For better or worse, New York and Pennsylvania, like many states, had less than an honest northern winter this past season. The previous year was a different story– basically cold and snowy right through March. In both cases, the trout dreams were alive; I went through the casting motions. This year, however, I was not slowed down by ice-formation in the rod guides.
One morning a year ago I was fishing the Allegheny River under a clear sky, with an air temperature that never climbed from the 20s all day. A young angler limped to the parking lot as I arrived. “W-water’s f-freezing cold!” he gasped. After a while I realized the angler probably wasn’t a stutterer. He was just unlucky, having found that early-season leak in his waders or a bottomless river hole. I wasn’t feeling much luckier; I was probably like an older self reflected on the surface of a pool– “gone fishin’,” gone mad. Which reminds me of Robert Traver’s book Trout Madness (1960). If you’ve never read the book, you might want to check it out someday. Traver’s stories could very well qualify him as being the original modern day “trout bum.”
That day, after catching the first leaping rainbow of the season, I collapsed into a sinkhole on the snowy bank. With a leg gone foot to knee, it looked as if Old Man Winter didn’t want to see me make it till spring. And then I learned that the familiar sway-bridge, beloved by snowmobilers and fishermen, had collapsed into the river and drifted toward the tail of a productive pool. An autumn or winter flood had freed it from its moorings and submerged it in line with the river flow.
Several brown trout were suspended nervously beside the structure, watching for the next morsel to appear. I backed off from the river’s edge and then reentered where the riffles offered a quiet approach. The first cast of my streamer scattered the browns like an aquatic explosion. Several minutes later the trout returned. One of them rose to a stonefly that suddenly hatched. I changed my artificial and again cleared the ice from the rod guides. The nymph landed upstream of the browns and one of them took it. The line tightened and the rod formed a bend.The sunken bridge had offered shelter and protection for the fish. It had also connected me to that river place as a winter season opened slowly into spring.
Late winter came again and I found that the sunken bridge had been hauled out to the bank, probably with the use of a powerful tractor. I caught no trout in the pool. A bridge had gone under and a bridge had come out. It was all in the ways of the world.
This year the winter transformation into spring was a whole lot different than it’s been in recent time. The days on each side of the Spring Equinox have been almost summer-like. Black stoneflies have been hatching; rainbow trout have risen to them on occasion and, when hooked, have leapt from the river despite the cold water and their hatchery origins. I’m not celebrating nor complaining, just appreciating opportunities to share in the life. Granted, I’m scratching my head at current events and wondering where we’re going. Changes will come, of course. And we hope for the best.