Our Man In Canada
October 22nd, 2001

Excerpt from Fumbling With A Flyrod

By Ian Colin James

I pulled the tip of the rod out of my mouth and worked the now-melting ice free from the top guide, quickly laying out a murderous cast into the blackness. When it's below zero, ice forms on the guides after four or five casts. I've tried everything to prevent them from freezing - car lubricants, antifreeze and cooking oil - but nothing seems to work. The nice thing about casting when the guides and line have a thin ice skin is that, because there is no friction, the line goes for miles. I was easily getting into my backing, heaving the line and the size-4 Penguin into the wind. After half an hour of pulling flies, I snipped off the Penguin and tied on a size-4 Winkie.

After about an hour of very careful wading, and numerious de-icings of guides and flies, nothing was happening. Moving beneath the waves and swirling snow, the steelhead slipped among the rock, looking for another easy meal. I started stripping in another long cast. Tug . . . pause to let the fly sink . . .tug . . . pause to let the fly sink. Somewhere, the black and green Winkie twinkled.

Another minnow disappeared.

Tug . . .tug . . .

The steelhead turned, leisurely drawing in the fly.

I felt like I'd tapped a weed. But when I lifted the rod there was a violent head shake and 10 yards out a silver torpedo cleared the water. Line started zipping through the guides until a large chunk of ice coating the line wedged itself into the stripper guide. "Rat's arse." Everything tightened up, the fish threw the hook and both of them dropped through the snowflakes into the inky water. "Awwww."

I spent the next few minutes cleaning out the guides. By the time I'd finished, the wind was picking up, the sleet and snow were chewing at my face. Four or five casts later, I was giving another fish a flossing. This time the guides didn't freeze up, but by the time I had the steelhead close enough to release, I was having a hard time seeing the end of my rod, and my inner voices were yelling, "Leave now, leave now, ya stubborn Scotsman." This was the time to clear out - not a minute from now - to avoid becoming completely disorientated and unable to find my way back to the car.

As I turned to the shore, everything seemed more civilized, now that the sleet, snow and wind were battering on the back of my hood and I was struggling to keep myself from laying out "just" one or two more casts. The fish I'd released had to have a bunch of his buddies hanging around here somewhere. A large wave rolled out of the blackness and tipped me forward. I fell onto my knees then instantly sprang to my feet. I couldn't find my footing, went down again and got a soaker down the front of my waders. "That's it. I'm outta here! That one was a wee bitty too close." Before the next wave rolled in, I had crawled and scambled into the shallows and safety, with my heart beating wildly in my head. The shock, more than the power of the wave, had taken me off guard. Had I been in the deeper water, where I was less than two minutes ago, I would have been bobbing for ice-cubes in the surf, which, under the circumstances would not have been a good thing.

From the direction of the parking lot, a pair of headlights caught my eye. They didn't switch off, but were shining like the landing lights of a 747 dropping through the base of clouds on a final approach. I stepped out of the water onto the beach, now covered in fresh snow. I was still some 200 yards from the car park, but now at least I had something to aim for, and, more importantly, I was well clear of the water. The wind was screaming off the bay, tearing at my hood and gnawing at my wet hands. I pulled out the thick, woolen mittens and slipped them on, the perception of warmth being greater than the actual increase in temperature. Stumbling over the beach boulders now hidden and totally covered with snow, I headed toward the lights, with an eerie feeling floating around in the back of my cranium that Georgian Bay was upset at having missed me. Who knows? Maybe it was looking for some type of payback for all the fish I'd caught over the years, maybe it was annoyed that it was under seige from the first storm of winter and wanted to pick on someone. I had the feeling that everything on the Bruce Peninsula that wasn't tied down was, with a heel-click, going to end up in Kansas.

I trudged to the parking lot. The lights were attached to a black Mercedes. Snuggled amidst the drifting snow, it looked like an inside-out Oreo cookie. When I was close enough to see inside, the interior light came on, and there sat Billy Tumbling Brook. Obviously dry and warm, and obviously having a good time, he was tapping out a rhythm on the steering wheel and keeping perfect time with the pounding drums. The window started to slide down; through the gap and above the howling wind came the howling of very loud pow-wow music. "Hey-he-ya-ya-hey-he-hey!" He turned down the volume. "Hey, Snow White, you look hideous. Having fun?" Before I could answer, he followed with "Thought you'd be here, 'coz you weren't fishing with me and these are the only two places to find fish. I took three on one of those black Torpedoes you have me the last time we were out. Small fish, nothing over 5 pounds. The roads are plugging up, so we'll be going noplace for the next few hours if we don't go now. I've got some coffees; figure we'd head back toward town while we still can. This one's ganna be worse than the last one." He tapped his car like he was petting a horse. "Glad the wife talked me into getting this. Lots of leg room, high resale value and a great heater." Again, before I could get a word in, "Jeeze, that lake sounds angry; did you piss it off?" I chomped down into the wet woolen mittens clasped between my teeth, "Mmm-uuu-ffi-wwa." Then, after he's given me a very puzzled look, I gave up trying to speak. My fingers felt like cardboard as I slipped down my waders and fumbled in the pocket of my insulated track pants for my keys. ~ Ian Colin James

Credits: From Fumbling With a Flyrod By Ian Colin James. We thank Ian for for use permission!

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