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.    

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Zone

A recent weekend presented the opportunity to get out and swing some flies.  The much talked about arctic vortex and the recent drop in the rivers’ flow encrusted the edges of the lower river with shelf ice. This shelf ice, combined with the anchor ice clinging to the high spots on the river’s bottom, compressed the available swinging water into uncomfortably small pools and slots. Not good for us plying the waters with spey rods. As noon approached, we pulled the plug on fishing this section of river.  We headed upstream with hopes of finding some fishable water.  


To our frustration, every spot we wanted to swing was occupied. To add to our frustration, when one typically good run opened up, the water flow had moved the bucket upriver. The desired spot was already being worked over by four pinners.  Up to this point in the day we hadn’t made any casts at reasonable swinging water.
Since my introduction to spey fishing 6 or 7 years ago, my sense of what makes good swinging water has evolved. In the days when I used to probe the river with a nymph the river currents transformed themselves from a blank slate to a mosaic of meaning and memories.   Now with the two handed rod, the mosaic has shrunk as many lies just don’t lend themselves to the ancient art of the swung fly.    We kept on walking.
On tired feet, we finally came upon some decent water. After three rotations through this stretch, the run directly downstream that I had been eye

ing was cleared of its last fisherman.  I made a beeline for a run I hadn’t fished in a number of years, one which held fond memories.   
As I stepped in at the top of the pool, I continued my day-long meditation of firing lasers of line across the currents and watching my leader straighten out into the diminishing daylight.  The swing was heaven, perfect speed every time without any interruptions all the way through to the end of the dangle.  I was in the “zone” and feeling every second of every cast.  

My awareness of the “zone” of the swing has evolved over the years from one of beginner’s mind to that of keen awareness of the speed of my swing.  When I am in that zone, I can interpret what I feel in my hand and envision a three dimensional picture my fly swimming through the pool’s features as revealed by its currents.
Stepping and casting, stepping and casting for hours on end creates a rhythmic cadence, lulling me into an altered stated of consciousness.  Deep into this peaceful meditation, suddenly I find myself feeling four slow-motion head shakes in my hand. My rod is forcibly swept low towards the nearby bank sinking the hook into the fish.   As the battle wages on, excitement begins to well up within me as I anxiously wait to see the long sought quarry.  I feel the line slide over the fishes back and suddenly slack.  I am momentarily taken aback as I realize the fish is gone.
In my younger days, losing a fish pissed me off and left me feeling empty. This day, however, I wear a smile.  Getting a fish to intentionally take my fly in thirty-two degree water tickles me to the core, each and every time.