Right about the time this piece appears in the River Reporter, the winter solstice will be more than a week in the past. For those of us that fly fish, the day after the solstice begins the countdown …
Right about the time this piece appears in the River Reporter, the winter solstice will be more than a week in the past. For those of us that fly fish, the day after the solstice begins the countdown to April 1. Every year on that day, my friend, Roger, would call and exclaim, with more than a little excitement in his voice, “We’ve just passed the shortest day of the year! Beginning today, the days are getting a little longer.” Roger’s statement characterizes the sentiments of many folks when it comes to long periods of confinement, and how winter affects our lives and what role fishing plays.
The solstice is the official beginning of astronomical winter, which provides for cold, if not downright frigid, temperatures, many gray and snowy days and, for those of you reading this column, no fishing. Weather aside, a few of the more hearty folks will brave ice, cold fingers and legs to continue their sport in the Catskill Rivers that remain open. So unless you are one of those anglers, an icefishermen or a rabbit hunter, there will be a lot of house-bound days, especially during this era of COVID-19. For some, these are difficult times—those days and months before the flies hatch and trout begin to rise again.
Winter never really impacted me in a negative way. In fact, I looked forward to all the activities we participated in. There was ice skating, skiing, ice fishing and basketball. Those sports kept my friends and me pretty busy during the short days of winter as we waited for the coming trout season. Since I no longer take part in those activities, I’ve taken on new tasks to keep me occupied during winter. There are always projects—some necessary, like splitting and moving firewood or clearing new-fallen snow. Fortunately, some are more mediative, like cleaning fly lines and reels, examining my two bamboo rods for nicks in the varnish and, perhaps, washing the cork grips. It is also time to check fly boxes, organize the little compartments and restore those patterns that were depleted during last year’s fishing. I know I’ll need at least a dozen Quill Gordons, Hendricksons, pale evening duns, small sulphurs, blue-winged olives and rusty spinners, my favorite. And of course, I’ll need a few pheasant tail and prince nymphs in a variety of sizes. I think I’m okay with streamers. So there will be a considerable amount of time needed at the fly tying vice before the new season begins.
Then there are my waders. Last spring, I purchased a new pair of boot-foot, felt-bottom waders from a well-known manufacturer. Despite the fact that I special ordered large-shorts, it took only a few minutes to determine that the inseams were too long for my rather short legs. Because these waders were made to order, they could not be returned. So in the next weeks, well before the trout season begins, I’ll start a search for a new pair, or patch the Simms waders I purchased in 1998. They’ve lasted more than 20 years, are a bit long in the tooth, but fit perfectly.
One of the ways several of my friends found to break up winter’s doldrums was to attend the annual fly fishing show in Somerset, NJ near the end of January. A couple of days there, mingling with friends from all across the country and having a few beers in the evening, provided a break from winter’s grasp. Sadly, it’s doubtful, due to the pandemic, that show will be held in 2021. Nevertheless, there are other things that fly fishers can do to confront winter’s potential boredom. For example, and fortunately for us, some restaurants in the Catskill region remain open.
As a result, some of us meet monthly in Downsville at the School House for lunch. It gives us a chance to catch up and visit about the last season and the new season only a few months away. It’s only a day out, here and there, but it’s a day out of the house and a break from daily routines.
In 1946, Rodrick Haig Brown’s first book, “A River Never Sleeps,” was released. And while a river “never sleeps,” rivers do rest in winter. Trout fin sluggishly in the deep, quiet pools. There is little feeding—perhaps a nymph taken once in awhile. And just like rivers in winter, anglers can kick back a bit, enjoy the holidays, read a lot of fly fishing literature, order needed tackle, check equipment and meet with small groups of friends. Just try and keep active and stay safe.
It’s snowing today as I write these words, which reminds me that, regardless of the weather, my boxer, Molly, and I would take a walk on our local “rail trail.” Upon our return, Molly would snooze by the woodstove, her favorite spot, and I would sit nearby and read about fly fishing. Sadly, Molly is no longer with me. I still sit by the woodstove, read about fishing, think about Molly and all of our walks, and how they helped me get through Catskill winter.