Forty-eight degrees as a high with only scattered showers? This time of year, when lunch and dinner is made up of Thanksgiving left overs and towns are lighting their trees in the town squares, when you see a day close to fifty that isn’t going to rain the entire day, your best bet is to jump on the opportunity. I wasn’t very good at jumping on opportunities this year. I seemed more likely to jump out of the way when it came down to it. I’d like to say this winter will be different, and that it’ll roll into spring and I won’t miss a beat from here on out. But I know better. The house that needs lots of work that I’m buying will pretty much ensure that. But of course there is a creek right across the road from it. Which means the chances will be just as good at blowing off working on the house and fishing as they will be neglecting the fishing because of some sense of responsibility to get something done. I guess 50/50 odds aren’t all that bad. Let’s face it. They could be a lot worse.
I put my waders on in the driveway, strung up my 6wt and stowed it in the rod vault on the roof, and headed north out of town. On my way out I couldn’t help but notice several people taking advantage of the warmer day and our lack of snow so far to hang Christmas lights and stake cheesy seasonal plastic lawn ornaments in the still unfrozen ground. I was never one for Christmas lights. I don’t mind looking at yours, but it’s no different than my thoughts on mowing the lawn that’s just going to grow again tomorrow. Hanging the lights on a nice day takes away from time on the river. And eventually they have to come down. More time doing something else I’d rather not have to do. If I had it my way my kids would be opening presents sitting underneath a pine tree air freshener tacked to the wall. Come to think about it, I guess everything from this point is my way. Well, at least it’ll smell good while they unwrap gifts this year. Like a nice taxi cab.
I passed a couple pull offs where trucks were parked and hunters in camouflage and blaze orange were standing around, most likely coming back out from their early morning hunts. No deer were seen at the trucks, only hunters. I haven’t gotten a hunting license in at least 5 years now. The last time I went, I found myself sitting on a downed willow tree along a stream, watching creek chubs dart up and down the current.
I was sitting there watching them intently, wondering what they were darting around for so energetically, and contemplating if I’d tie on a nymph or a dry for them, when I suddenly got that feeling. You know, the one where you feel like you’re being watched. I looked to my left and locked eyes with a good sized doe, frozen in place no more than twenty yards away, give or take. She snorted a couple times to try to get me to move, trying to decide what I was and whether she should run or not. I never raised my gun. I said hello, and she wasted no time, and bounded off upstream with a raised white tail disappearing around a bend. I looked back to the creek chubs, still playing in the light current. I wondered how many streamers I could have tied with her big bushy tail. And that was the last time I hunted. I decided the day would have been more productive with a fly rod.
On my drive up the clouds had moved in, or maybe they’d been there all morning and I’d just driven to them. I hardly ever look at the weather any more so for all I know I could have been the only one that didn’t know I was going to get wet. Either way, the temperature had dropped, and now gray skies and rain drops on the windshield greeted me at the anglers parking area. I rummaged around in the back of the Jeep and found three rain jackets. I made a mental note to clean the Jeep out again later. Why did I need three rain jackets? Of course I knew by spring I’d have a dozen winter jackets and several hats. It seems to be a losing battle, keeping the Jeep organized and more or less clean. On the bright side, no matter what it is I’m looking for, it seems that if I dig deep enough I can always find one in the Jeep. I walked to the river in a rain that was picking up in intensity.
Standing in the current I realized how long it’d been since I’d done this last. The first few steps into the river felt awkward, my feet were clumsy on the smooth stones covering the bottom. But it only took a matter of a few yards to feel at home. I switched through a couple different streamers, maybe twenty something casts each. I’d make close casts, then work my way out farther away, and as I made the casts longer, I made them farther upstream as well, giving them more time to swim, and more time to swing at the end. The winner of the day ended up being a small white streamer with a tan grizzly hackle collar.
The rain really started to hammer down, and I was thinking about the heat being sucked out of my cold hands and fingers in the downpour. I was just about to concede defeat when the line went tight and everything seemed to stop for a couple seconds. It was one of those hook sets that happens on its own, so immediate and so solid that you think it must be snagged. But the rod tip vibrated, and the line took off in its own direction, up and across stream. In these times there’s always a lot you should do, more you could have done, and in the end you wonder what you didn’t do. Enough of a fish to put a nice bend in the rod and fight you up and down stream a couple times before it breaks off is one of those experiences in life where failure and victory feel an awful lot the same.
I tied on one more streamer, the same pattern, and made a few more casts. One more time I felt the tug and saw a glimpse of a hint of butter colored brown trout. But that fish wasn’t hooked solid, something I take full blame for as who could blame a trout for not hooking itself well enough? It was a quick chance meeting, more like the time it takes two people to pass each other on a side walk, and then it was over. And then I came to the realization that my fingers stung from the heat that the cold rain had removed from them, and I left the river.
It wasn’t a long day on the river, it was actually pretty short as days on rivers can go. But it wasn’t bad either. I guess an encounter with a good fish is a lot like other things in life. Even if it doesn’t end the way you hoped it would, you’re still better from the experience. Failures don’t always feel like failures. Sure sometimes failure has you breaking things over your knee and opening a bottle of whiskey. But some failures can make you feel alive. They feel like some kind of accomplishment even. Which can be very true on a cold, rainy, gray day on a river with a fly rod. And hey, somewhere in there is a fish you’ll actually land. The couple you lost is the proof that they’re in there. Failure is not an option. It’s a motivator.
Mark Usyk is the Author of Reflections of a Fly Rod. A book about life…where fly fishing happens. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies available on this site, JPRossflyrods.com.