Saturday, July 23, 2011

You'd Have to Be Nuts to Put up with That

“Much Madness is divinest Sense -
To a discerning Eye…” Emily Dickenson

“I don’t start fishing until the air temperatures are in the sixties and the frost is out of the ground,” he said looking over his tying glasses and tying vise. “You guys that go out in that early season are just nuts!” He raised his hand with index finger pointed at the ceiling for emphasis and to keep me from responding “I know you catch fish, but you know, if a guy has to go out and drag his ass through the water when the ice isn’t off the banks then I guess the fish will just have wait for me, because it isn’t my cup of tea.”
What’s to argue there? By their very nature fly anglers are a different breed. Some of us really do go to the extremes. Destination fishing has proven that. Fly-fishing for Tamen in Mongolia or River Dorado in Brazil take the angler to the extremes of travel, and the target fish of the trip sound other worldly compared to the brook trout and brown trout found on my home river. Let’s not even talk about tackle and methods because we push the limits there as well.
So, I go out and fish the early season and get a little cold. In these cases, the rewards are always personal. For me, skiing is just about done, and the opportunity to get out and fish relieves a little of the house bound feeling that accumulates over the course of our long northern winters.
I am always rewarded. Getting out to see how the rivers have wintered over, affords me the time to reacquaint myself with the waters we fish and to get to know the river at a time of the year when it is waking from the sleep of winter. Wading through sections of the river in the early season helps to spot springs that may not be visible at any other time of the season. This in turn may give the angler clues as to where trout might hold when the water warms later in the season. Spawning areas can be seen by the clean spots worn in the river gravel that might indicate the success of the years spawning run.
The river’s barren appearance, akin to the skeletal look of the woods before spring’s green push, has its own beauty. The angler can see the shape of the bottom more clearly. Underwater cover visible in the early season may be hidden by weed growth in early June.
The light at that time of year has a different intensity. When it is bright, it is remarkably clear and blinding. When there is a slight overcast, the diffuse light can be surreal as it to bounces off of the snow in the woods producing an almost shadow less world. A more pragmatic reason for angling in the early season when the leaves are down and a hard snow pack is still in the woods may be that getting to some of the remote sections of stream is easier without the summer growth of the under story.
The fish target the few hatches of insects that are active during this time. If the water temperature warms enough, trout will pursue smaller fish especially the big brown trout. Though the fishing strategies are narrow in focus, they are not as complex as a river in full bloom. Anglers still have to be careful of their presentation and approach to the fish.
However, trout will eat just about anything they sense as food. A few years back my fishing partner and I watched a sizable brown trout vomit a desiccated bullfrog just before we released it. We wondered about how the fish got a hold of a large frog at that time of the season. A year later at about the same time of the early season we watched as a dead bullfrog tumbled down stream on the bottom of the same river.

I recognize that the weather can eat into your reserve of tolerance. Trout do not always go for what is put on the table. Patience can be replaced by a deep need to get back to a warm truck, to drink hot tea and to drive thinking of the waiting sauna. What keeps me coming back during the early season is how very elemental this part of the season can be. The black-capped chickadees have started their summer songs. The little black stoneflies crawl out onto the snow and ice covered banks. The geese are moving north. Large sheets of ice float down stream oblivious to all things they encounter. Things are moving along the river.

We’ll catch fish. The first pulsating lunge of the rod since the close of the season is the reward for waiting through a long winter: the reassurance that the river and its fish made it through another cycle. The season’s turn comes just as the days get a bit longer and the sun a little higher. It’s warmth a balm easily soaked in on a bright March day. Those of us that are crazy enough to go out know why we are out there. We all are surprised at what we find. The beauty of a cedar bough, ice coated, as it bobs into the current and out. The grace in a brace of trumpter swans as they grab air to get into the blinding blue sky. Sometimes we’ll be surprised at the bright flash on the bottom that stops the fly in its mid-current swing. The dark shape takes off in a rod-hammering run down stream. The iridescent golden shine in the bright spring sun surprisingly vivid after being play in mid-stream. I guess you’d have to be nuts to put up with that.

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