Theres no escaping it; winter is creeping in, but is doing so under the cover of darkness when most are asleep, and therefore blissfully unaware. With a scattered few exceptions, the days continue to reach unseasonably warm temperatures. But here on the water, just before 6 a.m, steam rises from the mirrored surface and the fly line freezes fast against the guides. I’m alone here, as I expected. Even in summer, this water isn’t the crowded type. But now, in December, the quiet of the morning is almost unnerving; the still of the clear water reflecting the rising sun, the trees, but none of the disturbances that give away feeding fish.
At this time of year, the angler that prefers to sleep late can still be rewarded. The fish tend to wait until the afternoon, when the water temperature is increased by a degree or so, to feed. The rules of summer, with early morning angling taking precedence, are not in effect, although it still seems that dusk provides action.
I ruin the glassy water with an opening cast, cursing my lost gloves and frozen fingers, and begin to search the deeper channels for bass or a holdover trout. Instead, after an hour without any signs of life, I feel a soft pull on the line. I set the hook, and bring in a savior of winter; the Calico Bass.
“Savior of Winter” is a pleasant name for a fish that has many ugly names that it does not deserve. I call it a savior for the simple reason that; even after a pond, lake or river has iced over, this fish will still be available and active for fisherman to catch, all the way through the winter months. They do not strike hard, nor do they put up a gallant fight, but they are handsome with their specked tail and silvery-green flanks. Locally, and in the majority of the states, this fish lives under the ugly name of Black Crappie, pronounced “croppie”. Elsewhere, they are known as strawberry bass, papermouth, speck, or speckled bass, but the good people of New England got it right when they called this fish calico bass, a poetic, respectful name for a fish so worthy, and so generous as to keep me fishing in winter.
The sun is climbing higher now, and the day is becoming warmer, and I’m beginning to shed layers of clothing with every passing hour. It’s turning into a beautiful fall or winter day, it doesn’t matter which; clear skies and warmer than one would expect after spending the dawn hours trying to fish with your hands in your pockets. In the late morning sun, the scenery and the calico bass have made for some beautiful time on the water.
Neil D. Parry