As I write this, the calendar says tomorrow is Dec. 21 — the shortest day of the year. Outside, it’s gray and cold and rainy, and we just ran out of hot chocolate. Yuck.
I used to really enjoy wintertime, but these days I’m more of a “spring” kind of person. About this time every year I start counting the days till warm weather returns and things turn green again and the fish start to rise again and the jonquils poke their heads out to bring that first splash of color to a landscape that for too long sat locked in shades of gray.
But that’s not till spring. Now, it’s winter, and my options are thus: I can sit here and stew about it, or I can get outside and see what kind of wintertime adventures can be found.
Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll go fishing.
“In the middle of winter?” my wife says. “You’re nuts.”
Sure, but why not? Life is short. One must grab gusto when one can, even if it’s 35 degrees and snow’s waiting in the wings. Yeah, I’ll probably freeze. But anything beats sitting here imprisoned behind a window on this cold and rainy next-to-shortest-day-of-the-year.
So I grab fly rod and waders and sweatshirt and rain jacket, and off I go. I’ll have fun once I get out there. I always do.
One of my favorite places for wintertime fishing is a little stream I’ll call Big Bubba Creek. It’s usually kind to me, even in winter. Rare is the day that I won’t tie into at least a few trout there, and that’s the perfect antidote to the grayness of winter. Fool one of those winter trout, and you’ve accomplished something. And then you bring it to the net and admire its electric colors and then ease it back into the flow. Suddenly that gray day is not so gray after all.
Truth be told, I fished Big Bubba Creek just the other day with a friend of mine. We both needed a day off.
I needed one because I was tired from battling deadlines and decorations and all the decorum of the holidays. Poor, pitiful, whiny me.
He needed one because he was tired from trying to find a job so he could keep his power turned on and a roof over his family’s head.
We agreed, kind of without saying so, to avoid talking about work.
For a winter day, the fishing was pretty good. I landed one or two. But my friend was batting zero.
About 11:30 we stopped to sit on a log and eat sardines and crackers for lunch before calling it a day and heading back to the truck.
That’s when my buddy looked upstream and said, in a voice barely loud enough to hear, “Man, I sure did need to get a fish today.”
He saw I was listening and went on a little louder: “Heck, I can’t get any work either. But I sure was hoping to get a fish.”
We were quiet on the walk back to the truck, not fishing but just walking. We passed pools that should have held fish earlier but that has left us unrewarded.
Then we came to a tiny riffle with a little rock at its downstream end. We’d bypassed it before. Now, for some reason, it caught my eye.
“Why don’t you try there,” I said. “There by the rock.”
“No point,” he said. “Just isn’t my day.”
“Aw, give it a try.”
He hesitated. But then his shoulders lifted.
“Why not?” he said.
He eased up to the water. He made the cast. The fly floated through the air and settled light as snow on the gray-steel surface of the pool.
Somewhere in the depths of that pool, down where the water is dark and uncertain, something moved. A shape materialized. It rose to the fly…
Later, after measuring the fish and taking its picture, my friend slipped the trout back into the creek. Then we turned to the trail and the hike back to the truck. He seemed to have a little more spring in his step.
We didn’t talk on the way out, but at one point I think I heard him whisper as if to himself:.
“Why not? I caught a trout. Maybe it’s going to be a good new year.”
Nothing else needed to be said.