Son of a …
My eyes flip open. I reach for my phone and blindly swipe the screen to turn the damned alarm off. Everything is blurry. The alarm keeps blaring. I close my eyes tightly and reopen them.
The phone is upside down.
I flip it and slide the alarm bar to, “OK, already! I’m awake! Sweet mother of Christ!”
Yes. I know. Blasphemy is no way to start the day. But, seriously. It’s 6 a.m. already? Where did the night go?
Then I remember. A bottle of Jameson sits out on the kitchen counter. Check that. Half a bottle. I spent the night before rooting for the Nats. They were due. And, earlier in the week, their fans jeered the president.
A halo of morning light pushes around the edges of the blinds. I’m still in the condo in West Yellowstone. It’s still really cold. I look again at the phone. Ugh. Minus 5.
I didn’t fish yesterday. I worked. I soaked in the hot tub. I made dinner—sauteed eggplant with some warmed-up rotisserie chicken. And I watched Game 7. I watched as the Astros took the early lead. I watched as the fans in Houston got a little cocky. And then I watched as the Nats, the least-favored World Series team since my Rockies were swept by the Red Sox in 2007, pushed ahead and broke it open.
You go, Baby Shark.
I love the underdog. As a Rox fan, it’s kind of a requirement.
But today, I’ll fish. I mean … that’s why I’m here. It’s really the last week of the season. The park closes to vehicle traffic on Monday. Yesterday, the mercury bottomed out at -22 according to the nice lady at the front desk here at the timeshare.
“It’s supposed to be a lot warmer tomorrow,” she said as I asked for a pool towel yesterday.
And … well … it’s tomorrow. And compared to minus-holy-shit-it’s-cold, minus-5 does appear to be a lot warmer.
Yes, I get it. It’s today. But yesterday, today was tomorrow. You know what I mean.
And I didn’t fish yesterday. I succumbed to minus-what-the-hell-it’s-still-October temperatures. I punted. I checked. I stood pat.
I wussed out. Let’s call it what it was. Pride cometh before the fall.
So I have to fish today, which yesterday was “I’ll fish tomorrow.” Call it a quid pro quo. I didn't fish yesterday. In return, I’ll fish today. The hot tub, the whiskey, the baseball game … all for the chance to freeze my ass off today. What say you, President Zelensky? Pressure?
For me, at least, there’s pressure. The season is slipping away. I’m down to days. Hours, really, if you think about it.
I do something unthinkable. At least to me. I gear up in the condo. Layers. Waders. Boots. I look like an olive-tinged Michelin Man walking down the hall of the complex to the exit (or at least like Randy from A Christmas Story). Earlier this morning, I envisioned the agony of gearing up and gearing down on the tailgate in minus-what-the-hell-am-I-thinking weather, and I made a command decision.
“I’ll just get dressed here,” I say to myself, as I prepare to go fishing.
One of my most dependable spots on the river is about 30 minutes, give or take, from West Yellowstone. It’s cloudy, which is why it’s not absolutely miserable-cold by the time I drive through the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It’s all of 18 degrees. The roads are mostly clear—there are a few spotty patches of well-worn ice. It’s warm in the truck. Too warm. I turn the heat down to low.
As I drive up the Firehole, I can’t help but divert my eyes to the water. It’s not as bad as texting a selfie to your peeps while you drive, but it’s not recommended. A couple of quick steering corrections convinces me to watch the road. But, I don’t see anything, anyway. No working fish. No rises. No swirls.
I’m not surprised. It was, after all, minus-are-you-seriously-thinking-about-fishing degrees last night. Like … freeze-your-nostrils-shut cold.
So, no, I’m not optimistic. Even on the thermally enhanced Firehole, there has to be a point where the outside air temperatures trump the hot water gushing out of hot springs and geysers and the fish just sort of sit on the bottom in a cold-induced stupor.
Gearing up at the condo was brilliant. I open the tailgate and stand out of the wind as I string together a 5-weight fly rod. Certain that this is an exercise in futility—no other anglers grace the parking lot—I put on a big, black Slumpbuster with a stinger hook. If nothing else, I’ll get in some practice casts for my trip to Patagonia in a month or so.
I wander the quarter-mile “trail” across the new-fallen snow to the river. Hooded, layered and fully insulated, only my nose is cold. The wind puffs with a purpose in almost-winter gusts from the south, taking steam from a dozen nearby geysers and depositing it as snow across my path.
I walk deliberately. I need only be able to say, “Yes, I fished today.” This needn’t be a day-long endeavor. I still have half a bottle of Jameson on the counter.
As I get closer to the river, I see a splash. It’s the wind, I tell myself. Then another splash and a tail-slap. I stop in my tracks and just watch. It’s maybe 20 degrees outside, but that’s a furious Blue-winged Olive hatch. And those are rising fish.
“Did you fish today?” a buddy of mine asked me via text as I got back to the condo.
“You bet your ass I did,” I texted back.
Quid pro quo.