Firsts are always fun – first kiss, first car, first house, and so on. But if you’re a fisherperson there’s nothing quite like that first fish of the new year.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I enjoy fishing for trout with a fly rod — especially on tiny mountain streams, far back in the hills, in places where the trout are wild and the hatchery truck never goes.

Last Saturday afternoon, the stars aligned and I found myself up in the mountains with about an hour of uncommitted time. And I just happened to have a fly rod with…

The stage was set.

My buddy Marty and I had been wondering when the wild-trout fishing might get going. We’d heard reports from others of success over the previous few weeks, especially around that nice little warm snap we had. Work kept me from getting out then, but now, on this halcyon Saturday afternoon, and even if just for an hour, it looked like the new year’s fishing was about to begin.

Wintertime fly fishing for wild trout is all about temperature. If the sun’s up and the water warms a little, that triggers aquatic insect activity. You’ll see bugs flying around the streams, and that’s your cue to tie on a high-floating insect imitation and see if you can coax a trout to strike.

We’d been seeing a few bugs. In fact, when we stopped to look at this one particular stream about 2:30 that afternoon, we actually saw quite a few bugs flying complex aerobatic maneuvers in a patch of sunlight on the stream. Fly fishers call that a “hatch,” and seeing it means that the insects (and the trout which feed on them) are active.

“Looks promising,” I said to Marty. “Let’s give it a try!”

So we did, putting on waders and rigging up. The creek we planned to fish was only a few yards across, so short flyrods were the order of the day. My choice for that kind of water is a tiny little 6 ft. 6 in. rod with a light line, and it only took a few minutes to get it ready to go.

To the end of my leader I tied a buggy-looking size 14 “dry” fly. It would float high and be easy to see in the creek’s slightly higher than usual flow. But even though the water was up a bit, it was crystal clear and I knew I’d need to use my best fishing ninja skills to avoid spooking fish as I approached. 

Our plan was to take turns working our way upstream. I’d fish one pool, and Marty would fish the next.

“Which one do you want to start on?” I asked.

“I’ll just start here,” my friend said. “You take that next one.”

As Marty moved into position, I eased upstream a bit and made my first cast. You usually expect that first cast to be just a warm-up, but apparently no one had informed the fish. A second after my fly hit the water, there was a splash as a trout raced to the surface to nail the fly!

Needless to say, I missed it clean.

“Wow!” I said to myself in a half whisper. “This could be good!”

I let the pool rest for a few minutes and then cast again. This time I was ready, and a few moments later I had the year’s first fish to hand — a beautiful wild rainbow.

Marty, meanwhile, had found no success in that first pool and had walked around me to fish the next pool up. I watched as he slowly moved into position to make his next cast, and then I saw his rod bend sharply under a fish that turned out to be visibly larger than the one I’d landed a minute before.

Yes, it was turning into a good day — especially for early February!

We continued fishing and fooled several more trout, but all the while the sun was getting lower and lower. I knew that as soon as it slipped behind the ridge and was no longer hitting the water the activity would probably end — and that’s exactly what happened. It was like flipping a switch. One minute the trout were active and cooperative; the next, they had simply disappeared.

There’s a lesson there for cold-weather trout fishers: focus on the warmer hours of the day. The 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. window is good, at least until the weather warms up a bit a few weeks hence. Once temperatures rise, the window will be much wider. For now, though, you’ll do best to focus on the sweet spot when the sun’s up and the water is warmer, even if only by a few degrees.

Last Saturday, however, the water wasn’t the only thing that got colder once the sun went down. 

“You know, it just got chilly!” Marty said, and he was right. 

Time to pack it up, so we hiked back to the car and put away the gear. On the way home, we stopped at Yonah Burger for cheeseburgers and fries, and while we ate we talked about the promise of getting out and fishing a lot more through the new year. 

No matter what other craziness goes on in this world of ours, fishing makes life better.

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