It’s an easy S bend to fish: a fast chute up top, a long riffle, a deep bend at the bottom.  The temperature was 11 degrees.  I started up high in the fast chute with an indicator rig, then I Czech nymphed, then I did kind of a bastardization of the two, then I poked the ice from my guides, and then I just stood there warming my hands wondering if I should go skiing.  Nope.

Though we finally have some snow to ski on

I waded downriver and nymphed the deep pool which has changed so much over the last ten years it’s hardly recognizable.  It used to be a great nymph pocket but a tree fell and the current has moved.  To my eye the pool is now better, but the trout just don’t hold in the bubble line.  When the current moved, it came toward the north bank, and left a huge bottomless pit of dead water on the south bank.  In the winter, that is where the fish are.  I tried to nymph the dead water but the indicator just sat there motionless while I mended frantically, like I was swinging a jump rope for an entire kindergarten class.

The new sweet fishless bubble line…at least today

I warmed my hands and cut the nymph rig off and tied on a streamer — tungsten cone, black and gray body — and forded the heavy current and tucked in behind the log jam that had changed the pool and started working a streamer down through the deep slow water on the south bank.  It was very much like swinging for steelhead, though trout seem to like a few twitches.  I hooked a fish right away, and it was a big one, and the hook pulled.  No!  I moved down the run, walking a convenient sandbar that bisected the pool, and hooked another trout, a smaller fish, almost directly downstream of me.  Hooking a trout in the winter river is magic.  The trout are trying to get away, but they give so much.  I lost that one too, but cared less.  When I lost the third one, I cared not at all.

A pile of winter gear

On the drive home I thought: I’m ready for spring.  We feel it early in the fly shop, perhaps earliest of all.  There are spring things happening.  But that’s just fly shop stuff.  I’m ready for spring.  Dripping riverside icicles.  Islands of pine-needled land rising from the retreating snow.  Spring stoneflies.  The smell of the river during the first thaw, when the river valley seems fresh and powerful, when the dreams it holds begin to press toward the surface of the angler’s mind, when an entire world hatches from beneath its rocks.

Aaron tying “red beetles”.  He too is ready for spring.

I caught my first trout on a fly when I was around five years old from a pool on the Little River in Tennessee.  It took a wet fly cast clumsily at a big boulder, and I had white fly line and my dad was there and that’s what I remember.  I’ve always loved the Smokies.  This urge for spring, an urge to show the boys the mountains, and an urge to return to them myself, means we’re going on vacation to a land where spring comes early (perhaps not as early as February, but one goes when one can go).  I’m armed with memories of many backcountry trips into the mountains in January and March.  I remember ice storms, white-outs, torrential rain.  But I also remember the Quill Gordons.  Pocket fishing the Horseshoe at Abrams Creek.  And my fondest memory of all: Katy and I stopping at a point overlooking Deep Creek in late January and watching two rainbow trout rising to midges from the tailout of an impossibly clear pool.  They were probably a 100 feet below us.  We ate a little lunch and watched them rise.  It was our last day of a week in the woods.  The weather had turned and it was beautiful, near seventy degrees, and even if trout can’t feel emotion these trout were happy.

So I’m pumped to head south for a couple of weeks starting next Wednesday (I’m fishing on Tuesday with Matt so hopefully the next report won’t be so fishless).  Denny and the crew will be at the shop everyday 9 am – 2 pm, same as usual.  We have two Free Fly Tying Saturdays coming up in short order: February 17th and February 24th.  I’ll have the events calendar for the rest of the winter as well as spring/summer 2018 posted on the website by the end of the weekend.