Winter Welcome Home

by | Jan 4, 2018 | 10 comments

** Author’s Note ** This Troutbitten story was originally written in the winter of 2016.. It is updated and expanded here.

God, I love the winter.

I slammed the 4Runner’s hatch and heard it — nothing, just silence. In this cold canyon, sharp sounds reverberate off the walls with a fading tat-tat-tat-tat. But the snow stole those echoes. It devoured the original thump of my closing hatch and held on.

Winter is a quiet ghost.

When the days are dark and at their coldest, the woods are barren — void of life, save for the chickadees and a few eager squirrels. Most of the mammals hunker down in burrows, inside hollowed out trees and underneath hemlock bows. You might miss all this if you don’t slow down, find a log and just sit for a while to listen to the silence. It’s different.

The forest is a widow in the winter wind.



There’s the chill of winter, and then there’s single-digits-cold, as it was this morning. It hurts, and there’s no fixing that. Not completely, anyway. No matter the layers or fabrics, something always hurts, and there’s no way around it. While wading through water that’s just barely warm enough and fast enough to keep it from freezing, something underneath the layers of clothes is always cold. But you get used to it — or rather, you accept it. The body builds a tolerance, I suppose. As in: this is normal now. Dull pain in the fingers and sharp air in the lungs remind you that you’re alive in the best way.

Sometimes I wade deeper into thirty-five degree water just to thaw out.

The narrow trail led me around a stone foundation from a century ago. I followed to the vertical limestone wall and then broke off toward the muted sounds of rushing water. I traced a set of rabbit prints in the snow, winding down through evergreen shadows on a crooked path, and then I lost the rabbit’s trail. I beat through loose brush, stumbling playfully sideways into slanting trees with earned momentum down the steep hillside. I went fast because I was mostly invincible. Like a boy sled riding in a snowsuit, layer upon layer formed an armor against average falls and impacts.

I found the water just where I’d left it, and the river welcomed me home. I hadn’t fished it since summer.

 

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Series | Fly Fishing in the Winter

 

 

 

 

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

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

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.

More from this Category

Cover Water — Catch Trout

Cover Water — Catch Trout

John crossed the bridge with his head down. He watched each wading boot meet a railroad tie before picking up his other foot for the next step. Cautiously, he walked the odd and narrow gait required when walking the tracks. And with nothing but air between each massive railroad tie, he could see the river below.

I’ve never known anyone to fall on a railroad bridge. I suppose you couldn’t fall through. But you’d surely break a leg or twist an ankle with one wrong step on that slick wood.

So I stood by the “No Trespassing” sign, next to the edge of the bridge, and watched my friend slowly make his way toward me. He looked disappointed. And when gravel filled in the gaps between ties, when John was back on solid ground, his head stayed down.

“Did you catch a Namer?” I asked with feigned enthusiasm.

“Ha! Nope, I surely didn’t do that,” John said, waving his hand and brushing off my next question.”

The Far Valley

The Far Valley

Thirty minutes following the morning alarm, an hour-and-fifteen on the winding roads, ten under the hatch of the 4-Runner, and twenty more minutes hiking through a dawn drizzle that taps on the hood of your raincoat, the atmosphere feels soft here — and still. It’s cold for a fall morning. As you climb the hill through a stand of oaks, headed for the far valley, puffs of warm air escape your lungs and billow forward. You outpace your own breath. Even as progress slows with the steepening hill ahead, your breath trails behind. And you push forward through the dissipating fog of your own carbon dioxide.

“Keep walking, keep moving up the hill. Make it there before the sun crests,” you whisper to yourself. There’s no point in getting up at 4:30 if you can’t get in an hour of fishing before sunlight changes the game. At the top of the mountain, you pause, seemingly for the first time since the alarm clock — not to catch your breath but as a reminder that all of this is not a race. It’s an adventure. And a good wanderer stops to look around once in a while.

Smith and the Tree

Smith and the Tree

Right on time, Smith’s signature worn-out ball cap crested the hill on the north side of the gravel pull off. When his full frame came into view, I motioned to the propane grill and smiled with a nod. It was preheated. Resting on a large chunk of limestone, I had the portable grill ready for meat. When Smith approached, I handed my friend a beer without a word. Glass chimed and we nodded again.

This is what I like about Smith: We planned for noon, and he’s so reliable that I knew it was worth lighting the propane at 11:50 . . .

Full Days of Early Fall

Full Days of Early Fall

There is no feeling like the newness of fall and the unanswered questions of a full day ahead . . .

The far bank holds nothing but scattered deer trails and no clear path. Even the deer haven’t seemed to come to any collective agreement on the best course through the floodplain. This river washes out and floods easily, so every big rain knocks down a few overgrown trees that are forced to give up their dominance in the soft ground. Dense brush then takes root around the fallen timber, and saplings compete to fill in the sunny gap left by an old fallen tree. Years later, one of the growing saplings wins and the others die off. The strongest tree grows large enough to cast the shade that eventually becomes its own demise. The dark, ground turns soggy again, and another adult falls quietly into the muddy riverbank . . .

Fishing With Kids — Connections

Fishing With Kids — Connections

All my life, I’ve walked the woods and water and thought of trout. That’s what tied me to these wild rivers and to nature itself.

But I’ve learned something about Aiden this summer . . .

What draws him to nature and connects him is the identification of living things. He’s an explorer, digging with his small, dirty hands to catch a frog or build a rock dam. And he has the best pair of eyes I’ve ever been around. If you’re looking for something, tell Aiden. He’ll probably find it.

His attention to all of the living things that surround us out there is contagious. And that is the base of his connection to the woods and the water . . .

Play it as it lies

Play it as it lies

The shifts and evolutions that a river succumbs to is captivating to watch.

It’s a slow motion reel in your mind, spanning twenty years of fishing around the same small island. Until one day, after the flood waters recede, you walk down the trail to find the whole island gone.

I want an experience as close to what nature intended as possible on this twenty-first century planet. And messing with a river’s placement of things just isn’t for me.

It’s the river’s decision.

Keep it wild . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

10 Comments

  1. Very nice. Brought back memories, I’m heading out. Thanks

    Reply
  2. A great reminder to get out there. A question for you – what’s your best tip/trick for battling frozen guides. The last few times I’ve been out I’ve been cursed by lots of ice build up, and getting to the tiptop of 10′ rod is a bastard when you’re standing in the middle of the river.

    Reply
    • Hi MG,

      By far my best advice is to use a Mono Rig. Ditching the fly line in the guides dramatically helps eliminate ice up.

      Cheers.


      Dom

      Reply
  3. You put me there , nice writing. I skipped it today. Hope to get out tomorrow. Thanks

    Reply
  4. Thank you for the humble words.

    Reply
  5. Beautiful. It took me there

    Reply
  6. Not sure I’d be out in single digits, but I do enjoy fishing in the winter, especially for steelhead. Made it out yesterday to fish the Tulpehocken. Temperature was in the high 30’s and the sun was out so it was a relatively pleasant day, despite the pinhole leaks in my waders which numbed my feet after awhile. Thank God for those disposeable hand warmers. They really work well for about 4 hours. As A.K. Best says “the fishing was good, it was the catching that was bad”. I did manage 6 hookups, but only landed 3. Certainly beats staying indoors. All the best to you and your family.

    Charlie

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

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.

Pin It on Pinterest