The stream gage was showing a rapid decrease in flows, but the water levels were still well above normal levels. Two days prior, the streams were at flood stage, bridges were in danger of overtopping, and low-lying areas were inundated. Blustery winds swirled a mix of snow and sleet, painfully stinging my cheeks. I stood at the Junction Pool for the first time. The confluence of the Beaverkill and Willowemoc Rivers in the Catskills forms the Junction Pool.
The two streams come together in a wide, deep pool. Surface currents range from a torrent to a still pool within several feet. Back eddies are visible, showing the water currents separating and turning in opposite directions in perpetual circles. In higher flows, the large point bar, made of rounded cobble and gravel transported and sorted by the stream over time, allowed me safer access into the stream to see if I could catch a fish.
At first I tried streamers. A Bow River Bugger, a Yellow Conehead Bugger, a Half Pint, and a Black Sex Dungeon all produced no strikes. Yes, some of the streamers can have fairly creative names. I switched to a double nymph rig under an indicator. A Pat’s rubber legs and a George Daniel emerging caddis went on the rig first, as they are both heavy and large. I wanted to give the fish a big meal if they had been hunkered down during high flood stages. Not being sure if they even “hunker down” during storms, who knows if this is the best strategy?
The wind was batting down the indicator and making the rig harder to cast. After getting in my rhythm for casting the larger rig, I landed the flies in a good seam of slower water next to a faster, deeper section of the river. I noticed I was holding my breath, thinking this may be the drift where I lose the skunk. The indicator paused and popped. I set the hook. There was no movement to the line. This is the split second where I was unsure if I had snagged the bottom or hooked a fish. Head shake. This was a big fish, in heavy water. I knew it would be a challenge to land it.
My heart skips and I say the “keep this fish on” prayer. It’s not moving. I held it in the current, trying to direct its head toward me. It wasn’t going anywhere. The fish was slightly downstream of me, which is a disadvantageous position. I stepped downstream to align myself with the fish. I shifted the rod to a lower angle to try to move its head again. I felt another head shake and then nothing. The flies kicked back over my head. I stared at the water, dejected. The fish porpoised, showing the dark green spotted back of a large rainbow trout, and slid back into the depth of the pool.
A few minutes later, I hook and lose another rainbow. This one is upstream of me, and I had a good hook set. The mysterious currents of the pool and its fish are perplexing me. Wind gusts nearly blew my hat off, indicating it was time for me to call it a day and get some dinner. I was able to fool a couple fish into taking my flies, but not able to land them. Watching the currents and wading into the fabled waters helped me for future trips.
The movement of the water in this complicated confluence reminded me that not everything we see at first glance tells the whole story. Those who look over the bridge while driving by or stop and walk to the edge of the water to take pictures miss the intricacies and nuances of each seam and flow path. Much of our world today is connected to sound bytes, social media posts, or sensational content on uninformed websites. Often we judge people by their appearance or first impression. Seeing the whole picture and learning about the strange and mystifying currents sometimes takes us wading in a little deeper.