It creeps in one night through an open window while you’re trying to sleep and wakes you up shivering at 3am reaching for another blanket. It happens again the next night and finally on the third you close the window before bed time. It slowly corrodes the green leaves on the trees into a tabby of reds, oranges, yellows and browns. It steals a few minutes of sunlight every morning and a few more in the evening. You blink right after labor day, look at your calendar which now says October, and you realize, it’s Autumn.
After a few minutes of regret for the things you missed out on over the summer, you pivot to the gifts of the fall. Pumpkin flavored everything, Octoberfest Beer, girls in sweaters, skirts and tall boots, and best of all, crisp mornings on the water.
Fall gives a rebirth to fishing. The waters that were too low and too warm after Independence Day, have cooled off and the fish are putting on a feed to get ready for a long cold winter. The cool water and shorter days bring on the romantic feelings of the brook trout and brown trout. Steelhead in the great lakes feel the same pull and head up into the waters of their planting. The fall sends the striped bass back south and closer to the beach on their way to winter in the Chesapeake. Largemouth and Smallmouth bass school up and attack baitfish in wolfpacks. Musky sense the closing in of winter and feed savagely with eyes bigger than their stomachs. Every fish has a sense of urgency that leads to some of the best moments on the water every year…if you don’t find yourself 25 feet up a tree…uh-hm, Ryan.
There is a sentimentality about autumn, its easy to feel that way. It’s not a cop-out. The air of a fall morning has it’s own quality to it, there’s a haze different from the thick ozone haze of summer. This fall haze filters the light in such a special way so that when it reflects off of the yellows, oranges and reds of the trees you’re bathed in sepia tones like an old photograph. You live out this scene from an old family picture album thinking of the fishing trips with your father, grandfather, friends, uncles, cousins and brothers. More often than not, everything comes together and in the Kodachrome moment holding the halloween colored brook trout you say to yourself, “Pop would have loved to have seen this fish.”
The fishing days are shorter, but at the very least we don’t have to wake up as early (thank you extended day light savings time) but we fish harder. We fish harder because their is the urgency of, “is this the last fish of the year for me?” Come November, the weather will turn, and the holidays will start. Time, money and uncontrollable forces may keep us from the water. Right now, we want. one. more. fish.
You fish up until darkness and cold drive you off of the river. This is when you realize how quiet it is. The recent frost has driven the crickets and the frogs back into the ground in dormancy or in dust. The cool, now cold stings your cheeks a little walking back to the truck as you look up and marvel at the color the now set sun has made the sky at dusk, it’s a fall sky for sure. The truck is a welcome sanctuary at this point, with smug intelligence you turn the engine on to get the heater cranking. Breaking the gear down you laugh a little to yourself about how much stuff you need to fish when not much more than a month a go it was just you, your rod, one box of flies and your wet wading shoes. You have to carefully arrange your gear when you had just tossed it on the floor in the passenger side. Before you pull away, you roll the window down, and take in one more deep breath of the smell of fall on the river. That earthy, musty smell of the leaves, the dew forming. You drive off content in the fish you caught, but a little pensive, was this the last trip of the year.
On the way home you think about the fish you caught this year. The times you had with your buddies on the river, the trips that didn’t go as planned. The trips that humbled you and the ones that made you feel like the greatest angler on the face of the earth. The flies you tied that worked, and the ones that didn’t, and the ideas for new ones for next year. That’s right, there is a next year! Your mind races at the possibilities.
You walk into the house with your wader bag, gear bag and rod tubes curled precariously under your arms. There stands your girlfriend in her sweater, skirt and boots, holding a Fest Bier for you and you see a fresh pumpkin roll on the counter behind her. Why isn’t Autumn 12 months out of the year? You pray for an Indian summer.