Stories

Mid-Season Form

on
December 21, 2017

Sawyer isn’t afraid of the cold. He’s like a polar bear in waders — doesn’t even wear gloves on his paws. I don’t get guys like this; I don’t understand where their warmth comes from. Is it a higher tolerance for pain or a motor that just runs hotter than most? Who knows, but Sawyer’s always up for anything, and he’s fun to fish with.

The first batch of winter roads had people a little skittish last Tuesday morning. Even the plows and salt trucks showed some unusual caution. Later in the season, they’ll be cutting close lines and motoring at top speed, plows laid flat, shooting sparks with bare steel on rock. Before long, they’ll be in a mid-season rhythm. But at 7:30 am on Tuesday morning, the highway traffic formed a line behind the yellow diesel beasts, and everyone unanimously and silenty agreed to be a little extra careful. So I was late.

When I finally stepped out of line and steered left onto the winding creekside road, I was eager to accelerate. So I took my new freedom with some aggression, pushing snow with my 4-wheel drive and generally driving the way a ten-year-old boy rides a sled. You gotta love fresh snow.

Three miles further, I slid into a small, unplowed clearing at the bottom of a valley. I joyfully circled the center tree a little too fast, deliberately over-steered, and skidded the truck to a standstill beside Sawyer’s Pontiac Bonneville. He was already upriver somewhere. Sawyer had driven three hours to be on time, and I wouldn’t have waited for me either. Fishing friends should never be late. But if you are, don’t make excuses. Acknowledge it, apologize and don’t be late again.

There was another truck in the small pull-off too, and that was more than unusual for a day like this. At 19 degrees, with a steady wind and some stronger gusts behind it, the day wasn’t one to make most people think of trout. The guy behind the wheel wasn’t thinking about trout either. And it took no more than a glance to realize he wasn’t a fisherman. He sat behind the idling engine, dragging on cigarettes and emptying beer cans into his laid back head. Smoke curled upward from the cracked window and blended with a similar cloud from the tailpipe. The beers and smokes came in pairs, and by my count he was on his third round by the time I laced up my wading boots.

I watched the smoking man behind my dark polarized lenses and through sideways glances, trying to give the guy some measure of the privacy he probably had counted on when he’d driven down the same snowy, dead-end road I had. I wondered about his plan. I wondered if Sawyer’s sedan and my truck were safe from being ransacked after I walked away. But I didn’t think on that too long. Sometimes, you just have to trust people, no matter what.

I methodically pulled on the extra socks and layers, strapped up the waders and rigged the fly rod before I had much time to think about it. This is another thing that becomes more fluid as winter wears on; I’ll settle into a mid-season form, just like the yellow trucks and the passenger cars. I’ll get faster. More efficient.

Icy egg season

Winter fishing requires a lot of extra steps. The trick is to just do it. It might take an extra five minutes to deploy the thicker layers, the gloves, rags, hand warmers and more, but who cares? What else are you going to do? Go to work? Sit at home and watch television while you dream of springtime?

Once all the stuff is on, it takes some specific and practiced contortions to slide a 24 oz stainless steel thermos filled with coffee down into the back of your waders. Start beneath your shoulder blades, then allow the warm cylinder to slide down and lay at the small of your back. Resting just above the belt, it remains there until you forget about it,. And hours later, when a nasty chill really sets in, you remember that you brought something special with you. Hot coffee is so worth it on the worst days.

I followed Sawyer’s snowy boot tracks for about three hundred yards. His larger steps and wider gate was a stretch for my own, but I followed them anyway for amusement — like a game of hopscotch that a child plays. At one point, Sawyer’s tracks reached a ledge beside the path, and standing in his footsteps, thirty feet above the rushing river, I could feel the way he had pondered whether to scramble down the hillside below or walk up to where the trail knelt to meet the river another hundred yards through the show. We both chose the latter.

I climbed down the bank and easily spotted Sawyer’s polar bear frame across the river. When I yelled out, he startled, then turned and waved. I noticed he had gloves on this time — go figure. Not in mid-season form yet, I suppose.

Sawyer and I fished together all morning. We shared the coffee around noon and set the hook on the last couple of trout just before dusk.

Of the smoking and drinking man in the clearing, all that was left were his snowy tire tracks and a series of holes burned into the crusty snow by glowing cigarette butts.

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

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Rick Jack

Hello Domenick: Thanks for your time writing such excellent material for all of us. Merry Christmas. Rick, Boston MA

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

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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