Saturday, January 20, 2018

New Year's Resolutions

Snow on the Mountain
It's been a cold start to 2018 so far here in North Carolina. We've been below freezing almost every night since the start of the new year, and there's been quite a few days where daytime temperatures struggled to hit the 32 degree mark. Sounds like the perfect situation to go fly fishing doesn't it?

Chilly day on the river
I've never been one to make New Year's Resolutions, but this year is a little different. I'm not calling this a resolution so much as a goal, an achievement to work toward all year long. Perhaps not surprisingly, it revolves around trout fishing. I realized that last year I didn't tie nearly as many flies, write as many blog posts, and especially didn't go trout fishing nearly as much as I would have liked to. The worst part was there was really no good reason for my lack of fishing and writing, other than the lack of fishing led to a lack of material to blog about. With that in mind, and with the end goal of becoming a better year-round fisherman, I decided that this year I want to catch at least one trout on a fly each month of the year. I also plan to chronicle my progress here on the blog.

Once I set this as my goal, I struggled a little to decide what kind of limits to place on myself. My favorite type of fishing is catching wild trout on dry flies, but I also wanted to make my goal achievable. I figured that the chances of our wild trout streams fishing well enough to catch trout in the dead of winter were pretty slim, and the chance of any trout being willing to rise to a dry fly in near-freezing water temperatures were slimmer still. So with that in mind, I decided that my "rules" for this would be that it must be a trout of any species, and that it had to be caught on a fly using a fly rod. I also decided not to limit myself to just North Carolina waters, because I do occasionally fish out of state, especially in Pennsylvania when we go visit my wife's family up there.

With all these things in mind, and with the remnants of three inches or so of snow on the ground, I set out yesterday afternoon with my brother in law to see if we could catch the year's first trout. Yesterday promised warmer temperatures than we have had so far in January, with the high reaching into the lower 50's, so I had hope that the warmer weather might have the trout slightly more active. I decided to give the delayed harvest section of the local state park a try, figuring that the higher elevation streams would be even colder and less likely to fish well. This particular stream gets stocked with trout in October and November, and then again in March, April, and May with catch and release only regulations in effect from October to June. I figured there would be some trout to be found, even with the last stocking occurring the first week of November.

This pool held a few trout
We arrived at the park and started at one of my regular fishing spots where I knew of several deeper pools that I figured the trout would be holding in due to the cold. We were able to spot three or four trout right away holding in deep water close to the bottom. I knew then it was going to be tough, because the fish weren't actively feeding or even moving any more than was necessary to hold their place in the current. After fishing the pool for a while with no success, we headed up the trail to check a few other places that usually hold fish. We found a few trout in the bridge pool, although unfortunately they spooked after a few casts.

First trout of 2018
At the next pool we were going to try, we ran into another fly fisherman and stopped to compare notes. He hadn't had any luck either, but had seen several fish as well. He was quitting for the day, so we decided to give the pool a try since we could spot a few fish holding down deep. I figured that if I had any chance at all to catch a fish, I would have to get a fly right in front of its nose because we hadn't seen a single fish move at all to take our flies. I tied on a heavily weighted golden stonefly nymph, figuring that it was the heaviest fly I had in my box. These trout were in four or five feet of water, and just barely above the bottom. After quite a few attempts with no success, I finally managed a perfect drift and was able to see one of the trout open his mouth and inhale my stonefly. The trout never moved to take the fly, and I'm convinced the only reason he ate it was because it was right in front of his face and all he had to do was open his mouth. After a short fight, I was able to net a pretty rainbow trout. This wound up being the only fish either of us would catch that afternoon, and was the only fish that I even saw attempt to eat.
January Trout Closeup

Even though the fishing was slow, it was a nice way to cure the cabin fever brought on by too much time indoors. We got to enjoy solitude in a normally crowded and popular park, and also had a chance to fish with snow on the ground which is a fairly unusual circumstance for us. More than anything yesterday was a learning experience for me, and one that I hope will add just a little to my knowledge of trout fishing. I do believe that I may have to spend more time on the stream during the cold months from now on. It was a challenging and rewarding day, even though I only caught one fish. For me fishing and hunting have never been about the numbers caught or harvested, but instead about the time spent enjoying the great outdoors. I can't wait to get back out there and do it again.

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