February is a bleak month in the nation’s capitol and for much of the east coast. Prolonged cold has finally permeated through our waters effectively shutting down the majority of our fisheries. It is a personal struggle to remain positive when my mood is directly correlated with my surroundings. But amidst the gloom, there are rays of hope. There is always hope. My hope lies in a chance encounter with my most favorite of coldwater friends, the trout.
After far too much time spent indoors, several friends and I headed west for the weekend, leaving behind a snowy cityscape for a snowy riverside campground in mining country, West Virginia. Arriving at the river in mid morning, we enjoyed a cup of coffee and took our time putting on waders and rigging our gear. The sun had not yet made it over the mountains and cold air hung stagnantly in the valley. Not until midday did the sun finally climb over the ridgeline and begin thawing the frozen ground.
The trout did not seem to notice the rising temperature and our hopes for more active fish were dashed. Aquatic lethargy and sparse hook ups remained the theme of the day. In a bid to discover the winning fly combination, each of us rigged up a streamer rod in addition to a nymph rod. A constant theme in fishing (the unexpected) occurred. The largest fish of the weekend took a streamer, an aggressive eat despite 37 degree water temperatures.
In the late afternoon, the sun passed over the opposite ridgeline and temperatures plummeted, signaling the end to our day on the water.
Back at camp, a fire warmed our bodies and spirits while the stars supplied the evening entertainment. My stubborn decision to extend the show by sleeping under the stars resulted in a crisp night of little sleep. Condensation from the adjacent river and temps in the teens was more than my 20 degree bag could handle. The next morning, I was selfishly reassured in hearing that each of my companions had also passed the night in frigid discomfort.
Stoking yesterday’s coals, we reignited our campfire and cooked a hearty breakfast accompanied by piping hot coffee to dispel memories of the previous night. As my friends started upstream, I hung back at camp, piling small twigs on the bed of coals and leisurely sipping my coffee. With another cold day ahead of us, my top priority was making the most of the remaining time outdoors be it fishing for otherwise. A brief moment of reflection revealed that quietly sitting and listening to the crackle of twigs in the fire and muffled woosh of the river behind me was exactly what I wanted to be doing. I spent another hour slowly wandering around camp, cleaning up, and meticulously rigging my rods before joining the others upstream.
I caught no fish that weekend and I spent one of my colder sleepless nights in recent memory, yet I returned to the city refreshed and content. I am ready for more cold days ahead.