I walked upstream, forded the river's strong current up to my knees, calling for my black Labrador, Sadie, to follow after me. She hesitated, but crossed. Once stocked, rainbow trout supposedly spread out in a river by swimming downstream; brook trout do the opposite, but though I've caught stocked brook trout more than a mile upstream of Little Shabakunk Creek's confluence with Assunpink Creek--the latter creek stocked upstream of that meeting between the two--I've never fished as a faithful adherent to the dogma. Where Mike and I arrived this afternoon at the South Branch Raritan, I've fished down below the bridge access area and up above, so I knew of better water northward.
Upon arriving, I immediately saw what I thought to be a golden rainbow. Mike let me alone to cast. The fish swam into better view, tail forked--golden carp. But in the meantime, I sighted four or five very good-size rainbows, quite active in that very cold water, though none of them gave any response whatsoever to my brown beadhead stonefly nymph, about size 16. I sort of hoped that little gold bead would turn a fish on, while Mike switched to gold and silver Phoebe spoons on his spinning outfit, getting in on these fish beneath the bridge. Fish not caring one iota.
I began that walking I mentioned. First to only 75 yards north of the bridge or so, a nice run. I enjoyed the thrill of fly casting, a value just to practice, standing in that cold water with my Simm's wading boots over neoprene, my feet getting cold. I switched to a black stonefly beadhead, then to a pheasant tail larger, about size 14 or 12. Some color might make a difference. Who knows. And after fishing fairly thoroughly, really nothing compared to what steelhead fly casters endure, I put my rod aside and spent at least 20 minutes at photography, further north along the river. When I returned to casting, I knew I must walk with the rod back on upstream to where I knew I could cross. Of course, Sadie would follow along again. She would have to cross, because she would feel worse if left behind and humiliated.
I got better casting angles on the run leading down to the bridge, not as deep as I had thought, but certainly enough water. On down to the bridge I waded, drifting the pheasant tail persistently, and as I made my back upstream, doing same, I thought of my wool fleece pants left at home. My feet had numbed, thighs cold.
Light diminished, and I took a look at the bridge on impulse, the view sort of given to me, evaluated by no immediate effort on my part. A good camera shot. My camera in my bag sat on the sand across the river. I felt tempted to hurry on over, but before my head had swung around to look at the bridge--as if I am just a puppet of alternatives something deeper in me offers--I saw what appeared to be a series of undercut bank fish holds...maybe some deep water...which I never have explored on past occasions here. Far to the northward right, the river divides, island in the middle, and this interesting spot must get overlooked. I wasn't going to.
Some difficult casting--for accuracy--but I got the nymph right under the bank more than a dozen times, of more or less three nice cuts. And there's a hole maybe five or six feet deep, which made me think smallmouth bass. Dusk deepened. I persisted. And I wondered if any rainbows take winter residence here. If so, maybe they have better brains than the fish I saw right under the bridge, where they got dumped back in October. Especially since they would have to break the rule about swimming downstream, but that doesn't really count--just our own nonsense.