Winter fly fishing is not for the faint of heart. Nor is it for the faint of blood circulation to the feet. However, Winter fishing does have its subtle pleasures. The first of which is always the sunrise. I try to make a point to photograph first light on my way to every fishing destination. It's a new day, a new chance, and the first promise of the peaceful time on the water that lies ahead.
I jump out of the truck to take my photo of the horizon and I'm not wearing my shell. The very soul of Winter passes through my fleece and sends me diving back into the cab. It seemed colder than usual.
My buddy, Jason, and I park the truck, gear up, and get on the move. The moisture lining my nostrils instantly freezes which isn't the most uncommon thing in Colorado. On the bright side, you don't have to deal with a runny nose. I begin to wonder just how cold it really is as the tip of my nose and my pinkie fingers start executing electric twangs of pain.
"You cold?" I ask Jason over my shoulder as we trudge along the snowy bank of the river.
He responds with some slurry syllables followed by a grunt and a sharp gasp. It's incoherent, but undoubtedly in affirmation.
We trek on and finally arrive at the hole where a robust rainbow stole my fly, tippet, and heart the prior weekend. The river is gushing steam and chunks of ice are clumsily bobbing the surface. Some brief, panicky thoughts of 'why am I here so early, is it too early?' flash through my mind. I brush it off, strip out some line, and start working the hole. I'm noticing that my line is seemingly getting heavier with every cast, like it's turning to lead. I inspect my rig and discover that my line, leader, split-shot and flies are coated in a rather thick sheath of ice. Now I've had my guides freeze up just as much as the next guy, but solid ice all the way through the rig and encasing the flies under water? This was a new one to me.
My miracle nymph looking less than miraculous in its ice coffin.
Right about then, Jason tells me that he's got a knot... and it froze, and he's going back to the truck to eat some food. I briskly jump out of the water without protest and walk back with him. My feet have never been so cold. The pain was no longer limited to my feet, it had moved into my shins. The day was forecasted to be relatively nice with highs in the 40's, but the cloud cover just wouldn't move out. It even looked like a storm was starting to brew to the West. After about an hour of waiting for the sun to break out and radiate some heat to no avail, we get out of the truck and brave it back over to the spot. This time, the line isn't freezing and we are able to get some actual drifts. Still cold, but at least we're playing ball now. My indicator slightly dips and I connect with a sluggish rainbow. I pose for a photo with an excruciatingly cold hand that took quite some time and about a dozen profanities to bring back into operation.
I wasn't aware, but I dipped my spools of tippet in the water at some point in that first hole. I would find out later.
That first fish must have pleased the river gods because, as if on cue, the clouds evaporated and a blameless blue sky remained.
Jason pulled a brown soon after.
Around midday we did some hiking and explored some new territory.
I'm standing on the bank trying to figure out how in the world to address my cube of ice tippet spools when a ranger glides up on cross country skis with a rambunctious black lab and a grinning, "Howdy."
After some casual conversation and a license check he boasts, "Sure was cold this mornin', was hangin' 'round fifteen below, you know?"
"Oh, wonderful." I reply with a cheery smile and a dollop of sarcasm that only a keen East-Coaster could detect.
He slides off to head upstream and wishes me luck. The black lab gives me one last curious glance and then gallops along through the snow by his master's side. I meander upstream and meet up with Jason. We decide to call it a day and head back to the truck. Sitting on the tailgate we share a good laugh at each other as we take turns trying to pull our frozen waders off of our frozen feet with frozen hands. Just then a train comes passing by up on the canyon wall. I can make out contorted faces pushed up on the windows undoubtedly thinking that those two guys down by that river are crazy, and maybe we are, but all I know is that a freezing cold day of slow fishing is still a Winter day well spent in my book. A perfect day.