Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fly box didn't have the right stuff

Snow and ice are not without some flashes of beauty. Just up the road a bit from our cabin, the ice had that frightening beasts-with-teeth appearance, with long, vicious fangs of crystal grinning maliciously at passersby and, if you could let your imagination fly, the fanged beast was being held in check by ancient icemen with flowing beards.

To either side, ice maidens with waist-length locks glistening in the late afternoon sun kept the old timers company, and perhaps held the leash keeping the fanged beasts back.
It’s been cold. And way too windy for an enjoyable day fly fishing for trout.

But then it warmed to an astonishing mid 40-degrees and out came the rod, waders, vest, boots and fly boxes to toss into the back of the rental car. The ice whiskers on the side of the mountain now looked like the remnants of last night’s candle, melting into a puddle near the ground. After a couple of early morning errands, I was knee deep in the Davidson River looking like a fool waving a stick back and forth over my head.
It felt more than wonderful to be outside again. It didn’t even matter if a trout hit the fly. It was enough to breathe air not clouded with auto exhausts and to bask in the rare warmth of a February sun.

Once again, all was well and good with the world.
I kept changing flies. Trout kept ignoring me. The little Adams dry fly should have been a hit with these fish, but they let it pass by with the rest of the river traffic.
These trout were not exactly tearing the surface up eating floating bugs. I counted one rise in two hours.
I changed to a little caddis dry, for there had been a little hatch the previous day where those hyperactive insects bounced in the sunlight like tiny helicopters, up and down, up and down. They were smaller than anything I had in the fly box, and besides, that hatch was on another river on another day.

Streamers didn’t work, wooly buggers attracted no diners and even the smallest nymph was ignored like an ugly girl at the prom.
Sometimes, when all else fails, you can learn something from the other anglers around you. First, I watched from the bridge and then moved downstream when nobody caught anything. There were a lot of puzzled fly fishers changing flies over and over, but the trout were not puzzled at all — they simply ignored all that fur-feather-steel floating by.

What was needed, I figured at last, was an itsy-bitsy midge nymph, about the size of a freckle on a kid’s face. Red or black should do it, with the fly little more than thread over hook and lacquered on top to give it some shine.
With at least several hundred flies in a half dozen fly boxes stretching the seams of the fishing vest, you would think there would be at least one little midge nymph in a size 24 or 22.
There was not anything even remotely like that in that mess of flies.

Well, I kept trying.
And the trout kept ignoring me, so I quit.

As I was pulling off the wet boots and waders, a fisherman walked by in a kinda hurrying sort of way.
Any luck? I asked. Yep, was the answer. Eighteen so far and 11 of those were over 20 inches. Just caught a 20-inch brown.

As he walked away I naturally asked what the trout were hitting.
And he replied, red midge.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snowbound fly fisherman mislead by calendar photo

Those romantic notions of being snowbound in a mountain cabin, with snow spread thick as frosting on the roof, makes a splendid calendar photo for February. Tree limbs bend with their heavy loads of fresh snow. Branches break, sounding like rifle shots in the dark. The world slows. Trucks cease to roll by. A trout stream sings in the background near the little cabin, and you just know that water is full of trout.

It takes about three days to melt that notion like an old icicle, and then the miserable reality of winter sets in. Pipes freeze, heaters quit heating like they should and roads glaze over with scary ice. Getting out of the driveway becomes a major challenge. All the dogs are wet as dishrags and smell like zoo animals. There are wet clothes, stiff boots and mud on the floor.
And sometimes the snow grabs your car as you drive through what you thought was a clear dirt road and you cease to move. An hour and a half later, you are still stuck in the national forest, it’s black as new Bibles and there is no other vehicle on the road.

Where’s my calendar photo?
It got worse. The Troutmobile’s transmission burned up, we had to get towed out by a pickup truck with chain and then spent most of the next two weeks stuck with driving rain, sleet, more snow and a little ice here and there just to wake you up if you tried to get to the store too quickly.

February weather is never great. The month itself ought to be abolished. Burn that calendar page in the wood stove.
I was already set for some fly fishing, no matter how cold or miserable.

The mountains looked like old bear dogs sniffing the clouds with grizzled muzzles. If the wind died and the sun came out, a fellow could hook a trout or two, provided it did not get too dreadful. That was the plan, anyway.

Late Sunday while on a short hike up the waterfall road, I noticed very few signs of human presence. Past the first campground, the road was smooth as new sheets on a bed. I came across some turkey tracks, apparently left by a lone feathered wanderer earlier in the day. The tracks were fairly fresh.

A little farther there were some rabbit tracks, dotting the snow like colons on a typewritten page, two-by-two.
Even farther up the creek road, deer tracks zig-zagged in the crunchy snow.

I never saw any sign of trout, though.
For the next 10 days I saw no fish. On the two days when the wind died and the sun softened the wicked cold, I had no luck with the little yellow nymph.

It turned out to be an adventure just to get down the 10-foot bank without slipping and cracking my head on a rock, but a fellow can stay inside only so long.

I’d tied a ton of flies.
Wonder if I’ll get a chance to use them before summer?

But first, let’s get rid of that calendar photo.