Here in the western United States, autumn typically creeps up slowly, the flows drop almost imperceptibly, and the fishing gets better and better as the leaves change. Fly anglers get a little delirious, like a bunch of sugared-up kids at 10 p.m. on Halloween.
This year it’s very different. Everywhere you go, people say, “The water’s so low. Haven’t seen it this low for a long time.”
The fly anglers have been pretty satisfied with conditions this year, but I can tell you they’re thinking a lot more about the fish, a little less about the fishing.
My friend from the Division of Wildlife tells me there was a fish kill in the Blacksmith Fork River last month. It was mostly chub and sucker, and he calls it “minor,” but still. We just don’t get fish kills around here.
“I’m telling you,” he says, “if we don’t start getting some precipitation, next year we’re looking at disaster.”
I consider asking him to define “disaster,” but I don’t even want to know.
Fish will surprise you. That’s one reason people love catching them—endless variation, no two exactly alike. The Bonneville cutthroat trout has inhabited my homewaters for hundreds of thousands of years. Who can say how many droughts this species has already withstood? They have come through ice and fire and untold human impacts.
The best I can do is hope they know what they’re doing, I guess.
“Caught one there, and there, and there,” I mused. “There were two in that slot right there, and there was a big one behind that rock.”
This year it looks so different. The water behind the rock is only a couple inches deep, and the slot is practically desiccated.
I tied on a new fly and asked myself: “Should there be a fish there?”
No. Absolutely not.
“Could there be a fish there?”