Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On a winter's day

Like much of the country, Connecticut has been consistently colder lately. Rarely does the temperature get north of freezing and that means that the regular snows, most modest in depth, accumulate and linger. Old snow normally acquires a patina after a few days. The grayness of winter seems to inject itself even into this thing that is at first so pure. There's no magic though. Much like southern streams befouled with ash and advanced industrial chemistry, old snow accumulates the poison of modern society. Soot and dust spewed from smokestacks and tailpipes eventually settles downwind and New England is downwind from most everywhere in the United States. Add some sandy, salty crust along the road's margins and snow rapidly becomes less magical than it was when it first fell. Not this year, though. Every few days we get another couple of inches and the snow looks as fresh as I imagine it would be on the flanks of the Rockies.

In the heat of summer the flood plain of the Farmington River is thick with growth. Native and invasive species guard the flanks with thorny, twisted branches that bites skin, tears at cloth and snags line and leader. Just getting to the water's edge can be an adventure unless one takes well established paths. Of course, the waters at path's end are common. One has avoided the snarls but has achieved what one has earned.

In winter, the landscape is cleansed. Above the clean plane of snow the dried. leafless tentacles look impotent. The way seems clear. But it is a mirage. The shimmering whiteness lures you to something that is much more that it seems. Beneath the surface lurk all the obstacles of the past. Your eagerness blinds your mind to the risk. But it is there, perhaps more so than in the opposite season.

I drove a mile or two of the river on Sunday. The roads were poorly plowed and the only parking spots available were those where snow mobilers and cross-country skiers gathered. I had scouted some new water on satellite photos but nearby parking was impossible. At best I would risk the attention of law enforcement. At worst, some yahoo would sideswipe the car. Glad for deeply grooved snow tires I found a spot to park with the winter enthusiasts.

Despite the immanence of being knee deep in moving water, I suited up hesitantly. The water at the far side of the valley was good water, water that I had fished before. For some reason my inability to get to the new water disturbed me disproportionately to my anticipation. There was no pent up expectation, it was a plan hatched shortly before I got in the car, yet I felt deeply denied. Hell, I wasn't even sure if there were fish there or if they would eat. It was hunch based upon rumor but still I was annoyed. Fortunately, ritual turned the mood. The donning of the vestments brought me back to where I needed to be and turned me in the right direction.

Buffs are sexy.
On some parts of the river the valley's walls draw twilight sooner during the winter months but this broader section remained well lit by afternoon sun. The sharp angles of the light added depth and drama to the landscape that could easily be stark. A deceptively alluring straight line ran from the car to the river's edge. There were no tracks before me to follow and I managed to find what ended up feeling like the most difficult route.

Just shy of the water's edge I wedged my toe under an unseen log and took a fall. I fell back on my ass but my legs landed in a tangle which made it difficult to regain my feet. Though relieved to have not broken my rod or twisted a body part unnaturally, I felt quite foolish and was glad to have been alone in my indignity. Sitting in eighteen inches of snow I floundered a bit before I grabbed one of those slight twigs poking above the snow. It was startling how this wisp of additional leverage allowed me to regain my feet and take the final steps into the river. Small things matter.

The water wasn't as cold as I expected but the wind was another thing. It blew steady over my upstream shoulder turning discomfort into something worse. I cast down and across to avoid the wind on my face and the foil to my cast. With my back to the chill, I fished up through the run. It's a spot that has a late spring Sulphur hatch that is memorable year after year. The best that could be found in the dead of winter are small caddis and midges, but they were absent. My nymphs remained untouched.

On the way back down I swung a wooley bugger on a sinking line. It was a desperate move that has saved the day in the past. Sunday was not one of those days. I fished down further trying to stoke a bit of hope into something real. Burning through a second cigar I succumbed to the reality that this day was meant to be one of those days.

The walk back to the car was slower and more deliberate than the earlier stroll. I meandered a bit and found a way that was less taxing. Though I lacked the satisfaction of fish fooled, I savored the walk. Time on the water had again proven worthwhile. While the layers of life's burdens had not been removed, they had been covered, at least for a time, with something fresh and bright.

First trout of February. But that's another story.


  1. Glad you had a chance to do a bit of fishing in the snow, all tumbles aside. Here in NY I walked the riverbank today, not fishing but "scouting" and being thankful to investigate more deeply. Maybe tomorrow I can take the fly rod out. The ice and snow are breaking free; the winter shackles are loosening slowly.

    1. Soon. Very soon. Someone told me that there were little black stoneflies out yesterday.

  2. that snow seems like it wont melt. more like concrete slowly curing. at least your fall was on shore, where you had a soft landing.

    1. Yeah, only thing bruised was the ego. Looks like warmer temps will get us some relief today. Spring can't come soon enough.