It’s been 43 days and counting since I last made a cast to a fish. I’ve made a lot of fly cast under the fluorescent lights at Fly Fishing Shows in the long blue pools but today was finally the real thing. And despite the frigid temperatures and evil penetrating wind and mediocre at best fishing, I still wouldn’t trade the day on the river for anything.
I floated the South Fork with pals Gary Eckman and Ed Emory. Both Gary and Ed have been hitting the river hard all winter. They are about as hardcore as anyone I know. Even if I wasn’t out of town all winter I wouldn’t have as many days under my belt as they do. They really get after it. Gary is truly amazing as he’s 71 years old!
We started with Ed behind the oars. This time of year we actually fight for the oars because rowing keeps you warm. Gary and I fished streamers and did our best to keep the ice out of our guides. My Scientific Anglers Stillwater line was constantly frozen up. It was truly too cold for a “quality experience” because five casts and your guides were ice-clogged. And as a result, even in our favorite pools we couldn’t catch a darn thing. I’m sure it was a combo that the trout were beyond lethargic and we weren’t fishing well either.
At about noon it warmed up enough so we could squeeze out about ten casts before needing to clean out the guides. The temperature had risen to about a whopping 12º F. The problem however, was the wind was pushing 20 MPH dropping the wind chill below zero. In fact the day was on the edge of not being fun. By now we were in one of the most reliable places on the Upper South Fork to catch a fish. The wind had blown ice chunks all over where we needed to row and cast. Over and over we fished this area until finally Gary caught a respectable brown trout.
We made several more rows through the area and lo and behold I caught three good cutthroats in a row. I too was on the board. Not just for today but for 2012! But these three fast cuttys gave us false hopes because it was at least another two hours and three miles further downstream before our next fish.
The last couple hours made up for freezing our butts off for most of the day. In the summertime sunsets last about 15 minutes and you cherish the time. But in the heart of winter, sunsets can last hours because the sun is so low in the sky all day. Right now ours starts at about 3 PM and goes all the way till 6. If you’re dressed for the plummeting temperatures, winter sunsets are also cherished. Today’s was a beauty.
First of all it was my turn on the oars. Like I mentioned earlier, this isn’t normally what you want but in winter the exercise of rowing keeps you warm. So those plummeting temps didn’t cause me any pain. The fishing also turned on - well, okay it improved. There were midges on the water and a few fish rising and Ed and Gary were able to catch a couple.
What I liked best though was the incredible light. What’s amazing is that here on the South Fork, only 25 miles from Victor where we have tons of snow, there’s virtually no snow. At least all the south facing slopes are snowless and they look like they do in early November. Its weird. And the setting sunlight lit these mountain sides up in gold like you can’t believe.
The wildlife was excellent too. We saw several groups of whitetails, but the birdlife is where it’s at this time of year. There are literally thousands of Barrow's Goldeneye ducks wintering here. Their wings whistle as they fly so you don’t even need to look to know there’s a flock overhead. We also have plenty of trumpeter swans and they’re on every island. Sometimes we don’t see them at all but you hear them launching their enormous clumsy bodies into the river before we get to them. Their webbed footprints in the snow make for an interesting photo.
That’s about it for the first day of fishing for 2012. A week ago I thought the day would take place staring through an ice hole but thanks to the invite from Gary and Ed the first day of the year was through the fly rod on the South Fork – exactly where 2011 left off. Now it’s back to work for a few days. Wednesday night its back in front of the audience as I am one of the hosts at an American Rivers get together at Teton Mountain Lodge in Teton Village, Wyoming. American Rivers is a leading organization that works to protect and restore our nation’s rivers and streams. The night will be a lot of fun and includes a showing of the Confluence Films movie “Connect”. Once again, if you are one of the lucky ones to live nearby be sure and join as it is free to anyone.
Ice fishing will still make the blog as I will be getting on Fremont Lake in Pinedale, WY on Saturday and perhaps even Sunday! Stay tuned. . . .