Two Days in the Deep Freeze

by | Feb 17, 2015 | 1 comment

I spent most of the last two days in, on and around it, partially covered and burdened by it; and breaking, chipping and melting it —  ICE.

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I’ve fished the single digit temps a handful of times before, but it’s been a while since I’ve had that chance, so when I read the weather report of sub zero lows and a high of 5°f  for Sunday, I was ready for the adventure because my gear, my system and my understanding of how to stay warm and catch fish in the winter are much better than they were five years ago when I fished a few frigid days during an extended late season cold snap like we are having now.

Everyone says the same thing.  Even my Troutbitten friends … “You … are … crazy.”  Maybe, but I’m really just fishing because it’s Sunday — and that’s what I usually do on Sundays.

I was talking to Grobe about this; he’s fishing tomorrow, and we both agree in our mindset — if you have the chance to fish, then you do it.  That’s pretty much been my operating principle for over a decade now, and since I devoted myself to that way of life I’ve learned a tremendous amount about  rivers, trout, nature and myself.

I fished these last two days because I honestly enjoy a good, intense struggle. I love the woods and the water completely, and I’m an ardent admirer of violent weather.  I’ve had some of my most lasting memories standing in blizzards and big rain drops.

To participate in, to be part of the landscape rather than to be an observer — this is one of the most extraordinary aspects of wading a river while fishing for trout. When a cold gust of wind from a moving storm fills your lungs and thunder reverberates in your core there is no mistaking that you are alive and connected with the elements of the earth and the place from where you originated.  Likewise, violent and extreme cold can deliver the same experience.  Or ….. you could stay home.

Sunday

Early in the week I  had my mind set on a river that often produces few trout but can hand over a large one here and there; and I wasn’t going to let the weather report change my mind. I  wanted to fish the lower end,  but when I got there, it was completely iced up. So I drove upstream into the narrows where I figured the water would be warmer and hopefully ice-free.

This is for you, Matt Vance

That’s the coldest weather I’ve ever fished in, but the biggest problem was the serious wind being funneled right down through the steep valley. Make no mistake that it was very windy everywhere today (weather report claimed 35 mph gusts), but in that canyon, it was brutal. Kind of ridiculous, really, but I knew that’s what I was heading into, and I just wanted to see if I could do it.

I was’t cold because I was dressed for it. Even in that wind, the only thing I couldn’t keep warm enough was my fingers, and that’s mostly because I had to keep cleaning ice off of things. The biggest trouble was the water temps.

If you can find open, ice-free water of about 36°f or higher, then ice-up of the rod, line and guides isn’t that big of a deal with an all-mono rig. Just dunk the line and rod in the water, the ice melts, lift the rod and shake the water off, then keep fishing. But the trouble today was that the water temp in the narrows was only 34°f, so the ice didn’t melt off very quickly under water; and when I’d take my rod out of the creek, I sometimes couldn’t get the water off the guides before they iced up again. Muclin helped a little, however, I probably spent more time dealing with ice and warming fingers than I did fishing. No joke. But, the extra effort didn’t bother me much. I was out there to beat the elements more than to care about how the fishing was.  I stuck it out for a few hours and landed a fish or two.

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The merciless wind eventually convinced me to seek new water, and I jumped back in the truck to relocate — I don’t do that too much. Over the years I’ve discovered that if the fishing is slow where you’re standing, then your odds of traveling to new water and finding better, more willing fish are comically low ….. but, sometimes the change of scenery can give you a new reason to believe.

When I got in the truck I found that this day had warmed up a bit …..


upload_-1 (2)I put in at a favorite railroad bridge and worked upstream a few levels, caught a few more fish, and tried not to slip on the shelf ice or get pushed under by any rogue icebergs. There was a lot more ice down there, but less wind, and as evening set in I knew this is where I’d finish the day. The water temps continued to drop throughout the day, and eventually the ice that collected on my gear got the best of me. I took the water temp and it was 32°f. With that water temp, you just can’t fish. Too much ice and no way to stop it.

Hell of a day, though. That’s one I’ll never forget.

Monday

If Sunday was a savage, and howling specter, then Monday was a quietly bitter, soft, winter ghost.

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The forest was muted, as if asleep; and I heard only the layering of the riffles and splashes of the pocket-water while wading. When walking the bank by the pools, I was greeted by Chickadees and Dark-Eyed Juncos who never seem to mind the cold days any more than I do. And yet, there were no calls or bird songs today, just airy, abrupt and energetic flapping of strong and perfect wings carrying the small creatures through the spruce boughs overhead; they are capable of the greatest precision.

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It was a fine day that warmed from 7°f in the morning to about 14°f when I finished at dusk; still very, very cold but pleasant enough with the proper amenities …..

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The fishing was slow for most of the day, but I picked up a few here and there, and most were fooled by some of the smallest flies in my box.

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I’m gonna miss all of this in June …..

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
Troutbitten
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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1 Comment

  1. BRRR! The little J is my home water, so I really appreciate and enjoy your posts.

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