By Dennis Smith
It’s pretty hard for me to get excited about winter fly fishing these days, but I used to do quite a bit of it back in the day. There was something mysteriously primal about wading an icy-gray river in the dead of winter and casting flies to wild fish that appealed to me.
I sometimes thought of myself as a modern-day hunter-gatherer braving the elements to ensure his family’s survival, but of course that was pure macho fantasy. For one thing, survival wasn’t a factor and I was releasing all the fish I caught. For another, I was wrapped in toasty layers of wool, goose down and Gore-Tex, so there wasn’t much “braving” involved in fighting the elements.
Winter fishing was new and adventurous to me in those days, and I liked the novelty of it. But a succession of knee surgeries and then a back injury made wading slippery stream banks dicey, and falling on my you-know-what in a freezing river far from home wasn’t my idea of a good time. I had visions of dragging my ice crusted body from the frigid water only to die of hypothermia a hundred yards from my truck. Eventually, I gave in to common sense and hung up my fly rod for the winter.
I don’t miss it all that much; I’d always thought of fishing as a three-season sport anyway and winter fly fishing just seemed a quirky, offseason spinoff of the real thing. When I think of fly fishing, I envision mating swarms of red quill mayflies on warm spring evenings with bats zooming overhead and wood frogs chirping in the gathering dark. I think of summer mornings on a mountain lake with clouds of midges bouncing in the smoke-colored mist, and big, freshly-hatched lake sedges skating across the surface like miniature motorboats run amok. I see callibaetis and green drake mayflies dancing on the currents of secluded mountain streams. None of this happens in winter.
Comes winter, I set my mind to other things: hunting ducks and deer in the river bottoms with my sons and grandsons and settling down to what I call the “indoor” outdoor sports — reading, reloading and fly tying. On those weekends when I’m not out hunting with the boys, I attend fly-tying seminars at the local fly shop, work at my loading bench in the garage, read a book by the fire or tie flies for the coming spring. Every now and then, I’ll get the urge to throw my fly rod in the truck and head up the canyon to see if I can find a rising fish, but then I look out the window and think, nah. It’s winter. I’ll just throw another log on the fire and tie some flies.
Dennis Smith is a freelance outdoors writer and photographer whose work appears nationally. He lives in Loveland.