It is about catching fish. That’s why we take flies with us.
Fly fishermen tend to say, “oh, it’s not about catching fish”. Baloney it isn’t. I didn’t spend countless hours standing in freezing water before I started to fly fish. That’s just what we say when we get skunked to massage our ego.
The ice is off the river now and only the nine inch thick jagged remnants of ice jumbled along the shore remind me how cold my home water really gets in winter. Winter fishing is hard as the fish hunker down to avoid getting frozen into the ice. They settle into small, obscure holding water in the quiet, black river as it trickles under the plate of ice. Winter fishing around here is about finding open sections with a pool or riffle deep enough for fish to hide. The river is very low in winter and the trout know the blue herons and eagles are hungry too. When it is bitterly cold streamers are the only thing that seem to raise a fish. Maybe they have their eyes half closed and don’t notice a nymph bouncing by. Or perhaps they are too cold to bother with something as small as a nymph, only moving for the bigger meal. Some days I catch nothing. The trees are highlighted with snow, the sound of gurgling water hasn’t failed to be music, the glint of late winter sun on the river is still beautiful. But I wanted to meet a fish.
Yesterday the ice was off my river, runoff is just beginning to swell the river. Not so much that you couldn’t wade everywhere, because in reality, my river is a creek all but during high irrigation season. This river has been made to exist for the needs of the alfalfa fields downstream. Cattle rule around here and fish suffer for the needs of cow and alfalfa .
Yesterday the wind was screaming thru the pines, dead branches flying and last summer’s dried leaves swirling around. Nobody else was around. No other car parked along the highway. A 3 weight rod, a Prince nymph with a bead head pheasant tail dropper. The fish are hungry and have moved into feeding channels. It is a long distance between the riffles, troughs and pools. Slow wading along the bank but impossible to walk on the tilted ice plates littering the banks. And I stay out of the woods in winter because cougar tracks in the snow tell me I am not truly alone. Slowly I wade, listening to the water sing it’s song, the wind in the pines, reading the river, looking for trout homes. I am keenly aware of the blissful solitude, the smells of the woods, a high pitched whistle coming from an eagle stating his situation as he circles above me. I do love the river.
But where would a trout hold in this particular flow, where is his food coming from today and what is it? Unraveling the mystery. And then it happens. Feeling the fish through the rod as the fish jumps wildly into the air showing off his strong silver body, it zigs and zags all over the little river. The entire reason I am in the river comes whole with the sudden connection to this sturdy little fish that just made it through another winter and I am awed by the bright pink color along his sides, the fragile yellow fins, his sleek shape. As the fish slides back into it’s watery world and once again becomes nearly invisible from above, I know all over again that it is about the fish. Just to see one, to know where it lives today, to feel him slide off my hand. One is plenty to make my day perfect. I fish to catch fish.