I do not care what the calendar says…winter is here in central Ohio. After another couple blasts of snow last week, and the temperatures rarely even approaching the freezing mark, we are at record levels of snow and cold temps for this point in the year. Maybe global warming is evaporating more water in to the atmosphere resulting in more snow…
A couple months ago I had made plans to head over to the Cattaraugus to swing flies for steelhead for a few days over this weekend so I had been watching the weather like a hawk. If there was a weather report I was on it and I was tracking fronts like it was my job. That ‘advanced scouting’ clued me in a couple weeks ago that it would likely not happen as there was an arctic front coming down hard on the region the week leading up to heading over. I kept my fingers crossed that it would somehow dissipate but knew that was not likely as I have better odds gambling horses than I do getting good weather for trips. Sure enough the front came through as expected and put everything in a deep freeze…porque no es buena for chasing chrome. By Monday we already had all the information that we needed to make the crappy call and cancel the trip.
This left me with a rare open weekend on the calendar; what to do…what to do…?
First things first, there were flies to tie so I got a bunch of prep work knocked out a couple orders and then started tying tails. Feathers and fur where flying through the week quickly filling the garbage can each night. The whole time at the vise though I had an eye on the local weather to see if there would be an opportunity to get out. Thursday rolled around and the opportunity presented itself for Saturday. I shot my buddy Scott a text message to see if he was around, and if so was he game to deal with inches of snow and/or rain with temps ranging 26-34 to go and take advantage of marginal at best flow levels to chase some fish. The answer was a foregone conclusion of course.
Saturday morning came early but I was up and ready to hit the road. After filling a couple thermos with coffee I was off in the snowstorm and headed towards the river. I arrived with about 4” of fresh snow on the ground and the forecast was for precipitation of some sort without end until long after we would be off the river. Shortly after I arrived Scott rolled in with a smile on his face and, after a quick car spot, we dropped in and I took first turn on the sticks. I always keep an eye on local flows so I was not surprised at the low clear water that we had…but when you get the opportunity to get out you make the best of it. As I carefully navigated our way downstream Scott was dialed in and hitting every likely spot…along with all the unlikely spots that big fish like to inhabit.
We swapped off on the oars every so often and the man in the front made cast after cast. We rolled through numerous fly patterns, different retrieves, and every conceivable type of water as we made our way downstream but were not rewarded with much action other than a few half hearted follows in the low and cold water. Heavy snow turned to light snow, turned to freezing rain, turned to driving rain, turned to drizzle and still we kept the faith knowing each cast could be the one.
Pushing six hours in was the best action of the day. We had made it through a long stretch of shallow and featureless water, and the first cover I saws was an overhanging tree just past a large undercut root ball. The resulting current had dug out a pretty significant trough. As we were still 20 yards upstream I made a few casts to dial in the distance then, as we got in to range, I dropped a perfect cast right in the bread bucket and made a quick upstream mend to let the fly get down. I barely had time to get the first twitch and strip completed before the bottom seemed to erupt in buttery fury. The beast had been perfectly camouflaged until it chose to attack and destroy the streamer. As it hit and rolled I strip set hard and felt the weight then, after it rolled and headshook, I hit it again to try and drive the hook further home. The second set pulled the fish a foot towards me so I thought I had a solid set. As I fought the fish I heard the anchor go down an Scott was reaching back for the net…tense times. The fish was right a the side of the boat as the net was brought to bear, then just as it was at the ready the fly simply came loose and the line went slack as the fish faded back in to the bottom. “FUCK!!” was the first thing that came to mind…and voice…loudly.
Starring sullenly down at the boat I had that crappy feeling inside that only comes from losing a fish like that. After a minute I looked back at Scott and he had that look of disbelief too…we thought we had that one sewed up. “Sorry bud. Nothing I can say to make that better” were the words that came out of his mouth…and he was right. That had been likely well over the 20” mark, was the thickest fish I have seen in a long time, and was so brightly yellow that it nearly seemed fluorescent.
We finished out the stretch with renewed attention but I couldn’t fully shake that pit in my stomach knowing that we had missed a buttery golden opportunity. I have replayed that fight time over and over in my head and don’t think there is anything I would have done differently. Sometimes the dice just don’t roll your way. Still sucks when it happens. In the end though I realize that it is unbelievably cool to see a fish like that, and I have him marked for round two sometime in the near future.
Sunday was mostly spent at the desk building stock throughout the day, under the watchful eye of my assistant, until it was time to hit a company Christmas party later in the day. At the party many pleasantries were exchanged and I was asked how things had been going, I did say I’d been out all Saturday in the snow, but left out ‘the fish’…still too soon.
Next time it ends differently…I hope…