Soon, those big, fat dry flies of summer will gave way to dead-drifted nymphs, size 20 blue-winged olives and microscopic Griffith's Gnats. The deep green of summer's flora will explode into autumns light show, and then sizzle into winter's dormant nudity.
As I walked along my favorite little backcountry creek late last month, I knew I was fishing on the last day. Tomorrow, I knew, would bring blustery autumn winds, rain and maybe even a little snow. I knew that this particular day was the last day I could sling a 'hopper into familiar holding water and count on a fat cutthroat to come to the top and slurp it in.
Already, the leaves along the creek were abandoning their summer green. The late afternoon light shone from the deep blue sky through a distinctively autumn filter. The season was changing before my very eyes, and I fished hard, as if summer was going out of style.
And it was.
But on this day, the fish didn't seem to care that summer was ending or that fall was pushing its way into the backcountry. They simply wanted to eat, and I did my best to feed them. Throughout the day, spirited Yellowstone cutthroats came to the top after Chernobyls and 'hoppers and beetles. And while I was thrilled with the results, the melancholy pull at my soul weighed me down. A summer spent largely on the road kept me from places like this, and now that summer was down to its last hours, I couldn't shake the regret.
Where had it gone?
I'm sure it had something to do with the fact that summer started so late this year. Heavy winter snow (and spring snow) pushed summer back at least a month in mind, and when it arrived, I found myself in far-flung places catching strange fish on big, fast fly rods. My glass 3-weight hadn't seen the light of day all summer, and my boots hadn't walked across Idaho rock in months.
It's disingenuous to complain. My year had taken me to south Texas in April, when I needed 85 degrees and a sea breeze in the worst possible way. It took me to Appalachia in March and again in September, where wild brookies swim. It took me to the marsh of south Louisiana, where I cast through a steamy haze to massive redfish. It took me to Montana a couple of times, where I played with wild backcountry cutthroats and lake-dwelling rainbows. And it took me to northern Saskatchewan, where vicious northern pike chased flies like linebackers chase quarterbacks.
All the while, my favorite little trout haunts here at home rested, unmolested, at least by me.
So, as I walked along the slippery rocks of my favorite little stream, the one I know so well, so intimately, it was more of a procession than a fishing outing. It was a farewell... a "see you next year."
And next year will likely take me to more amazing destinations. But the one I yearn for, it would seem, is the one in my own backyard.
Summer's over. Damn.