Zen and the Art of New Year’s Fishing

“It’s not a day for bamboo,” said Tim, as we loaded up our gear and shoved the graphite fly rods into the vehicle’s trunk. We were continuing our crazed tradition of fly-fishing on New Year’s Day, despite a forecast of temperature highs in only the 20s and with wind gusts up to 30 mph. We’d leave our usual weapons at home.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I didn’t relish the thought of ice clogging the guides on a split-cane rod, or a large streamer slamming into the grains of bamboo. On the other hand, if I broke an 8-weight graphite stick today, so be it. Plastic. I could say it was fate, in the hands of the wind-tossed waves of chilly Seneca Lake.

“The wind could be in our favor,” said Tim. The waves would churn up the bait-fish and maybe bring the lake trout or even a landlocked salmon close to shore. I’d never fished Seneca Lake before, or even seen this great Finger Lake fishery except from a distance. I was game for a new experience, and if anyone could put a fly in the mouth of a heavy laker on a day like this, my partner was the guy to do it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEn route, we pulled off the interstate and entered a small village where a cop sat in a vehicle near the downtown square. “Damn, I hope he’s not coming after me. I was doing 40 in a 30-zone,” said Tim. But flashing lights filled our rear-view mirrors.

“Do you know why I stopped you,” asked the trooper, a young female with attractive eyes. “Yes ma’am, I was doin’ 40. We were talking about fishing, which is what we’re planning to do, and I got carried away.”

“Are you a Marine veteran?” She had noticed the sticker on the back of Tim’s car. “Yes ma’am. Retired Marine Corps officer.”

“Well, have a good day. Just watch your speed, please.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hot damn! No ticket. Might be a good year, after all. The first Zen practitioners found refuge in the forests and mountains of 6th-century A.D. China. Maybe we would find something similar today– on the chilled shores of a New York Finger Lake.

We passed winery after winery, vineyard after vineyard above the western shore. We even saw a flock of bluebirds winging over the fields where Canada geese still fattened on stubbled corn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASeneca is the second largest, and the deepest, of the Finger Lakes. It’s roughly 38 miles long and nearly two miles wide. Private properties have tightly closed off a great proportion of the steep-sided lake but we eventually found a couple of sites in which to battle the elements and to cast our lines.

Severne Point is a state boat-launch site available for fishing. Situated at about the mid-point of the lake’s great length, we looked at some of its deepest water, and could only imagine what fish lurked between us and its depth of 618 feet.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKnee-deep in the wash, I was like a fish out of water but as close to understanding as I’d ever be. There was nothing out beyond us; everything was here: a duck hunter unloading his boat from a truck, a dead cormorant on the rocks, a fly rod pointing to the waves, a slug of holiday bourbon swallowed from a flask…

No fish, of course, though we gave it our best till nearly dusk.

Five hours of mindless casting, delving our attention into the pure, cold lake.

Insight found by interaction with the air.

Like hearing a song from a favorite Jethro Tull: “It was a new day yesterday/ But it’s an old day now.”

A good way to spend the year’s transition.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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11 Responses to Zen and the Art of New Year’s Fishing

  1. Brent says:

    Looks like it was, visually, a really pleasant day for fishing–sun in the sky but not too bright. However, I can’t get over imagining what that wind must’ve felt like sweeping across that flat surface with nothing to stop it…

    • It was a cutting wind, for the most part, but luckily we got into some protected areas, sheltered by cabins, docks, boulders, etc., so it wasn’t bad overall…And, somebody had to do it, right?

  2. Mike says:

    Thanks for your service, Walt. And thanks for the chuckle with the “Hot damn!” line. Sounds like and looks like a good way to start the year.

    • Hi Mike. Thanks for reading and commenting. Actually I’ll pass a thank you off, also, to buddy Tim, whose car it was and who served the forces. And yes, it was a kind of fun way to initiate 2015. Memorable, for sure. Have a good winter season out there!

  3. Les Kish says:

    Well Walt, credit due for sticking it out on a windy subfreezing day as you did. I’ll keep an eye out for those bluebirds. They should make it here by April…..

    • Thank you there, Les. I’m hoping that these bluebirds hang around till spring, although given the recent forecasts, I’m afraid they may soon hit the southward road. On the other hand, I hope a flock of mountain bluebirds show up in your town this month, and sweeten the season for you all.

  4. markw says:

    Tough day this New Year’s, you guys must have froze between the temps and the winds coming off the lake but good for you for getting out there and trying.

    • This one wasn’t easy, was it, Mark. Actually we thought it much more pleasant than the same day a year ago, but that’s not saying much. At least, you guys caught some brookies. We just endured the afternoon….Thanks, and best wishes.

  5. Bob Stanton says:

    618 feet…damn! That’s a lot of water. To catch a lake trout on a fly rod would be a great feat.

    • It’s a deep sucker, for sure. These lakes hold an amazing amount of fresh water. I’ve been thinking of making a laker catch on a fly one of my top 10 fishing goals this year. It’s the one salmonid within reasonable distance that I haven’t yet got a hold of, so it’s kind of taunting me from out there. A belly boat on Canadice might be fun.

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