Some of my fondest memories as a child took place when my mom would quietly tiptoe into my room, wake me up, point out the window to the bounty of white and tell me that school was cancelled. “Snow day!”, she would exclaim. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. She relished in being able to spend even more time than usual playing with us kids. I remember her cooking my siblings and I an extra special breakfast each snow day, usually something sweet, which was different than our normal cheerios and corn flakes. French toast or pancakes was made with homemade maple syrup that consisted of water, brown sugar and imitation maple extract. My parents grew up poor, one side an Irish firefighter with a Japanese bride and the other a German tiny-town banker with 7 kids and a wife. Naturally, both of my parents were frugal, as am I now too. Anyway, it was always special for us to have such an extravagant meal. As we were devouring our breakfast sweets, my mother would lay out our jackets, boots and gloves. We didn’t have snow pants (they were too expensive and deemed unnecessary), though we would sometimes wear two pairs of jeans for an extra layer of protection. We put plastic grocery bags over our socks to keep our feet dry inside of our leaking boots. We didn’t know any better and it didn’t matter much anyways. We were too busy having fun playing in the snow to even notice that we were cold and wet. It’s funny how that works. After a few hours we would come back inside, and my mother would have hot chocolate ready for us where we’d all snuggle up and read books together. If the weather was just right my mother would make taffy and have us kids go outside and pull it. Those were the days!
As an adult not much has changed. I still get absolutely fired-up when snow days happen. Since I live in a mountain ski town the verbiage has changed slightly to powder day. Whatever you want to call it, it’s the perfect excuse to go play outside in the snow. Now I go fishing but the process is still the same. There’s no reason to get out there too early. The river is cold, the fish are lethargic, and the midges won’t hatch till the warmth of afternoon. I take my time and make a special breakfast; eggs over-easy, wheat toast, and a few slices of bacon. Not just any bacon mind you but thick, marbled and drenched in maple syrup (the real stuff) and ground pepper. If I’m heading out further away from home, I sometimes opt to make biscuits and gravy with sausage. You know because it sticks-to-your-ribs as they say. Once fishing, I usually forget or choose not to eat anything anyhow. After my slow breakfast I lay out my gear for the day; heavy socks, base layers, fleece mid layers, puffy coat, two pairs of gloves, hat, waders, boots, rod, tackle and flies. I dress quickly now, the anticipation and pull of the river too much for me to take any longer.
Taking a drive along the river you intentionally go slow. In part because of the weather and in part because it’s so goddamn beautiful outside. The browns and yellows of fall are now suddenly replaced by the overwhelming white blanket of fluff with hints of green conifer. When I finally arrive on the river at “my” spot, you can’t help but notice the stillness and silence outside. It’s glorious, only occasionally interrupted by the cackle of a magpie and the flittering of an ouzel. I haven’t rigged up yet but already know what I’m going to tie on having thought about it on the drive up. I quietly glide into position at a spot where over the years I’ve learned that fish like to rise here. These are my homewaters and I’m more comfortable here than the bed in my house. I see a nose poke through the surface of the water about 30’ feet upstream and across the river from where I’m wading – right where they should be.
My heart noticeably beats faster having seen a rise, and then another and another. Cobweb thin tippets of 6x and 7x are not the easiest to blood knot when your hands are stiff from the cold but you do it willingly with fish rising and beckoning you. Be comfortable tying knots so you don’t make the mistake of fishing the same rig and refusing to change flies, tippet etcetera due to the cold. There’s no need to overcomplicate things at this time of year. The varied mixed-bag of summer hatches is long gone as are the fall hatches of blue-wing-olives. I carefully thread on a diminutive size 22 black midge emerger with a brown trailing shuck. To help the fly float I use a powdered floatant with a built-in brush on the lid called Frog’s Fanny. You really want to work the powder into the fly covering each hair, hackle, and filament in floatant. If you take good care of your dry flies they’ll aways take great care of you.
I’m not much of a drinker, but I enjoy a puff or two every now and then. Something to stave the cold off. I enjoy my cancer stick, rod now completely rigged, and look though the billows of smoke to watch my fish continue to rise and get into his feeding rhythm. Stripping line off the reel I begin my cast making sure it’s deliberate as it lays my fly out softly into position above the fish a few feet. In due time you’re able to turn your brain off and just fish naturally and with confidence. This is when fishing becomes easy and really becomes more of a time for reflection than for catching fish. As my fly dead drifts and bobs in the current for a couple feet, my target ever so slowly rises to the fly and softly sips it in barely breaking the water’s surface. I wait for a second for the fish to take the fly under and set the hook with the same motion as a back cast. My line is tight, the fish not big, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m the only knucklehead on the river, full of rising fish, midges flying and everyone else going skiing or snowboarding. I strip in the little 10” inch brown trout, his colors flooding my senses after looking at piles of white all morning. Using my mitten forceps, I dislodge the barbless fly pinned to his lip easily, never touching the fish, keeping him in the water. This is better for the fish and keeps my hands dry in the process thus keeping my digits warm. Just like when I was a kid playing outside in the snow, I forgot all about the cold.
I repeat this sequence several times over the next three hours, never having to change my fly. The sun is getting low over the horizon, which happens quickly at this time of year, and with the shadows lengthening and the temperature dropping I’ve had enough. With thoughts of warmth in the cab of my truck, I take off my waders and boots both now frozen stiff and looking like a mannequin. Putting on waders is something I never really look forward to doing but taking them off is always glorious. I throw on my Crocs, start the truck and get some heat moving. On the drive home I can’t help but notice the satisfaction in my snow day outing and how spiritually renewed I feel. Opening the front door of the house I see my lovely wife laying by the fireplace cradling our son reading books. I’m thrilled to join them.