Old Woodenhead was on the Allegheny River by noon. The weather had become more seasonal, turning sharply colder, with air temperatures peaking at less than the freezing mark. Winter fly-fishing is an exercise in patience and layered clothing, he thought. Fingers freeze while attending to snags and tangles. Every action, whether it’s short-line casting or the reeling in of a stubborn fish, is accomplished as if with wooden hands.
He was not alone there by the river. An army of eleven orange-clad deer hunters advanced across a wooded slope nearby. For safety’s sake, Old Woodenhead had added a fluorescent orange vest over his usual Orvis tans. He may have grumbled, wondering why he bothered with this masochistic behavior but, when all was cursed and settled, he would have it no other way. To fish in winter is to really feel alive.
He was on an Allegheny River pool with depth and oversized trout. He could fish from only one side of this pool, and it was covered with 10 to 15-feet of thin ice. He watched the shadowy forms of trout shifting on the river bottom out beyond the ice. He made several casts of an Egg pattern across the ice, mending his fly line so the Egg had time to sink down close to bottom.
Finally, a trout grabbed the fly and rose to the edge of the ice. Fish on!
Old Woodenhead kept the line fairly tight and scrambled downstream toward the tail of the pool. He didn’t want the ice-edge to sever his connection. Gaining the proper position in open water, he worked the fish into the net and removed the hook. It was a healthy brown trout measuring 17 inches. He took two photos then sent the fish back into the pool, with his regards for a happy holiday to all with fin or fur or feather.
Now, you ask, who the hell is Old Woodenhead, and why is he making an appearance on Rivertop Rambles? Actually, the fellow is a holiday tradition here on the blog. Longtime readers may recall that he’s a wooden statuette of fisherman Franklin, produced by Coudersport artist, David Castano, and presented to the writer at Christmas time by his wife, Leighanne.
Each December, Old Woodenhead advances toward the state of being human and resumes his quest for meaning in unusual ways. A traditionalist, he fly-fishes, hikes and makes himself a minor nuisance to those he loves and cherishes. But a lot of what he does occurs on the snow and ice.
He skates fearlessly on the thin ice of reality. No one will accuse him of being graceful or particularly wise, but he means well. And, by god, he catches trout! At Winter Solstice time, at Hanukkah, with Christmas coming soon, he speaks to everyone on the premises: Go catch that fish of happiness. Attain the peace of positive accomplishment. Enjoy the beauties of this earth. Be healthy, and don’t forget to change the calendar.