Short Stories: Breaking the Ice>>
If you don't already know that I recently moved to Utah, you do now. Just for six months though while I mine gypsum and enjoy myself. After a week of living in the west without catching a fish I figured it out and broke the ice. That sounds a little cheesy, but I'm going with it.
I was driving into a little town in Utah last weekend when I spotted an old cop car parked on the side of the road. The massive light bar stood out like a beckon on top of the eighties ford. I can’t imagine he’d fill his quota there. With out of state plates I wasn’t going to tempt a small town cop, so I slowed down to the speed limit to pass him.
Downtown was even smaller than I’d imagined, but there was a fly shop and right across the street a gas station café combo with a slew of farm trucks parked out front. What more does a town really need? Anything else would only serve to block the view.
I was looping my way through the valley to explore a little, and hopefully find some wild browns in the process when I decided to detour into town to check out the fly shop and pick up a coffee. Unfortunately the shop was closed due to a wrestling tournament one town over, but the coffee was precisely what I needed on a thirty degree day. I passed the cop car again on the way out of town and couldn’t help but laugh at the scarecrow sitting in the front seat manning a cardboard radar gun. Honestly I felt a little embarrassed, like a gullible easterner who’d just fallen for the definition of a “tourist trap.”
The road through the valley was like any mountain pass, and with every curve I came around I half expected a snow drift blocking my path, ending the day of fishing before it even began. On my right was a lake dotted with a handful of ice fisherman hunkered over holes looking as frozen as the water. On my left was a snowy hillside covered in sagebrush. I began to expect an iced over river, but with how cold it was that probably wouldn’t have been that bad or surprising.
As the road began to parallel the river up the valley I couldn’t help but steal a glance at the new water, mostly to confirm it wasn’t frozen and partially to see what I was up against. That’s like texting and driving for fisherman, we try to start fishing before we’ve even parked the car. Or at least I do. Maybe I should stop grouping us all together, there I go again.
I began to reach patches of snow covering the road, so before I found myself knee deep in it without phone reception I pulled over into a sunny meadow. The stream was smaller than I’d imagined, and the foot of ice on each side didn’t help. Before throwing my waders on and rigging up I walked to a pool close by just to check things out. I immediately saw four little browns sitting in the shallow tailout at the back of the pool. They spotted me too and scattered like the mice from that animated Disney film Ratatouille. Or was it Pixar?
I knew the fish would be skittish, and certainly wouldn’t like a fluorescent orange indicator plopped on their heads, so despite the fact that it was mid January and below freezing I tied on a Big Ugly terrestrial with a dropper. Now, I’m not nuts, I didn’t expect any strikes on the terrestrial, it only served as my black ops indicator. Before you expect some crazy story about wild browns rising to size eight terrestrials in the winter I can confirm I didn’t register even a head turn with the Big Ugly. In fact I spent the first half hour spooking fish and losing confidence.
I skipped some braided pocket water and walked upstream to a clearing in the meadow where the river formed a classic pool with an undercut bank. I stared up at the pool from about thirty yards downstream. A handful of little browns were rising consistently at the back of the pool. They were feeding on a midge hatch, size 24 or smaller. The kind of hatch that is a pain to tie for, but is still more fun than nymphing, so you do.
I tied on the two smallest flies I had, a grey RS2 and a tan back BWO emerger. The fish were still rising steadily so I powdered up my midge and began to crawl up to the pool. They spotted me
easily and broke for cover, taking a few other fish with them, but the bulk of the risers were to focused on the hatch to pay any attention.
My first cast was too far to the right but my second was on a collision course with one of the smaller fish sitting in the back of the school. The midge was nearly directly over him before he quickly picked his head up and slurped it in. I set the hook and pulled the little twelve inch brown out of the pod of risers and to the back of the run to play.
I continued to carefully work the water from back to front. They jumped all over the BWO emerger, and when I could keep my tiny RS2 from sinking it was automatic. Every two or three fish I would take a break, dry my flies, and let the water rest for a few minutes. I reached the front of the pool after nearly an hour of methodical casting. After catching over a dozen trout a pair of nice browns at the head of the pool seemed to end it.
There is always that moment of jubilation when you’re fishing new water for the first time and catch a fish. Even just one fish seems to validate it. You can read all the articles you can find, do all the possible research, even talk to the locals, but until you’ve wet a line and pulled a fish out none of its true. Or at least true enough to matter.
I guess that’s something I’ve learned the hard way more than once. Sometimes the people making a living off the water tend to over exaggerate ….. just a little. Even writers do it, they need a story so they make one, like old newspapers drumming up business with man eating sea monsters and fictitious tales told as fact. Perhaps I’m just too young and gullible to be skeptical of a nice fishing report. Sometimes the idea of great fishing overshadows the fact that maybe it isn’t.
It is amazing how the size of a "handful" can change from one angler to another
Then we have the problem of perspective. What is a nice day on the water? What is a big fish? All of that “important” information changes with the area and the person. Some guy at the local diner might say “I was up at blah blah blah creek last weekend and had a good day of dry fly fishing, even caught a few nice ones.” Now what I heard was that he caught fifteen plus fish including a handful over fourteen inches, but what he meant was maybe six fish with a couple pushing twelve.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, lets just all agree to start using numbers when we go to give advice. It is amazing how the size of “a handful” can change from one angler to the next. Not just literally of course. Not to mention other variable information like a road that is “a little bumpy in places” or a trail that “isn’t to terribly long”. What? How long is terribly long? They haven’t gotten to that unit of measurement in engineering school yet.
I’ve completely strayed off course again, but not to terribly so. Right?