Where Else Would You Rather Be?

You’ve been tossing and turning all night. Excitement for the next day has prevented any chance of REM. Before the sun peaks above the horizon, you’ll be southbound, en route to one of your favorite spring creeks. Mother nature’s frigid weather has held it hostage for over a month now, and hey, somebody’s got to get down there and check on those fish. Right?

You’re up and out of bed before the alarm goes off. Setting it was more of a formality, but seldom do you get the chance to wet a fly in mid-December in this part of the country, and you’re not going to miss this one. You get dressed and step out the front door. To no surprise, the overnight freeze has glazed the truck windshield with ice. Turning the key and cranking up the defrost to full blast, you rush back inside and make a mental note to grab another layer on your way back out.

The next half hour is spent organizing your fly box and finishing what you know will be the last hot cup of coffee for the day. It dawns on you that at this point, you’re just keeping yourself busy to delay leaving the warmth of the house. People cocked their heads sideways when you told them you were going fishing in this weather, and there’s no way you’re giving them the satisfaction of knowing you’ve chickened out.

Halfway through the two-and-a-half-hour drive, it dawns on you that the radio’s been off. Without consciously knowing it, your mind and soul were craving the silence and solitude that watching a sunrise from behind a windshield can offer. Snapping out of your trance, you realize you’ve pulled into the stream parking lot. It’s as if the truck knew the path through the winding roads, and you were just along for the ride.

From the view in the driver’s seat, it looks cold out. Opening the door and stepping down, you realize why. Because it is!

A winter river with snow on the trees

You feel it’s best to complete any action requiring fine motor skills prior to your fingers going numb, so you uncharacteristically tie your flies on before even looking at the water. You attach a dropper that’s lighter than you’d prefer, but the thought of reaching your hand in the water to free it from a snag sends chills down your spine.

You’ve opted to leave the split cane and glass rods in the truck, and instead have the tenkara in hand. The non-existent guides won’t freeze up, and you can keep one hand in a warm pocket, switching to the other at the first sign of frostbite (only a slight exaggeration).

Stepping into the water, you kick yourself for having left your insulated waders at the hunting shed. This is quickly forgotten when you look up to enjoy the beauty of the fog rolling off the stream.

You fish your rig shallower than you know is best, because breaking a fly off on a rock or log would mean blowing on your hands for 15 minutes before they’d be warm enough to resume. Finally it happens. The hare’s ear dropper gets hung up, and in your efforts to pull it free, you break it off. Instead of replacing it, you fool yourself into believing the fish will take the unweighted fly sitting a few inches below the surface.

Soon after, you find yourself back at the truck, hands in front of the heat vents, trying to regain some circulation. Hot coffee would be glorious, and right now you’d hand over twice the sticker price for that fancy insulated mug you insisted was too expensive at the time. Fishless, you drive down the ice-packed backroad to a different spot.

With newly-discovered energy and optimism, you climb out of the truck too quickly and drop your cotton gloves in a pile of snow. Back at home, your waterproof gloves are sitting next to your insulated waders. The only sensible thing to do at this point is shake your head and chuckle.

Eventually, you do make it down to the water and see a rising trout. Pulling out your fly box, you wish you’d have left more space between the dries for shivering fingers. After several good drifts of an Adams with no dice, you finally concede. It’s just not going to happen today.

Maybe the fish you saw wasn’t feeding. Maybe instead, he was coming up to say hi and let you know that, yes, the fish are okay, and thank you for checking on them.

On the drive home, you smile, knowing that even though you got skunked today, the alternative was to sleep in a little later, grab a cup of coffee, and think about those fish all morning. So after all, where else would you rather be?

_______________________________________________________________

A man kneels and holds a trout

Travis Figg is a husband, father of 3 little ones, writer, and fly fisherman. He grew up with a spinning rod in hand, throwing soft plastic worms to bass and crappie, until one day, he found an old bamboo fly rod while cleaning out the garage with his dad. He fell in love with rising trout and hasn’t looked back since. He spends his fishing days chasing wild trout with dry flies in the small, secluded midwestern spring creeks he calls his home waters. He and his brother have paired their love of fly fishing with writing and now post articles to their website: Noses Up Fly Fishing.

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This is a list I made and use for my own trips, and I think any backcountry angler will find it handy.