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Going To A Very Cold Place

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Ever since the end of the first week of November I've been aching to get back out to fish for steelhead. There were however a multitude of things which stood between the desire and making it happen. Not the least of which was getting ready for a winter that could be bad or mild and I'll have to comment further on that come May........

There were the wood piles.

We fill up the front porch so that in the thick of a storm you need not go far to find tinder for the firs. There were 2 other larger piles but I think you get the idea.

Then there's the fact that in order to go after those fish at this time of year the destination is exactly 189 miles from home one way. Add to that the fact that in order to be there at the crack of dawn you must leave home at or before 5:00 Am and the plot thickens. The drive itself although long is made more challenging in that you are going to cross Turnagain Pass and you can count on at least 75 miles of black ice on the roadways so it's not something I take lightly. All of this led to a great deal of procrastinating and further delays.

From many past experiences in the late fall I have learned a few things, one being that you must decide; drive all the way in your waders & boots or suit up in the dark on ice. Honestly, neither seems attractive but I've made that drive many times looking like a Simms rep.

With each passing day it became clear that we are not going to see the temperatures become mild for an unknown period of time and ice waits for no man. Now don't think I wasn't using the computer to check the weather down there, I knew things were getting crunchy on the river so I had to make a decision. What I came up with was a choice, drive down Wednesday November 23, fish, then stay over at an Inn and do it again on Thanksgiving day? You see Nancy has a week off between her on shifts so I knew she would be home until Thursday afternoon and could get away with the 2 day thing. We have scheduled Turkey day for December 2nd when everyone can be here so it was all a go for me. All a go until Wednesday morning at 4 am when I had to decide. It was 12 degrees here and just dark as it can get........

So, a new plan, I wasn't so sure I could do 2 days in freezing weather back to back so I booked a room for myself Wednesday morning and left around 2PM which gave me light to drive in until roughly 5 when it is dark again for real. You see we're still losing 5 minutes a day here between sunup and sun down and that accumulates fast when you think about it, 35 minutes less light every 7 days to be exact.

The drive was uneventful all except the ice fog along the river road. The river is held up by 2 very large lakes and those lakes are the only reason the rivers aren't frozen solid like my home waters have been for a month now. Although the water is only around 33* by my best guess (it was 34.5 3 weeks ago) that is enough difference when the air is at 10 degrees to produce ice fog and that made things interesting for a long ways.

I scored a room for 69.00 and it was a nice one so I went to bed by 9PM and was up at 5 the next morning. A quick run for coffee and I was all set. Returning to my room I checked all the tackle so that I had things in place before leaving for the boat launch. Oh, I didn't mention that this was to be the first cold weather test for a Mokai and I tried to be prepared. I even had an extra battery and jumper cables because this was to be a negative temperature start.

I should have taken more pictures but did the best I could. This was about 3/4 mile from the launch.

There was only a one degree difference at the launch of -3 so I didn't bother as I had things to do, namely start the Mokai. It fired up and things were looking good. I moved quickly and made a concentrated effort to ignore the ambient air temp. Dry bag with tackle - rod tube - PFD - net - ear protectors - extra gloves, check, all in the boat so I parked the truck and hoofed it to the waters edge.

Start the engine and push off all before 9 AM, pretty good. Here's how things looked as I began the long drive up river.

About half way into it I knew 2 things. One was that I had bottomed out on a gravel bar and needed to check my jet intake and second was that I should have put a little HEET into my gas tank.

I stopped to check the intake and pluck rocks and did a little walking around to get the blood flowing.

I choose that spot because of the log, you need to elevate the back of the boat to pick the stones out of the intake grill.......... There was also some sun hitting there if you were tall enough.

It's times like this that although I try to stay focused on the fact I'm doing these things so I can fish but my mind wanders off to a place where reality hints to me that what you are doing is crazy. I didn't bother hanging my thermometer out, I'm not sure I had it but I really didn't want to know. Back in the Mokai and onward to the promised land I went.

