It is a fact that the best days to find fish rising to blue wings are often the best days to stay indoors, close to the hearth. They are those days when a sullen blanket of grey smothers the peaks and a stinging wind drives flurries of snow that swirl and patter amongst the bare willows along the river bank and softly hiss at their demise on the water. They are those days when the river flows grey and metallic through a landscape still barren and brown, branches naked to the breeze, raised skyward like bony supplicants. They are those days where non-fishing spouses look at you with a mix of concern and bemusement that never dims over the years as you announce you are heading out to the river for bit. Truth to tell, they’re probably glad just to get you out of the house.
There is something noble and tragic about the mayfly, a brief flowering of beauty then demise that in the big scheme of things is not too far removed from that of our own mortal coil. Despite the forces of nature arrayed against them, despite being at the mercy of wind and water and silent predation, they follow their script with the single-mined purpose and quiet dignity that uncovers heroism in the everyday. I wonder at times if they are in some way aware of the danger that surrounds them as they bob and pirouette down the river, their sail-like wings fragile and buffeted by the breeze.
The fish, on the other hand, seem to harbor no such thoughts of sympathy or admiration for their plight, gorging themselves on the steady stream of protein that comes to them like hors d’ouvres on a conveyor belt. The challenge for the fisherman on such days is to be able to accurately cast, and then identify, a tiny grey fly on a grey river under grey skies with a swirling wind scuffing the surface this way and that. Perhaps once in five casts you see your fly, the rest of the time you play the zone, setting the hook to any rise that might be near where you think your fly is. Like a slugger swinging at fastballs, most you fan on, but every now and then you connect.
After a couple of hours, it was time to head home. The hatch was still in full swing, the fish still rising, but I’d seen enough. A particularly strong gust of wind almost blew me off my bouldery perch into the river, and I somehow contrived to break my fly off on a back cast. Faced with the choice of retying or heading home, I chose the latter, leaving the river to its business.