Winter in the Driftless Area
We’ve hit a bad patch of weather here in the Midwest over the last couple weeks and it has derailed a handful of opportunities to wet a fly. I got desperate at times and headed to a blown out stream only to walk its bank debating whether or not to line a rod. Sure I checked USGS and knew what to expect, but sometimes you need to see it for yourself. Friday I took advantage of my company’s summer hours and snuck out to the closest stream with the “best” water conditions. Fishing from 2-5pm in the middle of July with high, stained water isn’t exactly optimal conditions, but it was fishing. It’s starting to feel like the off season leaving me searching for things to fill the void. My fly boxes are full, the website is pretty much up to date and I even cleaned out my DVR of old fly fishing programs. I blew through episodes of In the Loop, Fly Nation, Orvis Guide to Fly Fishing, Sport Fishing on the Fly and The New Fly Fisher. Seasons on the Fly got me thinking about this blog. The intro of the show explains every angler has a favorite season to chase fish on the fly and for me, with little hesitation, that season is winter.
I struggle to give any praise to a season that overstayed its welcome here in the Midwest giving us notable snow accumulation in May. I live in Minnesota, but I am close enough to Wisconsin to fish its waters. Both have an early or winter season, Minnesota starts January 1st on southern streams (although all streams may be open this coming year) and Wisconsin opens the first Saturday in March. The winter seems longer without fly fishing as both seasons close in September. That’s five months tying flies, reading, scouting new water and building anticipation. I’ll get out on the southern MN streams from January to March, but there is only one stream close and early in the year you may do more de-icing and trudging through a foot of snow than catching fish. March in WI is my sweet spot. My birthday closes out February so the first open week of March I take off to fish. I look forward to this time more than any other. I spend a week prepping, organizing, re-organizing and packing. It shouldn’t take that long, but it’s part of my “process.” As if the off season isn’t lengthy enough fishing in the winter only gets good after 10:00am. Knowing this, I still get to the stream at 8:00am and that’s after a lazy morning of sipping coffee and eating a big breakfast (gear is packed in the truck the night before). The anticipation of the event is too much for me to stand so I’m out the door. There is something magical about winter fishing everything in vivid black and white, the air is crisp and a stream fished many times before somehow looks new. This past winter was especially memorable as my favorite stretch of water was closed the year before with bridge construction. During the regular season my typical outing is around 4 hours, but during the winter I get 4-5 full days. This allows me to slow my pace and take in views of frozen cliff walls, thick ice hanging off the bank, snow clung to trees and the wildlife that dares to brave the conditions.
The winter provides tremendous solitude, especially during the week. Tracks in the snow are rare and after you cross the stream a time or two tracks become non-existent. The snow provides a timeline and there is something rewarding about fishing untouched water. It feels like discovering a new stream. Did I mention the fishing? Winter fishing is the same question asked a different way. I need to erase the memory of where the fish were the last time I was on the stream, but when located they usually come in bunches. At the end of the day I’m cold, tired and ready to do it all over again the next day. But it’s June and longing for the winter isn’t something I’m ready to do, there are plenty of fish still to be had. My mind has shifted to warm water species and even a trip to the salt in a week or so. I’ll be fishing the surf in Delaware over the Fourth of July, hopefully when I get the weather's improved or the DVR is filled.