Arrival! I assembled my rod and remembered I should take some pictures.

Still trying to put the happy face on the morning here.

It was a very cold place. When I looked down for my nippers I noticed my forcep's were frozen.

On with the reel, string the rod and tie on one of those big Wilkinson Sunray flies I had just tied up, you gotta believe. I stepped into the water and quickly realized I needed to go upstream and swing into the area I had started wading into so I did just that.

This is the water;

Even looks cold huh?

Second cast I had a fish plucking at the fly so I dropped some line then slowly pulled it back to the length where the taps occurred. No dice, so I moved farther upstream and started bringing it back down into the same bucket and.........

Wouldn't you know it, even people who live their life in a bubble believing that if they try hard enough things will work out can get a break on a very cold morning.

I knew when the fish hooked itself and I put on some pressure, I knew it wasn't a salmon. The jump and the runs are just different and you don't have to catch a hundred steelhead to get that figured out.

It was only ten thirty in the morning and I knew that if I didn't touch another fish before dark the cold ride to this spot had been worth it.

It wasn't the thickest steelhead I ever met but was as long as the scale on the handle of the Nomad Boat Net which said an honest 29 inches so I was very warm at the time.

Notice I took off my fingerless wool glove to hold it because I knew that getting the glove wet would be a big mistake this day.

He swam away no worse from the experience from what I could see and came to the fly to boot!

Oh there were salmon and they can be a problem because every time you have one grab the fly you have to take it to shore and quiet water to deal with them and this day there were 8 to be dealt with.

Given the date they aren't in too bad of shape but they are very aggressive and don't let a fly pass without hitting it so I was fortunate to have only 8 of them.

I dropped downriver at 1:50 PM, time flies when your fishen even when it's cold and on the first cast into a fresh current rip I caught a second steelhead albeit way smaller and a bright hen it was still exhilarating when it went airborne. It was only about 16 inches I think, just a quick shot with the second fly of the day and I let her go.

Before I knew it the sun was dipping and it was past 3:30 and I knew I had to go, cold hands and all so I took a few more pictures and got headed back down river.

It was cold on the way down also, my waders froze pretty solid and my gloved right hand froze to the throttle on the way back to the boat launch. While I'd love to share days like this with others I also understand this was not a day that I can even imagine anyone I know enjoying.

About 6 miles from the launch site;

Frozen waders made it hard to get out of the kayak when I made shore just before dark.

When I loaded the Mokai onto the trailer the temp at the river was 8 degrees so my suspicions were confirmed, it had not warmed up much between 9 AM and 4:30 PM. Those few degrees, all 11 of them were appreciated. It may not seem like much but there is a difference.

So what was it all about? I knew I would catch a steelhead if I went. I'm not sure how or why I knew but I just did and I knew that at least one would take that Wilkinson tube fly. In the end it really was a mission, one that you had to believe in and when that first fish leapt from the rivers cold surface I forgot about the fog, the cold, and the difficulty a trip in sub zero temperatures can present you with. I enjoyed the day although it was short and a good deal of it spent just driving a 7 HP jet kayak 11 miles up a swift river. Would I do it again, you bet I will but I'll have yet another extra pair of gloves and I'll add HEET to my gas.

Today I feel like something is lost, that something is my 2016 fishing season. I know it's over now and I need to find something else to dream about rather than the next trip searching for those fish. Only 5 this fall but I got an immense satisfaction out of each one and I will hope to catch a few more next fall / winter. There's something else I feel today and that's the numbness of 6 of my ten fingertips. Just a mild case but a reminder that I need to find gloves I can learn to handle line with.

