Since the odds are pretty good that you don’t live down the road in northwestern Montana, you might want to think of this story as a complete and utter fabrication. After all, it’s not likely that there’s a ton of snow outside your window right now, right? Your weather in Virginia or Texas or California or wherever you happen to be reading this probably doesn’t owe half it’s punch to a northern Pacific rain event and the other half to an Arctic front that extends from the Washington/ Idaho border all the way to eastern Minnesota.
Heck, you’re probably sitting home in your easy chair right now, thinking about the fact that it won’t be long before the flowers start blooming and the grass starts growing in your neck of the woods. I’d even wager a fair chunk of change that your daytime highs yesterday afternoon weren’t right at the freezing mark.
And unless you happen to live way, way, way north of the Mason/ Dixon line, you sure don’t have ice chunks as big as pool tables floating down your local trout stream.
Because that’s what I’ve got. Pool-table-sized and garbage-can-lid-sized and small- parking-lot-sized floating icebergs calving off gray and white mini-hunks that flow downstream in armadas, turning my normal dry fly haunts into an impenetrable river of slush and crud.
The hell of it, of course, is that there’s bound to be a few trout rising, a couple of hardy midge-sippers who’ve decided for reason beyond my ken that they’re willing to dodge the plentiful hard water to slurp those little size 26 diphtheria from the stuff that hasn’t yet dropped below thirty three degrees F. Which, I have to admit, just doesn’t make sense. If I was a trout, I’d be sitting right down on the bottom, rooting around for caddis and stonefly nymphs next to all the suckers and whitefish. But, of course, I’m not; and the real fish, the rainbows and cutts who invariably tempt me through the plentiful hatches of spring, summer and fall, are willing, at least on occasion, to brave the winter’s cold, pale light and frigid temperatures to feed on the surface.
Lord, it puts me in a foul mood to think that those trout are rising and I’m just sitting here getting old and gray.
So in a few minutes I’m going to get out of this chair and throw a couple hunks of lodgepole in the woodstove. Then, with a minimum of grumbles and groans, I’m going to pull on forty seven layers and hit the river. I’m serious. I’m going to drive down off this damn hill and park as close as I can get to the flats, at which point I’m going to push my way through a couple hundred yards of thigh deep skier’s gold, kicking the snowy buildup off my felt soles with every other step. And when I finally make it to the river, I’m going to wade right in up to my crotch and fend off the never ending barrage of floating ice at the same time I look for a handful of trout who are dumb enough to keep me company.
You know what? I don’t know what I was just thinking. That’s a terrible idea.
I’m not going fishing. Not today, not tomorrow, not next week. I’m not going to turn myself into Frosty the Fisherman, freeze off every major appendage I still have left, and frustrate myself by cutting my fly line to shred on floating ice knives - all without coming close to catching the one or two trout who are feeding on top. Because even if I could get them to eat - and that’s one seriously big “if” - but even if I could manage to do that, I’d never land them. And Lord, why would I want to? I’d no doubt beat them up by dragging them through all that floating ice. Nope, that was a bad call. I’m backing up, throwing this poor excuse for an idea into reverse, and changing my mind.
Then again ... then again ... there’s always the possibility that there isn’t any ice on the river today. If the water level is stable, and if the bank ice hasn’t turned rotten and crumbled into the river, and if everything else falls into perfect alignment, then the fishing might be pretty decent.
It’s happened before, you know. I’ve had some good days, some awfully good days, at this time of year. There was that magic two hour stretch down on the Yellowstone when I took twenty-odd fish on a Griffith’s Gnats, and that great mid-winter’s day on Armstrong’s, and that one February afternoon down on Blackwell Flats back in ‘96 ...
Nope. I’m not going there. I just looked out the window, and it’s snowing. Well, sort of snowing. There’s actually a little snow, a little sleet, a little freezing rain..... The temperature can’t seem to decide whether it’s going to stay uphill or downhill of thirty two, and the trees - the lodgepole, the fir, the spruce, the aspen, even the larch - are starting to sway in that graceful dance that means that there’s yet one more damnable Canadian front starting to come through. I’m as hard core as the next guy - well, at least I used to be - but they say with age comes wisdom. I can’t really speak to that, but what’s passing for wisdom around these parts, at least nowadays, is telling me to keep my fanny next to the fire. And I think that’s what I’m going to do.
You know, there’s a reason we Montanans tie flies in the winter. It’s just too damn cold and nasty outside to do anything else. For once, I’m going to do the sensible thing. After all, somebody has to hold down the fort and keep the home fire burning ...