** NOTE** This is an article from the winter of 2017. It came to mind, recently, as a contrast to the way things have been on the water lately.”Kinda Slow” usually happens for some weeks at a time every winter season. But that’s not this winter. Not yet. And reading through something like this makes me appreciate the fast times even more.
One watery step in front of the other. One cast into the next. Ten and two on the invisible clock. Back and forth, ad infinitum.
I found a good pace for cycling through rigs and flies. I varied my presentation style on the regular, and I found a steady casting rhythm but not much else. The fish weren’t having any of it. But I knew the trout were there.
Only the snags in the trees and the unseen limbs on the bottom changed my rhythm, although these were expected. Some of them I snapped off and retied — it’s the cost of doing business — and others I untangled with merely a pause in the meter, simple rests in motion and not real troubles. Nothing I encountered in eight hours changed my flow.
I’ve always been the kind of angler who takes things pretty seriously. I fish hard because I enjoy the work. I’d rather have some control over what might happen instead of hoping I’ll get lucky and catch a fish, so I keep after it. There’s also a comfort level gained by dictating some of the terms. And I feel more alive — more present — when I’m focused. The woods and the water have a penetrating impact.
In the end, the catch rate was low. So I got my ass kicked, but I fished well. You know what I mean. You know the difference.
My friend, Sawyer, later asked me, “How was the fishing out there today?”
“Kinda slow,” I said.
And I realized, that’s been my response for a long while now.
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For my crew, it’s been a rough winter for trout numbers in the net. Things are a little slow. Yeah, we’ve caught some big ones, but that just happens if you’re out there. The largest trout usually come by luck — unless you’re club fishing or hitting the private stockings (be honest now).
The streamer action this winter has been similar to what we expect, but the nymphing is just off.
No, it hasn’t been slow all winter long. Through rare periods of high water the action’s been better, but it’s mostly been a struggle to find good water in the system and willing fish to bend the rod.
Even the egg bite is lagging. In some of my favorite winters past, all I needed was a couple egg patterns, and I was confident the fishing would be consistent. We’ve joked about this: you could fish from December to March with our favorite egg and never consider changing flies. It was that good. Not this winter.
Most of our rivers were in severe drought conditions during the spawn of late fall, and we saw far fewer redds than normal. That dubious eye-test was later confirmed by an official redd count on my home water (just over half of the average). So the imprint of eggs in the trout’s brains was weak. I theorize that trout keep eating eggs with gusto and enthusiasm all winter — yes, after the spawn — because those little egg protein packs are the last significant food they’ve seen. Maybe the bold color leaves a memory too — who knows. Not this winter.
My friend, Matt Grobe, thinks things are slow because of the extra fishing pressure. I don’t know about that. There certainly are more winter fishermen this year, though. I assume that’s because the temps have been unseasonably warm for long periods of time.
That leads me to another point — the dramatic shifts in weather pattern. Up and down, warm and cold, fronts are changing and moving in quickly. It seems the trout don’t like it any more than we do.
Now . . . if you’re out there pounding fish on nymphs every day this winter, then wipe that smile off your face. I see your Instagram feeds, you bastards.
When I look online these days, it’s enough to make me wonder what the hell I’m doing wrong. Every trip-post on Instagram or Facebook makes it look like world records were set for both fish counts and fish size. But that’s got nothing to do with social media, specifically. I’m pretty sure fishermen have been lying about fish numbers and size for centuries.
Check out this one. Big Whiskey. 21.75”. 😉
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I was either born or raised with an abundance of fishing optimism.
No matter the situation, I have an ability to regroup and believe in big possibilities again. Within a few hours of making it home and saying to my sons, “It was kinda slow,” I’m ready for more. After a bowl of cereal and a few talks with friends, after a couple flies tied with something just a little different than last time, I always find a reason to believe the next trip will be better.
Truth is, there are enough variables in this game that we do control. We can blame it on the pressure, or that the egg bite is off, or the low water or the warm front, but we can’t control those things. I’d rather focus on changing what I can, and there’s good reason to believe that one of them will make a difference: get out earlier, try smaller patterns, dull patterns, flashier patterns. Fish further upstream, go around the bend, get away from the sun. Fish harder.
One of those things will work. I believe it, because the fisherman is eternally hopeful.
Good luck out there.
** NOTE** Again, this winter (’19-’20) the action has been pretty hot — much different than those few weeks from 2017, when this article was written. But I suppose days and weeks like this are just around the corner. No matter, we’ll keep fishing through all of it. Cheers, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N