If you have never seen Green Drakes and Coffin Flies hatch, well, I recommend you make the effort to do so. I had always been somewhat dismissive of folks who chased these blue-chip hatches. I'm partial to the hatches of pale yellow mayflies on late spring evenings on my home waters so I never really got into being on rivers outside my normal range just to fish something exotic. It was an error not to pay attention to the Drakes. They're pretty damn fantastic.
In mid-June Jonny and I were heading west with the hope of taking some carp in Indiana. Driving eight hundred miles to fish for carp may not seem like the most sensible thing but we had good reasons. It's not something I'd done before -- neither the epic road trip nor carp fishing -- so I was looking forward to having an adventure. But being a trout angler I couldn't tolerate the thought of driving so far, passing some of the finest trout streams in the east, without stopping to wet a line.
Penns Creek, our original target, was bank full from storms that had tracked across Pennsylvania the week before. We set our sights on the Delaware system which seemed to have been spared. The fly shop mentioned Drakes and Coffins and when I saw the size of the dries and emergers I had a "holy shit!" moment. It would be quite something to see a trout pluck one of these from the surface.
Being East Branch neophytes, we picked a spot where we could get the car comfortably off the road not knowing that this particular pool was renowned for large, fussy trout; low water would further complicate things. Drakes and then Coffins and Drakes and then every manner of small mayfly made an appearance at once. The trout tormented us all afternoon and into the evening. The fish refused and ignored all offerings instead slurping loudly on a mystery. The only fish to hand, a beauty of a 20+ inch brown, came to Jonny on an inspired contrary play; the Chernobyl Ant. I still have an image of a enormous brown fully clearing the water chasing an escaping Drake. Damn.
We stayed too late on the water and by the time we started thinking about a campsite rain had moved in. Out the window went our good intentions for saving a few beans on this trip. We found a hotel room. Breakfast the next morning was a treat. It was not one of those trashy breakfasts that you sometimes find at budget motels but an honest to goodness sit down, cooked-to-order breakfast served by a cute blond with a sparkle in her eye. And the coffee. The coffee was the biggest surprise. It was almost good enough to make it worth staying for a second cup. Almost.
The most direct route to Indianapolis from Hancock, NY is straight across Route 86 then down through the trifecta of Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton into the land of corn and coal. As you embark on this journey you thank God that the diversion to Hancock provided not only a good day on the water but allowed you to avoid the dull transit across Pennsylvania. But even the charms of the Catskills quickly diminish facing the reality of driving 700 miles in a single day. Baser urges soon set in and you find yourself outside of Cuba, NY smoking a Cameroon-wrapped Dominican wondering where the closest cup of coffee, of reasonable quality, could be found.
On frigid steelhead afternoons when the mood on the river is spoilt by uncooperative fish and the mind and the psyche wander I will stagger to the banks and stoke the Jetboil. I know I can tempt at least one junkie from the runs to the bank during these times for a cup of coffee. Jonny is a comrade in caffeine. We're both addicts and snobs. I'm sure there's some reasonable coffee to be found in the burgs of western NY but we were looking for a sure thing. Something along the order of Starbucks. In fact, Starbucks. The mighty Google reported that Erie, PA, 94 miles distant, was our best bet.
Consulting a map upon my return home, I discovered that we had passed many coffee houses, including Starbucks, earlier in that day. But the road was still fresh and our energy levels high and we passed those early hours without mortal encumbrances. Good music, rambling conversation and the curiosity of what’s over the next rise held our attention.
I suppose that's what makes an adventure like this so worthwhile. Your normal habits are set aside. The journey before you, no matter how mundane, wrestles your attention. The portion of your brain that is normally reserved for the intensity of coaxing a wary, sipping trout to a fly is now at the wheel steering you onward. You’ll make fifty fly changes and five hundred casts when those neurons are in charge. You’ll also drive a hundred miles for a latte.