Essay by Sam Larson
Late February is when I start to push back at the seasons, exerting my as-yet untapped psychic potential to force the weather to break and fish to rise. It hasn’t worked out yet.
Spring is a heartbreaking time of year to be a fly fisherman. Early spring rivers sit in a brief moment of calm, still largely dormant but braced for the knockout punch of rushing snow melt. It’s a woefully inconsistent time of year and one that I, Scrooge-like, swear off every year with foul-tempered tails of nymphing in ice-choked rivers or swinging streamers through a thick, brown current no self-respecting trout would hang around in.
But there are those soul-saving stretches of warm days and warm water and fitful middle-of-the-work-day midge hatches where I burn down any remaining goodwill in the office by ducking out so I can be on the water when the sun still shines. And so I go, wrapped in three layers of wool and neoprene and preemptively writing off sensation in my toes, because I have no choice. Because I am compelled by last summer’s fading memories, the longed-for heft of my tenkara rod in my hand, and the fact that today might be the day when the weather finally breaks.
Like everyone else in the area I head out to fish the big name tailwaters of the Front Range during the winter months; the Arkansas, the South Platte, the Big Thompson up in Estes Park. Winter fishing on these tailwaters means warm water, reliable hatches, and a tide of fellow anglers, three deep at every bend. I don’t love these annual pilgrimages. They’re simply what I have to do to stay sane when the water I love, the tiny trout streams of the Rocky Mountains, have yet to be unlocked by the changing of the seasons.
I am at my happiest and best stalking spooky 6-inch brookies through streams narrower than my tenkara rod’s span.
But those days aren’t here yet. Early-season scouting forays show stubborn ice and snow in the shadowed north-facing curves of the canyons, and fish huddled down at the bottom of the deepest runs. The awkward weight of lead-wrapped wet flies and bead-head nymphs fouls the supple cast of my tenkara rod, but I fish them anyway.
On warmer days emergers and midge patterns pull slow-moving fish from the bottom to take half-hearted strikes at the fly. I can tell the fish are eager for spring waters as well. They’ve felt the season changing in their rocky beds, the whisper of warmer days caressing their fins. They’re struggling to shake of winter’s torpor, fitfully dreaming of gorging on summer hoppers.
I’m searching for a seasonal window, the witching hour between the rebirth of warm spring waters and the surge of runoff. The day when I can confirm bodily, on the water with a trout on the line, that winter will not last forever. Winter does that to me. It blinds me with grey skies and frigid temperatures, confines my perspective to my home, the tying bench, and creeks shrouded in ice and snow. It makes last summer’s fishing feel like ancient history, and next summer’s warmth an impossible dream.
Spring stirs the waters, and the blood of anglers and fish both, confirming yet again that clear water will flow, fish will rise, and the rivers I love will open their arms to me once more.
Sam Larson lives, works, writes, and fishes in Colorado’s Front Range. Given half a chance he’ll shirk responsibility and disappear into the woods for days at a time with his tenkara rod and a selection of largely disreputable fellow anglers.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.
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