For the past few years I've fished Black Friday with a bunch of friends. It was one of those traditions that was easy. No one wanted to be anywhere near a shopping mall so the only real alternative was to be on a river, right? Most years the weather cooperated but the fishing was always a crap shoot. But we were there for something else. At least that's what we told ourselves. This year the trip didn't come together. I'm not sure why other than that maybe the ritual had run it's course.
Around that time, a fellow Trout Unlimited member suggested the chapter get together to fish on New Year's Day. It seemed slightly absurd. First, the morning of the first day of the year is one for nursing a hangover and contemplating the coming season. Second, I doubted anyone would want to join us on the first frigid morning of the coming year. I was assured it was done and that it was something that "we" should do. It might even become a "thing".
Crisp and clear is the best way to describe the dawn of the New Year, though I was still a bit foggy when we got to the water. "We" included myself and two other anglers bundled deep in layers and facing out of the wind. While the water was more than ten degrees warmer than the air, it still froze rapidly once it was stripped up the fly line onto the waiting guides. Five casts was about all you'd get before you started to feel the line vibrate against constricted guides. I long ago gave up on pastes and other additives for keeping guides ice free, they don't seem to buy you all that much time, so at ten casts I either cleared my guides or risked having to fish Tenkara style.
The fishing was about what you'd expect it to be when the water is the color of slate. No dimples marred the surface of the run. The early morning emergence of Winter Caddis was long gone, if it was there at all, and it wasn't Olive weather. Subsurface was the ticket; something small below something heavy and flashy. Chuck. Duck. Drift. Repeat
The previous weekend I had done well on zebra midges, though I don't think it was the fly selection so much as the presentation. I ticked the bottom with a heavily weighted rig and put the offering in just the right place enough times to warrant a few half-hearted strikes. I'm much the same way when presented with coconut macaroons, peanut M&Ms, or Guinness, though now that I think of it, I'd go out of my way for all three. Regardless, I caught fish.
When it's cold out I usually don't carry a pack or vest. I just grab a few fly boxes and stuff them in the pockets of my G3. I also will pluck whatever looks inspiring from the gallery of flies stuck into the carpeting (the drying patch) at the back of the car. One fly in particular caught my eye -- a #8 pink Sucker Spawn. I'd like to say the fly selection was inspired by a convergence of experience and serendipity. It wasn't. A week or so ago Kit told me she'd caught the largest Rainbow she'd ever taken on the Farmy using an egg. A Sucker Spawn was close enough, even if it was steelhead sized.
Knowing where the fish hold in a run is half the battle and I had this run dialed in from previous trips. About mid-way down the run where a fallen tree and an opposing gravel bar broke the current the trout could reliably be found just ahead of the bar and opposite the tree. Like many places in the winter, where you find one fish there are more. Two Rainbows fell to the Sucker Spawn in relatively quick succession. The fights were feistier than I expected, not quite mini-steelhead, but enough to make it interesting.
We fished a few other spots including an hour or so on some new water. The wading was tricky in faster current but Randy managed a nice Brown, so it was worth the risk. Besides, I had the scotch standing by just in case someone fell in.
I don't know whether or not New Year's Day fishing will become a tradition. You don't have to twist my arm to get me out on the water in any weather but traditions are more than a trip being put on the calendar at regular intervals. Real traditions are born of those connections between people, places, and experiences. Perhaps we just have to give this one some more time. In the interim we've got a whole season of fishing ahead of us. And it's only going to get better.