Despite winter, we fish

Undeterred by the frozen toes, numb feet and the stinging wind, we make our way to the water
winter river
Photo: NPS

Cold fingers sting back to life, pressed firmly against the vent as warm air, fresh from the engine block, puffs on pink digits. The heat reawakens icy toes, and what was numb is now just painful.

I gobble a sandwich. Cameron is lost in his phone. We don't speak. Not because there’s nothing to say. Our faces are frozen.

It's the wind, really. It's not terribly frigid out there, on the other side of the glass. But with a steady gale blowing up from the south and armed with a cleaver's edge, it feels cold. Bone cold.

As the blood begins to run from the heart out into all the little tendrils of capillaries, far into the hinterlands of our bodies, feeling begins to return. It's a crisp burn ... a sharp "Hey! Remember me?" from the toes and the fingers and the ... other distant places that feel abandoned on frosty days like this.

The winter-taupe grass along the river's edge bends stubbornly in the steady wind pushing up from Utah along the Wasatch. Lingering, gale-flattened January snow — the stuff that hasn’t blown off into the nearby barley and potato fields — is crispy and crunchy underfoot. But the river is wide open, and, when the wind stops blowing, the hungry noses of rising trout appear in flat water. The midges are popping. Even in this god-awful wind.

Earlier, those noses were enough to make us ignore the wind, even as it poked through thick neoprene and fingerless wool gloves. But with so many naturals on the water, it was tough to get those noses to rise under the carefully tied flies attached to delicate tippet. We caught a few. Missed many more. Finally, we succumbed.

Now, sitting in the idling vehicle and rummaging through paper bags for lunch and snacks to restore some of those calories spent trying to keep the body warm while standing shin-deep in the icy flow of the Bear River, it looks miserable out there. Across Gem Valley, the Bannock Range is just pure white, and the wind is busy pushing snow off the peaks in powdery blasts, giving the mountains the look of angry Arctic volcanos.

Slowly, though, the truck's heat pushes away the chill and warms us throughout, our glances steadily shift from ham sandwiches and bottles of slushy soda to dimpled water, dark under menacing gray skies, where rises and tail slaps still break through the wind-rippled river.

Maybe it’s not so bad out there after all. Maybe we just didn’t layer up well enough, and maybe we should have just stood with our backs to the coming storm. Maybe, just maybe, I’m getting older and Cameron is, well … he’s lost in his phone. This isn’t really his jam, but he’s a gamer.

He looks up from the screen and stares out over the water. He’d had a tough morning. Lots of missed fish. It’s one thing to be frustrated. It’s another to be freezing cold and frustrated at the same time.

“Are those fish?” he asks, moving the ham and Wonder bread to the side of his mouth to push out the question.

“Yeah,” I answer, staring at the river under that patented angled winter light. Even in full sun this time of year, it never feels like it’s full-on daytime. Under cloudy skies, even at lunchtime, it feels like evening. Across the valley, the snow that was promised has slowly creeped over the Bannocks. The peaks have disappeared.

The trout keep rising.

Thoughts of fishing begin to return to our winter-numb brains. A streamer, I think to myself. Time for something big and meaty. I'm done with trying to find my size 20 Griffith's Gnat among the hordes of real midge clusters floating helplessly on the water. I'm done squinting and guessing. I’m done with skinny tippet. It’s time to throw a meat whistle.

That’ll get their attention.

Our eyes are now solely on the river, staring through the glass of the windshield. An occasional grunt escapes our lips as sizable noses or massive dorsals break the river's surface. Our doors open simultaneously, and the wind reminds us why we left the river in the first place. We pull our hats low. Tighten our gloves. Zip up our jackets. We grab our fly rods off the tailgate and head toward the water.

Yep. Time for a streamer. Time to go fishing. Again.



Yep, that is the old Bear of my youth and young adulthood. Thank you for returning me to a finer time in which I had taken time to live and enjoy nature and the finer trout the Bear River has hiding in her bowels. Thanks Glen

Always enjoy your commentary, Chris! Thanks, and well done!