I hit a delayed harvest stream and the afternoon started out how it usually does. Fish were stacked in their normal places and they'd hit your fly if the drift was just right.
The fall always provides a challenge of figuring out the difference between an actual fish strike and your line hitting a drowned leaf. I caught almost as many leaves as I did fish today. The water was very cold and the fish strikes were very subtle. What made matters worse was a sizable leak in my waders. People were camping in many of the good holes. There was one that required waders to get to and fish it properly you had to stand in waste deep water. I tried to fight mild hypothermia and worked this spot for quite awhile.
Then about as the last daylight was dying small bugs started to fill the air. They were scattered at first then became a flurry of insects. I could see several heads popping up at the beginning of the pool. Fish started to stack up and there were swirls and rises all over. It's rare you hit a real hatch in NC. I saw one of the bugs on the water and it looked to be a size 19 blue winged olive. I say size 19 because whenever there is a really good hatch it always seems like I don't have anything that matches the exact size of the insect. I decided to try a size 18 dark olive caddis. The sun was starting to set and I couldn't see my fly in the water. I always wondered how people could detect strikes on flies smaller than a size18. My buddy gave me the best advice ever. If you see a fish rise where you think your fly landed set the hook. This is really the only way to fish when you can't see the fly. It ended up working and I hooked a couple nice fish. Then the rises started to become less frequent. There was one fish that lifted it's head half out of the water. You could literally hear the CLOOP as it sucked in bugs. I tried to time the fishes rise. I thought I had the fish at one time but it either missed the fly or I pulled it out of the fishes mouth.
The water went dead and I couldn't see any signs of fish rising. After a few minutes a warm breeze came across the river and the bugs started to appear in the air again. The head started to appear CLOOP! CLOOP! I cast ahead of where the fish was rising and said out loud "eat it, eat it eat it" then CLOOP! The fish ate the fly nonchalantly. I set the hook and the fish fought but stayed close to the surface. The short fight didn't match the size of the fish. Sometimes that's the case with stocked fish. The special thing for me about this fish was how it was caught. My fly selection and cast had to be just right to catch this fish and I was rewarded.
It made the day for me.