The start of the season is always an anxious time for me. I am more than ready to get out on the river and live on its schedule again. This winter was long, filled with snow, and ridiculously cold. I wake with the sun, the days are longer, the birds are here, things are thawing out…I’m ready. But I’m not in a hurry. The spring has come in slow. Taking its time. Testing the patience of anglers.
I’ve been out a few days the past few weeks. After a few days on river I realized that things just weren’t ready yet. Yes we caught fish, but spending an entire day on the river for a few hours of prime fishing time where you have to pester trout with nymphs and worms just isn’t my style. The fish are just now moving onto a more regular feeding cycle. Water temps and air temps have moved above 40 and the river is starting to wake up. Now…I am excited to chase trout.
The winter is a time when fish and anglers take a break. I fish a handful of days between November and February. Mostly to keep the shack nasty at bay. But this is also a time trout get to recharge in peace so I try not to mess with them. As Spring approaches anglers and guides start hitting the river en mass on the warm ‘good’ days. Already access roads in the upper are rutted with eager anglers. I’ve kept myself out of the upper river for two main reasons this spring. Access isn’t great, and I’m not about to damage the only few access points available to me by mucking them up so they have to be closed for repairs later…(and we all know how repairs on state and public land go around here). The other and more important reason I haven’t fished the upper…its not ready yet. The Upper river is always behind the lower in the spring. We may get summer bugs and mayflies before the Lower as things warm up, but the spring is a slow creep up here.
I want to fish when things are on. When trout are awake, active…acting all trouty. When they move about their world doing what they do. I want to float when the river has a schedule, a routine, that natural order that breaks up a trouts day. When trout are on a schedule…they are easier to target and to trick. If you’ve fished the river the past few weeks you probably found good fishing between noon and 3. Pretty standard. You probably also found pods of fish staged is slow froggy water feeding on nymphs and worms. Pretty standard. But that’s all we’ve really had the past few weeks. A small window of fish being somewhat active in that winter staging water. For me…as an angler…and a guide…that type of fishing is pretty…meh. I’ve fished this river a lot over the years and I am able to sequester that call of the river when trout are still on their winter routine.
But now…when the overnight lows are above freezing consistently, the water temps stay above 40, and the fish are displaced by swelling and falling flows due to the melt and runoff of spring. Trout move, they are forced about the river by flows, they begin to feed because they are expelling energy, spawning becomes their focus. And suddenly…the river, the trout, the insects, the birds, all the faun and foliage begin to wake up. I can feel the change happening. The air is lighter, the sun brighter, there is a warm sweet scent to the river. The damp underbrush and thickets come alive with little buds and birds. It’s as if everything, including me, is able to breath. As if I am awake now too.
That call from the river can no longer be muffled, its overwhelmingly loud. A constant roar in my head that beckons me. Like a class 4 rapid in the background. When I sleep I hear the river, when I dream it is of feeding lanes, water to read, and the feel of a wild trout leaving my hands back into that world that calls to me. My patience and anticipation for this period comes from a place of experience and respect. I do not eagerly await the trout season so that I can guide. I do not chase trout for money. Yes I pay my bills and support my family from guiding…but I am an angler first. And over the past several years I have learned much about the world of trout. I fish with a purpose, with a plan, a method. I don’t hit the river just to hang out, and spend the day deciding which bar to hit when the float is over. I fish because I would be lost without it.
Interacting with the river and trout is a part of me. Something I need. Guiding is just facilitating that need for others; and a logical decision for someone who desires to live on the river most of the year. The energy that presents itself when I fish whether guiding or angling myself…is organic, natural, and I rarely filter it for people. I warn my clients that I can get excited for fish. I always make my trips about clients, the day they want, and sometimes those days aren’t on the same energy level as a personal day for me, I am facilitating other people’s river time…but I always get excited about trout. Otherwise what is the point? That excitement comes from the anticipation that I feel each day when the trout are on that routine and we get to be a part of it. As a guide I revel in my ability to decipher and read the river. It’s the juiciest part of the day for me. My jam. That groovy goodness when the boat, guide, and anglers are all syncopated with the river and the wild trout that we chase. I have become that type of angler and guide because of experience, and the respect that has developed over the course of that experience.
As a guide I am a steward for the river. On the front lines, a first responder so to speak. My patience at the beginning of the season, the method to how I approach the river and the trout, all have the best interests of the trout first. I always attempt to float different stretches, or fish them differently if I am fishing the same section multiple days. I stay away from the spawning trout up high in the spring. I only book so many trips to make sure I don’t over do it in the spring, and am able to be flexible with inconsistent river conditions. I work hard in the prime season so make sure I am not dependent on the income from the first few trips of the spring. I fish and guide with that respect for the resource and the wild critters that call it home. I plan to guide for a long time and I want the river and trout to be well looked after during my time with them. Be an example to my children, to my clients, to the other anglers that frequent my text messages, emails, Instagram posts, and river time.
I used to be one of those crazy guys, fishing every day, throwing my hard boat over guard rails, bombing down snow locked roads, using tow straps and guide ingenuity to get in and out of the river before everyone else. Just for a chance at a trout or two. Now I know to wait…patiently, and prep. You can’t force fly fishing. It is fluid. From the cast, to the way a fly is tied, to how the river moves, and the trout react….it is all fluid and filled with intricacy and finesse. The wait also makes the days to come that much sweeter.
Trout are a finicky critter, and I gave up on conquering them a long time ago. I strive to be a part of that world on my days of fishing. To become a part of the routine of the river. When the fish move, when the bugs migrate, when the hatches come off, the lies that hold trout from one time of the season to another, I know when and where. It is a constant part of my life that keeps me busy from February to October. The never ending fine tuning of the skills to read and seek out wild trout are fascinating and intoxicating to me. The ability to interpret everything from the river, the bugs, the trout and make sense of it and be able to translate it for others is a skill that can set an angler or guide apart from others. Coming back to guiding the past 2 years has shown me that my time learning all that I have, was not wasted. It does set me apart as a guide and angler. It has taught me that a guide or fishing days’ success is not wholly based on how many trout came to the net. The past two years back at guiding and especially last season have also shown me that the majority of clients just want to learn those interpretation skills and will come back again and again to learn and to have me take the brunt of the work of plugging people into that river routine.
The spring is here. My stoke is at its highest level. My patience is waning as the snow melts. The river is moving back onto its spring routine and so am I. The season is here, and I for one am done hibernating…its time to chase trout.