Over the last couple weeks I have been burning a lot of nervous energy along with other brothers and sisters of the angling fraternity wondering about water flows, water temperatures and whether or not any hatches of note have taken place. During a meeting April 25, for instance, I received an email from a friend who routinely checks the lower Battenkill at this time of year and was given up to the minute river flow information: water levels, water temps, clarity of the water and what sort of hatch was taking place. In this particular instance it was noted that there were a good number of Hendricksons as well as blue quills emerging from the chilly (45 degree) water.
Later in the day I received a text message from a friend who had stolen a couple hours from his professorial duties to see what was happening on his river. I got all the information that I needed along with the obligatory photograph of a colorfully spotted brown trout that did little more than annoy me — my young fish hawk of a friend has an incredible ability to bring to net outsized specimens.
When I got home from work I was able to pop into a couple fly shop websites to get up to the minute information on rivers that I enjoy fishing vicariously through these sometimes colorful reports. I learned that the Beaverkill has yet to see its share of Hendricksons, that the Upper Delaware was too high for all but the most experienced floaters and that the Au Sable way out in Michigan was struggling to see spring emerge.
On Sunday, I took some time away from annual camp repairs to sneak down to the river and watch the water. I even received a call from my friend Brew, who enthusiastically informed me that there were lots of blue quills on the upper Battenkill. Down where I was situated there were a few blue winged olives (Baetis for the scientifically inclined) and even some Quill Gordons, that are not supposed to hatch from the 'kill.
I think it is fair to say that we anglers have at our fingertips perhaps too many ways to get the fishing information we so deeply crave. No doubt many other anglers are chattering with each other as well as scouring websites to find out when the early spring hatches are going to start. While many people take for granted the ease by which this information is gained (via email, texting, Twitter or any other electronic means that the hipsters are using these days) it took real creativity to get information back in the digital Dark Ages.
Perhaps the most creative such approach took place out of the long defunct but equally long remembered Anglers Nook down across the border in New York.
My friend Rich Norman used to work and tie flies at the shop before he decided to go legit and became a local bank manager. This was back in the days when folks had to pay for their long distance calls and it certainly would not be cost effective for a local fly shop to call its customer base to let them know that the Hendrickson hatch had begun.
At the same time it would be disruptive to operations to have to pick up the phone every few minutes to tell folks that yes dry fly season had come or no, give it another week and check back in. Small operations such as the Nook require maximum time at the tying vice before fishing season begins so a plan was settled upon to let loyal customers know when the Hendrickson hatch had begun.
As Rich tells the story, once the flies began to show either he or George Schlotter would call their loyal customer base to tell them that yes plan on coming to the river.
However, there was a twist because as noted, making long distance calls cost money and no independent fly shop could bleed cash on a series of phone calls.
So what did they do? A brilliant idea was settled upon whereby collect calls would be made with the unknowing operator prompted to ask the person on the receiving end whether or not they would accept a call from Mr. Hendrickson. Well, with that little bit of information the recipient of the call would refuse to accept but knew that the hatch was on!
The shop benefitted because they did not spend any money on the call and they also knew that the coming days would bring a lot of customers. The downtime from tying was essentially an advertisement to come on into the shop.
I am sure there were many other such schemes back in the day and certainly they seem quaint in this electronic age. There is certainly a level of humor involved, however, and one has to wonder if an operator who patched through one too many calls asking for a Mr. Hendrickson ever alerted authorities to the nefarious goings on. I am sure Ma Bell would have liked a piece of the action!
With all that said I can faithfully report that Mr. Hendrickson has indeed come calling and if our rivers drop over the next days and weeks some of the best dry fly fishing is at hand.
Doug Lyons is a longtime angler who splits his time between greater Boston and fishing, hiking and relaxing in Southwestern Vermont. Doug maintains a camp in Shushan, N.Y., along with his wife, Deanna and dog Maya.