WATCH THE ICE
When the indicator dipped I was mentally numb and it took a second to register. Flipping a split shot and tandem nymph rig in 6 degree weather has that effect on both your body and your mind. Yet as my mind realized it went under, my reflexes didn’t catch up until I watched it dart upstream a few inches, confirming it was a fish. The rod came back, and the 32 year old All-Rounder bent clear to the stripping guide needing all of its 7 weight backbone. Big fish! And for a few seconds it acted as if it didn’t know it was hooked. Maybe my half frozen arms didn’t set the hook hard enough? Or maybe it was just as feakin cold as I was and couldn’t feel the hook? Regardless, it didn’t take long to both realize it was indeed hooked and then to remind me who was boss in this pool. I thought I was up until then….but I was wrong.
You see….in my mind numbed state of roll-casting monotony I had failed to clear my guides. Heck, I had failed to even look down at my reel. Not until the fish began its first run and no line went out had paid any attention. Panicking, I stumbled along on the bank trying to keep up as I worked on my rod. Thinking it was my guides, I looked up and saw I was not only frozen tight, but the exposed 25 feet of line beyond the tip-top was encased in ice and hung like an old strung telephone line in an ice storm. Not good! Working frantically, I broke the guides loose, but to no avail since I could not strip the ice-sheathed fly line anyway. Maybe if I could break things loose enough to at least feed line I would have a chance? That is when I noticed my reel. It was as if the entire reel was encased in glass. Hopelessly frozen solid, I came to the realization that I was now fighting a fish over two feet long, with a 7 weight Tenkara rod, as I watched slush and ice chunks drifted by. Really not good! My only hope was that it didn’t want to leave the pool. If it did, I would have no choice but to plant my heels in the gravel and waiting for the snap.
But fate was on my side in several ways. The fish decided to fight it out for the most part in the pool and didn’t try to run downstream until it was nearing the end-game. Next, I was not alone. My equally deranged and half frozen fishing partners were more than happy to use my good fortune to get out of the water, lay down their rods and move to my aid with nets. And lastly, the All-rounder proved up to the task and performed like it had just rolled out of the Orvis factory. Fact is, I was never going to land that fish alone, since I was unable to strip any line in at all. The ice-covered line would never have let me hand-line it in. And I was fresh out of a net with a 25 foot handle.
In the end and despite all of the struggles with Mother Nature, the fish found itself in a net positioned downstream. I believe it was my largest trout caught on a fly….or any other tackle for that matter. It was the only fish I landed on the weekend, and the coldest weather I had ever fished in. Ice-fishing in a hut wearing coveralls doesn't count. I caught it while fishing with good friends who did as much to land the fish as I had, while using a 32 year old rod on its first voyage in my hands. Later, after a struggle of epic proportions between waders, layers of clothing and frozen boot laces (of which I hope there is no video of), I sat in the cabin trying to feel anything but pain in my fingers and toes. But it was with a smile. Welcome 2018! Here’s to good friends, trout and the waters in which we find them.