I loaded up the car and headed north; it wasn’t the first time, but something felt inaugural about it. The cloud cover game was strong, but it was a welcome contrast to the blue skies and sunshine-filled days I so often indulged in. The close or I got to the put-in, the more I noticed the wind picking up; I was glad to have the Nymphster along (it has enough backbone to handle the unexpected weather).
Pulling into the spot, I realized just how long it had been since my first time here. Five summer-fall transitions. I had spent five of these seasons chasing trout on that piece of water…yet it never seemed to get old. But the river was different this time.
I grabbed my balled-up waders from the bag in the trunk – these things have seen better days – and pulled the rod out of the vault to tie on a tandem rig (hoping odds were in my favor if I up the ante).
My boots were snug; dry for too long. My rod was still rigged with a summertime hopper/dropper favorite. As I clipped them off and began to slip my tippet through the top fly, the muscle memory was hard to ignore. Regardless of how long it was since I could recall physically taking that action, the slip, twist, loop and pull came back instinctively.
The past couple of weeks were a bit of a blur. It was one of those seasons when each hour seemed longer than the previous, yet somehow you’re flipping the page on another month.
My walk to the water calmed me, but the space seemed foreign. After the longest runoff season I had experienced out here, the Grande was finally gin-clear, but missing some familiar understory and much-loved pocket water. The strength of water surging from snowmelt seems unfathomable until the multi-ton boulders forming my go-to seams disappear downstream.
I cast into tried-and-true holes; no luck. Wondering if I should change my fly, the lazy angler in me skipped cold fingers and shotty knots, and walked upstream. What little sun that breached the overcast skies was fading. If I had any doubts before, the realization sunk in as I stood in the middle of it all: I missed the last few days of summer.
Cast, drift, repeat.
The water was different. Sure, structure changed – gone missing after 8,000 cubic feet per second pushed its way through a dynamic corridor – and fish moved, but fall had also arrived.
Cast, drift, repeat.
I walked a little further, shook away that persistent thought of changing my fly, and practiced patience with our new normal.
The last hole of the night was near. I thought of the browns and the bows that surly should be there; the river couldn’t change that much. Could it?
I cast, watched my indicator, SET.
Based in southern Colorado, Ryan is a photographer, outdoorswoman, fish chaser, and proud mama to two wild Outdoors-loving kiddos. When not wrangling little ones or cattle dogs, you’ll find her on the water, on a trail or on the road looking for the next piece of water and (hopefully) high country trout.