The Solitude of Winter Fishing
by Sean Jansen
Shoveling snow out of your drive way and scraping ice from the windshield of your car while it has been warming up with the defroster on full blast and max heat is hardly the way most days fly fishing start. But that is simply the beauty of it. A fresh dumping of snow meaning the rivers are devoid of humans while the mountains with which the rivers drain from are a different story.
Winter is the older meaner brother of its counterpart summer. The days of early morning bliss and afternoon post work delight of dry fly hatches are now the literal no-fly-zone for the episode of winter. Temperature has now become your new best friend and not your worst nightmare. The trees and riverbanks are blanketed with snow sans a single footprint from anglers past. You’re the angler of present.
Now the angler of present is there for a single reason, solitude. The summer droves of humans that have littered the pullouts next to the river are now empty lots of asphalt and dirt missing the treads of your tires or the footsteps of felt and sandal. Your boots are now covering the multi-layering system of your choosing as the daytime high is of that of freezing while the river is hovering slightly above that. Steam now emotes from the river rather than that of your coffee and the trout sit and wait in the deep slow pools to ambush whatever decides to drift directly in front of it.
Like your movements on the river, layered to the core like a bear hug from a loved one, the trout have little to no desire to move the same. Conserving energy while maximizing moments at the heat of the day, don’t expect a giant brown to crush a mouse pattern on the top of the water. Instead gaze at the color indicator of your choosing and watch intently for whichever flicker it shows. The take will be subtle.
But any angler that fish winter will say it isn’t about numbers this time of year, but simply about being there. Its quiet, un-hurried attitude reflects that of the trout you’re chasing. The only things an angler likely hears are the ebb and flow of the water careening around your legs while you wade to your comfort zone. The sound of the line zipping through your guides while water begins to turn to ice and collects, slowing the release from your cast. The snowflakes fall on your hood and shoulders, mimicking rain without the moisture. And the notice of all other species that frolic the river practice their daily routines indifferent to what the season is showing. You look both up and down river to notice one thing, solitude.
Your guides are frozen solid, inhibiting the ability to cast. But the chapstick in your pocket has now become the lube for your trout desires. Chapstick, vaseline, and gink all work as epic lubrication for your line to flow freely through your guides even during the coldest of days. And as the line flies from your reel, out your rod, and mends beautifully into that deep pool, the indicator dances like the latest twerk from a pop music video.
The set of the hook coincides with the flow of the river, and a gentle lift in the rod is all it takes to connect with the trout gorging on that midge or mayfly dropper. The fight is similar to the extremes of those that fish in warm summer water. A slow and quick fight rather than a marathon, dragging you into your backing. My experience of course has never led to me to that, but the quality of the fish isn’t hindered by the strength they possess in their fight.
The colors of the fish mimic that of the surrounding environment, masking the explosion of colors they achieve in the months to come. The chrome feel of the trout mime that of Atlantic salmon or steelhead, but equally as pretty and satisfactory when at hand. The release is hopefully gentle and quick as the fish goes back to that deep hole to wait out winter and another appetizer to drift or swing directly in front of it. And the process continues well into Spring while the constant of solitude also remains.