Saturday, January 9, 2010

Chasing the sun upstream

The sunlight through the troutmobile’s windshield was deceptively soft and warm. It was not what one would call a perfect day for fly fishing, for the air was raw as stripped wire with enough wind to hurt, but as the road slithered up the mountain the urge to get out and fish for trout became as inviting as that faux warmth inside the car.
There was a handful of newly-tied flies inside the vest begging to prove their worth. The gear was in the back. There was a chicken sandwich on the front seat next to me and I was on a mission for fishin’.
But, boy, was it cold when I drove up the dirt road to the first campsite. The boots, still wet from the previous week, and waders and fly rod were willing, as was my spirit, but the flesh can be weak, however much wool and fleece you cover it with.
The rod stayed comfortably inside its carrying case.
I got uncomfortably out. By late afternoon, there was still a little sunlight but not enough. The temperature was in the teens and dropping with the sun.
I walked beside a trout stream unarmed, just sauntering along chasing the waning sun up a snow-lined dirt road, then off to the right to follow the first trail that hugs a little feeder creek.
Even with water levels a little high, this creek was scarcely more than a trickle. I decided to follow it to its end.
So, for the second time in about two decades, I took off walking in the forest with no intention of fishing.
I never much liked hiking as such, though the old recluse Henry David Thoreau, in calling the practice by another name, makes it appear as an acceptable substitute when it’s really too late in the day and much too cold for fly fishing. He preferred to call it sauntering, or walking aimlessly with no set destination in mind. Just meandering about among the tall trees.
Well, I did have that little creek to sing along with, so I never quite got trout completely out of my mind.
There was still ice in spots, dripping from the rock where road meets mountain. It’s a pretty time of year, sparkling like diamonds in the day’s last bit of light, the banks draped in sheets of snow.
When it’s a fresh, deep snow, there is nothing but the smothered whisper of silence.
Today, I’ll deal with snow that is half-way gone, with probably just enough to make getting to the water a slipping adventure, and noisy trucks full of hunting hounds will kill all chance of quiet.
No matter. I know there is a rainbow trout in the creek by the first campground, and another just upstream. The upstream spot is one of my trusty standbys when I can find fish no where else; the other trout was a surprise, and I believe I know just how to catch him.
And if not, I’ll saunter up the road chasing the day’s last soft rays sunlight.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cold as ice fly fishing

The month of December was a roller-coaster for weather and fly fishing. Some days the water raged with all the intensity of a broken-bottle saloon fight, but then the clouds would shut tight so the river settled to the peacefulness of a church on Monday morning.
I did better with the water up and rowdy, fishing a big Tellico nymph with some nifty rubber legs that I added to the traditional mountain fly pattern. Attaching a piece of lead the size of a wad of gum, I could barely sling the yellowish fly across the creek. It would splash with the resounding gusto of Sullenberger’s plane in the Hudson, drift into the feeding lane I was aiming for and bounce along the creek bottom where large, wary rainbow trout hunkered in the cold water waiting for dinner to come to them. This time of year, the fish do not exert a lot of energy to eat.
For the month, the most memorable fish was the fat rainbow that eagerly grabbed the rubber-legged nymph when both water and sun were high. It was about time for lunch and I had many errands to run, but, you know, there’s always time for one or two casts before taking care of domestic chores. I nailed that trout on the third cast, played him to the bank as quickly as I could and attempted to get a photo. Shame that the fish was camera-shy. He shook the hook and shot back into the current like a torpedo.
December was gracious enough to send a few 50-plus degree days, which turn out usually as perfect fishing days, especially the second warm day in a row.
Today I expect something quite the opposite. Highs in the low 30s and lows into the teens at night, making the water intolerably cold to splash around in, are expected. There was a dusting of snow the other night in my neighborhood, so I anticipate good water levels, albeit too danged cold, when I hit the river with fly rod in warmly-gloved hand. Bundled up like Michelin Man, I’ll waddle down the path lined with ice and snow, not expecting to catch much but hopeful of surprising that elusive winter brown.
It happens. You sometimes stumble across one of those monsters. Fellow in northern California caught a 27-inch brown a couple weeks ago with a black wolly bugger. What a fish.
The big trout hide in the larger, quiet pools, so it takes a lot of lead to get the fly down to where they hide and more often than not the fly hangs up and snaps off. But you have to fish deep, slow water. They’re down there.
Mostly, though, I spend an inordinate about of time walking instead of fishing in the winter. The banks lined with ice raise the bar on degree of difficulty, and even with wool socks the cold water hurts my toes. I’d rather boulder-hop, bouncing from one to the other while keeping my feet warm and boots dry.
Here’s hoping the sun softens today’s hard winter air to herald in the new angling year.
And here’s hoping there’s a huge brown trout waiting just for me.