Thursday and Friday evenings at sunset, riding my bicycle along the river, North Branch Raritan that runs through town, I stopped at a stretch to view whatever was happening. Thursday lots of browns rose; no one around. I felt impressed enough to eagerly tell my son later. Friday, I felt utterly astonished. I've never seen anything like it in all my life. As many as 10 trout rose together in a section of the stretch in one moment.
Having planned the Tilcon and Lake Musconetcong outing, I changed nothing, only added that maybe Sunday evening we would fly fish. Matt felt exhausted from yesterday's long day. We had awakened early to do a three-hour Scout service project, then departed for places northward after returning home and gearing up. As things unwound, he had an essay to write for school and couldn't fly fish this evening. I went alone.
Sulfates rose from stream bottom as I waded and roll cast, water on my thighs. Nothing much else rose but the river with today's rain, a stain darkened the water and I wondered if I'd encounter anything. So I went downstream and tried some fast water. Nothing happening in relation to my size 10 brown caddis, or otherwise; I set my rod on gravel and took in the whole environment, drawn to some flowers I haven't looked up in Newcomb's Wild Flower Guide. I photographed them and heard the wicked cries of night hawks overhead. If you've never heard their piercing cries, you'll notice when you do. Night hawks are not true hawks, but members of the swift family, which only feed on insects. But watching their sleek profiles cut the sky above possessed marvelous presence. They sound like miniature dragons. You would think a giant dragonfly with a sharp bill like a swordfish's pointed at prey.
I returned to my rod and camera bag to move back upstream when a trout rose. I false cast, listening to a Carolina wren, beautiful. Soon I missed a hit, cast again, and a brown broke off. I tied on another caddis. Soon I hooked a small fish I thought a little smallmouth bass, no, a chub, no, a baby rainbow. Rainbow? How could rainbows reproduce here? I took a closer look. Brown.
I've heard lots of stories I've always been skeptical about. I'm certain browns reproduce in the South Branch at Long Valley because I've caught the same little ones, and the literature on wild browns and native brook trout in the Claremont section just above is established. But this catch this evening is certain evidence that browns do reproduce in this river at Bedminster, which I've come upon no such established literature about. Long Valley is at much higher elevation. At least Chester to the east of Long Valley is 600 feet, and Schooleys Mountain that shadows Long Valley from which the South Branch flows must be well over 1000. The figure I have for our house's elevation in Bedminster is 81 feet above sea level, and the river flows somewhat beneath this level. No six-inch trout is stocked by the state or anyone else I know of, and if any were, they wouldn't have the wild color hue.
I saw more rises, cast and spooked the trout even with water stained. I'm no artist with a fly rod, at least not yet. Plenty claim fly fishing is an art, but then I'm a real hack, or really a novice. I haven't done much of it, but I'm excited about this river within walking distance. Giving up on this fast water, I walked back upriver and found a section where a few rose. In another 15 minutes or so as it really got dark, I caught two regular 11 and 12-inch browns and missed two solid hits. These two I quickly released, vaguely thinking that maybe since they had undergone the struggle, they would be less likely to get caught and taken home, more likely to reproduce.