It was way too nice of a day for the beginning of March. Up here, March is a month that can’t be trusted. A mild winter before March gives us a false sense of security in Upstate New York. But we know that once March hits anything can happen. We could be looking at bare lawns one week and get buried under three feet of snow the next. So when the clouds disappear and the sun shines bright, you better take advantage.
I grabbed a fly rod and headed for a river with a two mile stretch open to artificial only catch and release trout fishing during the closed season. My favorite fishing is far from a sink tip line, but I knew it would be a good shot, a sink tip and a weighted streamer. I reluctantly rigged it in the garage, selected three other flies to stick in my hat, and headed for the river. The creek outback was a steady flow of slush and ice. I needed a tailwater, unfortunately, to give me an ice free current. I cranked up the Van Halen and drove a little faster than the speed limit signs allowed.
On a gravel road I edged the passenger side of the Subaru up on the snowbank running the roadside and looked at the pasture I needed to cross to get back to the river. Twenty minutes away, back at my house, there was more lawn than snow. But now I was just north enough that there was no grass. Here it was still full on winter. I wondered how deep the snow was and if I’d be able to stay on top of it or if every step would have me sinking and working twice as hard, struggling to catch my breath before I was even half way there.
At the back of the car with the hatch open I pulled on my waders, laced up my boots, and made a last minute check of my hat to make sure the flies were still there and that my one spool of 4x tippet was still in my chest pocket. I’d broken the zipper weeks ago and every time I took them off I’d end up spilling fly boxes and tippet spools and tools all over the ground. The waders had lasted me a good four years, maybe five, I was just hoping I could make them last well enough to get me through this one last winter. If nothing else, with a chest pocket that didn’t zip closed it had taken my strategy of simplicity on the water to a new level. Maybe a tippet spool and a pair of gloves to hopefully keep it in there, everything else was either stuck in my hat or left at home.
I climbed over the snowbank, and it only took 6 steps to realize that I was going to be worn out, completely beat by the time I made it across the pasture, through the woods and to the river. The snow was easily knee deep, and every step sank to almost exactly that. I questioned how badly I really wanted to reach the river, but I was standing there with waders on, flies in my hat, and a fly rod in hand. Obviously, I wasn’t going home. And then I remembered all the junk in the back of the car that had been collecting over the winter. Jackets, gloves and hats…and snowshoes. Back on the road I was throwing jackets to the side hoping the snowshoes hadn’t been removed. As luck would have it not only were they still there but the straps were long enough to reach over my wading boots. It was a major victory.
As I made my way across the pasture, I was thinking how lucky I’d been, and how that luck hadn’t been the first lately. It had been a good winter. A couple weeks before I’d taken a huge chance on a long drive to fish with someone I’d never met, and after a couple of days in another state a connection had been made that was two strong to ignore. Her name was Brenna. She fly fished, and the chemistry and numerous common interests had blown me away. She didn’t have any wild fish close to home, so when they stocked, she’d help, and days later she’d go out and try to catch them. She told me she was going out to welcome the new fish to the neighborhood by hooking them in the face. And she tied a fly called the casserole just for the occasion. She had a way with words, I was smitten. Furthermore, to my excursions seeking out native brook trout in the Adirondacks, she told me I was searching out lost tribes of natives, something that I had never worded quite that way, something that as a writer I was almost ashamed of. She also threw around a lot of Indiana Jones references! A lot of movie references in general. Like I said, I was smitten. We’d been talking on the phone every night since.
So I couldn’t wait for my next road trip to spend a weekend with her, chasing stocked trout and quoting movies. And since this river was all stocked, it made me think of her and how cool it would be to show her one of our well-known stocked rivers. Before or after I put her on some lesser known wild fish streams of course. If you want to feel like Indiana Jones, you put on the hat and push through jungle few others ever do after all.
When I finally got to the river the sun was just barely making it over the trees on the far side, and after looking at the time I knew it wasn’t ever going to get any higher above them. This was it. The winter sun stays low this time of year. The river was wide, and my side was bathed in bright sun showing off the riverbed stones through clear water. The opposite side of the river was shaded and showed less. I leaned the snowshoes against a tree and made my way out to a spot I liked. I’d caught good sized trout here before, just because that was years ago didn’t mean it wasn’t good for them now. Let’s face it. Once you catch a good fish from a spot, in your mind that spot will always hold good fish. Even if it doesn’t… it must.
I swung a streamer for an hour and a half. A hawk circled overhead making its way across the river and eventually out over the pasture I imagined, it had probably gotten a good mouse or rabbit out there before. And so they must always be out there I reasoned. Whether they were or not, just like the trout. Some turkeys made their way through the woods to my back, they weren’t pecking at the snow or anything, so I figured they were just out enjoying the beautiful day the same as me. Towards the end, after I’d waded deep enough to find the leaks in my worn-out waders and my feet began to sting a little, I was thinking it was time to head back to the car. Of course, that’s about the time I thought I saw something in the river that wasn’t there a second ago as my white streamer swung almost to the end of its drift. And as I squinted trying to decide if the streamer was passing over a log or something, I saw a slow movement of orange-ish gold, a trout turning on it’s side and disappearing. I couldn’t tell how long it was, I’d only seen color, but it seemed like it had tall shoulders. I made another ten drifts through the same water thinking that I had no chance of moving it again let alone catching it, but I also told myself that some days it’s better to be lucky than good, something I tell myself all the time. And you can’t get lucky of you don’t make another cast.
Mark Usyk is the author of Reflections of a Fly Rod and Carp Are Jerks, both books of stories about life, where fishing happens. They’re available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and signed copies can be purchased here on JPRossflyrods.com while you’re picking out your next fly rod preparing for spring. (Which…is right around the corner!)