That's that,


Updated 12-04-2016 at 03:51 PM by Ard



  1. eastfly66's Avatar
    That's some serious hard core steelheading Ard ! I'm not so sure I would have made it past the first hurdle "75 miles of black ice" ! Great pictures and nice fish. I noticed I didn't see and you didn't mention any competition on the river? I wonder why ?
  2. kentuckysteve's Avatar
    Great report Ard and beautiful fish.Way too cold for me but thank's to you braving these conditions we can get a taste of what it was like.I alway's wonder if fly line gets stiff and hard to manage in these type conditions?

    Thank you for posting this for us.I now need to get me a hot cup of coffee.BRRRR!
  3. Ard's Avatar
    Hey Paul & Steve!

    It was a mission and somehow I pulled it off with no worse than a wee bit of frostbite on some fingertips. I figured it was no good when I reached the boat ramp and my right hand was frozen to the throttle

    There were no other fishermen at all and I knew that would be the case, at least I had strong suspicions I'd be alone.

    As far as stiff lines ....... I didn't notice a problem and have not noticed it over the years. The fly can get iced up sometimes and you have to set the length of the casting and then leave it at that with no great deal of stripping between casts. That is necessary to avoid iced guides. If you start by fishing short then extend until you're fishing the 45' head and leader length you are fishing around 65 feet out and then swinging down and inward. With little stripping you don't drag water into the tip top and guides and things remain manageable.

    The catching of fish changes all that because as you reel them in that water inevitably is drawn through your guides and you get a bit of ice. I used to fish through every winter back east, New Your, Lake Erie and of course the spring creeks that didn't form ice due to water temps. When line manufacturers started selling 'cold water lines' and steelhead specialty lines I thought it was amusing because I had been fishing through freezing winters through the seventies, eighties and 90's by the time the special lines came around. I can't say they don't work better but I just stuck to what had been working for years. Perhaps things got a bit stiff but I was too busy ignoring the cold to notice

    Thanks for replying fellas,

  4. eastfly66's Avatar
    Well, I guess if you can pull this last trip off than I should be able to man up and fish well into January down here !!!
  5. Ard's Avatar
    January can be tough there Paul, I remember one time my fishing buddy Steve and I took a room at the Fish On motel right in town and woke up to 11* and 11 inches. When we went to the room and conked out it was around 35* and virtually no snow out there.

    Then there was the trip when it blah blah blah, it gets bad there too man.
  6. cb's Avatar
    Goodness me! Ard - That is real "combat" fishing!

    I'm off to find a hot water bottle! (I don't know what they are called over there
  7. gc59's Avatar
    Great words, great pictures thanks for sharing.
  8. cb's Avatar
    what would happen if you fell in Ard? looks awfully cold water to me!


  9. Ard's Avatar
    While something could always go wrong I do my best to wade carefully. If and when I feel that I may be pushing things a little I have one of those Simms carbon fiber wading staffs on the left side of my belt and I use it. Most times when I fish while there is ice it isn't as cold as that day, on this day it never warmed more than a couple degrees so I moved very slowly and with great care.

    The very worst part came when I returned to the boat launch ramp. My waders were frozen solid so bending my legs to get out of the kayak was difficult, when I did try to push myself up so I could stand I kept falling back into the boat. It took a few attempts before I discovered that the seat of the boat was stuck to my numb butt. Each time I tried to stand something was stopping me. When I reached to my rear to see what was up, I found the seat frozen to my backside. A video of the disembarking exercise would have been pretty funny. Funny to watch but at the time with darkness encroaching rapidly my sense humor was running at an all time low for such things

    The hardest part of that day was getting the boat loaded and myself warmed back to an acceptable level. While I was fishing I never noticed the cold.
  10. ia_trouter's Avatar
    Missed this one somehow. The photos are just awesome in this blog post. They really paint the cold weather picture for the reader.
  11. Ard's Avatar
    There's a lot on this blog Dewayne, over 130 different stories or articles so it's easy to miss things. Someday I'll sort all the streamer writings and condense a set of links into a couple stickies.

    Too bad the larger fish was skinny huh?