Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Window of Opportunity

The weather this winter has not been kind to those of us who like to chase great lakes steelhead.  Another recent visit from the polar vortex and its companion, the cold, brought with it lows in the way below zero range.  To say the least, fishing opportunities have been few and far between. 
With the forecast calling for highs to jump into the mid-twenties on Saturday before dipping back down into the low teens on Sunday.  We saw a small window of opportunity and jumped on it.
Fishing in such conditions requires a positive attitude and the right equipment.  Staying warm is imperative.  Besides the typical assortment of winter wear, two new additions to the gear roster made the recent trip.  First the Jet boil, a compact cooking unit that allows one to quickly heat up water or cook some soup.  Needless to say breaking for a hot lunch or a drink brings with it a level of pleasure that heated food at home can never replicate.   
The other addition has been using monofilament instead of running line.  The main benefit of this is that it doesn’t allow as much water to stick to the line and thus the guides don’t clog as fast, requiring fewer breaks to deal with deicing.
After donning our multiple layers of clothing, we left the parking lot decked out with our new gear and set off.  At the trail head, we were met a snow covered path, things were looking better with each step. 
While our destination is not the most frequented run it is a well-attended one.  No boot prints meant that it hadn’t been fished in a day or two.  This only quickened our pace. 
Arriving at our destination, we unload our backpacks on the shelf ice and eagerly hit the water.  Swinging flies midwinter is not a numbers game, you may get only one pull all day, that means no sleeping at the wheel. 
Halfway through the first pass, Geoff cries out, “fish”.  After a short fight the colored up steelhead graces us with its presence.  Now another dilemma presents itself, who is sticking their hands in the water?  The problem solves itself as the hook pops out in mid-conversation.   At the end the run with nary a hint of a fish, I reel in my line.  

 Geoff working the run

At the beginning of then next rotation, my most trusted fly hangs on the leader.  After an unknown amount of time my trance is rudely interrupted by the sound of my reel screaming.  The heavy weight on my line disappears as quickly as it is felt.  My hook set finds emptiness. After marveling at what happened and a couple of chuckles later, I get back to the business at hand. 
At lunch we fire up the Jetboils, which fill our bellies with hearty, piping hot stew and we rehash the morning’s happenings. 

 Game changer
The third time down the run passes without a pull for either of us. Did the slight rise in water temps, which saw the lifting anchor ice, cause the slight flurry of fish activity?  Now that the temps stabilized did that mean the opportunity had passed?  There was only one way to find out was to keep working the water as intently as ever.  Near the end of the fourth rotation there is a long slow pull on my line, a just reward for all the effort put into the day.  Fish on. 
        After watching the long awaited fish swim free, I find myself in awe of the fact that we catch such fish in the midst of such a brutally cold winter.    

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