One of the things that keeps you fishing in your mind, even when you are away from the water, is that it is, indeed, a weather game.
My own fascination and connection to weather is probably a result of my becoming a pilot about ten years ago. When you fly frequently, as I once did and will do again, the weather plays a significant roll in your everyday life. Cold fronts, warm snaps, density altitude and visibility, wind direction and speed, winds aloft, humidity, precipitation, sky conditions. In a matter of seconds, every day, you dissect all of this and more, often in no less than a few minutes, and determine if you’ll be able to safely fly an airplane at a given moment. This occurs even on days when you know for a fact you won’t fly. Other things to do, work, away from home, whatever the case, you still wake up, observe the elements in a snapshot, and decide if you’d like to go flying. It becomes instinct, second nature, old hat, routine. And even though I’ve been grounded more than I’d like as of late, this is still something I do every day without having to remind myself.
The fisherman is no different. The analysis is for a distinctly different purpose, and the relationship between the activity and the weather is only slightly comparable, but for me, the one constant is my general dislike for wind. I can’t, or won’t, do the things I love to do when the wind is up. It used to be that a windy day scrubbed a trip in an airplane. Now, and more frequently, it keeps me off the water. The two-week blow of winds ranging from 15 to 25mph I’m experiencing at the time of this writing is such an event. I’m grounded.
Yes, you can go fishing in blustery conditions. With a conventional rod and reel, you can still cast a heavy lure or sinker a good distance into the wind. And shooting-head fly lines and a little technique can keep the fly-rodder battling the breeze too, but I just don’t like it. I’ve learned how to cast in a moderate winds – using more of a sidearm, whipping cast instead of a traditional, over-the-shoulder delivery – and I’ve taken my share of flies-travelling at the speed of light- to the back of the legs, a few dings in the skull, and one that imbedded itself painfully in the flesh above my left elbow, which means that if it had missed, I would have cast a fly with the rod in my right hand and with the line passing my left arm. Spooky.
I never went flying on rainy days, or the gloomy ones with the low cloud cover – or ceiling, if you’re talking to pilots. But these are good days for fishing. For the casual fisherman, the weekend guy, the day tripper that keeps the tackle stores in business, the only weather in which to fish is the good kind. Sunny summer days, shorts and flip flops. I like this. This is how I tend to see fly fishing. My favorite images of the sport are never the old guy in the rain slicker casting on a small Pennsylvania stream in a downpour. It’s always the guy in shorts, bright blue sky, a Caribbean-clear water. Those low-draft skiffs with the poling platforms. Bonefish and all that. But the truth is, I’ve yet to fish any lower latitudes, and my fishing is more frequently jeans and boots, which makes my favored view of fly fishing the sad result of all those multi-million dollar marketing campaigns. I do get the summers here, casting into a rip while waist deep in the ocean, and it’s almost the most fun you can have with almost all of your clothes off. But rainy, gloomy days remain some of best fishing you’ll find. Hatches are bigger and more frequent, bringing the trout to the surface, and bass and pike will be more likely to roam and hunt. You are more likely to find yourself alone on the water. The casual fisherman doesn’t fish in this weather. That may mean that he’s smarter than me; it may just mean I am a little more intense about fishing than he is, I’m not sure. But I’m grateful for the solitude, and the lack of boundaries that are implanted when you’re respectfully fishing around others. Selfish, perhaps, but the only form of fishing that isn’t selfish is the kind that feeds a starving person, and I still sleep ok at night.
A slow rain is therapeutic. On a still, foggy day, the light rain on the surface seems to have a logical pattern and rhythm. It can lull you in to a kind of catatonic state if you let it. You cast your line, and then begin watching the surface, and before you know it, you’re gone. Watching the concentric circles and hearing the patter on your rain coat, and almost nothing else. Then, slowly, you remember that you’ve read all those books and spent all this money, and now you had better try to catch a fish to justify it all. And, because you made it out here in this miserable weather, you probably will. Then you’ll pat yourself on the back, just for being there. Because, by god, you take your fishing seriously, and so on. Fishing in crappy weather supposedly says something about your dedication. When you do come across someone else on the same water as you with a stiff breeze of cold air and some miserable drizzle, you look at each other with the same knowing glance. Yeah, we’re both out of our minds.
There was no snow here this year. Probably just as well. I’d have gone fishing, for sure. I’ve been ice fishing once, and found it wasn’t my cup of tea. Standing on several feet of frozen St. Lawrence River, the United States to my right, and Canada to my left, wearing a full-body coast guard jumpsuit and shaking frozen chunks of beer from cans into my mouth. We had fun, caught a pike and a buzz, and I’m glad I had the experience. But there is a reason I’ve never done it again. Too much standing around, and it’s damned cold up there, even with a military issue warm-suit. A quiet, snowy day casting to trout on a yet-to-be frozen lake, however, is a unique challenge. Sluggish fish, deep water nymphing and cold water on your fly line. Ice in the guides, as they say. It’s fun, because you can leave whenever you want, and because it’s simply harder to catch fish. It’s good for a fisherman to be challenged.
The excitement of those first few warm days of the year are the best. The first carp and bass sighted in shallow water and the first flounder taken in the bays. It’s the seasonal starting gun; the call for guys like me to go fishing. A lot. Less layers, no gloves, released from winters grip in a t-shirt and shorts. We’re there now. We’ve had those first few days and the fish are in their spring time cruise. In a few months it will be a lot of beach fishing in sweltering heat. This is always hit or miss, and tidal position and timing become more important. We’ll catch Bluefish that break the surface by the hundreds, drag in angry flounder and listen to the tackle shop complaints of the 18 inch keeper limit, cook and eat with bare feet in the sand and cast big ugly poppers from the shores of ponds and lakes. Fall will move in, and we’ll all say it came late this year. The fishing in local freshwater will be at it’s best and we’ll be preparing for the fall run of striped bass, and will have come full circle again. Before we know it, we’ll be locked up indoors or casting from a snowy bank, and encouraging spring to hurry up and get here. We should be careful what we wish for. I wish this damn wind would stop…..