least a net photo for you all to see. I bring some leader into the tiptop and lean back, the rod over my shoulder, while reaching out with the net. Remember this is the Fran Better’s rod that was repaired?  Well guess what.  It snaps in two and I am watching the top of my rod slide down toward the fish as if on a zip line.

Fran Better’s 7’6″ 5 wt., repaired once, and now retired

I let up all the pressure and just stand there, still wanting the fish.  She swims toward me and sulks. I pull some slack line in to get the rod section behind me, then hand over hand gently move toward her, now at my feet.  I slip the net behind and she flops in, being longer than the 19 inch net. I snap a quick photo, cut the tippet and watch her saunter away.

I never made it to 7 so my beat was really #236.

I consider getting another rod out of the car but I already had an amazing day and it is really hot and humid.  I put the line back on the reel and head for the car.

Caleb is a wonderful place as long as you keep your expectations low and your stealth high. Can’t wait to come back.

Here is a YouTube vision of the stream.