Some 40 years ago, I remember bemoaning the late-season snow that killed the first fishing trip of the year into the Colorado high country for me and my grandfather. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise–it was Memorial Day weekend, and, generally speaking, Memorial Day weekend was always pretty sketchy.
But for an 11-year-old tired of dunking dough balls in the local drainage pond for carp while winter retreated from the mountains, the chance to actually throw nightcrawlers at real trout in real trout streams was something I looked forward to for weeks. Maybe months.
But my grandfather, ever the pragmatist, was quick to reschedule the weekend outing to the next Friday, and he was upbeat about the snow and the weather and the fact that I’d have to show some patience in the face of a mountain of pre-teen diversity.
“That’s trout water, son,” he said, his hand on my shoulder as he officially called off the drive into the Rockies. “They need that, and it’s almost never a bad thing.”
From that day on, I always cheered on high-country winters. Years later, as I worked as the editor of the Crested Butte Mountain Sun, a now-defunct resort-town weekly, I remember getting 88 inches of snow in February alone. It was oppressive. Yet, on a sunny afternoon as I and a coworker watched the snow slowly melt from the eves hanging over Elk Avenue storefronts, I tried like hell to put it into perspective.
“It’s trout water,” I said to my friend. “It’s a good thing.”
Yeah, I had to talk myself into it. But come late May, when I could finally get up into some of my favorite trout haunts, the water was cold and mostly clear. I’ve found that, quite often, it makes good sense to go higher during runoff rather than try to fuss with valley-floor rivers that pick up every murky tributary and blow out for weeks at a time.
This weekend, Toni, my girlfriend, and I spent a couple of days at a cabin in the woods in Island Park. When we arrived, it had just snowed–not much, but enough to finally take some of the angst out of the high-country angler that still inhabits the depths of my soul. Maybe … just maybe … after a miserable summer and a mediocre fall, we’ll get enough snow this season to make backcountry fishing a doable proposition this coming season.
Last summer, by the end of June, I’d given up. The water temperatures on my favorite little high-elevation cutthroat stream tickled 65 degrees. This happened after a very unusual and very early heatwave sent what little snow we had up high down to the Snake River over the course of just a few days. A process that usually takes a good month was done, and we were dealing with late-summer conditions before the first firecracker could be set off to celebrate the nation’s birthday.
Of course, the wildfires started up again and “fire season” reinforced itself as an official season, not a once-in-a-decade proposition that we all hoped. I didn’t fish much until all. And even then, I chose to fish in far-flung places like southeast Texas and then in the Bahamas, where heat is the norm.
But today, as I await the tow truck after officially declaring us “snowed in” after a good 16 inches of snow rests atop a solid crust of ice, I’m quietly thanking my foresight in purchasing the roadside assistance plan, and subtly cheering on the snow that’s still falling. Toni is curled up on the couch binging Peaky Blinders and I’m looking out the window as the lodgepole boughs continue to gather powder.
It’s trout water, I keep telling myself, no matter how inconvenient it might seem right now, as I watch the ruts I’ve managed to dig with four spinning tires refill with fresh snow. Sure, it’s a pain in the ass now, as it keeps on coming (and let me tell you, it’s coming down–the whine of snow machines is like just a few days away–this snow that’s falling today is the last of the snow that’ll melt come April or, if we’re really lucky, May.
It’ll feed the little spring creeks that meander among the ranchlands here on the plateau. It’ll recharge the groundwater and hopefully give enough life to the Henry’s Fork to ensure that we can have a normal season on the river. Or … as normal as we can, given what’s become a troubling pattern of persistent drought over the last few years.
I don’t bemoan snow anymore. That’s short-sighted … something an antsy 11-year old might do in the throes of disappointment.
But these days, I know better. As the snow keeps coming on the plateau, and it keeps piling up around our safe and warm little cabin, I’m quietly cheering it on.
It’s trout water. And… so far, so good.