** This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke. **
The stage was set. I had my truck loaded to the max with fishing gear, pillows, sleeping bags, food, and beer. I thanked my wife again for giving me reprieve and I pushed off a few hours before first light. I was going on a mini fishing trip.
Today, I was fishing with our good troutbitten friend, Steve Foell. Steve is straight out of college and is beginning a new job soon. Nice work Steve! He’ll be moving a long way from PA, so this was an outing to see him off more than anything else.
The goal of the trip was to get a couple quality fish. I planned to fish all day Friday and part of the day Saturday before returning home. Steve wasn’t interested in staying so I decided to just sleep in my truck. The forecast was for overnight lows in the upper 20s making the sleeping conditions tolerable. My main concern was my waders and wading boots freezing overnight. If I had to, I’d crank the heat in the morning to thaw things out. No big deal.
Temps were pretty comfortable for our morning walk in. We started by fishing a favorite hole of Dom’s that he nicknamed the honey pot. This is a damn good spot that usually yields many fish. Today we struck out there.
We pushed upstream hitting many of the large, normally productive holes. Still nothing. In fact, we didn’t move a single fish until around 10:30. This river is notorious for being difficult. The payoff is you usually end up with bigger fish than average. That first fish gave me a great fight and I knew it was a good one. I slipped it in the net just as Foell was walking back downstream to see what the commotion was about.
I’ve been starting to feel like my pictures are all looking the same. Same boring fish pose. That’s why I decided to resurrect the stache and liven things up a bit for this trip! I tried this maneuver one other time and it brought me great luck on this same river. Today proved no different.
After snapping a few photos, Foell moved back upstream out of sight. I had fished the productive hole from one side of the river for half an hour with no success. I decided to cross over and fish it from the opposite side. It’s amazing how much the drift can change when you fish from the other side. Right away, I hooked into the second fish of the trip.
This fish broke the 20 inch mark. Out came the Jameson to celebrate.
At this point, I was feeling pretty good and I was thinking our luck was beginning to change. Well that was a poor assumption. For the next three hours Steve and I only picked up one more small fish.
Mid afternoon, Steve mentioned that he had been struggling with leaky waders and was taking in water. I admire him for hanging on so long in the winter, while the fishing was slow, and he was cold and wet. He decided to get going and I went back to the car to relocate.
Time was running short and I only had a few hours left of daylight. Up until this point, Steve and I mainly fished the holes. I went to one of our highest confidence sections that I usually avoid in the winter. The river in this location is extremely fast pocket water that I thought the fish would have moved out of this time of year.
For how beautiful the water is, it’s a shame that this river had lots of garbage in it. While walking in I stumbled upon a CD flipped upside down. It looked in good shape so I flipped it over to see what kind of treasure I had found.
HOLY SHIT! I literally stumbled backwards in horror. I got out of there QUICKLY, moving down the bank and into the water to rid myself of what I had just seen. Well, I guess not too quickly. I snapped a photo, THEN I got out of there quickly…
Luckily the fishing erased that image out of my head. It was like I was fishing an entirely different stream! I was absolutely baffled that the fishing was now this GOOD in the middle of winter, in the heaviest water on the river. Every soft seam adjacent to the heavy water yielded a few fish. Most were healthy 12-15 inch browns, but I did pick up another quality fish.
I attribute this to the luck of the mustache! I’ll drink to that.
My time was winding down and I was feeling pretty weak from the long day fishing. There was one really nice juicy run on the opposite side that I wanted to fish. The only problem was at these flows it is damn near impossible to cross. I decided it was worth it, so I walked downstream far enough to find a good crossing point and trudged the bank back up to the run.
First cast I hooked into what felt like a beast. It seemed much bigger compared to the other fish I had fought throughout the day. I pulled and tried to lift it off the bottom but it wouldn’t budge…
Next thing I knew, the fish tore downstream wildly. The water was heavy and I was not pulling it back upstream. I watched the line tear off my reel until I had no choice but to follow or lose the fish. Walking the bank after the fish wasn’t an option. There was a giant willow tree along the bank creating a huge depression just downstream of me. The water was too deep to walk through and the tree had too much diameter for me to hand the rod around. My only option was to try to cross right where I hooked the fish. The reason the water is so fast here is because the river knifes down to half it’s size in one massive chute.
I took the first step and dropped in to my thigh. The water was pushing hard but I could see bottom and I gained confidence with each step. Then disaster happened. I was focusing on the fish downstream of me and I tripped on a boulder. The trip turned into a stumble, which turned into a desperate run, followed by a lunge for the opposite bank. My feet balled up, I gave one magnificent spin and I landed directly on my ass. I desperately tried to get up as water rushed down the back and sides of my waders. I was in no real danger. In fact, I was sitting in water that was about two feet deep. But I was cold, wet, AND the fish broke my line while all this was transpiring.
It’s hard to say how big the fish really was. Many of the hard fighting 18 inch browns in this river give similar fights. Shit it could have been snagged for all I know. It DID feel like a good one though, and it always leaves you wondering what was just attached to the end of the line.
Needless to say, my swim ruined my plans for sleeping in the truck overnight and fishing the next morning. I was cold and wet, and the inside of my waders were not going to dry sitting in the truck overnight. So I started the long trek home, slightly deflated, and looking forward to sleeping in a warm dry bed.