I took an hour and a half ride on the last day of the year because I could. Honestly, I wasn’t going to go that far even though I wanted to, but Danielle convinced me to do it. I’ve got a wheel bearing on the Subaru that’s been growling and the pitch has been building higher and louder over the past month. I need to get it fixed. I need money to do that. At Christmas time decisions have to be made, buying gifts or fixing cars. The car waited, protesting a little louder each week. There was the possibility that over the three hours of driving the wheel bearing could possibly finally fail altogether. But there was the possibility that it could just keep growling and rolling on. Danielle said just enough about missed opportunities and taking advantage of days to make me tell myself to take the drive. She wasn’t telling me anything I wouldn’t normally tell anyone else., let’s be honest.
On the drive up I just turned up the radio. When I really thought about it, that without hearing it I didn’t know it was there, because I didn’t feel any vibration, it put my mind a little at ease. I knew it was a false sense of security, but I was going brook trout fishing on the last day of the year. That was the most important thing going on at the moment.
It wasn’t always possible, this was a new possibility. For a couple reasons. For one thing, the state had only just changed the trout regulations this year. In the previous years after October fifteenth there were only certain waters that were open to catch and release trout fishing, and there were few close to home, none of which held brook trout.
Then there was the other factor…winter. Even if it had been legal to fish the brook trout streams in the Adirondacks during the winter, it wasn’t normally possible anyway. To find open water on the small brook trout streams up there over the winter was a pipe dream. They’re found snowed and iced over during the long hard winters in the north country. Not very conducive to a fly rod, I don’t care how heavy your nymph rig is.
But here it was, December thirty-first, and while there was snow, the temperatures hovered above freezing. And what little ice there was in the biggest and deepest pools where I planned to do my fishing had no ability to hamper casts and deep drifts. It was possible. Finally. On both accounts.
It’s always something to see a place you’re very familiar with under conditions you seldom if ever see it under. I’d only fished the stream once in winter conditions and that was on the first day of spring and had been five years ago. And then last year I’d snowshoed along it twice, a couple feet of snow covering the stream, only the humps of a few big boulders here and there and a couple massive fallen trees straddling it giving me hints as to where I actually was on it. Everything looks so different under snow.
I hiked in on the last day of the year, passing all the skinny, shallow runs I’d normally fish in late May and early June. I took in the views, snapped a couple pictures, appreciated the possibility of seeing whatever I might see, but didn’t make any casts. In reality I spent just as much time navigating thick, dense stands of pines with a ten-and-a-half-foot fly rod as I did standing at the big, deep pools I’d brought the rod to nymph in.
With the temperature right around thirty-five degrees the precipitation coming down all day was wet. It’s an odd place to find yourself. Standing in water only a degree warmer than the air, looking at everything you see covered in snow, while rain soaks and adds four pounds of cold to your favorite hat.
In the woods I maneuvered carefully and quietly though crowded stands of pine trunks on game trails just wide enough for the coyote and deer who’d left their tracks I was following to move along. The ten and a half feet of fly rod wasn’t ideal, and I knew I could’ve moved faster and easier if I’d at least broke it down into two halves, but I’m stubborn. The possibility that I might see a pool through the trees that I wanted to cast to was the excuse to leave it rigged, but probably the least possible to actually happen.
More possible would be to spot a snowshoe hare, the coyotes hunting them, the deer I knew were there from all the tracks, or maybe even a moose in the open areas. And that’s why I was really there. Not for any one specific thing, but for any and all possibilities that I knew could happen. Or even the ones I didn’t.
I eased my self out across some shelf ice on the edge of one of the pools. At its edge the ice broke away in a large sheet the size of a small kitchen table and my cleated boots made a more or less safe transition, half sliding, half reaching to the stream bottom, and I waded out into the pool about waist deep. Far enough for the tip of that long fly rod to reach the deep run where a little current kept moving over the top of that place where I just knew brook trout would be sitting on the bottom this time of year if they’d be sitting anywhere at all. I knew it was even possible that there could be land locked salmon sharing the spot. In my mind I could see them. I could see possibilities as if the word was something you could touch, not just an idea.
A dozen drifts with a double nymph rig at the end of a tight line. A light, cold rain falling, disappearing on the snow covering the tops of rocks while coating their bare sides in ice. The dark evergreens pointing up into a gray sky, the flutter of a small bird here and there and a chipmunk every now and then scurrying the length of a white, buried fallen tree trunk just in the woods. I looked up and down the sides of the pool, knowing the possibility of spotting something moving like a deer or moose was there the longer I stood motionless. But I always had to lift the rod and lob the double nymphs back up stream, necessary movement to continue the excuse of being there standing in that cold backcountry river all alone in silence.
On one of the drifts the tight line stopped and the rod tip bent slightly and I lifted. The rod arched and for a moment as it quivered and the line began to move downstream, I felt the excitement of the moment. A little happiness, and little wonder, and a little hope. A small tree branch that felt like a fish reminded me of the infinite possibilities of coming to places like this. I wasn’t really looking for fish as much as possibilities. I just need possibilities to give me chances to take. For the possibility to live a little.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod, Carp Are Jerks, and his latest…Not All Trout Are Geniuses. Stories about life, where fishing happens. One-hundred special edition hardcover copies just sold out on the site in less than 24 hours and should be shipping at the end of January. It will see a full release in paperback in February...be on the look out here on the site and on Amazon! While you’re poking around the site, imagine the possibilities of one of our fly rods putting you in amazing places and the possibilities of amazing stories and memories because you know that possibilities are really all you need to make things happen in your life. You weren’t born to just pay bills and die. There are so many possibilities, and we want to be the motivation for you to live the life you deserve.