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The Streamside Guide - Mid-Winter Fly Fishing Doldrums

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It's been a while since we shared a 'Streamside Guide' article from Peter Cammann so I was delighted to receive this recent entry which includes a fly fishing poem by one of his readers which sums up how many of us are feeling right now I expect.

It seems incongruous to be thinking about fly fishing when the air temperature is well below freezing and there are a couple of feet of snow in the yard, but this is when I feel the need to cast a fly more than at any other time of year. I do some ice fishing in the winter, but that doesn't really do it for me when I'm jonesing to toss some flies to rising trout, although it does keep me from going completely stir crazy.

It turns out that I'm not alone. Just last month, I received an email from David Glover. It seems he's beginning to froth at the mouth as well. Rather than submit to electroshock therapy, David decided to take his frustration out in iambic pentameter. The result is the following effort.

The Lure

I sit here bored and too downhearted,
Wishing the new spring thaw had started.
"Don't think that way, my friends all say;
It's just a week since New Year's Day."

It's been six weeks since I went fishing.
My days are cluttered up with wishing
My casting arm is getting itchy,
And my thumb is restless now and twitchy.

So get off your duff and go out on the ice.
They're catching bluegill that really are nice.
They're not understanding as well as they wish.
A man doesn't go fishing just to catch fish.

It's more about wading and feeling the lake
And loving the game with each cast that I make,
Working the fly around trees, stumps and rocks
And under the planking of old rotting docks.

It's feeling the line when it plays out just right
And the tug on the bait at the start of a fight -
You and a fish, instinct against wit,
Caring who wins just a little bit.

It's the game that's important from my point of view,
Though the fish may feel it's for life or death, too.
I know, though, that I really wish him no ill,
And I hope that next year he'll be swimming there still.

Such dreams crowd my days in the still, frozen times;
So forgive me if I bore you all with my rhymes.
I'm just simply waiting for winter to wane,
Biding my time 'til I'm fishing again.

Copyright 2009 by David Glover

You gotta love the guy. I don't have the attention span to tie my own flies, let alone to write anything that rhymes every couple of lines. I know a few limericks, but none of them are clean enough to present in this forum. But I can daydream and so this is the time of year I drag out my fly vest, under the auspices of "cleaning and inventorying" everything in it so that it'll be ready for my next fishing trip somewhere.

The first thing I noticed was that the piece of lamb fleece on the pocket of my vest was still covered with flies. There didn't seem to be any reason to the mix of huge weighted nymphs, a tiny midge imitation, a few lead jigs, and several caddis flies clustered together. Clearly I couldn't have thrown them all on my last fishing trip. It's just that as the season winds down and I fish less and less frequently, I sort of let things go and flies don't end up neatly packed in their appropriate fly boxes. In other words, I forget to put my toys away when I've finished playing with them.

The nymphs were likely from the very last fishing trip I took this year on the Winooski River. In late October, even when the air temperature dips below freezing for the first time and we start to get a flurry or two of snow, I find that I catch some of the biggest brown trout of the year, usually on the largest of stonefly imitations. My last trip to the Winooski a year ago resulted in a catch that included a one-eyed brown trout (yes, one eye!) that jumped repeatedly before I was able to bring him in. This was one tough son-of-a-bitch fish! Imagine only having half a field of vision and still growing to a length of sixteen inches! He was magnificent.

I also laced into an enormous brown one late October afternoon a few years back while fishing with my friend John Conrad. This beast never jumped and I was fairly sure that I'd simply snagged my weighted stonefly nymph on the bottom until I unleashed a series of ill-advised tugs on the line and woke the monster up. It fought me through two pools before I brought him in. John, standing on the opposite shore, told me that all he saw was this gaping mouth attached to my hand. I'm sure that once he was able to see that the prodigious opening I was wrestling with belonged instead to a remarkable trout, he was able to conclude I wasn't removing something from between my own teeth. After all, both the hand and mouth in question were splashing about the surface of the water, near my feet. That should have been some kind of hint anyway.

The caddis fly on my vest was easy to identify. I'd spent a couple of hours during the third week in October on a small stream, casting to brook trout. I love brookies. There is no other fish I can think of that strikes with such wild abandon as a small, wild mountain brook trout. I'd caught and released a couple 8-inchers when I came upon a small pool that seemed filled with tiny brookies. They snapped and fought over my fly, but no matter what I did, I couldn't set the hook. When I finally landed one, it turned out to be barely four inches long! Quite literally, my #14 hook had been too large to fit into their mouths.

I recognized the jigs on my vest with ease. They were from my October fishing trip this past year to Pulaski, NY. I'd stopped into a little fly shop on the banks of the Salmon River that sold a myriad of brightly colored, feathered jigs. The biggest of these jigs was only a sixteenth of an ounce and those were the ones I keyed in on. I spent a very exciting afternoon tossing them to spawning Coho salmon, landing a wonderful hen that was heavy with eggs. Hell, she was just plain heavy! She was literally the largest freshwater fish I'd ever caught on a fly.

Several of the jigs on my vest featured hooks that had been at least partially straightened. The big fish would often run into the current and before long, the fly would pop out, having lost its purchase in the salmon's jaw. A thin wire hook is often no match for a 20-odd pound fish and a raging river. I wasn't able to salvage my favorite jig from that trip though.

Along what is known as the Lower Fly Fish Area on the Salmon River, I found a little spot where the river had wound around a small bit of land, creating a little outflow that wandered a few yards away from the main stream before emptying back in to it, maybe a hundred yards later. The water couldn't have been deeper that a couple feet in most spots and it was easy to spot the big fish working their way through it. That in no way meant it was a simple task to cast to them though, as a dense undergrowth of small trees and shrubs clogged almost the entire length of this small waterway. Still, if you were careful, you could make short doublehaul casts at the top and bottom of the run and there was even a spot in the middle where there was enough of a clearing to make roll casts.

I was making casts at the very bottom of the run when I hooked into a large salmon. I saw it slash angrily at the jig as it bit down. The big fish almost instantly ran upstream (which was not a good thing as I'd actually lost one fish up there that had jumped and landed itself in the overhanging branches of a tree)) and then, just as quickly turned around and headed straight at me. It fought its way past the spot where I stood to the narrow opening at the bottom of the run and I was hoping it was about to move into the slower moving pool below the run when the line suddenly went slack. I reeled in and saw that my jig had been broke neatly in half! That's clearly not something you see every day.

I suppose that finally, I must come up with an equally dramatic and entertaining story for the single, miniscule midge fly I also found on my fly vest the other day, but I can't. I honestly don't recall ever using it, although that particular pattern can be a very good bet for late fall fishing, given that midges are one of the few flies that continue to hatch, all year long. I can only imagine that I came upon a likely pool, pulled it out, but between my poor eyesight and freezing fingers I wasn't able to tie it onto my leader. There it sat for all of the weeks after I'd pinned it back on my pocket fleece, a reminder of my growing list of limitations.

Copyright 2009 by Peter Cammann

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