This post is from contributing author, Pat Burke.
Lately life has been busy and I’ve had trouble finding time on the water. I did make it out for a morning last weekend to enjoy one of the warmer days we’ve had. Dom and I talked about locations to fish and we ultimately ended up on different streams. I really wanted to fish in a remote location where I could walk and find solitude. Dom warned me not to go to the place I had in mind due to the ice. I didn’t listen and went anyway, which turned out that was a big mistake…
The drive over is somewhat long compared to the other rivers around here and you don’t get your first view of the river until you are only a few minutes from the parking lot. The anticipation and excitement peaked as I was nearing the river and the place where I would get the first glimpse. Then I saw it. Ice basically from bank to bank, with a small 10 foot wide opening in the middle. All was not lost though. I still had a couple of miles to drive to the parking lot which would put me closer to the feeder springs that make up this great river.
I pulled in to the lot and hiked down to the river to get a look. It was about half covered with ice. Plenty of room for me to get in and fish though. Strangely, I seemed to be looking at a totally different river. All of the holding lies were in different places. Just as a tree falling in the water redirects the current, the ice was temporarily changing the character of the river. Places that normally had no current were all of a sudden ripping.
I cautiously walked across the shelf ice to get to the open water, waiting for the ice to give way with each ginger step. I made it and stepped off the ledge. To my surprise, the ice in many places was 3 or 4 inches thick.
I started at a favorite hole where I’d caught many good fish in the past. This particular run only changed slightly from the ice and the fish were still holding in more or less the same place they always do. I picked up a great deal of fish in this run quickly. They were eager to take, but the fights weren’t what I was used to from the fish down there. A quick stream temp revealed the river was 33 degrees.
I continued upstream and quickly realized that many of the good holding lies with deeper water appeared to be under ice. Not only that, I also noticed that the stream bottom was much lighter color than normal. My first impression was the bottom looked similar to the shale bottom of the Erie tribs. It wasn’t until I walked out into some of these sections that I understand the reason for the color change. The bottom was covered in slushy anchor ice that was up to 6 inches deep in places. Since it was a slushy consistency, drifting through these sections resulted in my flies hanging up.
I picked up another few fish before I reached a long straightaway. That is when I saw the river didn’t look to be getting any better. I also saw I was going to have to walk out on the shelf ice to get to all of the best fishing spots. Even though the shelf ice was thick down below, I didn’t feel comfortable walking across long stretches of ice on moving water. This may sound dramatic, but I kept envisioning myself falling through the ice into moving water and getting swept underneath the surrounding ice. Maybe I was just looking for a reason to leave. I walked back to my truck and decided to relocate miles upriver where the springs would keep the water open and clear of ice.
Back up river, the fishing was great. I walked in a long ways trying to put miles between myself and the other fisherman near the parking lot.
I found fish to be podded up more than normal. I think that is mainly due to the cold water temps and the river getting low for this time of year.
I really enjoy winter fishing but I’m ready for spring and new fishing opportunities. The extreme cold weather, coupled with the lower than normal flows for this time of year is starting to limit the viable fishing options. It seems like with each passing week, another river, or section of river, drops off the list of fishable water. Bring on spring…