The evening air has a definite edge and this morning’s mists were slow to lift. Like me, the valley seems reluctant to rouse itself from slumber and awakens in slow incremental stages. In the cycle of nature’s rhythms, this is a tranquil and measured time of year, there is an air of unhurried deliberation, a savoring of the moment. Autumn has about it an air of civility and a meandering gentle pace that tends to set the mind to rumination.
The leaves of the willows and poplars in the valley have already turned, decorating the river banks and backwaters with their fallen leaves. These heralds of the approaching close of season float bravely out in the currents, delineating the bubble lines and eddies that meander down between banks swathed in green and gold. Their colours are heightened by the soft afternoon light that baths the valley at this end of the season. It bathes the valley with gentle warmth and imbues the surrounding hills with a golden glow.
The aerial ballet of the swallows and swifts seems less frenetic than usual, as they sweep, glide and pirouette above the water. Occasionally one makes a swooping pass at my fly as it drifts, but is never fooled by my clumsy imitation. Lucky for me my quarry often possesses a less discerning and critical eye than these feathered acrobats.
The rains are late this season and the tributaries and smaller streams are low and slow, tantalizing and tough. Their usually boisterous flow has ebbed to a sedate trickle and the glass smooth pools have become testing and somewhat unforgiving arenas. It’s a time of long leaders, fine tippets and tiny flies. Engrossing and exasperating all at once. Perhaps it’s a form of masochism, but it’s at times like this and in places like these that an angler’s skill is truly tested and it’s through this testing that we all continue to learn and develop.
For myself it’s the ones that get away, the fish that kick your butt and scorn your best efforts, these are the fish that keep bringing me back. Amongst the sharpest memories from any season are those that come from encounters where my spotted adversary has been victorious. As the years have gone by I’ve come to accept these defeats with a semblance of grace, I don’t rant, fume and throw rocks anywhere near as often as I used to. Doubt not that I have sworn and plotted bloody vengeance on many occasions. But I must confess that on those occasions where the return engagement has gone my way, the elation is tinged with a disquieting feeling of something important lost.
It must be autumn that sets the mind to wander down paths such as this; its pace allows ample time for reflection on the season past. A review of fish caught and lost, new waters explored and old haunts revisited. Mental notes to return and explore that creek, stream or stretch of water that time didn’t allow this season. It’s an extensive list, that last one. A list that would probably take at least three lifetimes to exhaust as it now stands. Strangely this stark fact never seems to stop me from regularly adding to its number.
We anglers are an optimistic breed by nature. Neither logic, nor even a growing awareness of the limits of ones mortal span can seriously diminish this rampart optimism which is the identifying characteristic of all true anglers.
There are few bugs about on the water today so I reluctantly remove the dry and start search with a nymph. Waiting for the hatches that I just know will start any minute now. Truth is it’s still a bit early for the Olives and Sulphurs, the headline hatches of this time of year. But then, when has anything as mundane as truth swayed the mind of an angler on the water?
On queue a fish rises in the bubble line. It’s a splashy energetic affair, most probably the work of one of the many fat little rainbows that dash and dart about this stream. These belligerent bundles of pure energy are normally the first to get onto an insect hatch, but they are just as likely to rise once or twice then vanish without a trace. Today it appears to be the latter, but hope springs eternal and there are still many miles of river before me.
The gravel crunches softly beneath my feet and the crisp air has an earthy autumn river smell. It’s a very different scent to the heady perfume of spring, with all its vibrancy, promise and vitality. This autumn smell is tinged with elements of sadness and finality. For just as surely as the cycle of the seasons shall return again next year, this season is already on its way to becoming memory.