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A Little Relief... Finally

By Tim Giger (aka Bluegill222)

Cabin Fever, the Shack Nasties, whatever you want to call that madness that strikes in the heart of Winter when the days get short, the air gets cold and the water gets too hard to fly fish, hit particularly hard this year for a couple reasons. Probably the biggest was the fact that northeast Kansas has had the first winter in several years that's really deserved the name. The last few years have been fairly mild. A week of iced over lakes here or there, but it's thawed quickly enough and you're right back out there fishing. The warm water bite is slow to say the very least in January and February, but at least you were able to get out there and do it. This year we've been pretty much iced up since New Year's and it's March already.

The weather's one reason, sure, but I blame a lot of it on Joe Hyde, too. He put me on to those big wipers last fall. I've had the twitches ever since waiting for the spring run to start. The guys in the south haven't been much help either, posting all those great fish pictures on the bulletin board. Don't get me wrong, as long as I get to choose my own torture, those are the kinds of things I'd pick every time. It just made this winter sooo long. All the new catalogs showing up in January didn't make things any easier, nor did the magazines.

The usual cures started out well enough. Long evenings spent in front of the tying vise relaxed me a bit, and figuring out new patterns distracted me from the fact that it would still be a couple months before I could try them out. Soon, however, the boxes I depleted over the summer and fall began to fill, then overfill. I was left with fewer and fewer new things to tie and more and more new flies to ponder how they are going to work when the time finally comes around. I had the fever pretty bad, and the days were still persistently short, cold, and the water stayed frozen.

So you can imagine how I felt last Tuesday when I found myself with a day off work that corresponded with about four days of weather warm enough to melt the ice on my favorite little farm pond here by the house. The temperature was in the 40's which seemed like summer, the sun was out, and soon so was I. My wife, who has the shack nasties almost as bad as I do by now was working in her office and couldn't get away. I grabbed a handful of the new patterns, my trusty 4wt, kissed Marguerite, promised I'd catch one for her and was out the door. Okay, this wasn't the first time out this year, but it was the first promising day, and the first nice one. I felt like I'd just been paroled.

It's been a wet winter (first one of those in a while, too) so the pond was plenty full when I arrived, and there was still a rim of ice around the shady edges and where the water had backed up into the shoreline weeds. But thanks to steady breezes the last few days, the rest of the pond was open and ready to be explored. I started, as I always do early in the season with a soft hackle of some sort, in this case a soft hackle version of the copper John. Whoever built this pond must also have been a fisherman. There's a shallow bay right in the northeast corner where the sun is on it most of the day, which seemed like as good a place as any to test a new fly.

The water was still just a little above freezing and the fish were still slow. I've always had the best luck on these days with something that has a lot of natural movement retrieved at the slowest rate possible. A take is often nothing more than just a slight hesitation in the leader, no more than you would expect from the fly bumping a rock or stick under the water. After 20 minutes or so of setting up on twigs and moss and debris, I lifted the rod and the line moved off sideways. Fish on. I soon landed what, by the idiot grin on my face, an onlooker might have expected to be a monster, but in fact was about a seven inch bluegill. Not huge, but very pretty in his winter colors which always seem to darken as the water warms around here, and more importantly, it was a fish and it ate one of the new patterns I'd tied over the winter.

I soon followed that up with a couple more, then things slowed down. I stayed in that little bay for a little longer before moving up the bank a ways to try a few casts around a tree that had fallen in the water after the last ice storm. Nothing for quite a while, but then, I was out of the sun here, but I had to give it a try. I know it will be a great spot later this summer. As if the pond were agreeing with me, on my last cast to the outermost edge of the tree, I felt a little tug. The little tug turned out to be a largemouth of small stature, about nine inches long. But, again, it was a fish, and if it goes to the trouble of letting me catch it, I'll show the proper appreciation, no matter how large or small it turns out to be.

As I worked my way back to the truck, I picked up a couple more bluegills and two more baby bass. Not a spectacular day by any means, but enough to finally offer a little relief from the shack nasties and a promise that spring, though certainly not here yet, is at least on the way. ~ David Merical

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