The sting of the cold water seeping into my boot momentarily distracts me from my splitting headache - courtesy of a Saturday Oktoberfest. There's frost on the ground and my breath hits the cold air and creates a cloud that floats downriver. I probably should have worn waders, but it's too late now. It's early, and the sun is just starting to hit the water. The rays aren't as warm as they were months ago, but still bring welcome relief from the bite of the Sunday October morning.
The river is low, a far cry from the bank-to-bank flow I've fished most of the year. Rocks, logs, stumps and snags typically hidden underneath the surface are now visible - like old scars that are hardly ever seen. Fast runs and pools are now glass - and every disturbance is magnified tenfold, like the water itself is fragile. With its hair down the stream looks tired and vulnerable, ready for a winter's rest - but at the same time in its bear-it-all simplicity the river is the prettiest its been all year.
After the air warms things finally start to happen. With a slight bump in the water temperature hunger overwhelms caution and the fish begin to feed. Each rise is subtle, yet deliberate, as the fish delicately pluck something invisible off water's surface. Whatever they're eating, I can't see it. After rummaging through my pack I end up tying on the same beetle pattern I've fished since June - a couple sizes smaller - hoping to luck into one last day of terrestrial fishing even though the season has long passed by.
Their colors are brilliant - the reds, yellows, and oranges mirror the hues on the hillsides of the river valley. In many ways the trout is a model of inefficiency; somehow, in its dull environment the fish manages to produce the most vivid colors anywhere along or in the river. A biologist will tell you that these colors exist to create a natural camouflage or attract better, fitter, more capable mates - but as an angler I can't help but think they're there for some other higher purpose.
The sun has dropped behind the trees, and the rises are more sporadic now. Shadow covers the river, but the light still left has a yellow, golden tinge to it - a strong sign of the season. With each passing minute the shadows grow longer, and a glance into the woods shows that daylight is waning. It'll be dark soon, but it's just perfect right now.
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