Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

April 20th, 1998

Opening Day

Daylight was just over the next hill. At least the restaurant would be warm, and the coffee hot. Three hours of driving through slush and patches of black ice. Who said it was spring anyway? Everything looks better after a tasty hot breakfast. We pulled off the road into the parking lot of the small "mom and pop" eatery. The traditional stop. No lights. No cars. My fishing partner muttered something and walked up to the front door. The small sign was tattered and barely readable.

"See you in the Spring," it read, "On vacation." Obviously they didn't think it was spring yet!

We had passed a "'Get Food & Gas" stop twenty miles back. No guarantee on the food quality, but there were cars and lights on. No amount of complaining about the empty state of my stomach would coerce my now ex-husband to head back there. Not only was the weather too cold, and too wet for any resemblance of a fly hatch, but now I was on starvation rations. Bummer!

Fifteen more miles to the dirt road turn-off to the stream. Now the last of the half-cold coffee in the thermos was gone. We had planned to refill it at the restaurant.

The turn-off appeared out of the gloom, and disappeared behind us into the fog the instant we turned. The road was never in great condition - even in the heat of summer. Winter had not been easy on the north country. Ruts from years of back-woods-anglers were cut into the mud not unlike the familiar game trails used by deer one generation to the next.

Parking a few yards from the stream, I pulled on my gloves and opened the door. As I stepped out a shiver ran down my neck. It was bone chilling cold. We walked silently down to the water. My buddy remarked, "Well at least it's in it's banks." Indeed it was, a little fast, a bit discolored - but not flooding. Tea colored water is common in upper Michigan where cedars thrive. Water draining out of cedar swamps is at least honey-colored, sometimes a maple-syrup tone. It smells like wet cedars. Lovely even if the cold itself tingled inside my nostrils. Brits would probably call it "bracing."

Nothing to do but rig the rod, pull my leaky waders on, and attempt to fish. After all, it was OPENING DAY! No real trout fisherman who could drag himself to the stream missed opening day. Unheard of. Maybe I could keep to the shallow water and stay dry. Yeah right. I headed upstream. There was a gentle bend where a cedar deadfall almost crossed the stream. Trout hung out near the bank just downstream from it. If I was careful I could cast upstream, quartering the deadfall and drift my fly over the shallows. But there was a problem with that approach. The dead tree was still there, I could reach the proper place, but there were no insects. Now what to do? I found a flat place to sit, took out my fly box and stared at it. Winter had been productive. The fly box was full of neatly tied flies.

All in rows, separated by size and color. A box a crayons was only slightly less colorful. And probably just as useful in this situation. For that matter worms would have done nicely. I can't say for certain I would have used a worm right then, but maybe. What was supposed to be hatching was a mayfly called a Hendrickson. Like I said, it was too cold and too wet. Not many insects manage to get off the water when it is pouring rain.

A big cedar provided shelter from the downpour while I contemplated my dilemma. Tradition required that I fish. You just don't go "fishing" on opening day and not fish. If there were to be any bragging rights catching a fish would be helpful. I knew very little about matching the hatch in those days. But somehow, a bright red and silver streamer seemed out of place.

My buddy probably had nymphs, but that was just like fishing worms. Eventually the rain slacked off, and the sun burned through. Didn't warm up much, but I tied on some small brown sort of fuzzy thing, worked some floatant paste into it and squished to the edge of the stream. Several casts floating down into the shallows below the cedar produced nothing. No rise, no roll, nothing. Maybe the high water was keeping the trout down.

Glancing upstream around the bend I remembered a deep hole. Might as well give it a try. Wet branches of the undergrowth slapped against my waders. Sometimes the sound was nearly as sharp as a rifle shot. So much for quietly sneaking up on the fish.

Reaching the spot, the bank was muddy and slippery. I nearly lost my footing, but grabbed for a branch from a protruding bush. Gaining firmer footing, I bent over to lessen my profile just in case there were any fish, and was about to make my first cast when I heard or felt someone close. Expecting it might be my cohort, I turned and looked smack into the face of a big whitetail buck. His ears were flared forward and his breath visible in smoke white puffs. He stared at me and began stomping his front foot. A cartoon pop-up deer. Except he had a big rack, wasn't backing off, and I wasn't wanted here.

I don't know how I crossed the stream, especially since the water was running pretty heavy, I don't remember how wet I got. I do remember looking back after I was downstream and safely out of range; that deer was still standing there watching me. Some hours later my companion showed up, and shared his lunch with me. Cold summer sausage, saltine crackers and canned tomato juice. The lunch didn't help much, he hadn't caught anything, and we headed back. That was the worse opening day of trout season I ever had. Cold, wet, scared and hungry. Never had a hit, never saw a fish. The funny part is I don't seem to remember the great, successful opening days. There must have been some. Wonder what makes memories anyway? ~ LadyFisher

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