After three fishless weeks, I finally got myself on the board. However, it didn’t come easy. Winter decided to give us a little taste of how brutally tough cold-weather fishing can be. The day before I went, we got about three inches of completely unexpected snow. What was supposed to be a mixture of rain and a little snow became wet and heavy snow throughout the day. I enjoyed some snowy festivities that day, but I really just had my eyes on getting to the water and putting my skills to the test.
The next day, a brisk twenty-three degrees on the thermometer greeted me as I stepped into my garage to prepare my gear. Before heading out, I wanted to ensure that I would be able to make the most of the day. A ratty old container of chapstick in hand, I began to grease my nine-foot five-weight’s guides and tip to prevent ice from building up. It made a bit of a mess, but nonetheless got the job done.
With my rod ready I started preparing the rest of my gear. Pliers, clippers, tippet, and a few random flies including brassies, wooly buggers, and soft hackles went into my jacket’s pockets. Mittened up, I stepped out the door into the arctic tundra.
Actually, it wasn’t so bad. The sun warmed my frosty face, and I enjoyed the serene sounds of nature as I walked along the wooded path to the pond. There is something about early morning in a snowy woods that simply makes you smile. Even though I couldn’t feel my fingers, I laughed jubilantly all the way down to the water, humoring myself with the fact that I was open-water fishing while there was snow on the ground. Unfortunately, as I got down to the pond, I was greeted by a nasty surprise. A thin layer of ice coated the pond, making for a beautiful view, but nearly impossible fly-fishing conditions. This was going to be a hunt for open water.
I immediately headed for a spot where I knew a small brook dumps into the pond. I skipped over several spots at the mouth of the brook because of the heavily wooded and brushy shoreline that would have made fly casting a nightmare. In afterthought, those spots probably would have produced some fish because of the large number of blowdowns dotting the shore. Anyway, I continued to a spot where the brook widens slightly and began casting. This spot was productive for me during the dog days of summer, when the brook carried cooler water into the dry and exceedingly warm pond. I figured the brook might play the opposite role, carrying warmer water into the pond, as the water cooled off significantly.
After fishing the spot for around ten minutes, I decided my theory was probably flawed. If there had been fish, they probably would have been quick to take my squirmy wormy / chironomid rig fished under a strike indicator. With the increased precipitation we’d had in the past week, worms should have been washed into the pond heavily. And since the temperatures are cooling down, I’m sure midges are at the top of every fish’s mind. With that, I walked to a more heavily-fished spot just next to the parking lot.
Standing on a small pile of rocks that reached into the water, I could see some small minnows, maybe darters, rooting around the bottom in the shallows. The first sign of life! Despite the hope and confidence now in my head, the spot didn’t produce. Neither did the many spots I tried along some of the shallow sandy banks that seemed to be a nursery for this years spawn of bluegill and bass. Finally, after an hour of searching, I arrived at the spot where I caught my fist bass this year. Interestingly, I caught that fish on the first day of lock down, beginning my incredible year of fishing as the amount of time I had to do so increased without activities.
The spot is notable because of the giant dead pine that reaches far out into the water from the shore. With brush all around me on shore, I was forced to walk along the icy trunk of the tree, slowly shuffling one foot at a time to avoid falling. Once a decent distance from the on-shore trees, I once again began casting the two-nymph rig. I could see small sunfish swim in and out of the tree’s branches, and schools of bass patrolled the outskirts of the tree looking for unsuspecting minnows. With a school of four or so small bass in sight, I cast my rig just in front of them. They quickly bolted off, frightened by the bright orange indicator loudly slapping the water just in front of their faces. As a couple of hikers walked by, I tangled the rig in a tree behind me on a backcast. Anyone else notice they only snag when there are people there to see it? Anyway, I removed the bobber, tied on some new tippet, and attached a peacock & partridge soft hackle. Unfortunately, this fly had the same fate as the last rig. Will I ever learn?!
With my patience running thin, I tied on a black, brown, and light olive bead head wooly bugger. Having lost sight of the bass on the left side of the tree, I began casting on the right side, a risky move due to all the brush in the water. Cast after cast I snagged the leaves coating the surface, but eventually I felt a sharp tug. I snapped my rod tip up high, and stripped hard. The bass’s scales gleamed from just under the surface. I spun my reel to pick up the little line I had already stripped in, and began to fight him on the reel. Honestly, the fight wasn’t that spectacular. After another ten or so seconds, I simply lifted the fish into my frigid hand. The barbless hook popped right out, and after taking a quick picture, the fish was on its’ merry way.
After that bass, I couldn’t stop smiling. I had accomplished my goal, and best of all, it was my first ever open-water fish in the snow. On a day when many people would simply sit inside and watch TV, I had ventured out into the world and got something done. Was it a banner day? No, not by any means. However, it was a blast, and I enjoyed every second of it. Honestly, I think spending a few hours searching for fish on an unconventional day beat catching fish after fish on a summer day when I knew I was guaranteed to at least catch something. I had the chance to experiment today, and learned many valuable lessons. I can officially say I caught a fish on the coldest day of the fall so far, which feels pretty good. No, it wasn’t big, but any fish on a fly rod feels good. Now I know that fishing in the cold isn’t always futile, but oftentimes is more fun than fishing normally. I can’t wait to put my newfound knowledge to use as we get many more snowy and cold days throughout late autumn and winter.
Later that day, instead of trick-or-treating as most kids do, my friend and I stood on his dock and fished. I think I found I new favorite way to enjoy Halloween. Forget candy, fishing is the only treat I need!