Tuesday, January 28, 2014

And sometimes we fish

While angling never carries the guarantee of catching, winter trout fishing is defined by scarcity. To get out on the river during this season one has to see the alignment of numerous factors coupled with a healthy suspension of disbelief.

Jonny texted me two Fridays ago. The weekend's weather was going to be milder than it had been in a long time which loosely meant I might be able to fish without ice in my beard or guides. Both our calendars were free at noon on Saturday so we made plans for the usual spot.

When you have a fishing buddy you seem to naturally gravitate to familiar water. Every pairing finds its own place. Ross and I fish the Farmington on a wide pool below pocket water that holds some good memories. Kit and I gravitate to the Housy. Sam and I wade wet in a fast run that holds willing smallmouth in July. Jonny and I meet on this one small stream several times a year. It's a place where the hope for a large trout in skinny water is not a hope cast carelessly.

Not the forecast
Jonny was on the water before I arrived and it was difficult not to race to the stream. There's a certain anxiousness when one is late to the water. It could be dismissed as anxiety about good water being fished in one's absence but the reality is more complex. It's a fear of missing the action or some special thing occurring and one being wrapped up in a mundane exercise or dwelling over a leader that needs rebuilding. I suppose it's also the relative scarcity of time on the water. Nothing must be wasted.

As I suited up a hesitant snow that had been falling for an hour got more serious. There was nothing forecast for the afternoon so this was a surprise of New England weather. Jonny was fishing a run that is alive with trout during a spring spinner fall but whose water was too thin and cold to hold in the winter. That said, it was water that one couldn't pass without a cast or two.

A gift from Dave
We fished further down looking for trout holding in deeper cut banks or by spring seeps. We saw no sign of life aside from two anglers coming upstream who spoke of wrestling a large brown and a rainbow to the net. It's certainly possible on this river and they had just come up from one of the places where those fish would be this time of year.

Jonny and I made a pass at a log jam near a bend and though it looked fishy as hell nothing came up to see our offering. The snow hadn't let up and we were both soggy and cold and decided that a bit of a walk would warm us up. We had passed by a deep hole on the way in. It's sure winter holding water but the barometer and thermometer seemed to be subduing the mojo. Worth a shot, regardless.

I took the tail with a deep slot under some brush and Jonny took the head with an eddy on both sides. The near eddy was deepest and it only took a few slow swings of a Wooley Bugger to get some interest. First a rainbow made a swirl. Then a brown. And then a fish on and off in an instant. And then Jonny lost his fly, leader and a couple of feet of fly line to a snag. Clearly a set-back, maybe even a sign. By the time we got back to the car the snow was waning and before waders were shed the sun was peeking from behind scudding gray clouds.

All in
When you haven't landed a fish in some time you are haunted by even the possibility of fish. Especially if you've seen them and been jilted. On Sunday I returned to that water with the intent of fishing the log jam and the eddy pool. I figured going big was best so Wooley Buggers and large Stones got a turn on the leader.

I worked the log jam from up on the riffle making hazardous casts into woody debris. Rachel Finn, an Adirondack fishing guide, once had me making casts into tricky spots by casting my fly against the feature and letting it slide down into the water. It was a technique that worked well, but without Rachel's drill sergeant urgency I don't seem to be able to make casts into piles of fly snatching branches. Sunday was no exception.

I cast to the slower water and swam the fly to the current seam nearest the tangle. I worked the water several times with all the colors of the rainbow. Purple was the only one to get a response -- a fat brown fully cleared the water chasing, and missing, the slowly stripped bugger. After that it seemed the game was up. I swear the damn things talk to each other down there.

I hiked back upstream to the eddy pool enjoying a cigar and the relative warmth of the day. After retrieving two flies I had put in the bushes the previous day, I waded in at the head and swung every bugger in the fly box through the deep, slow water. Nothing doing. As my toes went numb I tied on a large, yellow stonefly nymph and gave it a go under a bobber.

I gave it more casts that was probably reasonable and then gave it a few more. Hope dies hard. It got to the point that I wasn't really fishing the fly anymore so much as soaking it. I let it simmer in the frigid water waiting for a sign and the sign came with a solid twitch of the indicator. The flash of a brilliantly colored rainbow got my pulse going and a brief, sluggish battle had him to hand.

I'm sure the rainbow was not alone in the depths but it seemed like the right time to be moving on. Something had happened that seemed wholly unjustified given the season and to try for more would be gluttony. I'm back inside staring at a thermometer. It only makes brief forays into double digits each day before retreating south. Though anchor ice crowds the river bottom I'm hopeful a brief thaw is not far off. There's a log jam that surely holds trout and I believe that I'm due if only I can get a few more casts past its grasping limbs.

Soak the fly. It pays off.


  1. Way to keep at it Steve. Even without that fish it was a good winter day.

    1. It was. Now if temps would just get back to the double digits we could try again.

  2. I'll say wholly unjustified; you stole my fish you bastard!

    No, seriously; nice piece. It must be nice to fish locally for trout, but then there are other animals that swarm and pop on the CT riviera, come what April....