Winter

Winter

In the back seat of my car my fly rod is still strung up with the big streamer I'd last used in October

  • By: Jim Reilly
JimPic

In the back seat of my car my fly rod is still strung up with the big streamer I'd last used in October in a desperate, Hail Mary attempt to catch a smallmouth bass before winter's onset. It was cold, the wind was howling and I gave up after the time it takes to drink one beer. Now I'll settle into my winter routine of snowboarding when the weather cooperates, a little fly-tying, and watching the recent crop of fly-fishing films. It's not ideal, but it passes the time until April 1, opening day here in Maine. For the committed steelhead angler, though, winter is the time to be on the water. Winter steelheading is cold, dark, dirty work with a heartbreakingly low success rate, but it attracts a dedicated group of advocates in spite of the adversities. I was recently flipping through some winter steelheading photographs sent to me by photographer Daniel Root, and I couldn't help but think, "Damn, what's wrong with these guys? That looks miserable." So I asked Daniel, why do it? His reasons: No crowds, each fish caught is truly earned, the joys of a heated truck after six hours in 43-degree water and, again, no crowds. For the diehards, winter steelheading is more than just a strategy for avoiding crowds; it seems to become something of a spiritual quest. Jeff Mishler, a winter steelheader whose photo essay begins on page 38, likens these anglers to "tornado chasers and ghost hunters, forever running after apparitions…" Sometimes you catch them, most of the time you don't. In fact, John Gierach suggests in this month's column that winter steelheaders must possess "a certain kind of Quixotic temperament." Not long ago I was engaged in a Quixotic quest of my own, so I understand John's sentiment. The targets of my quest were the sea-run brown trout that inhabit (so I've been led to believe) a river not far from my home. These fish are stocked by the state in an effort to create a self-sustaining population, and I'd heard that winter was the time to target them. I'd also heard they're big fish, up to six or eight pounds. I'd never met anyone who'd actually caught one, but the idea of landing a big ocean-going trout was something that a guy recently relocated from Missouri to the Maine coast could not ignore. I became obsessed. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but after two winters of standing in bitterly cold water and stripping streamers for hours without a single bite, let alone a sign of a fish, I gave up. I'd gotten beaten down by all the early mornings and zero fish. Frankly, I began to feel bad about myself, so I called it quits and swore off the sea-run browns. But I'm still captivated by trout that have been to the salt: Now I chase sea-run brookies-"salters," as they are called in New England--and with much better luck, I might add. I'm something of an optimist, so I'll keep that rod strung up and at the ready in the back seat because it'll be spring eventually, so why bother taking it apart? Plus, I might just take another stab at those sea-run browns. I'm ready for another beatdown. [email protected]