With whispers coming through the proverbial fishing grapevines that the stocking trucks had begun their semiannual pilgrimage to the various kettle ponds on and off the Cape, I immediately began concocting plans to make my way down to one of these ponds with the fly rod, even if it meant breaking through a thin layer of ice to do so.
The plan, formulated the previous night via text with a buddy named Pirate, and cemented after a few or five IPA’s, was to ignore the weather report calling for subfreezing temps, less than ideal winds, and a consistent snowfall, put on the waders, and “maybe just make a few casts at the pond down the road.”
“It might be freezing,” I said. “I hope my fingers don’t get frostbit.”
But who cares! I was really thinking. It’s Spring! The trout, the bows and browns and brooks are swimming in the pond right now! I’ve been sitting inside all winter!
So with that, it was decided. Who needs working fingers anyways? We’d be fishing the next day.
The next afternoon, I drove downtown through the snow to pick up the Pirate. It was quiet on the roads, and I felt sort of crazy to be mentally tabbing through my pre-fishing gameplan while the scenery outside of my windshield resembled a mid-January day.
I’m not expecting to catch anything. I’ll be totally happy to just get out there.
And as Pirate hopped into the passenger seat, he echoed those thoughts, saying rather matter-of-factly: “Ya know, I don’t think we’re going to catch anything today. Too cold. Trout are still getting used to their new home. Pressure isn’t right. I’m just happy to get out here and make some casts.”
I nodded in agreement.
Down at the kettle pond, the snow continued falling with a steady breath of wind in our face. I strung up my 5-weight, and took my first steps into the black, snow-dimpled spring water.
We waded over to a small rocky peninsula surrounded by deeper water, and I began casting my wooly bugger, making short jerky strips and pauses, letting the fly fall and flutter in the water column. I shook off the cobwebs and was relieved to determine that my muscles had remembered how to cast a fly rod after my winter hibernation.
I cast for a long time, making sure to hit all numbers on the clock in front of me, counting out and chanting the zen-like rhythms of the fly cast. The pond was quiet, the snowcapped trees just barely swaying in the short gusts of wind. There was a silence to the snowy landscape, an absolute vacuum of sound, save for the whooshing of fly line through partially frozen guides and the short splash of my fly landing in the water.
My meditation was disrupted when Pirate let out a yell.
“Here we go Bill! I’m on!” His fly rod arched and his floating line zigged to the left, then moved off to deeper water. The fish put Pirate on the reel and then took some drag.
“I knew it Bill,” he said, smiling profusely. “I knew we were going to catch. I had one of my feelings. Just didn’t want to say nothin’!”
After a few short runs, he had subdued the fish, a rainbow with a brilliant all-pink gill plate. He reached in the water, said thanks to the fish (as is customary), and watched as it kicked off into deeper water. We both laughed, and stood for a moment in the warmth of a successful fishing trip.
After some more empty casts, I moved down toward a small cove and laid out a long cast parallel to the shoreline. I stripped the line once and felt the smallest bit of pressure on the end of the line. I lifted the rod tip up and the line started peeling from my hand. Within seconds, the fish was on the reel, pulling short bursts of drag. The fish moved off to my right and held its ground. I pulled back on the fly rod, careful not to put too much pressure on my 6x tippet. The fish began swimming toward me and made a hard right turn parallel to the shore line. I regained my lost line, and soon, had the chunky rainbow in my hand, wooly bugger nestled securely in the corner of its mouth.
I laid the fish on the snow to snap a quick picture; silver flanks and olive and pink streaks almost glowing against the freshly fallen snow. I released it back into the water.
We each made a few more casts (including a number of ‘last casts’) and eventually determined it was time to leave. The snow had stopped, and the last sunlight of the day even threatened to appear through the lessening overcast gray sky. But it was getting colder and the wind was beginning to howl. I couldn’t feel my fingertips. The coming days projected to be even more wintery, with a nor’easter promising to dump a foot or more of snow on our heads. Spring had not exactly blossomed as we usually expect it to, but instead, seemed to be locked in a stalemate tug-of-war with old man winter.
But on the ride home, with my feelingless fingers directly in front of the blasting heat vent, I realized that the tug on the end of my fly line meant that Spring was here in all of its newborn uncertainty. Even if I had to gas up the snowblower when I got home.