Charlie and the Snow Cone Factory by Mark Usyk

I was apprehensive deep down inside when Charlie said we’d be floating the river. I wasn’t going to show it of course, but the absolute first thing I thought of was the view of a capsized canoe only just out of my reach, the sun streaking through snow covered tree branches and illuminating the water dripping from my eyelashes and running down my face to blur my vision, while the frigid current carried me bobbing downstream as my body began to go numb. I’ve stripped out of soaked clothes in freezing winter temperatures before. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun, and it’s nothing I look forward to doing ever again. Charlie’s idea was to put the canoe in at the top of the trophy section, a year round catch and release, artificial only stretch of a local river, and float the entire length. About two and a half miles. I thought it was a great idea if for no other reason than it was full on winter and we were going fishing. Is there any other reason necessary? I could get past the fear of tipping in January for that. I packed the pockets of my life jacket instead of a chest pack.

I didn’t wear my neoprene waders like I should’ve. They’re cumbersome at best and they’re the type that have the rubber boots vulcanized to them, the rubber soles being very stiff, not flexible on rocks, and they grip wet stones about as well as one of those old stiff rubber gloves, the ones you’re grandmother used to wear when she cleaned the oven, trying to one hand a bowling ball covered in Crisco. I just layered up good and struggled into my Simms. They’re easier to walk in, way more comfortable, and the boots I wear with them, while not wading boots, they’re much better at grabbing the bottom and keeping me in place. An old pair of winter pack boots I used to wear on the cell towers in hellish winter conditions, last year I pulled the removable liners from them and they went from a size ten to a size thirteen-ish.

Someday I’ll buy real wading boots, but I’m cheap. It broke my heart to spend the money on the Simms but in the end it was worth it. The boots… yea yea yea. I know they’d be worth it, but I’m not sure I fish enough to warrant the expense. If you know me and didn’t just shoot beer out of your nose, it’s either 7am and you’re not one of my friends that would still be drinking at 7am, or you must be out of beer.

It ended up being a beautiful day. The sun would hide behind clouds and then the clouds would move past and you could almost hear the temperature rise a degree or two before more moved in and you could feel the drop. When the temperatures are hovering right between those two numbers where one means snow and the other means rain, yet neither is happening, I seem to notice the rises and falls of the thermometer with more awareness. Of course it might just be that I’m enjoying feeling the sun on my face only because I’m hoping it doesn’t warm up enough to feel a freezing rain on it instead.

We took it slow, pulled off the water at numerous rocky banks and stood in the river long enough for me to realize that this trip might be the one. The one that has me ordering a real pair of wading boots. My toes froze after about an hour, that freezing point where you can’t wiggle your toes individually, they just all move up and down together like tiny frozen hot dogs in a package. We didn’t catch any fish, but, I really hadn’t planned on it. There are two things I’m horrible at in fly fishing. Not that I’m very good in most other things related. But fishing dry flies, and winter nymphing, would be at the top of things I truly suck at, on the fly fishing list of things I suck at. Knots would be number three if you’re interested. It doesn’t bother me in the least, it seems to bother others more than me that I come close to actually bragging about how bad I am at them. I guess there’s always those days when you’re surrounded by anglers who want to do nothing but talk themselves up and pat themselves on the back about how great they are that I can take pride in going in the absolute opposite direction and brag about how bad I am. No one ever tries to one-up me on the subject and I can take it as a little victory.

At one point Charlie stuck a couple beers in the snow on the bank and we fished for a while before returning to the canoe and raising aluminum cans to the day. My beer had just begun to form a little slush on the top. Much longer and it would’ve been an alcoholic snow cone, which I’d have been fine with. It was still warmer than my feet. That night I finally got full movement back in all my toes around midnight, and the feeling had completely returned to them by morning. Now naturally I think it goes without saying, had someone called me at midnight and said meet me at the river first thing in the morning… I’d have been there again all the same.