It’s cold this time of year, that’s winter in Upstate NY. I’ve come to deal with it the best I can. And by the best I can I mean I’ll complain about it while shoveling the driveway in the morning and scraping the windshield before work. I’ll ask myself why I moved back home from Florida so many years ago. Why I’ve stayed so long since deciding winter sucks as I walk across the parking lot on my way into work with a frigid and biting wind in my face. And why I haven’t picked up and left again yet. The answer to the latter would be two boys, a ten and fourteen-year-old that mean everything to me that I could never move away from. And I’ll admit to still enjoying driving on crappy winter roads while a lot of other people seem to think it’s the end of the world. There’s something about turning off the traction control and cranking up Motley Crue, and driving like an idiot sliding around corners that’s still able to form a smile on my face.
The other way I deal with it… I continue to fish. I don’t know how many times I get asked everyday at work if I ice fish. I don’t, it’s never been my thing. When I tell them I’m still standing in rivers with a fly rod this time of year they give me a confused look. Like one of us just spoke another language and the other didn’t understand. They thought they understood what I said, but now they’re wondering if they’re the one who heard a different language. Sometimes they ask me if they heard me right. Sometimes they just smile and nod like a tourist in a foreign country.
I complain about winter when I’m anywhere other than a river, but I deal with winter just fine on the river with a fly rod in hand. There’s a lot to think of while wading a river in the dead of winter to take your mind off the fact that you hate winter. With each step you have to be thinking about how bad it would be to slip or trip and fall in. To get wet out there, soaked to the bone, it goes from a nice day on the water to flirting with hypothermia in a matter of minutes. Thinking about falling in, concentrating on not falling in, is a good way to take your mind off how much you hate winter.
Concentrating on tying on a different nymph with frozen fingers that don’t want to do what you want them to do is another thing that keeps your thoughts off how much you’ve come to dislike the freezer section of the country. Once your fingers get to a certain point, they just don’t seem to want to cooperate with your mind, no matter how much you yell, beg, or plead with them to slide the tag end of the tippet through the loop. It’s like trying to get a toddler to walk from the car to the back door after they’ve decided they didn’t want to leave and have gone completely limp like a rag doll. You end up either picking them up or dragging them, neither one very efficient with an arm full of groceries, kicking a pack of toilet paper on the ground in front of you as you walk. It ain’t pretty.
But if you’re prepared, if you’re layered up. Cotton socks and heater packets in wader boots that don’t fit too tight with the added bulk of said items, if you’ve got on your thermal underwear. If you’re wearing clothing meant for the worst weather winter can throw at you but can still move. You can forget about how much you hate the winter by simply going fishing. The best gloves I’ve found to wear don’t cost much at all; it’s not all high dollar gear you gotta have. Those simple rag wool gloves with the mitten half that flips off and on over the fingers are about the best. Even when they’re wet they keep your hands warm… They’re wool after all.
The silence of a winter river is what really pulls me out there this time of year. Not another angler around for miles normally, this is the time for solitude. If you think it’s peaceful standing in a river with a fly rod, then you owe it to yourself to try it on a nice winter day. The majority of anglers hang up their waders after fall and at the most drill holes in frozen lakes. It’s not my thing but I don’t talk badly about anyone who does it. At least they aren’t on the couch complaining about how long the winter is, they’re doing something about it. But that being said… They aren’t on the rivers anymore. You’re on your own.
A beautiful winter day. No wind, no other humans. The snow fall has the same effect on your mind as the current passing around your knees. The fish are a little harder to catch, a little tougher to convince to eat, but it’s completely worth it in the right conditions. It’ll put your mind where you need it to be during the months you hate the worst if you allow it to. Just watch out for those river icebergs. They’ll take your ass out if you’re not paying attention.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks, stories about life, where fishing happens. Both are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies are ready for purchase here on JPRossflyrods.com. He’s currently working on his next book, when his fingers and toes aren’t numb from standing in rivers during the winter like an idiot with nothing better to do.